Georgia Tech erases 17-point deficit, beats No. 13 North Carolina

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Zach Gibson threw for 174 yards and Georgia Tech scored 21 unanswered points for a 21-17 road win against No. 13 North Carolina on Saturday.

Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) trailed 17-0 late in the first half, but started to methodically move the ball. All three of its scoring drives were for 68-plus yards and culminated with rushing touchdowns.

A 6-yard score on the ground by Hassan Hall with just over 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter proved to be the ticket for the Yellow Jackets, who kept their bowl hopes alive and improved to 4-3 under interim coach Brent Key.

“I don’t think there was anyone in the locker room that could tell you that it was 17-0,” Key said. “That is who this team is. Regardless of the score, adversity and what takes place in a game, they take it one play at a time.”

North Carolina (9-2, 6-1 ACC) was riding a six-game winning streak and clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division last week. The Tar Heels had a chance to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter, but Josh Downs dropped a 4th-and-11 pass from quarterback Drake Maye in the end zone with just over four minutes remaining.

Maye, who had emerged as a possible Heisman contender as a redshirt freshman, failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season and had a season-low 202 yards passing. He was also sacked a season-high six times by Georgia Tech, three of which came via Keion White.

After UNC went ahead 17-0 with a little more than three minutes left in the first half, Georgia Tech held the Heels to 97 yards of offense on their final 33 plays.

“I thought we were mature enough to play in what would be called a trap game,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “I thought we were beyond that after Virginia, but we obviously weren’t. I thought we did a poor job of preparing them and didn’t play well enough to win.”

DUAL QB SYSTEM

With previous starters Jeff Sims and Zach Pryon sidelined because of injuries, the Yellow Jackets split quarterbacking responsibilities between Gibson and Clemson transfer Taisun Phommachanh. Gibson took more snaps and was responsible for the bulk of the passing yards, and Phommachanh ran for a score and helped Georgia Tech milk the clock late in the fourth.

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia Tech: For the second time this season, the Yellow Jackets looked unfazed on the road against a ranked opponent. Georgia Tech’s balanced effort on offense (187 passing yards and 186 rushing yards) stymied UNC, and the Yellow Jacket defense did something few have done against UNC’s offense this year: limit the big plays and defend well in the red zone.

“If a team can get all the way down there and come out with three points, we’re satisfied with that,” said Georgia Tech safety LaMiles Brooks, who picked off Maye in the second half. “No points at all, that’s even better.”

UNC: The Tar Heels looked flat on offense for much of the night. After running back Elijah Green‘s 80-yard rushing score on their first play from scrimmage, they amassed only 285 yards the rest of the night and scored just 10 points on five red-zone visits.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Tar Heels are likely to see a considerable drop after falling to a Georgia Tech team that had lost three of its last four. The loss also effectively ends any outside shot the Tar Heels had at eyeing the College Football Playoffs.

UP NEXT

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets head to rival Georgia, the top-ranked team in the nation, on Saturday.

UNC: The Tar Heels host rival North Carolina State on Friday.

Georgia Tech promotes Brent Key from interim to head coach

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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Georgia Tech named interim coach Brent Key to the full-time position on Tuesday after he led the team to a 4-4 finish.

Key, 44, was in his fourth season as assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach before Geoff Collins was fired on Sept. 26, two days after the Yellow Jackets lost 27-10 to Central Florida and dropped to 1-3.

Georgia Tech’s improvement under Key, who played for the Yellow Jackets and graduated in 2001, convinced Institute President Dr. Angel Cabrera and athletic director J Batt to make Key the full-time coach instead of looking outside the program for the hire.

“I am so proud and grateful to be the head coach at my alma mater, Georgia Tech,” Key said in a statement released by the school. “Like I’ve said many times over the past two months, I love this team, and I couldn’t be more excited to be their head coach. We will work unbelievably hard to make our fans, alumni and former players very proud of this program.”

Cabrera said Key’s history with Georgia Tech as a student, player and assistant coach was important.

“As an alum, he understands and cares deeply about this place and our extraordinary student-athletes,” Cabrera said. “He’s not only incredibly competitive but will do everything he can to make sure students grow as athletes, professionals and human beings.”

Georgia Tech had interest in Tulane coach Willie Fritz before choosing to promote Key.

“There was strong interest from across the country to be the next head coach at Georgia Tech, and we conducted an exhaustive national search,” Batt said. “At the beginning and end of the search, it was clear that the best choice for Georgia Tech is Brent Key.”

ESPN was first to report Georgia Tech had focused its search on Key.

Collins was 10-28 in his fourth season. When announcing the move with Collins, Georgia Tech also fired athletic director Todd Stansbury, who hired Collins. The school hired Batt, a former deputy athletic director at Alabama, as its athletic director on Oct. 14.

After Key was named interim coach, the Yellow Jackets beat two ranked teams, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, on the road. Georgia Tech finished 5-7 overall following Saturday’s 37-14 loss at No. 1 Georgia.

Even in the loss, Georgia Tech’s improvement showed. The Yellow Jackets trailed Georgia only 10-7 at halftime.

Key was Alabama’s offensive line coach from 2016-18 following 11 seasons at UCF. At UCF, Key coached under George O'Leary, who was his coach at Georgia Tech.

O’Leary said Georgia Tech made “a great decision” in promoting Key.

“I watched very closely this season as Brent took over and saw things move in the right direction,” O’Leary said. “It was clear that the team responded to the changes he made and played hard for him.”

Hugh Freeze asks Auburn fans for ‘chance to earn your trust’

Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
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AUBURN, Ala. – Hugh Freeze‘s checkered past in the Southeastern Conference means he’ll have to win more than just games. He’ll also have to win over Auburn fans.

Freeze’s return to the league more than five years after his scandal-plagued exit was greeted by considerable backlash on social media from wary fans. The former Mississippi and Liberty coach had to talk about his past during Tuesday’s introductory news conference as much as his belief that Auburn can make a quick turnaround, urging fans to “please give me a chance to earn your trust.”

“Give me some time. Get to know us. Get to know our family. Get to know the truth of our story,” Freeze said. “And I think the ones who have done that have said, `Man, you know what, I kinda like this guy and this family.’

“But that’s all you can ask is, man, give us a chance to earn your trust and I think you’ll like the end result.”

His message clearly resonated with athletic director John Cohen. Now he has to win over fans tired of embarrassments, including the failed 21-game tenure of former coach Bryan Harsin.

Auburn gave Freeze a six-year contract worth at least $6.5 million annually, making him the eighth-highest paid coach in the SEC. The buyout, if Freeze is fired without cause, would be 75% of his remaining contract.

Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in the summer of 2017 after school officials uncovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to a number used by an escort service from a university-issued cellphone. The program ultimately landed on NCAA probation for 21 violations of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct mostly under Freeze’s watch.

Still Cohen, who was at Mississippi State at the time, said Freeze was his top choice from the outset.

“Coach Freeze was completely transparent about his past transgressions,” Cohen said. “He showed remorse, and he’s had an accountability plan that he’s used for the last five-plus years.

“Everything he disclosed to us turned out to be accurate, after speaking with credible industry sources. In this way, Coach Freeze was honest and truthful.”

Freeze’s hiring was delayed after a former Liberty student emailed Auburn officials about a direct message the coach had sent her defending the Flames athletic director after she had made critical comments. The woman said she was sexually assaulted at Liberty and had reached a settlement, a case that pre-dated Freeze’s arrival.

Cohen did not take questions from reporters at the news conference and later declined to comment when asked about the direct message by The Associated Press.

Freeze has gone 103-47 on the field in 13 seasons at four programs, but 27 of those wins at Ole Miss were vacated because of NCAA violations. He spent the last four seasons at Liberty.

Freeze’s first move was to keep Carnell Williams on staff as running backs coach and associate head coach. Williams, a former Auburn All-America running back, was interim coach for the final four games.

He was a candidate for the head job, interviewing with Cohen about a week ago. Williams expressed his support of Freeze.

“I did have the opportunity to state my case, but look, that’s old news,” said Williams, who attended the news conference. “Like I told them whenever they brought me the news, honestly, they looked more disappointed than me. They were, `I’m sorry.’ But I’m like, I’m disappointed, (but) I’m not upset.”

Freeze isn’t the first high-profile coach with NCAA baggage that Auburn has hired. Bruce Pearl was hired while in the final months of a show-cause penalty stemming from violations that led to his ouster from Tennessee.

Pearl has turned the program into an SEC power, but not without more trouble.

Auburn self-imposed a postseason ban two years ago stemming from a bribery scheme involving former assistant coach Chuck Person. Pearl served a two-game suspension and players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were ruled ineligible for at least one season. Person later pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge.

Now, Freeze is getting his own second chance to change the script in the SEC.

“I don’t know if rewriting the story is exactly the right word,” he said. “But it’s going to make for a good ending.”