CHAPEL HILL--- North Carolina had a highly-productive game Saturday afternoon on one side of the ball, but the other side struggled perhaps as much as it ever has in history, as the Tar Heels melted down defensively and dropped a remarkable 68-50 final score to Georgia Tech.
The 118 combined points between the two squads set an all-time Atlantic Coast Conference record for a single game, while the 68 points were the most Georgia Tech has ever put up against a league opponent in over 30 years in the ACC.
For Carolina, it was the second-most points ever allowed in a game, coming just a single point shy of the 69 that Louisville scored back in a 2005 game.
"It didn't feel near the same as it did last time we came off that field (after beating N.C. State)," said UNC head coach Larry Fedora. "It was a pretty poor feeling, actually."
"If I saw that coming, I probably wouldn't have shown up today. I didn't see that coming. We had really good practices. We had a lot of energy at practice. I had no idea."
The Tar Heels showed offensively early on that they were going to have their way with Georgia Tech's defense, as UNC marched 60 yards in just three plays on its opening drive, including a long pass from quarterback Bryn Renner to wide receiver Erik Highsmith, and then a 4-yard scoring run by Giovani Bernard.
But Georgia Tech promptly came back on its own opening offensive drive and showed that they weren't going to be stopped either.
The Yellow Jackets needed just five plays to go 75 yards, as a long play-action pass and then a 25-yard run by Tevin Washington tied the game.
The teams again traded touchdowns later in the opening quarter, as UNC's A.J. Blue and Georgia Tech's Vad Lee each ran over from 1 yard out, and the score was tied 14-14 at the end of the first period.
Lee, a local native of Durham who won a state championship at Hillside High School back in 2010, had a grand return to the Triangle, as the redshirt freshman ran 23 times for 112 net yards, including two rushing touchdowns, and completed six of 10 passes for 169 yards and another touchdown.
"The kids played their butts off," said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. "They played hard, and they made plays. They made a lot of plays."
For Coach Fedora, that may have been the understatement of the weekend, as no matter what defensive front or nuances UNC threw at the Yellow Jacket offense it simply didn't work, as they rolled up a whopping 588 yards of total offense, including 380 rushing yards.
The atrocious defensive play of UNC negated a fine offensive output, as the Heels generated 497 total offensive yards, including 350 through the air for Renner.
"We used two different fronts throughout the game, and I'm not sure either one of them had much success. We went with the 3-4 and a 4-3 and mixed it up throughout the game, and whether they ran it or threw it, we didn't have much success or any consistency," Fedora said.
"I've played against it (Georgia Tech's offense) for four years now," said UNC senior linebacker Kevin Reddick, "I think last year we did okay with it. The other years it kind of gassed us. You just have to be disciplined and that's it."
"The coaches were telling us all week, 'Do you job. Do your job,' and guys didn't come out and do that today," he continued.
What was really surprising was how well Georgia Tech threw the ball.
For a team that's expected to come out and try to run for 300 yards an outing, it's not a total shock that they racked up 380 yards on the ground against Carolina.
But for the Yellow Jackets to amass another 208 through the air, including several passes of 30 or more yards, was inexplicable.
"You don't want to give up seven completions for 208 yards (to Tech)," Fedora said.
"I know that, against a team that traditionally has trouble throwing the football, when you get guys, their eyes where they're not supposed to be and you don't play with assignment discipline, you give them the opportunity to make some big plays."
"They're known as a running team, but when they're running, running, running, they're going to give you a couple play-action passes. When they did do so, we were unprepared for it and it really hurt us," said sophomore cornerback Tim Scott.
Carolina actually led, 29-28, at halftime following a 30-yard scoring run by Romar Morris and then a five-yard blast across the goal line by Blue, which was promptly followed by Thomas Hibbard's fourth two-point conversion pass of the season.
But in the second half the Yellow Jackets hit UNC between the eyes with a flurry of 30 third quarter points, starting with a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown by Jamal Golden on the first play of the second half.
From there the show belonged to Robert Godhigh, who scored three touchdowns in the third quarter alone, covering 4, 27, and 32 yards, which gave the Yellow Jackets a commanding 58-36 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Carolina's lone highlight of the third quarter was a brilliant 78-yard pass from Renner to Bernard in which Bernard broke several tackles and raced to the end zone guided by freshman receiver Quinshad Davis, who made a fantastic block to spring him.
Despite the loss, Bernard had another big game with 172 all-purpose yards (92 receiving, 78 rushing, 2 punt return yards).
Even with all the defensive breakdowns, the game was right there for Carolina but they shot themselves in the foot with two costly turnovers, including a botched snap fumble in Georgia Tech territory in the second quarter that the Yellow Jackets promptly turned into points, and then a Renner interception on a screen pass by a Tech defensive lineman that also was turned into a touchdown.
Those two UNC mistakes turned out to be a huge for the Tar Heels because of the simple fact that they couldn't stop Georgia Tech's offense. Had they avoided any huge errors they may very well have been able to out-score the Yellow Jackets, but Tech made fewer mistakes---in fact just one huge mistake.
Scott made a big play for the Tar Heels early in the final period, taking advantage of Georgia Tech's one colossal blunder for a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, but the Yellow Jackets salted away the victory with two more late scores, including a 22-yard run by Orwin Smith and a 34-yard field goal by kicker Chris Tanner.
"It's like I said after the game (to my team), 68 is more than 50," said Johnson.
"Sometimes you win like that. Sometimes you win 6-3. I thought they did enough (defensively) in the second half to enable us to win. They kept playing, and that's what you've got to do."
Carolina's woes continue against Georgia Tech, as UNC has now beaten the Yellow Jackets just twice (2004, 2008) in its last 15 attempts against its southern ACC rival since Mack Brown left Chapel Hill for Texas after the 1997 season.
But for the Tar Heels, there's no time to sit around and lament this astonishing loss, as UNC now has to gear up and prepare for a short week before heading to Charlottesville for a Thursday night tilt with longtime rival Virginia.
Although UNC ended its nearly three-decade curse in Scott Stadium the last time Carolina went up there in 2010, the Cavaliers are riding high coming off back-to-back impressive victories over league rivals N.C. State and Miami to kill a six-game losing slide.
"It's hard, but we've just got to 'bow up' and just take it how it is. We lost. They (GT) came ready to play. We've got Virginia on Thursday, and we're going to have to come out and play, because they're going to be ready," said Scott.