- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s defense has struggled to get off the field all season. Now the Tar Heels are facing an offense - and a Georgia Tech team - that has befuddled them for years.

The Yellow Jackets (5-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won five straight and 14 of 16 meetings heading into Saturday’s game, including a 68-50 win in Chapel Hill two years ago that stands as the highest-scoring game in league history.

They also run a triple-option attack that will test the discipline of a UNC defense that keeps missing tackles, surrendering big plays and giving up points at a league-worst pace.

“It goes back to everybody’s pressing to try to do more, and you don’t have to do more,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “The formula is just do your job. If you do your job and do it harder than the guy across from you, you’ll be fine.”

The Tar Heels (2-4, 0-2) are allowing 43.3 points and 508 yards per game, about 15 points and 110 yards more than the next-worst ACC team. Much of that damage has come in a four-game losing streak that began with giving up 70 points at East Carolina and included allowing 50 points at Clemson and Notre Dame.

That defense will have to figure out how to make stops Saturday against an offense that relentlessly runs the ball and capitalizes on defensive mistakes.

“This is the most discipline we’ll ever need during the season,” safety Tim Scott said.

The Yellow Jackets are coming off a home loss against Duke, which dropped them from the Top 25. Georgia Tech committed three turnovers in that game, while quarterback Justin Thomas tried to play through an ankle injury.

Georgia Tech, which is averaging nearly 295 yards rushing, hasn’t lost to the Tar Heels since 2008.

“There is no carry-over,” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said. “There shouldn’t be. But it’s hard to say when you deal with 18-to-22 year-olds. Every season starts different. You start new.”


Here are things to watch in Saturday’s Georgia Tech-North Carolina game:

BALL CONTROL: The Yellow Jackets are holding the ball at around 33 minutes per game to keep their defense off the field. Compare that to UNC, which runs a no-huddle offense that leaves their struggling defense on the field for longer stretches. Georgia Tech is giving up an ACC-worst 6.3 yards per play compared to UNC’s 6.2, but that damage is minimized by being on the field for 124 fewer plays.

WILLIAMS ALL DAY?: The Tar Heels went away from their quarterback rotation of junior Marquise Williams and redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky last week for the first time this season. Williams played the entire way and accounted for four touchdowns. Fedora said he stayed with Williams because the offense had a good rhythm early, but that could change Saturday if UNC has a sluggish start.

MAXIMIZING POSSESSIONS: The Tar Heels had just 10 possessions in last year’s 28-20 loss in Atlanta, with the Yellow Jackets running the final 6:27 off the clock to seal the win. They can’t afford to squander many chances Saturday. “We have to use those possessions wisely,” quarterback Marquise Williams said.

THOMAS AND BYERLY: Georgia Tech redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas threw two interceptions last weekend after throwing just one during Georgia Tech’s 5-0 start. Johnson said backup Tim Byerly could see more playing time after running for two scores after Thomas left the Duke game, though Thomas is still his starter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: North Carolina sophomore Ryan Switzer tied an NCAA single-season record by returning five punts for touchdowns last year, but he hasn’t managed one this year and the Tar Heels are averaging a league-low 3.8 yards per return. Fedora is looking for a jolt from his special teams, starting with Switzer, to help the Tar Heels dig out from their 2-4 start.


AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.


Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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