For a half, I believed Carolina had truly figured this football thing out. In miserable, rainy conditions that favored the Yelow Jackets running game and punished UNC's attempts to advance through the air, Bryn Renner and Eric Ebron teamed up to create a highlight reel's worth of spectacular catches. Ebron was grabbing rain-slick balls with one hand and pulling down impossible passes, culminating in this touchdown that launched a thousand gifs:
Meanwhile, the defense was playing better than they had all season, holding Tech to a three-and-out on the first series, and forcing a fumble on the second. Sure, they gave up a 26-yard pass early in the second that led to a Yellow Jacket touchdown, but Renner's three first-half touchdown passes gave the Heels a 20-7 lead. UNC was a defensive stand away from taking a two-touchdown lead in to the half on the road. Things were finally beginning to click.
And then the unravelling began.
First, Vad Lee found Darren Waller for Tech's second touchdown (on yes, first down) just before the end of the half. GT got the ball to start the second, but the Heels held, getting the ball on their own thirteen. Two plays later, Renner found Ryan Switzer for an 82-yard touchdown reception, only to have it negated by a holding penalty committed by right tackle Jon Heck. No UNC player would set foot in the Yellow Jackets' end zone for the remainder of the game.
Georgia Tech responded with nine straight runs, the last of which ended with David Sims in the end zone, possibly without the ball. No matter, the touchdown was upheld on review, and Tech had the lead. UNC struggled to put together a sustained drive the rest of the way, with one drive ending in an interception that bounced off Ebron's hands, and a second with an uncalled pass interference infraction. Georgia Tech meanwhile responded with the running game that had slowly drained the life from the Heels in previous years. GT attempted 71 rushing attempts for 324 yards; a plurality were undertaken by Lee himself. When UNC was forced to punt with 6:27 to play and down eight points, more than one observer predicted they wouldn't touch the ball again. They were right. An exhausted UNC defense couldn't make the necessary tackles, and one of Carolina's best attempts at ending a 16-year streak of road losses slipped away.
So what can we take away from this? The running game is slowly coming along, but as a team UNC managed only 101 yards on 24 carries. In this weather when so many passes were skying over receivers' hands as the wet ball played havoc with Renner's aim, that was a killer. The defense is improving, but both sides of the ball are committing too many penalties and blowing too many chances. The good news is outside of Tech and Miami, the Coastal Division is struggling; Carolina can easily rebound from this and remain in the title hunt. But this team still needs some work, and time is running short to get the missing pieces in place.
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