North Carolina never had a chance against Georgia Tech last year. It turns out the Yellow Jackets were divinely favored.
This was in Tech’s 30-point third quarter. At the line of scrimmage, quarterback Vad Lee switched a toss play to A-back Robert Godhigh to go left instead of right. Out of Lee’s earshot, coach Paul Johnson objected, believing the play had a better chance if it went right. Godhigh still scored, part of the Tech onslaught that ended 68-50 in the Jackets’ favor, the highest-scoring game in ACC history.
When Lee returned to the sideline, Johnson asked him why he changed the direction of the play.
Said Lee, “I said because the Lord told me to.”
Given such almighty guidance, perhaps the wonder of that November game in Chapel Hill, N.C., is that Tech didn’t score more. What will unfold Saturday, when the teams meet again in the anticipated matchup at Bobby Dodd Stadium? Will Jesus take the wheel route?
Only heaven knows.
This much is evident, however. Tech has held a firm grip on the series in a way that is hard to believe. The Jackets have won the past four over the Tar Heels, seven of the past eight and 13 of the past 15. Johnson, who is 4-1 against the Tar Heels, attempted no explanations this week.
“We try to get ready to play them like we do anybody else,” Johnson said. “We don’t do anything differently.”
Unlike Tech’s lopsided series with North Carolina’s neighbor Duke, which has invariably trotted out inferior lineups and as a result has lost 10 in a row to the Jackets, the talent arrow typically points in the Tar Heels’ favor.
According to Rivals.com, North Carolina has had the higher-ranked recruiting class every year dating to 2002, which is as far back as its online records go. Among ACC teams, the Tar Heels class has ranked better by at least three places nine of the 12 years.
The finished products tell the same story. Going back to the 1999 NFL draft — the spring following the start of the Jackets’ run — Tech has had 32 total draft picks to North Carolina’s 49. Tech has placed three players in the first round while the Tar Heels have had eight. Second-rounders? North Carolina 9, Tech 3.
“We always knew they had talent; that was never something that they were lacking in,” said former A-back and team captain Roddy Jones, who was 3-1 against the Tar Heels. While he didn’t pay attention to recruiting rankings, it was hard not to notice the Tar Heel’ successes in recruiting and the draft. “We always had good success against them. I guess it’s just because we always got up to play them.”
The results hold little meaning to center Jay Finch.
“Saying we’ve got the best seven out of eight, we throw those all out the window because all that matters is this year,” he said. “So unless we get 1-0 this year against them, then I guess it doesn’t really matter what’s happened in the past, especially being my senior year. I’d like to go out with another win.”
Regardless of what happens Saturday, Finch and his teammates always will have last year’s win, in which the Jackets scored more points on North Carolina’s home field than it had allowed in more than a century of competition.
“It was like one of those basketball players getting in a zone, where everything was falling,” B-back David Sims said. “I think that’s how everything went last year. I didn’t realize we scored 68 until after the game.”
Lee led Tech to 55 of its 68 points, hitting downfield passes and making first downs with his feet. Lee’s motivation was simply to stay on the field. For that game, Johnson gave starter Tevin Washington two series and then Lee two series and played the rest of the game by feel.
“I was just out there trying to stay on the field, trying to do good things enough so (Johnson) can keep me on the field,” Lee said.
Lee has become something of an expert on the game. His mother, Katrino Reid, watches it every day, Lee said.
“So anytime I go home, she’ll tell me, ‘Come here, come here, I like when you do this. I like when you do that,’” Lee said. “She wakes up in the morning on that and goes to sleep on that. And the tape just runs and runs and runs. And it starts over.”
The Jackets will be hard-pressed to match the theatrics and production of last year’s game. But you might want to set your DVR.