No one saw this coming. Certainly not North Carolina coach Larry Fedora.
With an extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech’s unique offense, and in control of its own destiny in the ACC’s thrilling Coastal Division race, the Tar Heels somehow managed to score 50 points and lose by 18.
The 118 points scored marked a record for an ACC game. If you observed the frenzied scoring action, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine this record falling anytime soon.
Never had an ACC team scored 50 points and lost until Carolina managed that feat on Saturday. But then, the conference is only in its 60th season.
Carolina rolled up 267 yards. On kickoff returns. Of course, they had 11 opportunities.
Not to be outdone, Tech’s Jamal Golden ran up 230 yards on seven returns, though 100 came on a coast-to-coast sprint to ignite the second half. That return gave Tech a lead that lasted 19 seconds.
That’s how long it took for Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner to toss a short pass to Giovani Bernard, who dashed 78 yards up the sideline to score on Carolina’s first play of the second half.
That would be Carolina’s last lead of the day, as Tech would score 30 points. In the third quarter. That’s seven more points than the Tar Heels had allowed in the third quarter all season. The points came so fast that Carolina had to rest its best kick returner, Romar Morris.
How in the world does a team surrender 30 points in 15 minutes? Fedora was honest in his post game press conference. "I don’t have an answer for you right now. We’ll have to go back and look at the film and see what was actually happening out there.
"We used two different fronts throughout the game, and I’m not sure either one of them had much success. Whether they ran it or threw it, we didn’t have much success."
To be fair, only two of Tech’s third quarter scores came on offensive drives. Besides Golden’s kickoff return, a Tech field goal followed an interception, and another touchdown followed an ill-advised fake punt.
"It was an option that he could run or punt," lamented Fedora. "Obviously, we would’ve liked him to have punted in that situation. If you’re going to run it, you better get the first down. We just made a bad choice. But, again, that’s my responsibility, because I’m the one that gave him that choice, so that’s on me."
Still, 30 points in a single quarter? "We fell apart," Fedora recalled. "We basically gave them the game."
When the calculators quit humming, the two teams had amassed 1,085 yards of offense. Tech had 588, 208 of which came through the air, a number so unfathomable that it caught Fedora’s attention.
"You don’t want to give up seven completions for 208 yards, I know that, against a team that traditionally has trouble throwing the football," he observed. "But when you get guys that get their eyes where they’re not supposed to be, and you don’t play with assignment discipline, you give them the opportunity to make big plays."
Of course, it wasn’t like Carolina was stuffing the run, either. Tech ran the ball 67 times and amassed 380 yards. When asked if he’d ever been part of a team that surrendered so many yards on the ground, Fedora replied, "I don’t know. If I did, I probably blocked it out of my memory, so I don’t know the answer to that." Surrendering almost six yards a run, you’d think that Carolina had left some folks sitting back awaiting the occasional pass. You’d think.
"Yeah, they’re known as a running team," cornerback Tim Scott told Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer. "But when they’re running, running, running, they’re going to give you a couple of play-action passes. So, when they did do so, we weren’t prepared for it."
That comment must make the coaching staff feel all warm and fuzzy. What did they do during their bye week? In theory, Tech’s offense can be schemed if you have enough time to prepare and practice. Witness Paul Johnson’s 0-4 bowl record at Tech.
So, coach, how were those practices the last two weeks? "Practices were good," Fedora declared. "We had a lot of energy at practice."
According to linebacker Kevin Reddick, the problem was simple. "Discipline, man," he told Carter. "That’s all it was. Like I told the guys, this game was going to tell how disciplined we were."
Then let the record show that the Carolina defense ranks among the most undisciplined units in college football history.
"I feel bad," defensive tackle Sylvester Williams told Carter. "And I’m sorry. I want to apologize to my coaches. To be honest, the offense, they scored a lot of points. They gave us a chance to win the game. Defensively, we didn’t get it done."
We’ll leave the final reflection to coach Fedora: "If I would’ve saw that coming, I probably wouldn’t have shown up today."
Just like his defense.