Guerry Clegg commentary: Georgia Tech both good and lucky

September 21, 2013 

N Carolina Georgia Tech Football

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson watches from the sideline against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

MIKE STEWART — AP

ATLANTA --

Sometimes, a team just needs a little luck.

Or maybe a lot of luck.

Not that Georgia Tech's 28-20 victory Saturday over North Carolina was entirely the product of good fortune.

The final stat sheet suggests the Yellow Jackets dominated this rain-soaked affair.

Time of possession: Georgia Tech 40:38, North Carolina 19:29.

Total yards: Advantage Tech, 428-319.

First downs: Tech 27, Carolina 17.

And the Jackets scored 21 unanswered points, beginning with their final possession of the first half through the rest of the game.

The better team won.

Ah, but if it were only that simple. As the fans filed out of Grant Field -- at least those who chose loyalty to the home team rather than retreat to the comfort of their living rooms -- one man seemed to speak for the masses of the home fans.

"I have to admit," the fan said, with a quick shake of his head, "I had my doubts in the first half."

Understandably so.

The Jackets trailed 20-7, but that wasn't the only concern. The Tar Heels scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions. Not a good sign considering that the Heels hung 50 on the Jackets last year. And Tech was not playing like it would duplicate the 68 it scored on North Carolina.

The Yellow Jackets' only defensive stop in this stretch was aided by good fortune. North Carolina receiver Sean Tapley beat D.J. White on a sideline route, but Bryn Renner simply missed him.

That was the first of the breaks that began falling Tech's way. Start with the Jackets' first touchdown. David Sims started losing control of the football as he was crashing across the goal line. The play was reviewed, and it could have

gone either way. It was that close. But the touchdown was upheld, and the Jackets had new life.

They caught another break when Renner's 82-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Switzer was called back for holding.

Then another when replay overturned a Vad Lee fumble in the fourth quarter at the North Carolina 12. Two plays later, Sims crashed into the end zone again, this time with the ball well secured.

It also helps to be lucky and good. And Tech was good when it mattered the most. The defense, which had been ransacked for 266 yards on the Tar Heels' first five possessions, gave up just 53 more yards the rest of the game.

The offense's ability to control the ball had a lot to do with that. The rain might have helped as well.

"They throw the ball around a lot, and we handle the ball a lot," said Tech coach Paul Johnson. "So it was tough for both offenses to do what they like to do. I know it was touch throwing the ball."

As much as anything, though, the defense just started playing more relentlessly. The line pressured Renner. The defensive backs stepped up and made plays, the biggest one being Louis Young's interception early in the fourth quarter when the Tar Heels were driving.

"I think we just got a lot more aggressive instead of waiting," Young said. "There were a couple balls in the air early that I thought we could have made plays on, and I think in the second half we dug deep, leaned on each other and got aggressive in the pass game."

The Jackets are celebrating 100 years of football at Grant Field. This one will not go down as one of the most memorable. They were supposed to beat the Tar Heels at home. This was their fifth consecutive win over the Tar Heels.

But it was huge for the simple fact that it didn't erase their early work. They are 3-0 and face Virginia Tech here Thursday. Virginia Tech certainly looks less imposing after the Hokies were pressed into overtime by Marshall before surviving.

They travel to Miami the week after with a chance to gain some national credibility. Winning both games would make them the favorites in the ACC Coastal Division.

"I'm glad we got tested," said Lee.

And they passed. Luckily.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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