1. Carolina knew going into the game that it would take a fundamentally sound effort in Atlanta to beat Georgia Tech. They didn't get it. Three critical penalties were among the difference-makers in the game.
First, Norkeithus Otis committed a personal foul penalty in the first half that prolonged a Georgia Tech drive. Then Jon Heck was whistled for a holding penalty that negated an 82-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Switzer (Point of order, though: Heck didn't "cost his team a touchdown," as a couple people said. If he doesn't hold, Bryn Renner is going to be sacked). And then Travis Hughes bit on a hard count on fourth and one and extended another Georgia Tech drive that eventually led to a touchdown.
A fourth penalty also cost the Tar Heels significant field position. With the offense struggling and needing any advantage, a block in the back negated Sean Tapley's impressive kickoff return and cost Carolina 28 yards of field position.
2. Eric Ebron kept Carolina in the game by having his long-awaited breakout game. This one-handed touchdown catch might be the college football highlight of the day:
And once Georgia Tech adjusted and tried to keep Ebron out of the middle of the field, credit the Carolina coaches for coming up with other ways to get him the ball. The Tar Heels put him in motion and used him on a jet sweep in the second half that earned a first down.
Ebron's six catches for 108 yards represented his first career 100-yard receiving day.
3. The pounding rain that fell in Atlanta in the second half seemed to have a negative effect on Tar Heel quarterback Bryn Renner. After going 10-for-20 in the first half (several of those incompletions were drops by his wide receivers), he went just 4-for-9 for 40 yards in the second half. Several of his second-half passes appeared to slip out of his hand, including a crucial fourth-quarter interception that was tipped and then snagged by Tech's Louis Young.
Renner's issues were part of an overall offensive struggle in the second half, as the Tar Heel defense probably played well enough to win the game. Going into Saturday, if you'd said Carolina would hold Tech to just two second-half touchdowns, you'd think that might be enough. But the UNC offense just never sustained anything in the final 30 minutes and was unproductive after taking a 20-7 lead. "They didn't do anything different on defense," Larry Fedora told Jones Angell after the game. "We played poorly in the second half offensively." Those offensive struggles resulted in the Yellow Jackets having an overwhelming time of possession advantage, and the Carolina defense--which had played well early-looking exhausted by the end of the day.
Rapider reactions: Carolina had the ball for only 19:22 in the game...the Tar Heels have now lost 14 of 16 ACC openers, making it very hard to create any early-season momentum over the past decade and a half...Perhaps Ebron's breakout will loosen things up for Quinshad Davis, who had just two catches and has eight receptions in the first three games...Freshman Brian Walker might have had the hit of the year on Vad Lee in the first half. The thunderous shot kept Lee out of the game for the remainder of the drive. Here's the video: