Jackets’ defensive effort scrapes bottom

A.J. Gray #15 and Corey Griffin #14 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets tackle Elijah Hood #34 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at Kenan Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 48-20. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Simply put, Georgia Tech’s defensive performance rated among the weakest in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure and in school history. It was an across-the-board defensive lapse.

North Carolina’s 636 yards of total offense were second most by a Tech opponent most in school history, behind the 667 accumulated by Notre Dame in 1977 on its way to the national championship. The 9.1 yards-per-play average by the Tar Heels was also second against Tech all-time, behind the 10.4 that Miami gained in 2013, which set an ACC record. Johnson said the defense “played about as poorly as you can play on defense, and we weren’t much better on offense or special teams. It’s a deadly combination.”

Gaining yards that freely isn’t easy. Going into Saturday’s games, only eight ACC teams in the past five years had been able to average 9.0 yards per play against a power-conference opponent, according to sports-reference.com.

North Carolina’s offensive might is estimable. ESPN rated the offense the 14th most efficient in FBS. Still, all of the Tar Heels’ first eight opponents were more effective at slowing them down than Tech was on Saturday with the possible exception of James Madison.

The pass rush did not pressure quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a potential first-round pick who likely wowed the NFL scouts assembled in the press box by completing 20 of 32 passes for 329 yards. Pass coverage was often soft. Breakdowns left Tar Heels receivers wide open. Tech defenders missed tackles.

North Carolina averaged 8.1 yards per carry, the third-highest average against the Jackets in school history. The Tar Heels were 8-for-13 on third down against the Jackets, ranked last in FBS in third-down conversion rate. When needing between six and 10 yards, they were 6-for-9.

It followed a week of preparation in which coaches were attempting to simplify the play calling after often being misaligned or confused against Duke.

“I can’t tell you,” said Johnson, asked if it was again an issue Saturday. “And part of the issues are nobody beats a block, nobody tackles anybody, nobody covers anybody. That about covers it.”

North Carolina threw 35 passes but Tech did not record a sack. The Tar Heels have given up at least one sack in all but one game, the exception being FCS James Madison. After breaking their turnover drought against Duke with three takeaways, the Jackets did not force a turnover or a fumble in 70 offensive snaps.

“It’s definitely embarrassing,” safety Corey Griffin said. “I’m embarrassed, the team’s embarrassed, Coach Johnson’s embarrassed, the whole coaching staff.”

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