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For better or worse (mostly the latter), the quarterback position continues to define this season of UNC football. The Tar Heels’ last two games particularly underscore this point.
Against Pitt, Nathan Elliott had his best collegiate performance, completing 71 percent of his passes for 313 yards (10.1 yards per attempt) and two scores with no interceptions. The result? A close, hard-fought 38-35 win. The emotional win coupled with Elliott’s performance presented some hope that maybe the Carolina offense had turned the corner and could take advantage of that positive momentum.
Those hopes met reality with a thud on Thursday night in the Tar Heels’ 47-10 loss at No. 17 Miami. Elliott looked helpless against the Hurricanes pass rush, losing three fumbles and throwing for only 4.2 YPA (for perspective, around 6.5 yards per attempt is a good benchmark).
Fresh off a suspension for selling team-issued shoes, Chazz Surratt fared no better, though his dynamic athleticism initially appeared to provide the spark Carolina needed at the position, as Surratt led an impressively efficient first drive culminating in a touchdown and quickly marched UNC into Miami territory on the second.
Then everything came apart for the redshirt sophomore and the Carolina offense with him. Pressured on a screen pass, Surratt threw an ill-advised pass directly to Miami defensive end Joe Jackson, who promptly returned the interception for a score. Surratt never seemed to recover his confidence (or competence) after that play, throwing two more ugly interceptions — one of which was returned for another touchdown — on his way to a historically-bad passer rating of -11.6 (yes, that’s a minus sign).
Ultimately, in three losses, UNC quarterbacks have combined to complete 52.6 percent of their passes for a shockingly anemic 4.3 YPA and seven interceptions with only one touchdown. It seems safe to conclude that unless the play at the sport’s most important position improves, it won’t matter how good the Tar Heels are in other areas.
BLUE-CHIP PROSPECT VISITS
Four-star Monroe (NC) Sun Valley quarterback Sam Howell visited UNC with teammate Gavin Blackwell, a top 2021 wide receiver prospect, for the Tar Heels’ win over Pitt. Howell is verbally committed to Florida State and has shown no sign of wavering, but he has not cut off contact with the Tar Heel coaching staff, which continues to push for him to reconsider staying in his home state.
Carolina basketball has been looking to build on last year’s outstanding recruiting class, with a series of 2019 recruits all rated as five-star prospects by the industry-standard 247 Composite ratings visiting over the past three weeks, including forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, guard/forward Josh Green, and five-star guard Cole Anthony (son of Greg Anthony), and 6-foot-10 five-star power forward Armando Bacot.
STAT OF THE WEEK
1–20. Aside from the obvious turnovers, Carolina’s weakness at quarterback is most obviously reflected in the seeming impossibility of converting on third and long, as the Tar Heels are 1–20 on third and 9-plus in 2018.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.