UNC, Georgia Tech defenses fueled by 118-point meeting
After Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 68-50 on Nov. 10, 2012, its head coach Paul Johnson summed it up quite well: “It’s like I said, 68 is more than 50."
Naturally, he had to get a quip in, too.
“It’s too bad we missed that two-point conversion.”
That two-point conversion he referenced was part of a 30-point third quarter for the Yellow Jackets. To put that in perspective, Wake Forest did not score 30 points last year in any ACC GAME. Maryland did it just once (against North Carolina, by the way.) And only one team (Clemson) hit the 30-point mark in every ACC game.
On that Saturday in Kenan Stadium, though, there was a veritable cornucopia of points. The 118 combined points were the most ever scored in an ACC game. North Carolina’s 50 points? The most in a loss in ACC history. The 68 allowed? The most allowed at home ever, and the most to an ACC team. That list includes past Florida State teams that dominated the rest of the league.
Even the most ardent supporters of offensive football found themselves disgusted by the way that game unfolded. Obviously, Johnson was fine with the win: “Sometimes you win like that, sometimes you win 6-3.”
Anyone who attempted to play defense that afternoon, however, was not fine with it. UNC’s preseason All-ACC safety Tre Boston had never been a part of a game like that in his life, even at a high school in Florida that never made the playoffs. And he never wants to again.
“It’s one of those times where you just sit back and you take that feeling that you have, that fire that you felt after that game, knowing that that was probably the worst game possible we’ve ever played. I’m not going to say, 'Probably.' It was,” Boston said. “I know that I’ll never let my DBs or defense ever go through anything like that again. If I’ve personally got to stop them, become Superman, I promise.
"That’s just something that you just look back on and you know that can’t happen again.”
Nothing was ever as bad as that game was for the Tar Heels, but the defense had some very shaky moments last year. In eight ACC games, UNC allowed 30 or more points five times and 28 or more six times.
UNC was involved in four of the 15 highest-scoring games in ACC play last year. And three of the top six, including allowing an offensively-challenged Maryland team with a linebacker at quarterback to put up 38 points, its opponent scored more than it had in its three previous games combined.
That game was nearly as painful for Georgia Tech, a team that saw its defense fall apart a few games into the season and had inconsistent efforts on that side of the ball after Al Groh was fired. Preseason All-ACC linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu said that he and his teammates on defense don’t remember that game any more fondly than the Tar Heels do, even though Georgia Tech got the win. He remembers walking off the field without celebrating in Chapel Hill, embarrassed.
“It was definitely a terrible experience, but it definitely brought us together as a unit. It was bad, though,” Attaochu said. “We won, but it felt bad to win. I really didn’t feel like we deserved it after the game. I didn’t really celebrate, I just kind of walked off the field. I was just relieved that we were able to get out of there with a win.”
Both North Carolina and Georgia Tech will be contenders in the Coastal Division again this year, but both still have question marks surrounding their defenses. That game is perhaps the best example of why.
And both teams are fueled by it.
In the secondary, the mantra is always to have a short memory. Quickly move on from giving up a big play, or else it will stick in your head and you won’t play as well as you should. But UNC cornerback Jabari Price said that the Georgia Tech game is impossible to forget. They don’t want to forget, either. In the first year under defensive coordinators Dan Disch and Vic Koenning and the 4-2-5 scheme, there were some bad moments for the UNC defense. And the importance of each player doing their individual job was never more magnified than it was in that 68-50 loss.
“When one guy failed to do his assignment, it was like the whole team would fail,” Price said. “If somebody didn’t come through, the whole team paid for it. We have to come through and look out for each other.”
Both North Carolina and Georgia Tech were teams that hit the 30-point mark more than most -- Georgia Tech did it in seven of eight league games, while the Tar Heels did it in six. The explosive offenses, though, were at times let down by their porous defenses. Players from both defenses said that they want to be the reason their team wins games this year instead of the other way around.
“When the offense wins games, it’s not as fun. When the defense is forcing turnovers and things like that, that’s when the game becomes fun for us,” Attaochu said. “We don’t want to be along for the ride. Our offense gets a lot of attention already because it’s different, so we’re trying to get some attention for playing well."
If both defenses can improve as much as they should this year, it could end up being Georgia Tech and North Carolina vying for the top spot in the Coastal. And that battle starts in Week 3 in Atlanta when North Carolina visits Georgia Tech, where they haven’t won since 1997.
UNC coach Larry Fedora is known for his creative motivational techniques on game week, and Price is sure that there will be something planned for that week too. Not that they need any added motivation.
“I’m pretty sure (Fedora) has something planned. But we still have it in the back of our minds,” Price said. “We haven’t forgotten, because 68 points is 68 points. That’s not going to change.