ATLANTA — If history is any indicator, today’s ACC Coastal Division clash between Georgia Tech and North Carolina figures to be a high-scoring offensive shootout.
The Yellow Jackets and Tar Heels have combined for 50 points or more in each of the last three meetings, including an ACC-record 118 in last year’s 68-50 Tech victory.
History also suggests another Tech win.
The Jackets (2-0 overall, 1-0 ACC) have won seven of the last eight meetings with North Carolina and 13 of the last 15, including the last seven in Atlanta.
But neither Tech coach Paul Johnson and North Carolina coach Larry Fedora are too caught up in the past as they prepare for today’s noon kickoff at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I don’t ever try to figure out how the game’s going to go,” Johnson said. “It could go 6-3. That would be fine if we have six. I just don’t know. They’re very good offensively. I don’t know that you’re going to hold them down like that, but usually when you think it’s going to be high scoring, that’s what happens — 10-7 or 6-3 or something like that. So, who knows what’s going to happen?
“I think the game last year, we had a (long) kickoff return and had a short field. We also threw them a pick-six. They scored on defense, as well. So, when you get crazy scores like that, sometimes it adds up quick.”
The Tar Heels (1-1) definitely haven’t forgotten last year’s game in Chapel Hill, N.C., during which they gave up 68 points, the most ever scored by a North Carolina opponent at Kenan Stadium, as well as amassed 588 yards of total offense, 281 of which (along with three touchdowns) came from Tech quarterback Vad Lee.
And they are determined to lessen the output by the Jackets and their redshirt sophomore signal caller today.
“It’s definitely something the defense talks about,” North Carolina defensive end Tim Jackson said earlier this week. “We’ve talked about it since the day it happened. To know the offense put up 50 points and did everything they could to win the game … for the defense to let them down (is something) we all took personally. We want to make sure it doesn’t happen this week.”
In fact, both defenses are playing considerably better so far this season.
North Carolina has allowed just 23.5 points and 193 rushing yards per game, which includes holding 12th-ranked South Carolina to its lowest point total of the season thus far.
Meanwhile, Tech’s defense, led by linebackers Brandon Watts (17 tackles) and Quayshawn Nealy (15 tackles), currently leads the nation in scoring defense (7.0 points per game) and have allowed just 507 total yards in two games.
But both coaches also know that this week’s opposition will be most prolific offense their teams have faced so far on the young season.
North Carolina features a passing attack led by senior quarterback Bryn Renner (49-77-1, 533 yards, 2 TDs) that will challenge the Tech secondary.
“North Carolina was a preseason pick to be one of the top teams in our division,” Johnson said of the Tar Hells. “They’ve got a returning quarterback that’s a great player and a good set of skill guys. Their tight ends (juniors Eric Ebron and Jack Tabb) are probably as good as anybody in the country. … So, it’ll be a huge challenge for us.”
Likewise, Fedora is all too familiar of the kind of damage Tech’s spread-option attack is capable of.
And with Lee seemingly becoming more comfortable throwing to multiple targets like A-back Robert Godhigh and receivers DeAndre Smelter and Michael Summers, he knows it is even more important for his defense to remain focused on their individual tasks.
“You always want your defense to play aggressively, there’s no doubt about it,” Fedora said during his press briefing earlier this week. “You want to play aggressively. But at the same time you’ve got to be responsible for your job. You have option responsibilities no matter how aggressive you want to be. If you have the dive, you’ve got to take the dive. If you’ve got the quarterback, you have to take the quarterback, you can’t help out on the dive just because you want to go get the guy.
“It boils down to being very disciplined. You can still play hard and be disciplined. So if we play hard and we’ve got a lot of guys running the football, we’ve got a chance.”
That all said, Johnson says that if the anticipated shootout materializes, he expects his Jackets to be ready and keep pace.
“We’ve played a lot of those games,” Johnson said. “Maybe it wasn’t 68-50, but there have been a lot of high-scoring games where you didn’t want to miss your turn. … You just adjust to what’s happening and play.
“Everytime you get the ball, you’re trying to score. It doesn’t matter if its 50-40 or 6-3, you’re trying to score. So, that part doesn’t change. … Against good teams, when you’ve got chances to make plays to score, you’ve got to do it. You won’t get second and third chances.”