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UNC wideouts need to bounce back against Illinois

Switzer, Hollins, and Howard need to get more comfortable with Trubisky to get UNC back on track.

NCAA Football: North Carolina vs Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the criticism and frustration around the Georgia defeat has focused on a combination of Larry Fedora, the officiating, and Mitch Trubisky. Those are all fair assessments, and each certainly had a major impact on the game’s outcome. Fedora didn’t seem to plan well for the Bulldogs and made no adjustments in-game. The officials had some extremely questionable calls, particularly during important segments of the game that crippled Tar Heel drives. Trubisky was asked to throw a lot, too much really, and he wasn’t ready to make the big play when the offense needed it.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. The much vaunted wide receiving corps of Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins, and Bug Howard didn’t live up to last year’s performances or this preseason’s hype. Their struggles at getting open, catching balls and lessening the pressure on Trubisky greatly disrupted the UNC offense. What was arguably such a reliable, game-breaking group last year quickly became pedestrian and inconsistent in Atlanta.

Switzer led the way with seven catches for 52 yards, a decent showing but nevertheless a horrible yards-per-catch average of 7.4. The senior wideout is elusive in open space and has improved every year as a wide receiver. Fedora used him in a lot of screens against Georgia, but they were shut down almost immediately every time. Trubisky and Switzer did barely miss on one deep throw and, had Marquise Williams been chucking it, it probably would’ve been a touchdown connection. Switzer is the least to blame, and the screen game with Trubisky should rapidly progress their relationship on the field. Still, he needs to do more with his touches.

Way behind Switzer’s mediocre game were Hollins and Howard. Even if you watched the whole game intently, it would’ve been easy to miss them. In fact, Hollins did miss the first half, but he might as well have missed the second, too. He finished with one catch for six yards and was never even close to becoming a factor. Hollins was undoubtedly one of the best deep threats in college football last season, and it’ll take some time before he and Trubisky get on the same page.

Hollins is more versatile than most would expect and should be able to get his catches in other areas of the field. However, for UNC to approach last year’s offense, Trubisky and Hollins need to be in sync. Just one or two completed deep passes every game can completely change how a defense plays the Heels.

Lastly, Howard finished with just two catches for 15 yards when he should’ve stepped up in Hollins’ absence. He’s 6’5” and 210 lbs, a massive target for Trubisky, but he never showed anything against Georgia. Howard’s numbers from last year don’t exactly wow you. Yet, as the third choice receiver, there are not many better options than him.

Hopefully, it’ll only take time and repetition for the comfortability between Trubisky and his receivers to develop. Illinois presents an intriguing matchup for the whole trio to pick up from last season. Williams had one of his more efficient performances at QB against the Illini last season, and Trubisky should be able to find a better rhythm against this defense. While Lovie Smith may be steadily improving the secondary, it certainly won’t be more daunting than Georgia’s.

Here’s the good thing to remember: Switzer, Hollins, and Howard are all impressive and unique receivers. Once they get some more time with Trubisky, these three should easily soar again. Switzer can thrive from the slot and should bust open more plays if the blocking improves. Hollins can pretty much do it all and is a game breaker with his speed and steady hands. And Howard is a massive wide receiver that Trubisky should feel perfectly at ease throwing to in the red-zone. The wide receivers should only get better as the season continues.