I know, I know, picking the quarterback as a player to watch is a bit of a cop-out. Every team’s performance hinges on quarterback play. A quarterback has more of an effect on how his team does than any other player; of course everybody is going to be watching him. But I think that for UNC’s upcoming game against Notre Dame, Chazz Surratt should be a player to focus on even more than normal for a QB.
Surratt is in the midst of a slump of sorts; his last two games, against Duke and Georgia Tech, have been abysmal after a promising start to the season against California, Louisville, and James Madison. He has not been in the most ideal situation for a young QB, granted, but his level of play has dropped precipitously recently. Fortunately, despite appearances, a game against Notre Dame might just be what he needs in order to get his freshman year and development back on track.
One of Surratt’s issues in recent weeks has been his tendency to tuck and run at the first sign of daylight through the opposing defensive line. His athleticism and speed are great traits, but he cannot rely on them to replace execution of the offensive gameplan. We have already seen glimpses of Surratt’s strengths and weaknesses as a passer: He can hit open receivers at all three levels, create separation on intermediate - deep routes, and throw on the move. He still needs to work on his precision on shorter routes and his decision-making, which is expected of a freshman but a fact of life regardless.
Notre Dame’s defense has been described as strong on the line and susceptible to big plays in the secondary, which could very well restrict Surratt into playing his best kind of football. He should not have the room to run away from the Notre Dame defensive line, keeping him keyed in on his reads and waiting for his receivers to get open. From there, he just has to hope they can do their jobs and give him a target to hit, hopefully accidentally returning to the form he displayed when he won the starting job.
The other thing to watch Surratt for is his involvement in the run game. In the past two games, he has carried the ball 28 (!) times. In the two before that, he had just 13 total. Some of that is due to his panicked scrambling tendencies mentioned above, but UNC’s gameplan this year has also revolved heavily around option play: Speed option, read option, run-pass option, etc. With a roster more suited to a run-heavy approach than a pass-heavy approach, this is unsurprising, but worth looking out for. Surratt scrambling is a valuable asset to the team, but it needs to be applied sparingly. If UNC is to have a good day on offense, the vast majority of Surratt’s runs need to be by design. His carries may remain high, but that should be decided by the coaches, not by the quarterback.
Surratt isn’t playing for this season so much as he is for his future at this point. UNC is already 0-3 in the ACC, well behind their counterparts in the Coastal Divison. Now, it’s up to him to prove that he can overcome adversity, put struggles behind him, and be UNC’s quarterback of the future, leading the way for the talented classes sure to follow. Starting that trend with a statement against a storied and talented program like Notre Dame would be the best possible way to do it.