5 things to know before Georgia Tech-North Carolina

Down two quarterbacks, Georgia Tech faces arguably its biggest challenge of the year so far, a road game at No. 13 North Carolina. The Tar Heels have won six in a row and are powered by one of the top offenses and quarterbacks (Drake Maye) in the country.

Tech is a 21.5-point underdog to UNC and given a 10.9% probability of upsetting the Tar Heels by ESPN’s metrics. The Yellow Jackets will be without quarterback Jeff Sims, who has been designated to be apart from the team in a split stemming from an injured foot, and backup Zach Pyron, who is out for the season after breaking his clavicle in the Jackets’ loss Saturday to Miami. No. 3 quarterback Zach Gibson is expected to get the start for Tech (4-6, 3-4 ACC). Tech last played UNC (9-1, 6-0) in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2018.

ExploreGeorgia Tech-North Carolina: TV, online, radio information

Here are five things to know before Saturday’s game:

About North Carolina

Tech will face a Carolina team that has attained a 9-1 record for only the fourth time since 1980. The Tar Heels rank fourth in FBS in total offense (505.5 yards per game) and 10th in scoring offense (40.1 points per game). Maye ranks second in FBS in passing yards per game (341.2 yards per game) and first in total offense (399.6 yards per game).

As efficient and high-powered as Florida State’s offense was against Tech in scoring 41 points and amassing 642 yards of offense Oct. 29, North Carolina could be even more dynamic.

The Tar Heels defense, however, is not at the same standard, ranking 125th in total defense (460.9 yards per game) and tied for 110th in scoring defense (31.3 points per game). In the same game, the Jackets could well face the best offense and worst defense in the ACC.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Yellow Jackets

Brother vs. brother

Four years the elder, Tech junior safety Derrik Allen never had the chance to compete in organized sports with or against his younger brother Marcus, a UNC freshman defensive back. That changes Saturday.

“It’s humbling, it’s fun,” said the elder Derrik Allen., himself a former basketball captain at Army. “I’m excited for them. And, of course, there’s always been the sibling rivalry. Marcus has always wanted to show Derrik, ‘I’m not just a little brother. I can hold my own.’”

Allen, whose sons starred at Lassiter (Derrik) and Walton (Marcus) before college, will attend the game with his wife, Chinita, and daughter Chimari, a UGA graduate. The Allens had special sweatshirts made up with the boys’ pictures on front and back. Derrik will wear one Tech-branded sneaker and one in Tar Heel blue. He’ll also wear UNC sweatpants and a Tech knit cap. He’ll sit with the home team. Chinita hadn’t made up her mind as of Thursday.

“I’m excited,” Derrik said. “It’s like Christmas week for me.”

Marcus, who is on the kickoff coverage team for the Tar Heels, has made a request of his older brother, the father reported.

“See if you can get on kick return,” Derrik said, paraphrasing his younger son. “I’m going to blast you.”

Credit: Derrik Allen

Credit: Derrik Allen

Explaining kickoff time

The game’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff time is highly unusual. Typically, games begin in one of three slots to limit overlap – noon/12:30, 3:30/4 p.m. and 7:30/8 p.m. Almost every game involving an ACC team this season has been started at one of those three slots, with none at 5:30 p.m.

Why?

In short, the complexities of television scheduling. Fox has the biggest game of the day, No. 7 USC at No. 16 UCLA and is airing it at 8 p.m. By contractual agreement, no Disney network can air another Pac-12 game during that time slot. However, ESPN has two other big Pac-12 games – No. 10 Utah vs. No. 12 Oregon and No. 23 Oregon State vs. Arizona State. With ESPN not wanting to show them at the same time and given that the network almost always slots one of its Pac-12 games for the late slot, 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. might have been ideal.

But Fox’s exclusivity window knocked out 7:30 or 8 p.m. as a possibility, locking Oregon-Utah into the 10:30 p.m. slot. However, because of multiple factors relating to the inventory of available games, 3:30 p.m. also wasn’t a possibility for the Oregon State-Arizona State game.

That required ESPN to be creative for its planned ESPN2 “quadheader” – four games in one day. After slotting Utah-Oregon for 10:30 p.m. on ESPN, ESPN pushed up its time slots on ESPN2 so that it could a) accommodate Oregon State-Arizona State for a slot that wasn’t 3:30 p.m. or 7:30/8 p.m., but also still late enough for an amenable local kickoff time; b) start its fourth game of the day at 9 p.m. (instead of 10:30 p.m.), as the network had no available games in the Mountain or Pacific time zones that could make such a kickoff time work.

As a result, the network bumped the first game (Navy vs. Central Florida) to 11 a.m., Oregon State vs. Arizona State to 2:15 p.m., Tech vs. UNC to 5:30 p.m. and Alabama-Birmingham vs. LSU to 9 p.m.

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Last year

Tech’s biggest win of the 2021 season was its 45-22 win over the Tar Heels, then ranked 21st, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In the game, the Jackets sacked quarterback Sam Howell eight times and forced three turnovers. Sims had a career night, accounting for 240 yards and four touchdowns.

To cornerback Myles Sims, there’s not much value in reflecting on that success.

“We’re going into this game (with the) same mindset and same focus that we’re going in every other week,” he said. “Regardless of last year, this is a whole different team, a whole different plan, a whole different mindset, a whole different game plan. We don’t think about last year. We’re just focused on these upcoming days and Saturday.”

Display of solidarity

Tech and UNC players both will wear helmet decals in support of the University of Virginia community following the shooting deaths of three Cavaliers football players Sunday. There also will be a moment of silence at Kenan Stadium before the game in honor of those impacted by the tragic deaths of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis and D’Sean Perry.

Virginia canceled its Saturday home game against Coastal Carolina in what would have been the final home game of the season.

Teams are wearing helmet decals and observing moments of silence at games across the ACC this weekend.