The Heels bounce to beat NC A&T 53-7. Here is what we learned.
The staff decided to finally feed the beast aka Elijah Hood.
Nine days ago there was weeping and gnashing of teeth among UNC fans regarding how the Tar Heel coaching staff used sophomore running back Elijah Hood in the 17-13 loss to South Carolina. Hood was in beast mode versus the Gamecocks to the tune of 138 yards and over 11 yards per carry. However Hood only carried the ball 12 times and none inside the red zone. This included a crucial red zone series of downs that ultimately decided the game.
The question prior to Saturday's game versus North Carolina A&T is whether Fedora and his staff would make adjustments to give Hood more of the workload. After all, Hood proved he could get tough yards with his strength and has the explosiveness for the big play. Hood's 16 carries, including on 11 straight UNC rushing plays in the first half was a clear answer. As much as the staff was waylaid(and rightfully so) for not using the best player on the field during a crucial series vs South Carolina, an obvious correction was made versus the Aggies to feed Hood as much as possible.
The downside is Hood didn't produce at the same level as last week. Most of his yard were of the tough variety and when he did find gaps he wasn't able to get into the open for an explosive play. Hood's longest run of the night was 11 yards. Outside of that, Hood didn't have any significant plays. The absence of those "chunk" plays meant Hood's average was a rather pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. Still, Hood proved last week he can produce at a high level and assuming this commitment to him by the staff continues, he should have solid games ahead of him.
The quarterback rotation returns
There was a collective "not this again" heard when Mitch Trubisky entered the game on the third series of the contest. Trubisky entered the game with 1:09 left in the first quarter after Sam Smiley's fumble return to the A&T two yard line. As was the case last season, the third series was Trubisky's regardless of the situation. In this case it meant handing the ball off the Hood twice resulting in a touchdown.
Trubisky would enter the game a second time in the first half following an M.J. Stewart interception to give UNC excellent field position at the Aggie 21. Trubisky completed a pair of passes, one for a touchdown. In addition he had a one yard run out of a pass play. Trubisky returned in the third quarter after Williams led UNC on two drives resulting in a touchdown and a field goal. With UNC up 46-0 it was clear Williams' night was done. Trubisky re-entered the game on the third drive of the half and rushed 35 yards for a touchdown, UNC's last score of the game.
The question is how much of quarterback rotation returning was a result of the opponent or Williams' struggles last week? According to Larry Fedora it was his decision and predicated on getting Trubisky meaningful reps early in the game.
"I wanted him to get some meaningful reps" Fedora said in his postgame press conference. "I didn't want to tell him that he was going, so if a situation happens like that in the season, he's prepared and ready to go."
Fedora indicated this was by his design and without anyone else knowing about it. From that it can be reasonably assumed Fedora's goal here was experience for Trubisky but also to simulate him suddenly being thrown into a game without prior warning.
If that's all it is, then Williams performance last week had little to do with Trubisky playing versus NC A&T and going forward the bulk of the quarterback load will still fall directly on the fifth year senior's shoulders. Then again, this is Larry Fedora so practically anything can happen.
Nick Weiler can kick again
What a difference an offseason makes. Weiler's reliability as a kicker has improved so much over last season it probably can't be represented with a real number. A year ago, kicking any kind of field goal would have been a risky proposition. Kicking anything over 30 yards? 40 yards? Forget it. UNC was hamstrung by a kicking game that simply couldn't deliver.
Through two games this season it appears whatever bad mojo plagued young Mr. Weiler has been exorcised. In the opener versus South Carolina, Larry Fedora thumbed his nose at common sense and sent Weiler out to kick a 47-yard field goal. I thought he was nuts. Heck,, Nick Weiler's family probably thought he was nuts. Weiler proved us wrong by making the field goal then followed that up with a 38 yarder.
Against NC A&T, UNC rediscovered the end zone so Weiler was mainly needed for extra points until the second half when UNC faced fourth down at the Aggie 31 yard line. Weiler came out to attempt a career best 48 yard field goal and hit it easily. All of sudden one of the more pressing issues of last season appears to be resolved.
The question for Weiler going forward is how he handles the first miss. Clearly he has the leg and accuracy to make field goals from 40-plus. The troubles of last season look more and more like they were confidence based rather than an issue with Weiler's skill as a kicker. The questions Weiler face now are whether he can remain a reliable option and when that first miss does come will it create new confidence issues?
Bonus: The A&T band was really good and every team in NC should schedule them so you can see the halftime show.
Great halftime show by the Marching Tar Heels and the Blue & Gold Marching Machine. pic.twitter.com/tD6ePWkoFw— Carolina Football (@TarHeelFootball) September 12, 2015