In the days leading up to North Carolina and Georgia Tech's clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend, many anticipated a blowout.
The outcome being the No. 21 Tar Heels — who entered the game as 12-point favorites — beating the unranked Yellow Jackets, obviously.
When UNC junior quarterback Sam Howell dodged not one, not two, but five defenders to jump out to an early 7-0 lead, he affirmed North Carolina fans' confidence.
That was until Georgia Tech changed quarterbacks late in the second quarter, with Jeff Sims stepping onto the turf. Sims was the prototypical mobile quarterback the Tar Heels have struggled to contain over the past few seasons, which was made even more evident after he came in and scored three touchdowns and rushed for 128 yards.
Sims brought the energy the Yellow Jackets needed, and paired with a stout defense that sacked Howell eight times, UNC was the team that was blown out of the water, 45-22.
“Was I surprised? I'm always surprised when we play poorly as a team,” North Carolina head coach Mack Brown said. “We work really, really hard to put a great product on the field for our institution and for our fans and for each other. And we didn't do that tonight.”
Howell struggled to make plays against the Yellow Jackets' defense, which is nationally ranked in five categories: passing defense, defensive touchdowns, red zone defense, total defense and — the most evident in this game — fumble recovery.
Howell fumbled the ball three times Saturday night, and each resulted in points for Georgia Tech.
“They like to tackle the football,” Howell said. “I know they'd rather try to force a fumble to make the tackle. So ball security was a big emphasis for us and I should’ve done a better job out there.”