photo by Smith Hardy
Welcome back to my betting column, "Between the Lines," where each week I'll analyze the line for UNC games and tell you which side to trust. Last week, I told you to take Duke in a mismatched rivalry, despite what your emotions told you. Being undefeated never felt so bittersweet. As for this week…
Sept. 30 at 12:00 p.m.: UNC @ Georgia Tech (-10), O/U 58
At this point, the numbers just aren't adding up for North Carolina.
The Tar Heels (1-3, 0-2 ACC) have three losses on three blown fourth-quarter leads. They've got 19 players on the injury report, including 13 who are out for the season. They have zero ACC wins, let alone Power-Five victories, and they've won at Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-0 ACC) just once in the past two decades.
This week, UNC is a 10-point underdog in Atlanta. And the number can't be big enough.
After a devastating loss to Duke — which cost North Carolina three more players to the sidelines — the Tar Heels are struggling to just find players who know their position on the field. That's been an issue defensively even before the injuries: not knowing where to be on the field. UNC's defense showed up early last week but faltered late, succumbing to the same old coverage breakdowns and missed assignments that have plagued the unit in fourth quarters all season.
That's a recipe for disaster against the Ramblin' Wreck.
The Yellow Jackets, as per usual, lead the nation in rushing yards per game (393.7) on the back of coach Paul Johnson's flexbone attack. The Tar Heels have been practicing against the triple option all season — as they do every year in preparation for this matchup — but they've struggled to keep containment even against traditional spread offenses. Take away linebacker Andre Smith, who's been out since the Louisville game, and UNC's communication issues only compound. One missed assignment could spell six points for Georgia Tech.
That's magnified if North Carolina can't generate turnovers on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets rank third in time of possession, limiting the amount of plays UNC is accustomed to seeing a typical game. With defensive breakdowns almost certain at some point Saturday, the Tar Heels will need as many opportunities as possible to combat Georgia Tech's attack.
Yet UNC has forced just three fumbles this season — two coming against Old Dominion — and they couldn't force a turnover against Louisville or Duke. Against the Tar Heels' 87th-ranked rushing defense, the Yellow Jackets should have a field day with the ball in hand.
All of that spells doom for North Carolina without even mentioning its offensive struggles. Redshirt freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt had a career day last week, but he can only do so much with a battered offensive line and a depleted receiving corps. UNC scored a season-low 17 points last week, and the arrow is trending downward after all of the injuries accrued over four weeks.
Georgia Tech's had no struggles offensively, scoring at least 35 points in all three games this season. Surratt might find some holes in the Yellow Jacket defense — the unit did allow 42 points against Tennessee — but the triple option should carve up the Tar Heels in Atlanta, just as it has for the past 20 years.
North Carolina has held a fourth-quarter lead in every game this season. But so has Georgia Tech. Expect the Yellow Jackets' suffocating rushing attack to turn a late lead into a comfortable win against a Tar Heel team just trying to stay on the field.
PREDICTION: Georgia Tech (-10), OVER (58)
BTL RECORD: 4-0 ATS, 3-1 O/U
Agree/disagree with my picks? Think following my advice is a bad investment (hint: it is) and want to demand a refund? Let me know @CJacksonCowart or in the comments below!