Irish set to face injury-ravaged North Carolina squad
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, October 6, 2017
This season was going to be a rebuilding one for the Tar Heels, who lost many of their top faces on offense either to the NFL or to graduation.
Without starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who is now under center for the Chicago Bears, running backs T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood and wide receivers Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard, the new North Carolina (1-4, 0-3 ACC) offense has had a lot to prove this season.
However, so far this season, despite a strong rebuilding effort on the part of Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora and his staff, the Tar Heels have struggled, with their lone win coming against Old Dominion. North Carolina added LSU transfer Brandon Harris to the roster to replace Trubisky at quarterback and brought in graduate student center Cam Dillard from Florida and Khaliel Rodgers, a graduate student all-purpose offensive lineman from USC, to help sure up the Tar Heels’ O-line.
However, Harris has been a disappointment so far, yielding the starting job to redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt after just one game.
Fedora said he has been impressed with the way Surratt has handled the pressure of taking on the starting role, and he expects him to do the same this week against No. 21 Notre Dame.
“Really, [Surratt has] handled the pressure fine,” Fedora said Wednesday. “He’s a pretty even-keeled kid. You know, the things that he’s got to do this week is No. 1, he’s got to take care of the football. He’s got to stay within the system, you know, and believe in it. You know, if he does that, he gives himself a chance to be successful and he gives this team a chance to be successful.
“ … He has not reached his potential as a quarterback, so he’ll continue to get better and he’ll continue to grow when teams do pressure him, knowing where to go and, again, keeping his eyes down the field and staying within the system.”
Injuries have posed a significant problem for the Tar Heels this season. Thirteen players are currently watching from the sidelines, most of whom were expected to start or at least play a significant role on the team, including senior receiver Austin Proehl, senior defensive lineman Tyler Powell, sophomore tight end Carl Tucker and freshman receiver Rontavious Groves.
“It’s been tough since day one,” Fedora said on Sept. 18 on the numerous injuries his players had sustained. “It’s just unfortunate, it is what it is, but the next guy’s got to get up, the next guy’s got to play and you hope you can build some type of continuity at some point.
“ … I’ve never been comfortable with the depth, so it doesn’t make it any better. There’s only been a few areas on the team where we had some experience and now, that’s gone.”
Despite its 1-4 record, North Carolina has had a shot a win in most of its contests this season. The Tar Heels went into the fourth quarter with a lead over Duke and had a one-point edge over Louisville in the fourth quarter before giving up 20 points in the game’s final 15 minutes. The Tar Heels also led California in the fourth quarter before yielding the lead. UNC’s only true blowout loss came this past Saturday to Georgia Tech, in which is fell 33-7.
“I don’t know what to tell you yet,” Fedora said after UNC’s 27-17 loss to Duke on Sept. 23. “I’m going to have to look at the film. We talked hard about finished. We worked this week knowing we’ve been ahead in all these games. We’ve talked about it. It wasn’t a lack of effort. We just didn’t make the plays that we needed to make in the fourth quarter and they did.”
Fedora said, despite the uncertainty about who will be starting at quarterback for Notre Dame (4-1) this week, due to the injury to junior Brandon Wimbush, his squad will be preparing as if it will be Wimbush, on a practical level due to the fact that there is little to no film on his backup, sophomore Ian Book.
“Well, the only thing I do know, [Book has] thrown the ball eight times,” Fedora said. “I think he’s run it for about five times or so for about 40 yards. We don’t know a whole lot about him and so therefore, you know, we’ll prepare as if their starting quarterback is in there and we’ll have to adjust to whatever we do, game plan, if he’s not.”
Fedora also noted that one of the biggest threats to the Tar Heels this week is going to be the Notre Dame defensive line, a threat to a UNC team that has relied on the run when its two quarterbacks have been prone to turning the ball over.
“The front seven, they are athletic. They are big,” Fedora said. “They run to the ball really well. They are not real exotic in their pressures and everything but when they do decide to come, they come after you. They are doing a really good job stopping the run and we’ve got — we’re going to have to do a great job to have — to be able to run the ball efficiently.”
Despite the struggles the Tar Heels are facing at the moment, Fedora said his squad has the ability to turn the season around.
“We’re going to keep practicing hard,” he said. “We’re going to keep having positive attitudes and keep believing in the guy lined up next to you and know that he’s going to do his job, and you be accountable to him.”