ATLANTA — Bend, don’t break.
That’s the motto the No. 17 North Carolina football team's defense has lived by this year.
But on Saturday night, in a 46-42 loss to Georgia Tech, the defense broke.
After holding the Yellow Jackets scoreless in the first quarter, UNC allowed Georgia Tech to rack up 24 points in the second. A similar picture was painted in the second half. The Tar Heels didn’t break in the third, but the floodgates opened in the fourth, with the team giving up 22 points.
“I didn’t know what to say,” head coach Mack Brown said. “I’ve been doing this 35 years and I’ve never seen two quarters that bad, two quarters that good.”
Saturday night marked the first time in 46 games under Brown that the Tar Heels failed to pull out the win when scoring more than 40 points. The offense did its job — something Brown was quick to point out — but the defense fell short.
North Carolina struggled all night to keep up with the quick tempo of Georgia Tech’s offense, leaving the defense fighting from behind to get set for plays. The Yellow Jackets’ offense caught the Tar Heels off guard with schematic tweaks that revolved around quick bubble screens, hitch routes and read options.
“I felt like we looked a little lost on defense in the first half,” senior linebacker Cedric Gray said. “I think [in the] second half, we played good third-quarter football. [The] fourth quarter came [with] a little bit of the same thing — tempo.”
In the opening drive of the fourth quarter, Georgia Tech marched down the field in less than three minutes, passing the ball just once, to bring the game within three points.