Georgia Tech offense, defense rebound vs. UNC

ATLANTA - Both Georgia Tech's offense and defense came into Saturday's game with North Carolina with something to prove.

The defense did so throughout the day, holding Carolina to just 154 yards of total offense.

The offense proved its point by shaking off earlier missed opportunities to punch through two clutch fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Combined, both accomplishments allowed the Yellow Jackets to upset the 22nd-ranked Tar Heels 24-7 before 50,114 soggy fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

"It was a great win for our program," Tech coach Paul Johnson said of the victory after an embarrassing 33-17 loss to Miami in its last outing a week and a half ago. "I'm really proud of our guys. I think a lot of people had written them off and us off.

"I'm proud of our team, and I thought they played hard. We still have a lot of room to grow and get where we want to be, but they competed."

After fighting through some early-seasons aches and defenses geared to stop him, junior Jonathan Dwyer finally had a big day, running for 158 yards on 19 carries, part of a 406-yard effort from an offense that had struggled with inconsistency so far this season.

"We challenged ourselves throughout the week to go and compete and show that we can play against anybody," Dwyer said. "We were going against one of the best defenses in the ACC, maybe even the country. So, we challenged ourselves to go out and compete with this team."

That might not have been possible without the help of a much-maligned defense that had given up 60 points in its last two games.

But with a change to a 4-3 alignment and a much simpler play book, Tech held Carolina in check to just 154 yards.

"We were trying to prove to the nation (critics) are wrong about our defense," said junior safety Morgan Burnett, who finished with a team-high six tackles and intercepted Tar Heel quarterback T.J, Yates twice.

"It was a good day coming off a bad day at Miami. It was a good day for our whole team."

The best may have come during the second half.

The Jackets' spread option offense looked more like the well-oiled machine it's meant to be than the inconsistent unit it was in its last outing against Miami on its first possession.

Keyed by a 35-yard run on the option from Dwyer, Tech drove 88 yards in nine plays, capped by Roddy Jones' 13-yard scoring run - his first touchdown of the season - to give the Jackets a 7-0 lead with 9:03 left in the first quarter.

However, the offense failed to capitalize on several different scoring opportunities, settling for one field goal from Scott Blair after a first down inside the Carolina 5 and missing on two others short kicks.

Thanks to the defense, the lead was still just 10-0 when Tech took possession on Burnett's first interception of the day and a 19-yard return to the Tar Heels' 38 with 2:02 left in the third quarter.

The Jackets finally cashed in when quarterback Josh Nesbitt capped an eight-play drive with a one-yard sneak to extend the lead to 17-0 with 13:31 to play.

Tech still wasn't out of the woods, however. The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving Carolina the ball at the 40.

Four plays later on third and 1, Yates rolled to his right and delivered a strike to Erik Highsmith for a 44-yard score, bringing the Tar Heels to within 17-7 with 12:30 left.

But the Tech offense then answered with perhaps its most impressive drive of the day, taking possession at its own 24 and marching 76 yards in 17 plays - including five third-down conversions - and draining 8:15 off the clock.

Nesbitt, who finished with 97 rushing yards on 32 carries and added 89 yards on 7 of 11 passing, finished off the drive by diving in from a yard out to stretch the lead to 24-7 with just 4:10 to play.

"Coach Johnson told us that we have to accept this challenge, and that they are going to try to compete with us, so we have to fight back," said Dwyer, who had four carries for 31 yards in the final drive, including a critical conversion on third and 6 from the Carolina 22. "If they punch at us, we have to punch back and keep punching. Our mindset was to go out and keep fighting and not let them have any chance of getting back into the game."

Burnett dealt the final knockout blow with his second interception of the game with 1:34 to play and Tech was able to run out the clock.