ATLANTA – A span of three plays was enough to provide context for North Carolina’s 33-7 loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Trailing 10-0 early in the second half, UNC’s defense offered a glimmer of hope when defensive tackle Jason Strowbridge hit Yellow Jackets quarterback TaQuon Marshall to force a fumble and linebacker Cole Holcomb recovered at the Georgia Tech 48. On UNC’s next play, quarterback Chazz Surratt threw into triple coverage and was intercepted at the 33-yard line. The Yellow Jackets’ offense returned to the field and B-back KirVonte Benson promptly broke off a 63-yard touchdown run down the right sideline to push the lead to 17-0.
As well as UNC’s defense played for stretches of time, the offense played poorly throughout to negate those efforts. The Tar Heels were outgained 456-247, ran 18 fewer plays than Georgia Tech (76-58) and possessed the ball for only 19 minutes and 36 seconds. UNC was held to 101 total yards of offense on 27 plays in the first half, good for a 3.7-yards-per-play average.
The Yellow Jackets led 10-0 at halftime. It was the first time UNC has been held scoreless in the first half since the Quick Lane Bowl loss to Rutgers on Dec. 26, 2014.
One for the Record Books
In 10 years as a head coach, Larry Fedora has coached 123 games and only four times during that span has his team been held to single digits. The Tar Heels needed an eight-yard touchdown run by Jordon Brown in the fourth quarter to avoid becoming the first Fedora-coached team to be held scoreless.
In 2008, Southern Miss lost to Boise St., 24-7. In 2014, UNC lost to N.C. State, 35-7. Last season, the Tar Heels lost to Virginia Tech, 34-3.
North Carolina played without eight starters due to injury as defensive tackle Jalen Dalton did not travel with the team. In the first half, backup wide receiver Devin Perry (1 catch, 16 yards) left the game due to injury. He returned to the sideline after halftime in street clothes and a sling for his right arm.
Starting linebacker and leading tackler Cole Holcomb, who had a team-high 12 tackles against the Yellow Jackets, suffered an ankle injury during an onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter.
UNC is currently slated to lose 57 starts due to injury this season.
Defensive Feast or Famine Early
John Papuchis’s defense forced a trio of three-and-outs in the first half, but allowed scoring drives on Georgia Tech’s other two possessions that were mammoth in nature. The Yellow Jackets capped an 18-play, 90-yard scoring drive with TaQuon Marshall’s five-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and then settled for a 21-yard Shawn Davis field goal after a 17-play, 74-yard drive.
Saturday marked the first time in Paul Johnson’s career in Atlanta that Georgia Tech had two scoring drives of 17 plays or longer.
After a promising start to his redshirt freshman season, Surratt’s youth and inexperience was on display in Atlanta. He completed 18-of-30 passes for 141 yards and an interception, and much of his success came on short passes to the perimeter. His few passes down the field were often an adventure as Georgia Tech defensive backs dropped a pair of potential interceptions in addition to A.J. Gray’s third-quarter pick.
Surratt ran 11 times for 30 yards and was sacked twice.
Third Down Woes Continue
UNC was 2-of-12 on third down, converting a 3rd-and-3 in the second quarter and a 3rd-and-9 in the third quarter. Georgia Tech was much more effective, hitting on 8-of-16 third-down attempts. Four of those conversions came on 3rd-and-long.
The Tar Heels entered the game ranked 112th nationally in third down conversion percentage (31.5) and 87th in third down conversion defense (40.3).
UNC welcomes No. 22 Notre Dame to Kenan Stadium for the first time since 2008 next Saturday (3:30 p.m./ABC or ESPN). The Fighting Irish are 3-1 and play Miami (Ohio) this evening.
Photos: UNC vs. Georgia TechStart SlideShow