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Football: UNC overwhelmed by Ga. Tech’s option attack

Yellow Jacket quarterback Josh Nesbitt (9) contributed two touchdowns on the day. DTH/Andrew Dye
Yellow Jacket quarterback Josh Nesbitt (9) contributed two touchdowns on the day. DTH/Andrew Dye

ATLANTA — It was supposed to be a battle of strengths.

No. 22 North Carolina arrived in Atlanta with the ACC’s No. 1 rushing defense — largely due to the might of its veteran front seven — while Georgia Tech boasted the conference’s top rushing attack.

But 317 rushing yards and more than 42 minutes of time of possession later, the Yellow Jackets were the only ones flexing their muscles.

“It can wear you down a lot, especially … when they throw out new stuff,” linebacker Bruce Carter said after UNC’s 24-7 defeat.

“Their offense is projected to be a smash-and-dash, old school offense, and it can wear you down, especially when you don’t know where you’re going.”

It only took one drive for Ga. Tech (3-1, 2-1) to eclipse the 52.3 rushing yards per game that the Tar Heels (3-1, 0-1) had been allowing before Saturday’s contest.

The Yellow Jackets’ triple-option play confounded North Carolina’s defensive front on Ga. Tech’s first possession with nine rushes for 88 yards, and Ga. Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt only had to drop back once to pass.

“We couldn’t stay up on our feet. They do a lot of cutting and stuff like that,” defensive tackle Marvin Austin said. “We’re supposed to get 11 guys to the ball carrier every time, and we weren’t tackling well at all.”

A-back Roddy Jones finished off the drive with a nifty cutback on a quick pitch from 13 yards out, giving Ga. Tech a 7-0 lead it would not relinquish.

That early touchdown, coupled with the UNC offense’s inability to muster any points until the fourth quarter, gave the run-heavy Yellow Jackets a distinct advantage.

“All four phases of their offense are in play any time that they’re ahead,” coach Butch Davis said. “They don’t have to throw when they don’t want to throw. They can continue to give the ball to the fullback.

“We didn’t have as many negative tackles today that made it second-and-nine as we did a year ago. They did a much better job of moving the ball on first-and-10.”

Ga. Tech had 69 total rushing attempts in the game, following a formula of gaining short chunks of yardage and converting short third downs from those three- and four-yard gains.

The Yellow Jackets finished an efficient 10 for 19 on third downs, and five of their 11 drives stretched eight plays or more ­— statistics that Davis called “disastrous” after the game.

Reigning ACC player of the year Jonathan Dwyer led the way for Ga. Tech with 158 rushing yards, and Nesbitt rushed for two touchdowns and 97 yards.

UNC’s offense didn’t do its defense any favors. The Tar Heels’ longest drive took just a little more than four minutes off the clock, and the rest of their drives lasted fewer than two and a half minutes, leading to the large disparity in time of possession.

Even after UNC scored to bring the game to within 10 points, the defense still couldn’t solve the triple-option.

Ga. Tech responded to North Carolina’s lone touchdown with a 17-play drive to grind out the clock, and Nesbitt sealed the game with a one-yard touchdown run.

“It’s really just being key on your assignments,” defensive end Robert Quinn said. “When one person missed their assignment or didn’t get down in time to make the tackle, they could pick up so many yards.”

The Yellow Jackets’ rushing output dropped the ranking of UNC’s rushing defense to fifth in the conference.

The Tar Heels’ rushing yardage allowed per game more than doubled to 118.5 after Ga. Tech’s assault.

“We knew it was going to be a knock-out, drag-out game,” Austin said. “It doesn’t feel good to lose at all. I don’t care how it’s done.

“We didn’t execute as good as we should and as good as we have been in previous weeks.”

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