Georgia Tech’s Orwin Smith (17) celebrates with David Sims after Sims scored a touchdown in the second quarter against North Carolina on Saturday in Atlanta. Tech won 35-28 to improve to 4-0 on the season and open up its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule with a W.
ATLANTA -- After three fairly easy quizzes, Georgia Tech braced for its first tough exam of the fall semester when No. 25 North Carolina came to town.
It wasn't quite the "A-plus" performance professor Paul Johnson and his students would've preferred, but the 24th-ranked Yellow Jackets were more than happy with Saturday's 35-28 victory in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener before 46,849 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Grade it an "A" in fortitude and effort, with a solid "B" in execution, especially for Tech's most scrutinized areas - the pass offense and the defense.
"After the first few games, we thought we'd try to make one of them a little more exciting," Johnson joked after Tech had won its first three games by an average of 38.3 points. "I'm proud of our guys, especially they came back in the fourth quarter after they tied the game up.
"We had to overcome a lot of self-inflicted stuff (Saturday). ... They hit some plays in the second half, but when we had to, the defense got a couple of stops, and that was all we needed to win the game."
The Tech defense, indeed, came up with some stops when it had to make them.
In fact, despite giving up three rather quick scoring dives, the Jackets (4-0, 1-0 in the ACC) held the visiting Tar Heels (3-1, 1-1) to 322 total yards and sacked UNC quarterback Bryn Renner seven times - three of which came from Jeremiah Attachou, a third of his team-high nine tackles on the day.
"I feel like it was good for us as a team and as a defense to get this adverse situation and have our backs against the wall and have to fight back," Attachou said. "We haven't had that the first three games. We'd like to do better. There are a lot of things we can fix, ... but as a team, we came together."
Meanwhile, Tevin Washington continued to show that success Tech's spread option offense had through the air through the first three games was no fluke.
The 6-foot, 205-pound redshirt junior completed 10 of 14 passes with one interception for 184 yards. Six of those completions went to Stephen Hill, who posted more than 100 yards receiving for the third time on the young season with 151 yards, including a 59-yard scoring strike in the first half.
"I guess until (opposing defenses) start respecting the pass, I guess we'll keep hitting big pass plays," said Washington, who added 74 yards and two TDs on 25 carries on the ground. "Down the road, we just want to do whatever it takes to get the win."
And what it took Saturday was coming up with enough on both offense and defense to build scoring 17 straight points in the first half - the last a 2-yard scoring run from Roddy Jones with 11 seconds left - after giving up a touchdown on North Carolina's first possession to take a 17-7 lead into intermission.
But after the Jackets had to settle for Justin Moore's second field goal of the game in three attempts - this one from 36 yards out with 9:47 left in the third quarter, North Carolina's offense began to get cranked up.
Renner helped pull UNC back into the game on the next possession, hitting on all five of his passes for 66 yards as the Tar Heels drove 72 yards before connecting with tight end Nelson Hurst on a 6-yard TD strike, cutting Tech's lead to 20-14 with 7:37 left in the period.
Tech had an answer as Washington engineered a 13-play, 81-yard march that drained 6:05 off the clock and ended when he sneaked in from a yard out, and then pitched to David Sims for the two-point conversion to give the Jackets their two-score lead back at 28-14 with 1:25 left in the quarter.
Still, North Carolina persisted as Renner drove the Tar Heels down the field quickly once again.
This time, it took just 1:25 for them to reach the end zone, which they did when Renner hit Eric Ebron with a 20-yard TD pass, cutting Tech's lead to just 28-21 with 14:53 to play.
And the Jackets missed an opportunity to perhaps put the game away when Hill dropped another wide-open pass from Washington that would likely have wound up as a touchdown, and Tech was forced to punt after coming up short on third down.
And North Carolina made Tech pay when Giovany Bernard burst up the middle for a 55-yard TD run that pulled the Tar Heels even at 28-28 with 7:22 left.
But it took Tech just 2:02, and the steady hands of Jones to get the lead back.
Washington rolled to his left on an option play and sent a pitch towards the 5-9, 202-pound redshirt senior A-back that appeared to be off the mark.
But Jones not only grabbed it to prevent the turnover, but burst down the sideline for 48 of his 65 yards on the day down to the North Carolina 9.
Two plays later, Washington's slithered through the middle for a 5-yard score that put the Jackets back in front 35-28 with 5:20 to play.
"I pitched it right in front of him so he could catch it on the run," Washington said of the pitch to Jones. "That's how we practice it - pitching it in front of him. So, I just tried to make sure I put it in front of him and didn't over pitch it."
But it still wasn't over, even after Tech forced North Carolina to punt with 3:07 remaining.
The Jackets got a first down and forced the Tar Heels to burn all three of their timeouts, but UNC got the ball back on more time.
However, two more sacks of Renner - one by Emmanuel Dieke and the final one from Attachou - helped drain much of the remainder of the clock, and the game ended anti-climactically with a 10-second runoff following a motion penalty on UNC from its own 44.
Bernard did finish the game with 155 yards and two TDs on 17 carries for North Carolina and Renner finished 17 of 25 for 204 yards and two scores, but the Jackets made enough plays to keep the Tar Heels at bay, including interceptions from Isaiah Johnson and Rod Sweeting.
Meanwhile, the Tech offense - while not quite as ridiculously prolific as the previous three weeks - did roll up 496 yards of total offense, including 79 yards on the ground and 21 more receiving from Orwin Smith.