1. Disappointing night in Atlanta, as Carolina’s road ACC woes proved problematic again in a 45-22 loss to Georgia Tech. Carolina is under .500 at 5-6 on the road in ACC games since 2019. “We’re not ready to be the team I thought we were ready to be,” Mack Brown told Jones Angell on the Tar Heel Sports Network after the game. “It’s just like Florida State last year. We had a fun and satisfying win last week and couldn’t handle it well enough to come in and do it back to back.”
2. Given the opponent, expectations, and general breakdowns in all areas of the game, the 27-point blitzkrieg by Georgia Tech during the middle part of the game might have been among the most disheartening minutes of Mack Brown 2.0. Carolina couldn’t get in gear offensively, was pushed around defensively, and committed a couple of silly penalties.
3. A mobile opposing quarterback again presented a defensive problem for Carolina. Tech started the game with Jordan Yates, but switched to Jeff Sims in the second quarter. Sims seemed to create some confusion among the Tar Heel defense, as on a couple of occasions the Heels simply didn’t account for the quarterback at all. He ran it effectively enough that his occasional passes were unexpected enough to be dangerous. Sims finished with 112 yards through the air, 128 yards on the ground, and a combined four touchdowns (three rushing).
4. The quarterback switch changed the game. Geoff Collins’ team averaged just 3.3 yards per play with Yates in the game. After the move to Sims, they clicked along at over eight yards per play. It’s not as though Sims’ appearance was completely unexpected, as Tech has used both quarterbacks this year. But Carolina had trouble dealing with Sims’ dual-threat abilities. He also directed a game-sealing drive after Carolina drew within 35-22 in the fourth quarter. In a situation where one stop would’ve made the game very interesting, Sims and the Jackets marched down the field for 52 yards on 12 plays, consuming over seven minutes of the clock.
“He made all the difference in the world,” Brown said on the THSN. “He’s big and really fast and he threw it well and gave them a spark they didn’t have in the first half. He made the total difference in the game in the second half.”
5. In both of Carolina’s losses, they’ve fallen victim to an opposing offense that grinds through the clock while the Tar Heel defense is unable to get off the field. Georgia Tech held the ball for 18:07 of the decisive second half and averaged 8.3 yards per play in the final 30 minutes.
6. What happened to the Carolina offense? The Tar Heels didn’t look nearly as explosive as they did last week against Virginia. Keep in mind that inconsistency is often a mark of breaking in younger players, which is happening at multiple skill positions. But the offensive line is loaded with experience, and Georgia Tech’s pressure appeared to bother Sam Howell, who was sacked eight times by a Tech defense that had only three sacks during the previous three games.
7. In an incredible career, Saturday night won’t be one for Howell to remember. He spent most of the evening under pressure, struggled to find receivers, was sacked eight times, and lost three fumbles. What’s the reason for those sacks–is it mistakes on the offensive line, receivers needing to gain more separation, or Howell needing to get rid of the ball more decisively?
Yes. It’s a combination of all of those. You don’t give up eight sacks by a breakdown in just one area.
8. Some indecision cost Carolina a timeout early in the second half, and that turned out to not be the worst part of the play. Facing fourth and one (after having been stuffed on third and one), the Tar Heels didn’t get out of the huddle quickly enough and had to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game. Then things got worse instead of better, as Howell was stuffed, handing Tech the ball on the Carolina 39 with 11:25 left in the third quarter.
9. Carolina’s most consistent pass-catching threat this season has clearly been Josh Downs. The emerging second most consistent receiver might be tight end Kamari Morales. The sophomore looked good in Atlanta, making a career-high seven catches for 66 yards and grabbing a very nice third quarter touchdown reception. Emery Simmons also had a career-best day, going for 110 yards on three catches.
10. The running game, however, was almost completely absent. Ty Chandler picked up 48 yards on 17 carries, and Carolina as a team managed just 63 yards on 35 rushes. Sack yardage–of which there was plenty–is subtracted from rushing yards, but the Tar Heels still couldn’t find any consistency on the ground.
11. Mack Brown has said the next step for his special teams is to not just avoid bad plays, but make big game-changing plays. For the second time in three games, the Tar Heels got a blocked punt against Tech. This time it was Giovanni Biggers with a first quarter block that set up the UNC offense in Jacket territory. Howell turned it into an early 7-0 lead with an incredible 23-yard touchdown run through the Tech defense.
12. Unfortunately, however, the special teams also took points off the board in the second quarter. As Grayson Atkins was attempting a 48-yard field goal to make it 10-6, Ed Montilus picked up a false start penalty. Atkins split the uprights with the nullified 48-yard try, but then missed the 53-yard attempt.
13. Carolina has mostly been very good in the fourth quarter under Mack Brown. But so far this year, the second quarter has been a problem. The Tar Heels have been outscored 48-13 in the second period this season.
14. Good job by the officiating crew to get the non-targeting call against Trey Morrison correct early in the third quarter. That would have been a game-changing penalty for the Tar Heel defense (especially with a defensive backfield that was already missing Storm Duck, who missed the game with a lower body injury), but after review, the targeting was eliminated.
15. Nice work by the Georgia Tech marketing and football staff to turn what could have been a very sterile neutral site environment into a good, Tech-friendly atmosphere. The Jackets are contracted to play one game per season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and it looks like it could be a positive for the program.
16. Let’s give Mack Brown the last word: “I can’t figure out why North Carolina is 9-20 in Atlanta,” he said on the THSN. “It makes no sense to me why certain places are harder to play than others. I’ve been doing this a long time and still can’t figure it out…I’m embarrassed by the way we played. It makes you want to throw up, honestly. I hate it for our fans because they’ve been so good.”