Normally, this place is reserved for the one player who will make a difference against a weakness of the upcoming opponent. With 30% of the games completed on the season, however, the X-factor this week is going to be multiple players.
Chazz Surratt has completed his suspension for selling special team-issued Air Jordans, as have Brian Anderson, Beau Corrales, Tyrone Hopper, Quiron Johnson, Malik Robinson, and Jordan Tucker. The Tar Heels also get Malik Carney back for this game, as Tomon Fox will sit for one game as part of his suspension. Carney will sit against VT to finish up his 30%, and then Fox will sit back down.
With Surratt returning, the quarterback debate also returns. As we’ve mentioned time and again, Elliott has not done enough in these first three games to be heads and shoulders above Surratt in terms of playing time. Fedora has acknowledged as much, not guaranteeing that Elliott will be the starter against The U despite Elliott being singled out for his performance against Pitt. Surratt adds significant scrambling ability and a better throwing arm to the mix, and fans will get a chance to see if the offseason was enough for him to learn from a near disaster 2017. In fact, when the two teams met last fall, Miami knocked him out of the game in the first quarter. That lead to Elliott taking over for the rest of the season. Elliott did not have a great day, throwing for only 173 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 picks, so it’s fair to say that the Hurricanes already have Elliott pretty well scouted. Word was out of camp that Elliott was going to be the starter even if Surratt hadn’t been suspended, but it’s almost a guarantee he’ll see time. Whether he starts is another question.
Carney comes back after having 2.5 sacks and 8 tackles overall against Cal, part of a really good defensive effort that should have been rewarded with a win. It hurts to lose Fox for this game, but he hasn’t been the start of the defense in either of the last two games, and the trade off to get Carney back will be worth it. The defense will be buoyed by their second half effort against Pitt, and the spark Carney will provide will be huge as the Hurricanes will likely be throwing an inexperienced quarter back at them, as well. N’Kosi Perry was put in against FIU and led the Canes to the win this past weekend. While coach Mark Richt has been just as cagey about who will play, it’s doubtful he’ll pull the signal caller who was the most successful after struggles early on at the position. To have a rested Carney battle that offensive line coming off short rest trying to protect an inexperienced quarterback will be something to watch.
Overall, the other players that are returning are mostly just depth pieces, but that’s still huge for the Tar Heels as they will be able to sub in players who won’t be coming off a short week. The rest of the team can play knowing that have another bye coming next week, giving them sixteen days off before they pay Virginia Tech. With everyone’s suspension done except for Tomon Fox, the team that takes the field against Miami will be the most complete squad of the season. At a time when most teams are starting to get thinner, getting this many players back could provide a turning point of the season.