For the first game all season, UNC stuck with one quarterback for all 60 minutes. In all four quarters, down to the last maddening incompletion, Chazz Surratt lined up a few yards behind center. There was some good. There was some bad. In the end, the result was familiar
If you’re frustrated after another North Carolina meltdown in the fourth quarter, join the club. Pull up a chair. Pour yourself a drink. Calm your nerves. Stop yelling at your spouse or whatever message board personalities you like to debate with. Join us for a quick film review as we break down two good plays and one bad quarter.
Deep Ball Success
Two plays stood out on the afternoon as Surratt flashed some of the deep ball accuracy that is needed in Fedora’s offense. The flea flicker to Austin Proehl and the touchdown pass to Anthony Ratliff-Williams. Take a look.
Proehl is lined up at the bottom of the screen. Surratt hands the ball off to Michael Carter, who takes two steps to the left side of the line. Proehl runs a lazy, slow route directly at Duke’s slot DB and safety. They both collapse to cover Proehl. Once they see Carter with the ball they leave coverage and step towards the ball carrier.
It’s hard to tell in this GIF, but once Proehl lures his defenders into a false sense of security, he accelerates at the precise moment Carter tosses the ball back to Surratt (you can see it in real time here). This opens up a gap, and Surratt delivers a perfect deep ball behind three Duke defenders. It’s a glimpse of the UNC quarterback’s potential, but it was incredibly savvy route running by a veteran WR.
Ratliff-Williams for 6
Take note of Duke’s defensive alignment. They have two safeties over the top of the defense with man coverage on Ratliff-Williams. Duke’s free safety shadows UNC’s Toe Groves as he goes in motion. The strong safety moves towards the line as Groves crosses in front of Chazz Surratt. This leaves Jordan Cunningham and Ratliff-Williams in single-man coverage down the sideline.
The offensive line almost turns Duke’s defensive line a complete 90 degrees as they form a literal wall of protection. Surratt tosses another perfect strike into single coverage as Cunningham’s defender can’t quickly hand him off to the free safety who finally made it across the field after originally shadowing Groves. All three Blue Devils somehow end up on the ground. A great play call, perfect execution, and a beautiful throw led to UNC’s first touchdown of the game.
The coaching staff took plenty of criticism in cyber space for what some considered “poor” play calling. I’m not certain that’s incredibly accurate. North Carolina is now missing their top two wide receivers and 40% to 80% of their original starting offensive linemen depending on the situation. Almost half of North Carolina’s 4th quarter roster was comprised of players who were legitimately second and third stringers just two weeks ago. Not to mention, Surratt is a redshirt freshman.
Understandably, he made redshirt freshman mistakes. Unfortunately, many of those mistakes came in the final 15 minutes. Take a look at five separate plays by Surratt in the fourth quarter alone.
3rd and 10, 14:09 remaining
The coaching staff puts four wide outs on the field to run routes past the sticks. Duke only rushes five, which UNC counters with six blockers. The pocket gets pushed back but doesn’t quite collapse. Surratt doesn't give the routes time to develop and he bails. Instead of using his legs which had led over 75 yards rushing at this point, he runs laterally, hoping one of his receivers comes back to the ball. This certainly wasn’t an egregious play, but it was a sign of things to come.
1st and 10, 11:20 remaining
A read option. Surratt and Carter mishandle the exchange, and once again the Heels face second and long. Hard to blame the coaches here.
Tucking and Running
3rd and 12, 10:08 remaining
On another third and long, Surratt drops back against a passive three man rush. I say again. Surratt drops back against a passive three man rush. He is under zero pressure. He has room to maneuver in the pocket to let the routes develop.
Just in case his WRs don’t get open, Jordan Brown runs an under-route as a safety valve. In fact, as soon as Duke’s linebacker saw Surratt take one step towards the line of scrimmage, Brown was open with space in front of him. Plus, if Chazz really felt like running, there was a five-yard hole to his left that he could’ve exploited.
Instead, he decides to tuck it and run….right into two Duke defenders. Once again, a lack of patience, poise, and experience put the Heels in a tough spot.
Second and twelve, 4:09 remaining
Another second and long, and the coaching staff calls a passing play. This time, UNC is using a WR that I can only imagine was part of an intramural squad at the beginning of the game. Seriously, where are UNC even finding players at this point? In any case, Surratt locks in on him, doesn’t make any other reads, and gets rid of it at the first sign of pressure. The left guard did not do much to help his quarterback, but this is another case of Surratt seeming confused as when he should move around the pocket, force a throw, or take off running.
Which leads us to….
Third and twelve, 4:14 remaining
Sensing the lack of composure at QB, Duke put six in the box. They overload the right side of the UNC line, send the safety from the edge, and blitz the linebacker on a delay. As the play clock wind down, you can even see the safety rush up to the line. Predictably, the pocket collapses like a wet newspaper. Surratt unsurprisingly panics, and throws Duke’s second receiving touchdown of the day. For all intents and purposes, that was the ball game.
Great play call and understanding of Surratt’s state of mind by Duke. Poor decision by Surratt.
It was clear that the coaching staff was trying to limit Surratt’s susceptibility to making mistakes. Typically this means a focus on the running game and short/medium passing for high percentage passes. However, after losing their top two WRs in the last two weeks, experience and chemistry with Surratt was limited. Routes that require timing and precision are hard to execute when third string players are forced into crunch time situations.
Additionally, the UNC offensive line has more casualties than an emergency room on Friday the 13th with a full moon hanging in the air. Chazz rarely had time to read through his progressions, especially late in the game. When he did have time, he struggled deciding when to run and when to take stay in the pocket. It was clear he got more skittish as the game went on and the offensive line started to get tired.
If the fourth quarter showed us anything, it wasn’t that the coaching staff necessarily called a poor game. Instead, we need to understand that the Heels are currently starting a redshirt freshman behind what has turned into a very young and inexperienced supporting cast. A player who likely would’ve been a third-string backup if one transfer (Caleb Henderson) and the NFL (Mitch Trubisky) didn’t deplete the quarterback depth and experience in Chapel Hill. Mistakes, unfortunately, should be expected.
A young, inexperienced, injury-depleted team still had an undefeated Duke team on the ropes. However, don't let that fourth quarter depress you. Surratt still gave us this.
Bring on Georgia Tech.