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North Carolina 30, Cal 35: A disappointing debut

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The Tar Heels struggled in their opening game in some unexpected ways.

California v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Carolina disappointed in their opening game against an opponent that most thought they should beat. Things were actually going well for the Tar Heels at one point, but things turned on a dime.

First and foremost, Brandon Harris was wholly ineffective as UNC’s quarterback. The LSU transfer started the game for Carolina, but the results were fairly disappointing for someone who entered the quarterback competition with the most experience.

Harris was replaced by Chazz Surratt, who had the good fortune of being paired with a potential star in the making, Michael Carter. The Surratt/Carter combo was by far the more effective duo in the game. The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter with Cal getting on the board first and Carolina following with a two-yard run by Carter.

The second quarter was a successful one for the Heels, getting a 39-yard field goal by Freeman Jones and another impressive Carter run for a score to make it 17-7. Then, with the Bears pinned deep in their own territory facing another punt, junior Jalen Dalton was ejected for targeting on a late hit to the head on Cal’s quarterback.

Say what you will of the targeting rule, but Dalton had absolutely no business making such a careless play. It’s not the first time Dalton has been a problem on the field, either, having been ejected last season against NC State. The momentum swung hard back the other way, and Cal was able to put a touchdown on the board with a 67-yard touchdown before the half.

From there, it was mostly all Cal having their way. North Carolina was briefly able to pull back ahead with a touchdown pass from Surratt to Thomas Jackson late in the third quarter before Cal ran all over them in the 4th quarter. Surratt did get into the end zone himself on the final play of the game to make it 35-30.

Surratt, while not any kind of revelation at quarterback, was much more effective than Harris in the game. He finished the game 18-28 for 161 yards with an additional 66 yards on the ground. Harris, on the other hand, was 7-16 for 60 yards with two back-breaking interceptions.

Carolina’s defense, which was expected to be a strength this year, gave up a couple huge plays that went for scores. The secondary, led by a very experienced group, got shredded by a rather mediocre quarterback. UNC’s offense was also not able to get in any kind of rhythm against a middling defense.

Some of that may have to do with the fact that the two quarterbacks seemed to trade every couple of series at the beginning of the game until it was overwhelmingly obvious that Surratt was going to be the better option for at least the time being. Will today’s struggles be enough for Harris to lose the starting role? Probably not, and that might be to the team’s detriment if Larry Fedora continues to use both Harris and Surratt in tandem.

Carter was the obvious bright spot in the game, but Surratt was also able to do some impressive things. He’s definitely not going to make anyone forget Mitch Trubisky, and maybe he looked better when compared to Harris, but he did seem to give the team a needed spark. The defense was able to come up with two interceptions after going nearly all last season without a single one. Andre Smith very nearly took one in for a score before running out of steam just outside the end zone. Hopefully that is, at the very least, an encouraging sign.

Things won’t get easier for the Heels with the Louisville Cardinals coming into Kenan Stadium next Saturday. Will the quarterback situation be any more clear by then? We’ll find out this week.