It’s all lining up so well for No. 13 North Carolina. Now the Tar Heels just need the finishing touches.
It’s a two-game home stretch to finish the regular season, starting Saturday against Georgia Tech in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Tar Heels (9-1, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) already have a spot reserved in the ACC championship game, while redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye has emerged as an outside candidate in the Heisman Trophy discussion.
“Probably the best thing about this team is they’re not near satisfied with how they’re playing,” coach Mack Brown said. “They’ve been a team that’s been very receptive to criticism.”
North Carolina is 9-1 for the fourth time since 1980, so this is special territory.
Georgia Tech (4-6, 3-4) must win one of its final two games — against the Tar Heels and No. 1 Georgia — in order to become bowl eligible.
“It’s a big challenge for us this weekend,” interim coach Brent Key said. “We look forward to it.”
The Yellow Jackets are 3-3 under Key. The victories include a road win at then-No. 24 Pittsburgh, so the potential is there.
Georgia Tech is using quarterback Zach Gibson with Jeff Sims, who was huge in last year’s upset of North Carolina, away from the team for the rest of the season due to a foot injury and Zach Pyron also done for the campaign. Pyron sustained a broken clavicle during last weekend’s 35-14 loss to Miami.
Key said it will be imperative that the Yellow Jackets find ways to run the ball against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina has been involved in numerous close games. Too many, according to Brown.
“We just can’t put our foot on the gas and put somebody away,” he said. “And then it’s like we go to sleep for a while. I don’t know. It’s something that can get you beat.”
Gaining a killer instinct is something that could benefit North Carolina. With all the passing success for Maye, there are elements lacking with the rushing attack.
“There’s a certain toughness you’ve got to have in the red-zone run game,” Brown said.
This game ought to have the Tar Heels’ attention considering Georgia Tech’s stunning 45-22 victory in last year’s meeting in Atlanta.
“I looked at it (Monday) morning and it made me throw up,” Brown said of reviewing last year’s game.
There is plenty of motivation for the Yellow Jackets.
“They’re still in contention for a bowl bid, so they’re going to come in here and give us the best shot they’ve got,” Brown said.
Maye threw for a season-best 448 yards last week at Wake Forest. He also led the Tar Heels in rushing for the fifth time this year.
North Carolina receiver Josh Downs set an ACC record for a three-game stretch by catching 37 passes. He could be busier than normal depending on the status of receiver Antoine Green, who’s dealing with an upper-body injury.
“They put him in different spots to get those matchups with him,” Key said of Downs. “He’s a dynamic guy.”
North Carolina linebacker Cedric Gray leads the ACC with 10.8 tackles per game.
–Field Level Media