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September 25, 2009North Carolina had its way with Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets came to Chapel Hill last fall, holding them to just one touchdown and six-of-14 conversions on third down in a 28-7 victory.
Naturally the Tar Heels are hoping to take many of the things they did so well in last year's game into Saturday's matchup with the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
"I think the thing that we did the best last year was we were very, very disciplined," said UNC head coach Butch Davis. "The one thing that you can't do against a team like this---and this goes back to the days of the Oklahoma 'wishbone' and a lot of the really good 'option' offenses---you can't void your own personal responsibilities."
"It helps our confidence, because we know we can stop the option by us being able to stop it last year," said junior safety Da'Norris Searcy. "Just going down there, we know what we have to do."
"I think last year's game helped us out a lot with the experience, the experience we had playing against it, said junior linebacker Quan Sturdivant. "I think the experience part helps us out a lot, but we've got to go out there and execute."
"It's a hard offense to defend, but last year we did a pretty good job," he added.
"Just being disciplined---that was the most disciplined I think we've ever played in our lives, and it showed that day, holding them to seven points," said junior cornerback Kendric Burney. "We've got a challenge for us this week. This is the most disciplined game we're going to play in college football against this team. You've definitely got to be disciplined, and if you don't, you've seen where they've run some people over."
Last year the Tar Heels didn't have a great deal of film evidence to go by on Georgia Tech given that they were in the first year of Paul Johnson's tenure, but now UNC has an extensive library of footage on their ACC Coastal rivals.
Of course, having a head coach that was part of the defensive staff at the University of Miami that helped make 'triple-option' offenses much less prevalent in college football because of their tremendous success in defending it makes a big difference for the Tar Heels, both last year and this year.
"We just basically listened to the coaches and tried to be disciplined on what they told us to do throughout the week," said sophomore defensive end Robert Quinn about last season's game with Georgia Tech.
"We've got great coaches on both side of the ball," said Sturdivant.
"When you don't have any film evidence of some of the people that are changing offenses and new coordinators sometimes it was a little bit difficult and we had to kind of manufacture some things (in practice)," said Davis.
Although Georgia Tech has surely brought in some new wrinkles and have found a solid passing option in Demaryius Thomas, everyone knows they're going to try to line up and chug down the field on the ground.
The fact that so many of the UNC players have experience playing it last season, combined with the extra effort they've put in the past few months, gives the Tar Heel defenders confidence that they can find similar success on Saturday.
"I think we've just got to go out and execute as players," said Sturdivant. "They (the coaches) can have the right game plan, but we've just got to go out there and make sure we're playing our fundamentals and techniques right. We've got to make sure we're playing our assignments right. Everybody's got to be on the same page."
"We're a veteran group, and we know exactly what we're going against from last year," said Burney. "We know definitely they've cleaned a lot of things up that we ran against them. We've just got to be ready."
"A lot of the guys that were playing against that offense on the defensive side of the ball are back this year, so it's not going to be a totally new thing," said junior quarterback T.J. Yates. "We'll be able to jump back into it pretty quickly I think."
"Our defense did an extremely good job last year stopping everything they threw at them," he added.
"We're very experienced, and everyone has got another year under their belt. Just that by itself makes us more disciplined and a better defense as a whole," said Quinn. "We'll just try to take it from last year---what we did that basically shut them down last year---and just do a lot better of job than what we did last year."
"Obviously thank God that this isn't the first year that our kids have played it (Georgia Tech's offense)," said Davis. "I think we are fortunate that we've got a little bit of experience on the defense, that hopefully they'll remember some of the lessons they learned from last year."
"Certainly one of the things that you talk to your football team is 'option' responsibility," Davis added. "I think obviously the recognition is good. They've got game experience and their ability to read and react is good. Their ability to make some adjustments on the sidelines has been pretty good because of the experience. They play with poise. I think they understand their responsibilities."
One disadvantage for UNC going into this year's matchup with Georgia Tech compared to last year is that last season the Tar Heels had a full bye week to prepare, while this season they have a traditional week.
Furthermore, Georgia Tech got a couple of extra days this year because of playing Miami last Thursday night, so in some ways that particular advantage has been reversed for this season's game between the ACC Coastal nemeses.
"I think that having had the extra time last year was a significant advantage," said Davis. "That clearly had a little bit of an advantage and a help for us to have a little bit of extra time."
"The flip-side is the reverse this year---they've got the advantage (of extra time)," the UNC head coach added. "They've got an extra three or four days to watch film and practice and do stuff that we didn't get a chance to do, and that's unfortunately going to happen four or five times this year, where teams that we're playing are getting a lot of time before our game. But at least we've played it one time, so our scout team guys, that's always the biggest issue is getting them up to speed at how to run this as effectively as you possibly can."
Despite the extra time afforded Georgia Tech this week, the Tar Heels feel very good about their chances of having much success in stopping them on Saturday.
"We're just trying to be a dominant defense, player by player and position group by position group," said Quinn. ""Last year I was still trying to learn the whole college game and how to play and just trying to adjust. Now I've got that year under my belt."
"I learned the game last year and I'm just trying to better myself as a player, fine-tune the little things, and pay attention to the little 'keys' the tackles give us, and just be the best player I want to be," he added.