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UNC at Georgia Tech: Three Things Learned

What did we learn from the mess in Atlanta?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If there were any doubt about calling 2017 a rebuilding year after last week, then this weekend against the Yellow Jackets sealed it. Between the end of the last game and this one, yet another player (Carl Tucker) was added to the “out for the year” list, and the missing players really caught up to the offense, not to mention contributed to the defense being worn out. This one felt like Tech’s from the start, and in truth, the score could have been a lot more lopsided than how it turned out.

What can we take away from the 33-7 demolishing in Atlanta?

Forget going to a bowl game

The fact is that had Carolina pulled out a win Saturday, they’d be four games away from six wins with Pitt, UVA, and WCU left on the schedule. Conceivably, a bowl game would have been within reach. Now? Even if they pull out wins against those three, you’re only at four wins, staring at having to get two against Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech, and NC State in order to go bowling. You want to tell me where two wins are going to come from out of that group?

“What about 2013 and 14? Carolina had records of 1-5 and 2-4 and managed to make it to a bowl game.” It’s a legitimate question, except you have to look at both the talent on the roster during those seasons, and the teams they faced. In ‘13 they beat BC, State in their first year under Doeren, UVA, Pitt, and ODU before losing to Duke. In ‘14, they had Tech, UVA, Pitt, and Duke to add to their win total. The schedule here in 2017 is decidedly tougher, and neither of those seasons featured a redshirt freshman quarterback under center, nor did they lose thirteen players for the year before the halfway mark.

All of this makes those 4th quarter leads blown against Cal, Louisville, and Duke all the more frustrating. Hold on in two of those games, now you’re 3-2 and have every reason to think that even with all of these injuries, they can eek out a late December game. Now, you should go ahead and accept the fact that the game in Carter-Finley will be the last game of the year.

Chazz Surratt has a long way to go

Look, it’s tough to knock a guy who hasn’t had a consistent offensive line, tight end set, and receivers to work with. This is a guy who was supposed to be a third string and worked his way up to starter by the end of camp, which is awesome but also means he didn’t get the full amount of work in camp that he should have in order to get comfortable in the offense.

So I say all of that before saying this: Chazz Surratt is not very good right now, and it was the big difference in the game because here are the first six drives for Georgia Tech:

Punt, TD, Punt, Punt, Field Goal, Fumble.

Six drives, only one of which resulted in a touchdown. Carolina was in this game as the defense really did everything they could to keep them in this. How did Surratt respond?

Punt, Punt, Punt, Missed FG, Missed FG, aaaaaaaand Interception.

What was Tech’s next play? 1 play, Touchdown. Down 17-0 and game effectively over.

Coach Fedora cannot be attacked for having a short leash with his QB, either, as he’s started four of five games, played the entire second half against Cal, the entire game against Louisville, and was only pulled against ODU when the game was out of hand. This is after the skittish scrambling, bad interceptions, and the offense continuing to be stagnant.

You can obviously argue that if there is a big shortcoming with Fedora’s decision making it’s that he’s gone into each game without definitively saying that Surratt is the starter and that is that. It can’t help the confidence of the young QB to think any series could be his last. That said, Brandon Harris effectively ended this debate with the interception on his one play under center.

We are just going to have to live with the growing pains of this young QB. This season is about seeing if Surratt can learn how to be a quarterback, start reading a defense and finding the open receiver, and eating plays when something isn’t there. His ability to do that will tell us whether he will continue to be under center in 2018 when some of this talent comes back off the injury list.

This season is about 2018 and beyond now.

As these guys get more practice time, and they get more real game action, one would expect to see them improve. This will do nothing but build up depth for next season, when you start to see players come back and another full recruiting class to replenish the ranks.

The fact of the matter is that whenever you lose starters, your team is not going to be what you thought it was in the preseason. Look at FSU. They’ve lost their quarterback and they needed every minute in order to try and beat Wake Forest Saturday. Thirteen? You might actually see FSU handling things the same way. By the way, this is also after losing two starters on defense, three starting receivers, and a number two draft pick after last year. There are, maybe, a few programs in the country that can withstand that level of attrition and still put up a competitive team.

The success under Fedora has masked just how thin the team really was depth-wise. Don’t forget Fedora walked into a team in 2012 that had no recruiting done because of the questions at coach. Then he had the scholarship reductions the next three years, plus recruiting under the specter of the NCAA. That means this senior class is one that was recruited under that lack of scholarships, and leaves no room for error when injuries start to hit. In retrospect, it’s pretty danged remarkable that this is setting up to be his first losing regular season as head coach.

Let’s not mince words about this: Fedora can lose every game from here on out and he will be back in 2018. You can throw #FireFedora all you want, but unless you have about $10 million to spare to donate to Carolina for the remaining years of his contract that runs till 2022, he’s coming back. By the way, if you have $10 million to spare, I’d suggest there are a lot of other places for you donate it to besides an athletic department to fire a coach.

I have no doubt the comments section will be filled with words about how horrid Fedora is and with every mistake he’s had as coach. This is fine, by the way, and he’s not deflecting blame as he’s used the past two press conferences to say he was the one at fault for these losses. The fanbase has a right to be frustrated with the losses mounting and some of the same mistakes being made.

But fans need to wrap their heads around the idea that this man is going to be leading this team into 2018 and likely beyond. My guess, and huge shoutout to Jake for the breakdown on this, is that 2020 is the watershed year. He can’t go into 2021 without an extension, and by 2020, this current class of freshmen will be seniors or redshirt juniors. If by that point you’re seeing the same things on the field and the AD only has to eat $2 million to let him go, then it’s a realistic conversation.

Until that time, this Saturday brings a national audience and Notre Dame into town. An upset win, though unlikely, changes this narrative and gives this group a huge building block for the rest of the year. The crowd is likely to be very mixed as a lot of folks who don’t get to see the Irish will travel to Chapel Hill. Here’s hoping fans come out to support this young squad.