UNC’s Nazair Jones (90) and Dajaun Drennon (17) celebrate after the Tar Heels' defense stopped Georgia Tech on fourth down in the fourth quarter at Kenan Stadium. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com
UNC’s Nazair Jones (90) and Dajaun Drennon (17) celebrate after the Tar Heels' defense stopped Georgia Tech on fourth down in the fourth quarter at Kenan Stadium. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Football

UNC’s defense bends but doesn’t break in big win over Georgia Tech

By Jonathan M. Alexander

jalexander@newsobserver.com

November 05, 2016 06:31 PM

UPDATED November 05, 2016 11:23 PM

CHAPEL HILL

When North Carolina coach Larry Fedora addressed his team at halftime, after giving up 325 yards of offense, he said he didn’t make any adjustments or changes to the defense.

The score was 27-17, and Georgia Tech had been successful in moving the ball down field.

But instead Fedora had a message, and it was a simple one that worked.

“All I told them was to go out there and play pissed off,” Fedora said, shrugging his shoulders.

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In the second half, UNC gave up nearly 200 more yards but allowed only three points. That was the difference that propelled the Tar Heels to a 48-20 win over the Yellow Jackets.

While the Yellow Jackets continued to move the ball down field with its unique triple option offense, the game came down big stops and turnovers. One that included a blocked field goal that would have brought the Yellow Jackets within a touchdown at the end of the first half.

On two straight possessions at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, the Tar Heels forced two fumbles. Before the second fumble, Georgia Tech was in the red zone at UNC’s 14-yard line, threatening to score.

The Tar Heels were able to convert both of those fumbles into touchdowns. T.J. Logan ran for a 20-yard touchdown on one possession and Mitch Trubisky ran for an 18-yard score on the next.

On UNC’s next defensive series, the Tar Heels stopped the Yellow Jackets on fourth down. Fedora said despite having a lead, you never really feel comfortable when playing against Georgia Tech because of its ability to score.

“And that’s what I’m so proud of our defense for,” he said. “And that’s why we talked about somehow besides the turnovers that we needed to create, we had to steal a couple of possessions. And that meant we had to stop them on a third-and-short or a fourth-and-short.”

Andre Smith led the Tar Heels defense with 12 tackles. Smith said he and his teammates fed off each other in the second half after a couple of big hits.

“Donnie (Miles) told me ‘the way you’re playing, you just got me ready to go,’ ” Smith said. “So definitely when one player does it, all it does is pick up the intensity of the defense. So playing with an edge is what willed me to keep moving.”

There was one red flag for UNC’s defense on Saturday. Georgia Tech finished the game with 518 total yards of offense, 334 of them on the ground. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones said he knows that won’t benefit the team in the long run.

“They still got too many yards,” Jones said. “We still got to play better on the inside just because we don’t want to just play to win. We want to play on a level to destroy guys and we’re still working to get there.”

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander