Tar Heels stumble again, lose at Georgia Tech

Jeff Sims sparked the Yellow Jackets to a 45-22 upset of No. 21 UNC

UNC quarterback Sam Howell loses the ball after being hit by Georgia Tech defensive lineman Ja'Quon Griffin during the first half of the Yellow Jackets' 45-22 win Saturday in Atlanta. (John Bazemore / AP Photo)

ATLANTA — Jeff Sims came off the bench to run for three touchdowns and pass for another, Georgia Tech’s defense stifled Sam Howell much of the game and the Yellow Jackets beat a ranked team for the first time in Geoff Collins’ three seasons as coach, upsetting No. 21 North Carolina 45-22 Saturday night.

Playing for the first time since he was injured in a season-opening loss to Northern Illinois, Sims replaced Jordan Yates late in the second quarter and ran for TDs of 11 and 1 yards that put Georgia Tech in control — the latter set up by his 38-yard scamper.

Sims threw a 27-yard scoring pass to Malachi Carter early in the fourth quarter and finished off the game with a flourish, scoring on a 50-yard run with just over a minute remaining.

Sims ran for 128 yards on 10 carries and completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards for Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

North Carolina (2-2, 1-2) is shaping up as one of the nation’s most disappointing teams after coming into the season ranked in the top 10.

Sam Howell was sacked eight times and fumbled twice, leading to 10 points for the the Yellow Jackets in the first half. He also was stuffed on a fourth-down run in his own territory, setting up a short field for another Georgia Tech touchdown drive.

Howell completed 25 of 39 for 306 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored the game’s first TD on a 23-yard run, but finished with just 8 yards rushing after back-to-back games with more than 100 yards.

His chief tormenter was Georgia Tech linebacker Charlie Thomas, who had 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles in the Tar Heels backfield.

Collins came into the night with a record of 7-18 since taking over as Georgia Tech coach in 2019, including an 0-6 mark against ranked teams.

Make it 1-6.

The Tar Heels didn’t look anything like the team that blew away Virginia the week before, when they piled up 699 total yards and scored touchdowns on all five of their second-half possessions in a 59-39 victory.

Instead, they reverted to the shaky form of a 17-10 loss at Virginia Tech in the season opener, when Howell was sacked six times and threw three interceptions.

The Yellow Jackets played the first of six games in six seasons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, about a mile from their midtown campus and best known as home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

UNC begins a stretch of three straight games in Chapel Hill when they host rival Duke next Saturday.