Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way: UNC was not good last year. The Heels were about as bad as they had been in a long time, but it was with good reason. Their injury list for the entire season was the longest, most ridiculous injury list I had ever seen in my entire football-viewing life. To be quite honest, the very fact that they are attempting to hit the field again gives me a level of irrational anxiety that likely isn’t curable by any available medical professional. Alas, the Heels are getting ready for the season once again, and so here we are.
One position last year that was affected the most by the injury bug was at the quarterback position. Given that there’s usually only so many spaces taken up on the depth chart, you can’t afford anything to happen to your starter as well as your backup. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened, as Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris both had issues staying healthy throughout the season, and current junior and third-string QB Nathan Elliott had to close out the final games of the season.
This year, we are in the same place we are normally at with UNC: they do not know who their quarterback is, and we likely won’t find out who it is until the first game of the season. With that said, let’s see if we can make sense of yet another positional battle under center and figure out who the starting quarterback might be.
Former LSU-transfer Brandon Harris had a rough outing at UNC. How rough exactly? Try completing 35 of 71 passes for 346 yards, only throwing one touchdown, and throwing eight interceptions. The part about Harris’ numbers that makes it impossible to (only) blame the injuries around him is that Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott both managed to finish with positive touchdown-to-interception ratios. Harris was never able to find his footing with UNC, and ultimately, couldn’t find his footing on the academic side either.
Last week an exchange took place between Brandon Harris and Donnie Miles Jr. Harris had commented on a wedding video where the groom was cutting an Alabama cake, only to find that the inside was purple and gold. Harris quote tweeted it stating that he saw nothing wrong with the cake, and that is when Miles jumped into the conversation:
I dropped out there. It was too hard. (lol) graduated LSU first.— B. Harris (@B6Harris) July 23, 2018
To be clear: Brandon Harris had used his final year of eligibility last season, so things not working out on the academic side is irrelevant in terms of why he will not play for the Tar Heels this year. However, it’s good to see two former teammates having an entertaining, albeit weirdly transparent interaction over social media.
Freshman Jace Ruder (6’3”, 205 lbs): The former Tulsa commit is coming off of a very productive senior year at Norton High School, where he threw for 1,232 passing yards and 13 touchdowns in the air, and rushed for 1,032 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is ranked the 16th best dual-threat QB according to the 247 Sports Composite.
Last season, sophomore Chazz Surratt threw for 1,342 yards, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions in seven games. From there, junior Nathan Elliott was handed the keys, and threw for 925 yards, ten touchdowns and five interceptions. Looking at the numbers alone, one could make a very good case that Surratt hands down will start for UNC against Cal to open the season. However, things seem to be more complicated than that.
The thing about these two quarterbacks is that each of them do something really well that the other one doesn’t. Chazz Surratt is gifted athletically, and can do things that Elliott simply cannot do. On the flip side, Nathan Elliott shown strong leadership skills under center, and showed a lot of toughness in the final games of last season.
When asked about the quarterback situation during ACC media days in Charlotte, head coach Larry Fedora answered the question exactly how UNC fans would expect him to answer:
“Well, we’re looking for separation. That’s the No. 1 thing, somebody that takes over the team, and then the team becomes theirs,” Fedora said. “Obviously they’ve got to be able to run the plays, run the offense, take command of the offense, have a presence out there that all the guys relate to.
“They have to be an influencer. They’ve got to be able to influence the guys around them. They do that, then they’ve got to do the same things off the field. And when somebody separates themselves from the others, then we’ll make a call.”
If you are one to read between the lines of what head coaches say when it comes to personnel decisions, you also have probably tried figuring out what Fedora is saying many times in the past only to not have much luck. Essentially he stated each player’s strengths as being crucial characteristics of who should start, meaning that making any guess about what he is thinking is just about impossible. Chances are that he really doesn’t know yet who it will be, which is both understandable and also frustrating from a fan’s perspective.
My best guess is that we can expect Chazz Surratt to start against Cal, but I wouldn’t rule out Elliott being used in various situations throughout the year. We saw last year that Fedora was very willing to mix it up at quarterback halfway through games, so if Surratt is struggling after two quarters we may see Elliott get the opportunity to prove that he can be a solid contributor. Whoever plays at the quarterback spot will have plenty of weapons this season, and so barring crucial injuries Larry Fedora should be able to find a way to get his offense back on track.