ATLANTA — North Carolinas defense spent two weeks of practice preparing for Georgia Techs spread-option offense. The Tar Heels practiced against cut blocks. They went through tests that gauged their understanding of their defensive assignments. They spent no shortage of time watching film.
None of that mattered in the second half, though. After a strong first half, UNCs defense faded in the second half of the Tar Heels 28-20 defeat against the Yellow Jackets. Did the Tar Heels tire? Become less disciplined? Did Georgia Tech make effective halftime adjustments?
UNC coach Larry Fedora and his players had difficulty answering those questions.
I thought our staff put them in position to make plays, UNC coach Larry Fedora said. I thought guys were there. It was not like we didnt have answers for what they were doing. We had guys where they were supposed to be, and then youve just got to make the tackle.
What UNCs defense accomplished Saturday was an improvement over last season, when the Tar Heels allowed a season-high 7.4 yards per play in a 68-50 loss against Georgia Tech. UNC on Saturday allowed 5.2 yards per play, though.
Even so, the Yellow Jackets dominated in time of possession and gained more than 300 yards rushing for the sixth consecutive season against UNC. The Tar Heels now have lost five consecutive in the series. Afterward, Fedora expressed joy that UNC wont have to face Georgia Techs offense again at least not until 2014.
Itll be nice that we dont have to deal with the triple-option, he said.
ONE DOWN, 11 MORE TO GO
Before the season began, Fedora didnt make a secret out of what he expected from Eric Ebron, UNCs junior tight end. Twelve touchdowns, Fedora said for the first time in July. Thats how many touchdown passes he expected Ebron to catch.
Ebron caught his first one of the season on Saturday a one-handed, 19-yard catch that gave the Tar Heels a 13-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Its either just go get it, Ebron said of Renners throw, which was high, or look like a loser. So Id rather go get it.
Ebron finished with six catches for 108 yards. It was the first 100-yard receiving game of his career, but he suffered a right hand injury that limited him in the second half. He had the hand wrapped in a bandage after the game, but Ebron said it would be all right.
HEELS WILL STILL GO FOR TWO
Had UNC managed to score a touchdown on either of its final two drives on Saturday, the Tar Heels would have needed to make a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28. The reason? UNC went for two after its first touchdown, and didnt make it.
Under Fedora, the Tar Heels often try to catch an opposing teams special teams off guard. Tommy Hibbard, the teams holder on field goal and extra point attempts, has the option to call a play that will allow UNC to try for a two-point conversion.
Hibbard did that on Saturday and, though it didnt work, Fedora said it was the right call.
Were not going to coach scared, he said. I mean, were going to coach to win football games. Were always going to be aggressive. Youve just got to make the dang play, thats all youve got to do. Its there. Take advantage of it.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter