September 18, 2010

Mistakes costly for Heels in 30-24 loss to Yellow Jackets

CHAPEL HILL - North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates had no doubt that the Tar Heels would feel like kicking themselves when it comes time to watch game film.

That won't be easy considering how they shot themselves in the foot in a 30-24 loss to Georgia Tech.

After a first half in which neither team's offense could be stopped, UNC's defense finally held up the Yellow Jackets - briefly, at least. But Carolina couldn't take advantage at the time and paid the price when Tech's triple-option offense got rolling again.

"That's what that offense can do to you," Yates said. "So you have to make the most of it when you have the ball."

Yates passed for 209 yards and a touchdown, as well as running for another score, and tailback Johnny White rushed for a career-high 113 yards.

But Carolina's last drive - and last shot to erase the memory of falling short by the same score after a last-minute drive failed against LSU - resulted in a turnover on downs just inside Tech territory when a Yates check-down to White came up short of the sticks.

That put the ball back in the hands of Tech's offense which had 372 rushing yards in the game, led by Anthony Allen's 115, as well as 104 from quarterback Josh Nesbitt.

(In a bizarre bit of trivia, the final result marked the first time in school history that the Heels had lost by the same score in back-to-back games, and the LSU game was the first time UNC had ever lost 30-24.)

Neither team punted in a first half that saw the teams combine for 463 yards of total offense.

Tech (2-1, 1-0 ACC) and UNC (0-2, 0-1 ACC) traded big plays and long drives, matching one another punch for punch all the way to a 17-17 tie at halftime.

"The first half looked like nobody was going to stop anybody," Tech coach Paul Johnson said.

Carolina's was the first defense to finally take the ball away.

The Heels took advantage of a bad Nesbitt pitch-turned-fumble, and turned it into a 4-yard touchdown run by White four plays later to make it 24-17.

But when the Heels forced the game's first punt - midway through the third quarter - on Tech's next possession, they quickly punted it right back.

When they stopped the Yellow Jackets on a fourth down on the next Tech series, it took just one play to give the ball back, this time when fullback Devon Ramsey nicked the ball out of Yates' hand.

Georgia Tech fell on the fumble, another big opportunity passed UNC by.

"If you can go down and make it more than a one-score ball game, it really enhances your opportunity to kind of make them play left-handed a little bit," UNC coach Butch Davis said. "It takes the ball out of the fullback some of the time; it makes them have to throw the ball a little bit more, do some of the things they don't like to do.

"As long as they're staying in that comfort zone of a tie ball game, slightly behind, a little bit of a lead, they can continue to operate business as usual."

Indeed, the Yellow Jackets stuck to the script and kept running their normal offense.

Nesbitt did complete a big 41-yard pass play to extend the next drive - he was 3-for-4 passing for 76 yards and a touchdown overall - but finished it more typically with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone to tie the game.

Carolina wouldn't score again, making a pair of fourth-quarter field goals plenty for Tech to win.

Because once they took the lead, the Jackets also took the ball out of the Tar Heels' hands.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Tech had taken 59 of the last 67 snaps in the game and controlled the ball for 25 minutes of a 29-minute stretch.

"You get real antsy and just have to try to find ways to stay loose," White said.

Even with Carolina controlling the ball 11 minutes in the first quarter, Tech ended up with a 10-minute advantage in time of possession when the game was over.

With fewer opportunities, the Tar Heels had to make the most of the ones they had. Instead, they gave away a game they could have won.

They didn't have to wait to watch the film to know that.


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