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Thursday, September 22, 2011
GT offense to challenge UNC D

By Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech A-back Orwin Smith insists that he does not look at the statistics.

“Right now I couldn’t tell you how many yards, how many carries, how many touchdowns I have,” he said. “I just play hard and try not to look at those things.”

Just for the record, Smith is averaging an unfathomable 22.5 yards per carry. He has scored touchdowns on four of his 12 carries.

Smith might not be keeping track, but North Carolina certainly is.

The Tar Heels’ defense will have to play smart and disciplined in order to even have a chance at slowing Smith and the Yellow Jackets on Saturday when the two teams meet in Atlanta for a critical Coastal Division game. Georgia Tech is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2005, and the unstoppable offense is a major reason why. The Jackets’ offensive numbers have been impossible to ignore:
And that's just a sampling.

Orwin Smith
Orwin Smith has found the end zone on four of his 12 carries this season.
North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers knows Georgia Tech will get its yards. He said he is not shocked by the fact the Jackets are averaging almost 700 yards per game.

“I get shocked at the five passes over 50 yards,” Withers said. “The run game doesn't shock me. I look at what they're doing. ... They have three guys that have 200 yards-plus rushing, averaging 12.1 a carry, which is an NCAA record. You look at what they're doing on offense. I don't worry so much about the yards when you play Georgia Tech. You worry about how they're scoring, are they scoring touchdowns or kicking field goals. I really throw out the yards because they're going to get their yards.”

The most important task for UNC’s defense, Withers said, will be to limit the big plays. There is a myth surrounding Georgia Tech’s offense, that it is a grind-it-out, eat-up-the-clock system. The Jackets can and will do that, but they’re also capable of being explosive. So far this season, Georgia Tech has had six one-play touchdown drives. They’ve scored on their first offensive play in all three games.

“We have to make them go the long way,” Withers said. “If we can make them take bits and pieces, not give up chunks ... They throw the ball better than they've thrown it since I've been here. You can't give up big plays in the passing game, big chunks in the run game. If you can make them go the long, hard way. At the end of drives if they're kicking field goals instead of kicking extra points, you probably had a successful day.”

Georgia Tech has four pass plays of 70-plus yards this season -- that’s more than any other conference has produced. The Yellow Jackets have produced 27 plays of at least 20 yards this season and have allowed opponents just seven plays of 20-plus yards.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

“I don't think that it should be that much of an eye-opener,” Johnson said. “We had a bad year a year ago, but historically we have been in the top 10 or top 15 in passing efficiency every, either at Navy or here at Tech. Last year we struggled and was way down. I think the kids have done a great job being committed to working on it in the offseason. And to this point, we have hit a lot of big plays, which when you hit a lot of big plays for touchdowns and you don't throw it very much, your efficiency rating is going to go off the chart.

“We have completed a higher percentage, and for the most part this year when we have had guys open deep, we have been able to hit them; where last year either we get sacked or throw it over their head or drop it or whatever. So that part of it, the execution part has been a little better.”

The biggest question is whether Georgia Tech can keep it up in conference play. For all of the awe surrounding Georgia Tech’s offense this season, North Carolina’s rushing defense is No. 16 in the nation, allowing fewer than 77 yards rushing per contest.

This past summer, North Carolina spent about five minutes of each practice preparing for the spread-option offense. Linebacker Kevin Reddick said it helped, and UNC is ready for it.

“I feel like this is one of the harder offenses we’ll face this year,” he said. “I feel like we’re ready. The intensity in practice is way up. Just knowing what we have ahead of us, the guys already know what type of game it’s going to be, so we’re up for the challenge and ready to roll.”