No. 17 North Carolina’s College Football Playoff hopes evaporated in the span of two weeks.
UNC started the season 6-0 and jumped up to No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25. But now the Tar Heels are 6-2 following back-to-back losses as significant favorites. Last week, UNC lost 31-27 to Virginia at home as A 24-point favorite. This week, UNC went to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech as a 12-point favorite and promptly got upset, 46-42.
To make matters worse, UNC led almost the entire game.
The Tar Heels jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first half and then held advantages of 35-24 in the third quarter and 42-32 in the fourth quarter. But the defense just could not hang on against a Georgia Tech team coming off a 15-point loss to Boston College last week.
The Yellow Jackets scored the game’s final 14 points, flipping that 10-point deficit into a 46-42 advantage with 4:28 to play. UNC’s defense did not provide much resistance as GT’s Dontae Smith reeled off a 70-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 42-39 with 10:40 to play.
On the subsequent drive, UNC’s Noah Burnette missed a 39-yard field goal to set the stage for Georgia Tech’s game-winning drive. Haynes King, the transfer from Texas A&M, led the Yellow Jackets 79 yards in just six plays and gave his team the lead when he found Brett Seither for a five-yard score.
The key play of the drive was a 52-yard run by King, who threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns to go with his 90 yards on the ground. Smith pitched in 178 yards while Eric Singleton caught eight passes for 117 yards and Seither and Malik Rutherford each caught two touchdowns.
There was plenty of production to go around for the Yellow Jackets against the porous UNC defense. Defense has been a major issue for UNC during Mack Brown’s tenure, and this night was no different as the Tar Heels surrendered a whopping 635 yards of offense, including 348 yards on the ground.
And unlike UNC’s defense, the Georgia Tech side was able to make a timely play to seal the win. After GT took the lead with 4:28 to play, UNC quarterback Drake Maye found receiver Tez Walker for a 36-yard gain into Georgia Tech territory, but Walker fumbled after getting drilled by Ahmari Harvey. K.J. Wallace recovered the fumble to give the ball back to the GT offense. From there, the Yellow Jackets ran out the clock to finish off the upset.
North Carolina about to collapse for a second straight season?
For most teams, putting up 42 points and 577 yards on offense should be enough to win. Drake Maye threw for 310 yards, rushed for 58 and had three total touchdowns for UNC. Omarion Hampton rushed for 153 yards and two scores. But those efforts were all for naught due to the latest dud from Gene Chizik’s defense.
North Carolina has now lost to Georgia Tech in three straight seasons. The Tar Heels were ranked on all three occasions. In 2022, the Tar Heels were 9-1 when a loss to the Yellow Jackets started their late-season collapse. This year, it seems like the UNC collapse is starting a bit earlier on the calendar.
With the loss, UNC’s hopes of getting back to the ACC title game took a pretty significant blow. The Tar Heels are now 3-2 in conference play. Everybody in the ACC is looking up at undefeated Florida State, but now Louisville and Virginia Tech are the only teams in the ACC with one conference loss.
The Tar Heels host Campbell, an FCS team, next week. Perhaps that game can serve as a reset before the closing stretch that includes Duke, Clemson and NC State.