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UNC vs Pitt: 3 Things to Watch

UNC’s ACC season starts on Saturday. If you decide to watch, here are three things to consider.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Alright. In approximately 24 hours the Tar Heels will host Pittsburgh in their 2018 home opener. It’s been two weeks UNC last took the field. For some fans, that probably hasn’t been enough time to get over that atrocity in Greenville. For what I can only assume is a small minority, tomorrow represents a chance to recalibrate this season’s trajectory. Whichever side you find yourself nodding your head in agreement to, here are three things that will play a key role in the outcome

Decisions, Decisions

Turnovers. Penalties. Execution. Whatever is your personal boogeyman, the simple fact is through two games the Heels have shown the maturity and decision-making ability one expects of a 14-year-old child. That may be generous. The indefensible decisions that have been made read like a comedy.

  • Fifth-year senior Tyler Powell’s personal foul on 3rd and 22 against ECU.
  • Nathan Elliott’s shocking inaccuracy, whether he’s throwing to the opposing defense, into the grass, or two feet behind his receivers.
  • Anthony Ratliff-Williams unable to hold a block without being called for holding.
  • Executing a perfect onside kick against Cal, only to have the Heels literally slap the ball away instead of falling on it.
  • The coaching staff calling a timeout on 4th and 20, followed by a 26-yard shank by Hunter Lent.
  • On the opening drive against ECU, the Heels running for 60 yards on four carries only to see Elliott throw to the back corner of the end zone...on third and three from the 15 yard line.

Folks, the season is only two weeks old but there have been no signs of improvement. In year 7, the same boneheaded plays are on display every week. If the Heels want to have any hope of salvaging this season, that has to change.

Elliott’s Leash

I’ve tried to avoid this topic in previous weeks, but it can’t be ignored anymore. How short is Nathan Elliott’s leash? One series? One turnover? One quarter? Four quarters and a third straight loss?

In five games against FBS opponents, he has just seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Slow pitch softball pitchers throw harder than UNC’s current starting QB. A blind cyclops could see the arm strength on freshman Cade Fortin when he took the field two weeks ago, albeit in garbage time.

With Chazz Surratt suspended for one more game, will Larry Fedora go to the raw, talented freshman if the Heels struggle to move to the ball? Perhaps most importantly, is the team ready to rally behind Fortin’s lack of experience and knowledge if it means they’ll have a (maybe?) legit passing threat behind center?

Before anyone tries to argue, “But Elliott beat Pitt on the road last year!” remember this little fact. Anthony Ratliff-Williams returned, caught, and threw a touchdown last year. Elliott didn’t win that game, ARW did.

Release the Hounds

The running back position was expected to be a position of strength this season. So far, the results have been mixed. Against Cal, after Williams and Jordon Brown were bottled up in the first two quarters, Brown and Elliott found room to run the second half.

Antonio Williams started asserting his dominance against ECU, before a targeting penalty saw him ejected. The Heels were effectively useless on the ground after that. (For the record, that is one of the most well-intentioned rules in college sports. It is also applied in the absolute worst way. It’s a disgrace. But I digress.)

Undoubtedly, the lack of passing success has led to an inconsistent running game. For a position as deep and talented as UNC’s was expected to be, that isn’t an acceptable excuse. At this point, I wouldn’t even blink if UNC installed a very basic triple-option scheme to get as many running backs on the field at once. Put ARW at QB, Jonathan Sutton at FB, and rotate through the stable of horses in the backfield.

At this point, that may be the only way North Carolina consistently finds the end zone.