UNC suffers first ACC loss – to Georgia Tech: what we learned

No. 13 North Carolina’s 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday was another example of the Tar Heels’ inability to play a full game.

If their defense allowed just three touchdowns in any of their last 10 games this season, Carolina (9-2, 6-1 ACC) would win them all. But it wasn’t good enough that night. In fact, the Heels squandered a 17-0 lead to mark the biggest street comeback in Georgia Tech history.

North Carolina coach Mack Brown exits the field after the Tar Heels’ 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday November 19, 2022 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC Robert Willett [email protected]

After that, UNC coach Mack Brown bemoaned his team’s inconsistencies.

“Sometimes we played the best defense we’ve ever played, it’s sad that we don’t play as a team,” Brown said. “We haven’t played as a team all year, we’ve played quarters, we don’t play games so it’s very disappointing.”

Here’s what we learned from losing the heels:

A different kind of defeat

Losing to produced a very different feeling than Carolina’s only other loss this season.

When the Tar Heels fell to Notre Dame 45-32 in September, there was much cause for optimism about their performance. But that loss to the Yellow Jackets? After winning the ACC Coastal Division crown and finishing with a 6-0 record on the road, it was downright draining.

Georgia Tech’s Myles Sims (0) celebrates the Yellowjackets’ 21-17 win over North Carolina on Saturday November 19, 2022 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC Robert Willett [email protected]

Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4) is not a good team by most standards. And the Jackets played without their two top quarterbacks and missed their top receiver. Carolina should be on the up and headed to Charlotte in two weeks to play for the ACC Championship for the second time ever.

That’s why UNC quarterback Drake Maye said it was so disappointing.

“We felt like we were going in the right direction,” Maye said. “And after a win like Wake (Forest) and right where we were, this one just hurts the heart a little bit more. But at the same time it’s a learning experience and we have two big games ahead of us and we’ll focus on those and come back after that. We’ll be back for sure.”

Stuck in the middle

Brown stresses the importance of winning the middle 10 — the last five minutes to finish the first half and the first five minutes to start the second. It went on a little longer, but Brown said Georgia Tech changed the game by scoring touchdowns on their last full drive in the first half and their first drive in the third quarter.

Carolina’s final drive of the second quarter started with 44 seconds left and got a boost on the kickoff return when the Jackets received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. UNC took over from their own 35. A personal foul penalty on center Corey Gaynor helped ruin the drive, and the Heels ended in a punting.

On their first drive in the third quarter, Elijah Green fumbled on a first down run and although he caught it, the Heels lost 13 yards in the game.

Carolina ran nine games combined in the middle eight and was held to minus three yards.

“They go down and score very easily just before half-time and we don’t have enough time to come back and score,” Brown said. “And then we don’t score in the first drive of the third quarter and they come down and score very easily. So it’s a 14-point swing, when for us it should have been a 14-point swing. The middle five are really, really important and they took advantage going into halftime and getting the momentum out and we never got it back.

Seeing red in the zone

Carolina came into play after scoring touchdowns on 76 percent of her chances in the red zone. But the last two games were not so smooth.

In the second half of last week’s win over Wake Forest, Carolina hit WF 1 on one drive and WF 5 on another, but only got three points. Now it was the game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter. But had the Heels scored touchdowns in both situations, they would easily win the game.

There was more of that against the Yellow Jackets. Carolina had a possession in a field goal after reaching Tech 8. And it had another that reached the tech 6 but flipped the ball on downs when Maye was dropped a yard short of the first down.

North Carolina’s Josh Downs (11) works to pull a 19-yard pass from quarterback Drake Maye into fourth place 4:10 to go on Saturday November 19, 2022 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC Playing in the fourth quarter Downs dropped the ball and the Tar Heels fell to the Yellowjackets 21-17. Robert Willett [email protected]

Then there was the final drive of the game for Carolina. When a 25-yard catch from Josh Downs set her up on the GT 18, Maye was tackled on the first down with a 1-yard loss. Thrown incomplete back-to-back passes to Kamari Morales and DJ Jones. And on the fourth down, Downs dropped a safe touchdown pass.

“We didn’t score any touchdowns in the red zone,” Brown said. “We dropped 14 points in the first half.”

This story was originally published Nov 20, 2022 7:10 am.

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CL Brown reports on the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience, including stints as a beat writer at Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stint with the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he received an APSE award, he had stints at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even attempted to run his own website, clbrownhoops.com.