CHAPEL HILL – Desperately in need of a win in its home and ACC opener, North Carolina unraveled down the stretch in a 30-24 loss to Georgia Tech Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
Its previous contest, a loss to then-21st-ranked LSU by the same score, left fans with reason to believe the Tar Heels might still be able to salvage something positive from a train wreck of a preseason. In its 122-year history of college football, Carolina had never lost a game by an identical score in consecutive weeks.
But as inspiring as UNC’s comeback effort versus the Tigers, its performance versus the Yellow Jackets was especially lackluster.
Tech (2-1, 1-0 ACC) and Carolina moved the ball up and down the field with ease in the first half, with each team scoring on three consecutive possessions. A 20-yard field goal by Casey Barth provided UNC with an early 3-0 advantage, but a 73-yard touchdown run by Orwin Smith on the Yellow Jackets’ third play from scrimmage foreshadowed a shootout.
Included in the opening stanza fireworks, UNC quarterback T.J. Yates threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Erik Highsmith and ran for a one-yard keeper. Meanwhile, Tech’s Roddy Jones hauled in a 23-yard touchdown reception from Josh Nesbitt and placekicker nailed the first of three field goals on the day for a 17-17 halftime deadlock.
The Tar Heels’ starting tailback Johnny White, whose 17 carries for 115 yards marked a career high for the Asheville senior, scored quickly from four yards out to give Carolina the early second half lead.
However, the remainder of the contest belonged to the Yellow Jackets. A pair of UNC fumbles led to a one-yard touchdown run for Nesbitt and a key go ahead field goal from Blair.
“The first half looked like nobody was going to stop anybody, and then in the second half the dreaded turnovers kind
of reared their head,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “We were fortunate we got some points off of them.”
Nesbitt, the focal point of Tech’s Triple-Option offense, ran for 104 yards, as the Yellow Jackets totaled with 372 yards on the ground.
“Georgia Tech is a tough team to play against, not only from a talent standpoint, but from a schematic standpoint,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “There’s a certain formula that you have to have to try to beat Georgia Tech. You go into the ballgame knowing that you’re just going to have a limited number of possessions during the course of the game just because of the scheme and the style that they play.”
The Tar Heels (0-2, 0-1), which continue to be mired in multiple NCAA and internal school investigations, remained without the services of 12 key players in question.
“We played good coming out of the second half, but four quarters are hard to keep it up,” said UNC linebacker Quan Sturdivant. “We are improving, so we’ve just got to get better next Saturday playing Rutgers (3:30 p.m., ESPNU).”