ATLANTA — Looking to cut down on unforced errors, Georgia Tech will attempt to pick up its first Atlantic Coast Conference victory of the season when the Yellow Jackets visit North Carolina this weekend, September 30.
“It’s a cardinal sin in football that you don’t beat yourself, and I thought that’s what we did last week at NC State,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary, whose Yellow Jackets fell to the Wolfpack, 30-23, in overtime after holding a 13-0 halftime lead. “I told our players that I respect the fact that we came back and had a chance to win the game. But when you have momentum you need to have a killer instinct, and we did not. One play did not win or lose that game, there were a number of plays that decided the game. Now we must move on and get ready for North Carolina.”
The Yellow Jackets visit North Carolina on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The game will be regionally televised on ABC, while live radio coverage will be available on the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network (WGST 640 AM in the Atlanta area).
Tech enters the game with a 2-2 overall record and a 0-2 mark in ACC play after falling to NC State last Thursday night. North Carolina is 3-1, 1-1 after picking up a non-conference win over Marshall last weekend.
“North Carolina is playing with some confidence right now,” said O’Leary. “Offensively, they have a quarterback in Ronald Curry who is very similar to [Virginia Tech’s] Michael Vick. Anytime you put the ball in the hands of someone who can run and pass, and do both pretty well, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. I was impressed with their running game last week. They went after Marshall and attacked them very well with the power game. And they have enough versatility in their passing game to make sure that you defend the field. “
The Tar Heel offense is under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain, the former head coach at NC State. O’Leary says that he sees some similarities in what North Carolina is doing now with what NC State has done in the past.
“You see Mike’s influence there, but you also see what North Carolina has done in the past, too,” said O’Leary. “You still have the tackle-to-tackle power game of North Carolina, and that now goes with the option and passing game of NC State.”
While the Tar Heels like to establish the power running game, Tech has been successful in shutting down the run this season. The Yellow Jackets are holding opponents to just 78.0 yards per game on the ground, the third best figure in the ACC and the 14th best in the nation. Opponents are averaging just 2.2 yards per rush against Tech.
“We run enough of the power game ourselves, and I’m anxious to see the matchup because I think we bow up pretty well,” said O’Leary. “But I’m more concerned with Curry and when he has his hands on the ball and is getting out of situations. That’s where he seems to be the most dangerous. He keeps his vision and gets the ball downfield, but he also has enough quickness to run for the necessary first down yardage.”
North Carolina typically features a solid defense, and this year is no exception. The Tar Heels rank 35th nationally in total defense, holding opponents to 310.0 yards per game, and feature the nation’s 11th best rushing defense at 75.2 yards per contest.
With the Yellow Jackets playing on Thursday of last week, O’Leary and his staff used the long weekend to evaluate the offense and defense.
“We are averaging about 80 plays a game, and we’re getting four and five yards a play,” said O’Leary. “But we are not making big plays. We have only made what I consider one big play ” Kelly Campbell’s catch against Navy. That’s something that we’re aware of and we are trying to work through. And that is going to open things up when we get that accomplished.”
Tech’s offense has just two plays of more than 30 yards this season ” tailback Joe Burns’ 31-yard touchdown run at NC State last week and Campbell’s 50-yard touchdown reception against Navy.
“I think the lack of big plays comes from a couple of different things,” noted O’Leary. “When you have some young players up front, you can’t do as many seven-step drops because of the protection. That leads to not being able to allow receivers to get downfield. We’ve had some big plays, but we have dropped some balls. We are dropping catchable balls ” they may be a tough catch, but we need to start coming up with the ball.”
Defensively, O’Leary has been pleased with his team’s effort. After ranking eighth in the ACC in total defense last year, Tech has posted the fifth-best defense in the conference in 2000. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 105 rushing yards less a game than last season.
“Defensively, I think that we are playing much better,” said O’Leary. “But when it gets down to third down and critical situations we have to make some plays. We are in the right calls, we just have some young players who didn’t react the right way. They are playing faster and playing more aggressively, but we just need to continue to get better each week.
“The two areas that we need to improve on are catching the ball and getting yards after the catch, and defending the ball in the air. We have put an emphasis on that, and if we can improve in those areas then we are going to be fine.”
On the injury front, O’Leary reported that Tech should be back to a near-full lineup on Saturday. Junior free safety Jeremy Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.), who suffered a sprained knee at NC State last week, returned to practice and is probable for the North Carolina game. Sophomore Will Glover (Tampa, Fla.) is listed as questionable with a strained calf.