Carolina had no defense for what Georgia Tech did Saturday.
The Tar Heels, in fact, gave up nine more points than their basketball brethren did in THAT season opener Friday night (a 76-59 win over Gardner Webb).
In losing to the nearly-defenseless (themselves) Yellow Jackets, 68-50, Larry Fedora’s first UNC football team has much less to play for; it won’t have a losing record and could still finish 8-4, but that is no better than any of his predecessors have done over the last 15 seasons of football frustration.
The only consolation in giving up those 68 points was that it fell short of the school-record 69 that Carolina allowed Louisville to score in 2004. But that was on the road; this was at home before a Homecoming crowd that, by midway through the second half, had to wonder what the heck it came home for.
An almost capacity-filled Kenan did witness the highest-scoring football contest in UNC history on its way to the most points in a game ever played by any ACC team. Now, that’s one of those neurotic records to feel good about because it meant YOU had to score a bunch yourself.
And a bunch it was, Carolina leading 29-28 at halftime before succumbing in a third quarter the Tar Heels have owned all season. Coming into their 10th game, they had outscored opponents 89-23 in the third quarter. This time, they were waxed 30-14 in Period 3 during which the Yellow Jackets scored 24 unanswered to pretty much seal the deal for the bees.
The second half, In fact, started like none Kenan has ever seen before — a 100-yard kickoff return by Tech’s Jamal Golden followed by – on Carolina’s very first snap from scrimmage – a 79-yard tightrope run down the left sideline by (who else?) Giovani Bernard with a Bryn Renner screen pass.
After that exchange, the Heels still led by two points but it was their last lead. Three more Tech touchdowns and a field goal followed before they mounted a rally. That came on a long-awaited sustained drive followed by the only major mistake Georgia Tech freshman quarterback Vad Lee made all day. His receiver went right and he threw left, directly to Carolina corner Tim Scott who took it back for a 34-yard pick 6 to, how they say, reduce the deficit to 58-50.
As it was, while winning the starting job, Lee helped the Jackets score the most points in their own storied history while carving up their hosts with the triple option for which UNC had an extra week to prepare. Sometimes it was an option, but often it was just a quick pitch to a back who, behind low-cutting blockers on the edge, gobbled up huge chunks of yardage on their way to 380 total on the ground. Add to that 208 passing. And add to that 740 return yards. Yikes.
Fedora likes to talk about winning all three phases of the game and making at least one-game-changing play in special teams. The Hat had to be chewing on a Red Bull can after this one was over and his team LOST all three phases in dramatic fashion. Carolina not only was outgained by Tech 588-497, it gave up that long TD return and handed the visitors three more breaks of the game with a fumble in the red zone, an interception in their red zone and a fake punt that fooled no one and gave the Jackets another short field from which to score.
Even Bernard, who entered the game leading the nation in punt returns, took two back for a grand total of two yards while again tweaking his sore ankle, He finished with 173 all-purpose yards that will likely end all the Heisman talkn although Gio’s 79 on the ground were enough to make him Carolina’s first consecutive-season thousand-yard rusher since Narone Means 20 years ago.
An earlier laughing stock in the league, Virginia has reeled off upset wins at N.C. State and at home against Miami, scoring 77 points in the process. That means a dinged-up, knocked-around and head-hanging defense had better get better in a hurry. More bending but not so much breaking would be a good goal.
And please, no more basketball scores unless, of course, Fedora’s fast-break offense can hit the game-winner at the buzzer.