ATLANTA (AP) — North Carolina began spending extra practice time on Georgia Tech's spread option offense over the summer. More opportunity for added preparation came with an off week before Saturday's game.
Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora had good motivation to devote the extra attention to the game. North Carolina's defense was overwhelmed in a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech last season that was the highest-scoring game in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
This week the Yellow Jackets are bringing more than the spread attack with the triple-option wizardry. Coach Paul Johnson has introduced a diamond alignment out of the shotgun that caused extra concerns for Fedora and his staff.
"The triple-option obviously with what they do is enough," Fedora said. "Then they added the new formation. They're doing some really good things out of it. They're running four or five different running plays out of it. They're throwing the ball out of it."
North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC) will try for its first win at Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0) since 1997.
Here are five things to watch in the important ACC Coastal Division game:
DIAMOND OR NO DIAMOND: Normally, Georgia Tech has a fullback called a B-back lined up behind quarterback Vad Lee. Two more running backs called A-backs are spread outside. In the diamond, Lee lines up in the shotgun and the running backs are all in the backfield for the snap. Predictably, Johnson was cagy as he called the new formation "just a little change-up." He suggested he used the new look for only a couple plays in last week's 38-14 win at Duke. "We may line up in it and run a whole game, or may line up in it and run none," he said.
BETTER D FOR TAR HEELS: North Carolina associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said he has challenged the Tar Heels to avoid a repeat of last year's defensive breakdowns against Georgia Tech. "This year we've been preaching toughness, we've been preaching hard edge, we've been preaching testing their manhood," said Koenning, who added there will be no excuses after all the extra practice time devoted to the game.
MORE GOOD D FOR YELLOW JACKETS: The most important new look for Georgia Tech is first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof's 4-3 scheme. Defense has been the Yellow Jackets' weakness in recent seasons. The new defense has allowed only 14 points in two games. Stopping North Carolina will be a more stressful challenge. The Tar Heels beat Middle Tennessee 40-20 two weeks ago. North Carolina's 511 total yards in the win marked the 13th time in Fedora's 14 games as coach the Tar Heels have gained at least 400 yards. It was the team's seventh game under Fedora with at least 40 points. Quarterback Bryn Renner's two touchdown passes this year give him 56 for his career, two behind T.J. Yates for second place on the school records.
SPREADING THE PRAISE: North Carolina is expecting to see the Yellow Jackets emphasize the spread option plays that have been Johnson's trademark through his years at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech. Johnson is so immersed in the offense he doesn't even hold a list of the plays on the sideline. He's had his playbook memorized for years. "Paul has been running this offense since he was probably in diapers and he knows all the answers," Fedora said. "Whatever you throw at him, he's seen it I promise you. He's going to find a way." Johnson's offense has more yards rushing than any FBS team since he took the Georgia Tech job in 2008. Lee has added more balance with his passing skills. Last week Lee became the first Georgia Tech quarterback since Reggie Ball in 2006 to throw four touchdown passes in a game.
YELLOW JACKETS CAN'T LOOK AHEAD: Georgia Tech is in the middle of an important stretch where it plays three ACC games in 12 days. The Yellow Jackets will have a quick turnaround before playing Virginia Tech at home on Thursday night. "You can't worry about that game," Johnson said. "We are dead-focused on North Carolina. We know it's going to be a tough game and when we finish that game, we'll move on to the next one."