2018 is not going to go down as a season to remember for Carolina Football. It started with this feeling that we’ve been here before, and it ended with a fight on the field and a coach losing his job. In between there was heartache, injuries, and a lot of close losses that made the season feel like a collection of punches to the gut.
Still, there were bright spots. There are some people who will come out of the season with their prospects improved, and while there is no bowl game, Carolina Football still will be in the national conversation while it settles on who will lead the program in the future.
Starting today Tar Heel Blog is going to look back on the 2018 season, and we start by turning our normal look at the winners et al into who won, lost, and deserves mention in 2018.
Cole Holcomb: Far and away the tackle leader on the team. The defense was hurt by both injuries and suspensions, but every game Holcomb was there trying to will the team to victory. He had 105 total tackles on the year. JK Britt was second with 65. You can’t blame the senior for wearing down time and time again at the end of games because so much was asked of him, and he kept coming up to keep UNC in games. The senior wasn't on a lot of NFL radars before the season, but his effort may earn him at least a training camp spot next year, Hopefully he gets a combine invite, or maybe he impresses a few scouts at the UNC Pro Day.
Malik Carney: Led the team in sacks despite only playing in eight games due to the sneaker suspension and being hurt on more than one occasion. He was expected to be a leader on the defense and he did just that when he played. 12.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 60 tackles in total, even five forced fumbles. The senior was also upfront about his mistake in the sneaker fiasco, speaking to reporters when the violations were reported. Carney is another senior who has a chance to be playing on Sundays, and hopefully his limited time on the field was still enough to get his name called in May.
Cade Fortin: While the revolving door at quarterback this season was just laughable, Fortin offered a glimmer of hope in the two full games he played. Before getting hurt against Virginia Tech, he was 10-18 for 97 yards and the passing game looked the liveliest it had all season. Unfortunately, he hurt his leg before he had a chance to complete the job, and it looked like he was on his way to sitting out the rest of the season. He was able to get healthy, and by the Duke game was strong enough to come in for a Hail Mary that Nathan Elliott couldn’t do. That Hail Mary, of course, meant he had played in three games and so in order to keep his redshirt, we only got to see him one more time against NC State. He was 19-40 for 276 yards and a TD, but truth be told his numbers should have been much better. His receivers did him no favors, dropping several well-placed passes, and again there was a glimmer of hope that Carolina has a quarterback and won’t need Kelly Bryant to come in and save them.
Larry Fedora: This one is about as self-explanatory as any. From him yet again dropping a season opening game that he had all summer to prepare for, to going 0-for against all in-state rivals, to the inexplicable decisions, the CTE comments, the revolving door at quarterback, the list goes on. What began as a season where most fans would have been happy with an improvement over last season ended as one where he was let go less than 24 hours after the final whistle. Perhaps his biggest sin was selling Nathan Elliott as the quarterback who could get Carolina to a winning record when he clearly had two better options as freshmen. That Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder will keep their redshirts is great, but the fact is that by Virginia Tech he knew one of them had to lose it in order for the team to win, which means he knew he had a better option to start. It’s the biggest “what if” of the season, and the one that has Carolina looking for another coach.
Quarterbacks. All of them: Nathan Elliott had no arm to throw the ball down the field which limited the explosiveness of the offense. Chazz Surratt started suspended, fell back into his old ways against Miami and quickly got hurt. I already talked about what happened with Cade Fortin and how his four games were completely mismanaged. Jace Ruder also couldn’t survive one game before getting hurt. Elliott was essentially benched three times and had to keep coming back because of injuries to others. It’s fair to say Elliott never came to Carolina thinking he could start, and he showed on the field why he shouldn’t have, but the truth of the matter is it really wasn’t his fault. The whole stable of quarterbacks was just completely mismanaged and the damage it did is still being felt.
The Fans: Carolina was 0-2 including a loss to ECU and then had a hurricane cancel a sure loss against UCF. Thus, by the time the Heels took the field in Kenan fans had already suspected this was going to be a lost season. The only game that broke 50,000 in attendance was Virginia Tech, and the miserable season saw a majority of the home games played at noon. The worst part wasn’t that fans were angry, but that they just didn't care anymore. This was on display on Saturday as the rival fan base was well-represented, and students didn’t really feel the need to come back to campus. That apathy was likely the final straw that caused Bubba Cunningham to let Fedora go on Sunday, knowing that they program couldn’t stomach another year of it.
We’ll be going more in depth with all of the positions later in the week, but a few deserve a mention here.
Running Backs for UNC kept putting up good numbers, showing that next season the new coach will have a lot of talent in the backfield. Unfortunately, as was a theme the last two season, they all couldn’t stay healthy, and the amount of talent kept one from getting over 1,000 yards rushing...Wide Receivers fought both the issues at quarterback and questionable play calling, but they still accounted for fourteen touchdowns and over 2700 yards. Just like the backfield, there is a lot of talent returning that a new coach will be able to work with...Secondary play for the Tar Heels was hurt with a lack of depth and the injury of K.J. Sails, but time and time again they couldn’t make a game-saving play when the offense was able to put points on the board, and its play is a real concern going into 2019.