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UNC at Old Dominion: Highs and Lows

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The ship has been righted, and there’s nothing to worry about. Right?

Louisville v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

UNC took care of business this past Saturday, traveling to Norfolk and beating the Old Dominion Monarchs by a score of 53-23. That gave the North Carolina Tar Heels their first win and a chance to claw back to .500 with a win against the Duke Blue Devils this coming Saturday, in what will be the first time those two foes have ever met in September.

Before looking ahead, however, it’s always good to look back. ODU did, after all, score three more points than they did in the famous 80-20 game from 2013. So despite the win, there is still plenty of room for improvement if UNC wants to ensure their season stays on the right track. Let’s see where UNC was strongest, first.

Highs

Keeping the ball on the ground

Truly, we now live in a post-Trubisky era. Much of these running stats are by virtue of getting an early lead and keeping it, but these numbers have to be heartening for the rest of the season. UNC tallied 49 rushing attempts on the day for a whopping 254 yards. In fact, the rushing game nearly outgained the passing game 254-257.

Out of UNC’s seven touchdowns, six of them came on the ground—two apiece for running backs Michael Carter and Jordon Brown as well as quarterback Chazz Surratt. Brown paced them all by leading the team in carries (17) and yards (124). Brown, who is the only holdover at the tailback position from last season, was the forgotten man after the first two games. After his showing against ODU, THB awarded him with Player of the Game honors.

Sometimes a little confidence is all you need in order to really start performing at the highest level. Hopefully Brown, Carter, and everyone else will use this strong showing and maintain some consistency in the coming weeks.

Picking a quarterback and sticking to him

Chazz Surratt’s injury from last week ended up being nothing to worry about, and he solidified his starting role with a strong performance behind center. Two of his nine carries went for touchdowns inside the ten-yard-line, and as a passer he went 16 of 24 for 257 yards and a touchdown to Austin Proehl.

Through three games, it’s officially safe to say that the redshirt freshman from Denver, NC has earned the starting role for the rest of the season. Brandon Harris only saw the field yesterday once the game had already been decided. It wasn’t an outcome many of us expected—the seasoned graduate transfer losing the starting job (which, in all fairness, he didn’t seem to ever have won) to an unheralded redshirt frosh. But moving forward, it’s the best outcome for UNC, who will hope to have Surratt behind center for at least the next two years.

Offensive line depth

If adversity builds character, then there are some strong characters who earn their keep in the trenches for UNC. There’s a very good reason that the O-Line received a position grade of 15/10, and it’s because they performed far beyond expectations despite being a unit that barely resembled what the projected lineup was during the summer.

No, they weren’t perfect, but they were damn close to it. With only one sack allowed and one false start committed, the offensive line resembled a seasoned group with tons of chemistry, and not at all the patchwork ensemble made up of guys who were making the absolute most of the opportunity they were given. The sky is the limit for these fellas.

Lows

...Special Teams

Last week, I rated special teams as one of the highs, but this time, UNC allowed a potentially game-changing kickoff return instead of being the one to score it. Isaiah Harper put ODU on the board for the first time all game when he raced from end zone to end zone on a 100-yard kickoff return.

Admittedly, it wasn’t a massive catastrophe in the grand scheme of things. It changed the score from 25-0 to 25-7, and although it came halfway through the 2nd quarter, the offense had closed the door before halftime by scoring twice to make it 39-7. That said, those are the kinds of mistakes a team in a P5 conference can’t afford to make in any game.

Although the special teams could add a blocked field goal to their credit, a muffed punt cancels that out.

“Catastrophic plays”

Again, it bears mentioning that this play came late enough in the game to where it had no real influence on the eventual outcome. But, like that kickoff return, a play like the 71-yard connection between ODU QB Steven Williams and Travis Fulgham can crop up from any team, and the scoreline won’t always be so forgiving.

Big plays have eaten UNC alive all season, to the point where Coach Larry Fedora has termed them “catastrophic” plays. A colleague here at THB described UNC as a break-but-don’t-bend defense earlier this season, and plays like that are fine evidence of that fact.

For what it’s worth, that was the only play allowed by UNC that went for longer than 50 yards. But you would prefer that number to be zero.

The injury bug

This was already an area of concern before kickoff, as linebacker Andre Smith failed to even make the trip to Norfolk. But during the game, many key UNC players were forced to require help getting off the field. Here’s a quick list of who went down:

  • Offensive guard Khaliel Rodgers left the game with an undisclosed injury but managed to return.
  • Wide receiver Thomas Jackson, who has two touchdowns to his name so far this year, went down with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
  • Freshman wide receiver Dazz Newsome required assistance in leaving the field after suffering what appeared to be a leg injury. He did not return.
  • Defensive lineman Jalen Dalton was seen in a walking boot after the game. The team has yet to give any specifics about why he was wearing it.
  • Defensive back Myles Dorn left the game in the second half and did not return.