By Doug Roberson
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Georgia Tech’s defense, fresh off performances that seemed to show some improvement since the firing of coordinator Al Groh, seemed to regress in the first 35 minutes of Saturday’s 68-50 win at North Carolina.
But then Tech’s defense started making plays, beginning with three consecutive stops in the third quarter that helped to change the outcome of the game.
“We talked about at halftime if we could get a couple of stops, we thought we could win the game,” coach Paul Johnson said.
The first stop came on an interception by end Izaan Cross. The next came when the defense stopped a fake punt on North Carolina’s next possession. The next came when Tech forced North Carolina to go three-and-out.
The results led to 17 consecutive points for the offense to blow open what had been a back-and-forth game.
Lined up outside the tackle, Cross moved upfield and the running back ran past him without trying to block him, confirming Cross’ suspicion that it was a screen play. He tipped the pass and then caught it at the 22-yard line, though he was so excited after the game he couldn’t remember how he intercepted it. It was his first interception at Tech and led to a 35-yard field goal by Chris Tanner that gave the Jackets a 44-36 lead.
“We were just preaching to ourselves, one stop, we just needed one stop,” Cross said.
Before those plays, the Tar Heels used their hurry-up scheme to roll up 36 points and almost 400 yards and rarely seemed troubled by anything the Yellow Jackets tried to do scheme-wise. Running back Giovani Bernard was especially destructive, rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first half and catching a 78-yard touchdown pass on the Tar Heels’ first play of the second half.
Then came Cross’ interception, followed by Tech’s defense forcing a three-and-out. The Tar Heels tried to surprise Tech by calling a fake punt on fourth-and-10 at the 25, but the Jackets stopped the runner after a 2-yard gain. Robbie Godhigh rushed for a 27-yard touchdown on Tech’s next play.
The Jackets then stopped the Heels with another three-and-out on the next drive. The Jackets took advantage with a 32-yard scoring pass from Vad Lee to Godhigh to take a 58-36 lead.
“We figured whoever gets the first stop will win the game,” Cross said. “We wanted to get North Carolina off the field and the rest spoke for itself.”
Though the Jackets made the plays when they needed to, the team gave up 50 points and 497 yards.
Johnson didn’t seem to care afterward, using one of his favorite explanations.
“It’s like I said after the game, 68 is more than 50,” he said. “Sometimes you win like that, sometimes you win 6-3.”