Let’s be clear – UNC’s defense doesn’t deserve all of the blame for the third quarter debacle. Yes, the Tar Heels gave up 30 points, 145 yards and seven first downs, but the responsibility for the post-halftime collapse falls on all three phases equally.
Jamal Golden started the avalanche with a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown to open the second half. UNC promptly answered with Gio Bernard’s 78-yard touchdown reception to retake the lead. Georgia Tech, however, would score 24 unanswered points to blow open the game en route to a 68-50 victory.
The Yellow Jackets marched back down the field and capped the 70-yard drive with Robert Godhigh’s 4-yard run. On the first play of North Carolina’s ensuing possession, Byrn Renner attempted to loft a screen pass to Bernard in the left flat, but defensive end Izaan Cross jumped up and grabbed the interception to give his offense the ball in the red zone.
UNC held the Yellow Jackets to a 35-yard field goal, but a quick three-and-out on its next possession brought out the punt team on 4th-and-10.
Punter Tommy Hibbard read his keys and elected to run right on a fake punt play. Brandon Watts sniffed the run, however, tackling the sophomore for a 2-yard gain.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora explained the play call during his postgame press conference.
"It was an option that he could run or punt and obviously we would've liked him to have punted in that situation,” Fedora said. “If you're going to run it, you better get the first down and we just made a bad choice. But, again, that's my responsibility because I'm the one that gave him that choice and so that's on me."
Making matters worse, Godhigh took Georgia Tech’s first snap after the botched punt fake and scampered 27 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown and a 51-36 lead.
Another Tar Heel three-and-out gave Georgia Tech a short field once again and Vad Lee connected with Godhigh in traffic down the middle for a 58-36 margin.
UNC ended the quarter with a solid drive that ended with Renner finding Quinshad Davis for an 11-yard touchdown pass, but the damage was done.
There was plenty of blame to go around following the game.
“After they returned the kickoff for a touchdown, I think they got the momentum on their side,” Renner said. “Coming out we had a touchdown with Gio, but then I threw a pick the next play and we didn’t really have the ball much. That falls on me and that falls on this offense.”
Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams refused to lay blame on the offense, though, instead accepting responsibility for the defensive lapses in the third quarter while acknowledging the special teams miscues.
The educational value, according to Bernard, is in learning to halt an opponent’s momentum.
“That’s just adversity,” Bernard said. “As an offense, as a defense, really just as a team, you’re going to face adversity throughout the game. We’ve just got to be able to come up with plays and we weren’t able to do that.”
After North Carolina held the time of possession edge in the first half (15:18-14:42), Georgia Tech dominated the clock in the third quarter with a 10:20-4:40 advantage.
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