North Carolina brings long injury list to Georgia Tech game

The size of North Carolina’s daunting injury list looks familiar to Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.

He says it’s the same kind of bad luck the Yellow Jackets endured when they finished 3-9 in 2015.

The Tar Heels (1-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) are hoping to avoid a path to a similarly poor finish when they visit Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-0) on Saturday.

“Right now they’re experiencing a little of what we did in 2015, it sounds like,” Johnson said. “Every time you turn around another guy is getting hurt.”

North Carolina’s already lengthy injury list grew in last week’s 27-17 loss to Duke . The Tar Heels said Thursday receivers Austin Proehl and Rontavius Groves, tight end Carl Tucker and defensive tackle Tyler Powell have been added to the list of players lost for the season with injuries. The team has lost 13 players for the season.

Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said he’s never experienced anything like this year’s rash of injuries . There were 19 players on the injury report before the Duke game. Among nine players lost for the season were three starters: linebacker Andre Smith, receiver Thomas Jackson and offensive lineman William Sweet.

“There are things that are out of our hands that happen, and we have to prepare our team to play no matter what the situation is,” Fedora said. “And so our guys understand that things happen, and somebody else has got to step up and somebody’s got to be ready to go and it’s another opportunity for another player to make plays.”

North Carolina has won three straight against Georgia Tech, including last year’s 48-20 victory.

The Yellow Jackets’ defense, which struggled in a 42-41 loss to Tennessee to open the season, played well in last week’s 35-17 win over Pittsburgh. The defense allowed no points following four lost fumbles.

___

Here are some things to watch when Georgia Tech looks for its fourth 2-0 ACC start in the last seven seasons:

MARSHALL’S FUNDAMENTALS: Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall had two memorable scoring runs against Pittsburgh, one on a tightrope path down the sideline and another on a spectacular spin move. Even so, Johnson said the junior “didn’t play particularly well” and must improve his fundamentals. “He’s a really good athlete,” Johnson said. “I think he gets it. He wants to be good. He’s a really fierce competitor.”

SURRATT’S POISE: UNC redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt has gotten off to a solid start as the starting quarterback, showing chain-moving mobility and the arm to connect deep downfield in last weekend’s loss to Duke. But Surratt also made his first major mistake, flinging the ball while being taken down under pressure for an interception — one that was returned for a touchdown. “Hopefully he learns from that and I’m expecting that he will,” Fedora said. “And he’ll be a better quarterback because of it.”

THREE AND OUT: An encouraging statistic for Georgia Tech’s defense : The unit has forced 19 three-and-outs in 37 defensive series, for a 51.4 percent rate. According to Georgia Tech, Michigan is the only team that has a higher percentage of three-and-outs, 56.6 percent (30 in 53 possessions).

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT?: The Tar Heels have been better defensively since giving up 469 yards in a season-opening loss to California followed by surrendering 705 total yards against Louisville and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. They surrendered 316 yards against Old Dominion and 388 against Duke, but now will face the challenge of slowing the Yellow Jackets’ option attack. UNC has won three straight meetings, but has surrendered an average of 335 yards rushing in those games.

BENSON BREAKING OUT: Sophomore KirVonte Benson is emerging as the Yellow Jackets’ most productive running back. He had 29 carries for 196 yards and two touchdowns — and two lost fumbles — against Pittsburgh. He opened the season with 124 yards rushing against Tennessee. Benson’s 196 yards were the most for a B-back in Johnson’s 10 seasons, topping Anthony Allen’s 195 yards against Virginia on Oct. 9, 2010.

___

AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina contributed to this report.

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