Georgia Tech’s defense stiffened after allowing three first-half touchdowns and the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat North Carolina 28-20 on a soggy Saturday.
David Sims ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns and former Harrison High School standout Robbie Godhigh had 100 yards rushing for Georgia Tech.
The game was played in a steady rain and a far different pace than one year ago. Defense was an afterthought in Georgia Tech’s 68-50 win at North Carolina last year in the highest-scoring game in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
“Clearly our defense is ahead of where we were this time last year,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.
Georgia Tech’s defense appeared to lack the pass rush and coverage skills to slow down the Tar Heels as North Carolina led 13-0 and 20-7 in the first half. The Yellow Jackets shut out North Carolina following the Tar Heels’ final touchdown with 9:18 remaining in the first half.
“I think we just got a lot more aggressive instead of waiting to give a punch to them,” said Georgia Tech safety Louis Young, who had an interception.
Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0 ACC) earned its eighth straight home win in the series. North Carolina (1-2, 0-1) has not won at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 1997. Overall, Georgia Tech has won eight of the last nine in the series.
North Carolina’s Bryn Renner threw touchdown passes of 19 yards to tight end Eric Ebron and 24 yards to Sean Tapley after a 4-yard scoring run by Romar Morris.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said one reason for his team’s lack of offense in the second half was “shooting ourselves in the foot.”
“We didn’t make every catch that we needed to make,” Fedora said. “We didn’t make every throw we needed to make, and we didn’t make every block that we needed to make. They got better pressure on the quarterback, and that was really disappointing.”
Fedora wouldn’t blame the lack of offense on the rain.
“It wasn’t like we made a call or changed a call because of the weather,” Fedora said. “We pride ourselves in doing what we’re going to do no matter what the weather. ... I thought we took care of the ball pretty well.”
North Carolina did not have a fumble. Georgia Tech lost only one of four fumbles.
The Tar Heels failed to complete a pass from holder Tommy Hibbard to kicker Thomas Moore on a 2-point conversion attempt following their first touchdown.
“It was there and we didn’t execute,” Fedora said. “The guy was open.”
Renner completed 14 of 29 passes for 218 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Morris had 11 carries for 54 yards and one touchdown.
Vad Lee’s 1-yard run gave Georgia Tech its first lead at 21-20 in the third quarter. Sims’ 6-yard scoring run added to the lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We just got in a groove,” Sims said.
Georgia Tech had 324 yards rushing.
Lee was 7-of-12 passing for 104 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to Darren Waller in the second quarter. Lee, who was a North Carolina fan while growing up in Durham, N.C., had 24 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m from Carolina, so anytime I can get a win against them is always special,” Lee said.
The rain may have contributed to a lost fumble by Lee late in the first quarter. Darius Lipford recovered for North Carolina at the Tar Heels’ 46.
Renner led a quick six-play touchdown drive capped by Ebron’s 19-yard scoring catch. Ebron pulled the ball in with one hand before falling back in the end zone, giving the Tar Heels a 13-0 lead.
Georgia Tech had trouble holding the ball even as it scored its first touchdown. Sims, hit by Tre Boston, was losing the ball as he crossed the goal line from the 1 early in the second quarter.
A video review confirmed the on-field ruling that Sims crossed the goal line before losing the ball.
“When they said it was a touchdown I was thankful but I probably should have run through the guy,” Sims said.
North Carolina announced before the game tight end Jack Tabb was suspended for two games for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Tabb, listed as a co-starter with Ebron, also will miss next week’s home game against East Carolina.
Georgia Tech lost three starters from its defense to injuries during the game. Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and safety Chris Melton left in the first half and did not return. Another starting safety, Jamal Golden, was taken to the locker room in the third quarter.