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UNC Football vs Boston College: Positional Grades

The Heels did not win pretty, but they did enough to keep a feisty Eagles team and their star quarterback at bay

North Carolina v Boston College Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There were a ton of questions leading to this game. How would Carolina look on the heels of their second longest dormant period in program history? Which Boston College team would show up, the one that blew the doors off Duke, or the one that struggled to beat Texas State? UNC started the season slowly against Syracuse, finally putting them away in the fourth quarter. A COVID-19 enforced mini-offseason followed, as did doubts as to how quickly Carolina could bounce back into midseason form.

The Tar Heels started out hot, scoring touchdowns on their opening two drives, while Boston College could only answer with field goals. After a bizarre fair catch from a kickoff was followed by a batted pass interception (which led to a BC touchdown), UNC lost its mojo for a while. Sam Howell did not have his sharpest day for the second game in a row, but made enough plays, (especially with his feet!) to keep the Eagles at an arms length.

When handing out grades, I want everyone to take a deep breath and remember that this Carolina team came off of two weekends without a game, and did not look sharp. These are unusual circumstances and hopefully the Heels will look sharper against Virginia Tech. I will also point out that for the defensive grades, the brilliant performance of Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec was like forgetting to turn in a 20-page paper, and no matter how well you did on the midterm and final exam, the final grade was going to suffer as a result. His performance hurt us at every level.

And because I love gifs and the way they communicate pain and angst better than words, I’ll include them as well. Let’s get to it!

Quarterback: B-

Sam Howell showed everyone why he is so well thought of in the league, how he has improved his game over the offseason, and how far he needs to go to take Carolina to the next level all in four short quarters. He started the game brilliantly, completing passes of 13, 12, 20, and 24 yards, to four different receivers including the drive-ending touchdown pass to Khafre Brown. Howell looked light on his feet like a boxer, and he used this newfound mobility to reset the pocket for throws under pressure, and to scamper for first downs, something that was strictly verboten last season.

After struggling to hit some of the deep passes that made the UNC offense hum last season during the Syracuse game, it looked like Howell really wanted to get back on track. The deep passes to Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome last season helped rack up points, and open room underneath for Beau Corrales and the running backs. Against Boston College, this merely made Sam Howell susceptible to sacks and unnecessary hits (Howell took four sacks and had the ball poked out on one of them).

Twice in the first half, Howell scrambled for first downs on 3rd and 8, and once on a 3rd and 6. This freedom to scramble will give future defenses something else to worry about, and may force them to reduce the number of rushers blitzing him. Howell’s escapability also led to UNC’s beautiful third touchdown in the second quarter, an amazing display of self-control to keep his foot behind the line of scrimmage until the last possible moment.

Howell will need to clean up his mistakes and get the ball out of his hands faster against Virginia Tech. He’ll also need to finally get things cooking with Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome if the offense is going to be as feared as it was during preseason. The hype needs to become reality if Carolina is going to take the next step.

Running Backs: A-

The minus on that A is the nitpickiest of nitpicking.

Boston College was successful at keeping Sam Howell and the wide receivers at bay. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams really carried the load yesterday. Carter was unlucky not to score, but delivered the most yards, gaining 127 total yards (121 on the ground), while Javonte totaled 113 yards (57 on the ground) and had two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.

Carter had explosive runs for 23, 11, 21, and 35 yards, and also suffered two unnecessary roughness penalties on consecutive plays, which helped move the ball 30 extra yards. Those won’t go on his season record, but his body has the receipts. Michael Carter was also praised by the ABC commentary team, who referred to him as a “Ferrari that wears Carolina blue.” I like that.

Javonte once again vultured all of the touchdowns. He Uber’d defenders for extra yards after contact and kept drives alive. He is also the reason why the “A” is an “A-” because his pass protection led to the Sam Howell interception. The grade did not drop below that because he also jumped on Howell’s fumble in the third quarter that could’ve been scooped up by an enterprising defender for an easy six points if he wasn’t so alert.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: C+

Carolina’s offense is not a sports car without dynamic plays from its wideouts. It’s a sedan at best, and if it weren’t for the fact that the running backs kept the game from ever being controlled by Boston College, it could’ve been a lemon.

Dyami Brown caught four balls for 60 yards, with a long of 28. His younger brother Khafre caught two for 35, including the 24 yard touchdown catch. Garrett Walston got his customary one catch, but did not score off of it this time. Beau Corrales, the closest thing Phil Longo uses to a tight end, caught two passes for 35 yards and ended his silly quest to jump over every defensive back in the ACC. Dazz Newsome had one catch for six yards with 9:23 left to play in the fourth quarter... wait, what??!!

I don’t want to repeat myself over and over again, but if Carolina is going to take the next step, the receivers have to make explosive plays like they did last season. Several players, including Dyami Brown and Beau Corrales, had some drops when they ran from a shaded portion of the field into the bright sunlight. If they want to play in the NFL, they need to catch those balls for fun.

Also, young Josh Downs will really wish he could reel in that touchdown pass in the third quarter after Boston College’s back to back unnecessary roughness penalties. That would have killed BC’s momentum and put the game away earlier for UNC.

Offensive Line: B

I don’t really have much to say about their performance today. I don’t think they dominated any particular passage of play. I don’t think they cost Sam Howell his health or safety. He was sacked four times, but I’d blame him more than half the time for holding on to the ball for too long.

Most of the long runs that Carter and Williams broke off were to the right side. They seem to find joy running behind Jordan Tucker, who is huge and athletic. The offensive line did get great push for Javonte’s rushing touchdown in the first quarter.

They were not great picking up BC’s blitz on 3rd and 10 in the third quarter, which led to an incomplete pass and a field goal from the BC 18-yard line. If they picked that blitz up, Toe Groves had room to run for a first down and possible touchdown to make the game more comfortable for the Tar Heels.

Defensive Line: C+

This is where we begin to see Phil Jurkovec dragging down grades.

The defensive line put pressure on Jurkovec. They hurried him. They hit him. But they did not sack him. Football stat-heads will tell you that there is value in QB hurries. The more you get, the more likely the quarterback will make a mistake.

Jurkovec didn’t do that. ABC kept referencing Ben Roethlisberger during the game, but Jurkovec is not nearly that fat yet. He did show some of Big Ben’s escapability, and penchant for hitting long gains for first downs off of broken plays.

Clyde Pinder failed to sack Jurkovec after wrapping him up dead to rights in the first quarter. Instead, Jurkovec threw for a first down. At a stout 6’5”, 226 pounds, Jurkovec ran for some tough first downs off of quarterback sneaks. UNC’s defensive line was powerless to stop it. When BC handed the ball off to Pat Garwo on a 4th and 1 call, the ABC announcers were apoplectic that Jurkovec wasn’t getting the ball, as he was running a 100% success rate on those plays.

Sacking a quarterback is good, obviously. Almost sacking a quarterback, and watching him escape to get a first down either by throwing to a receiver breaking coverage because the play has gone on longer than ten seconds, or by running into the space emptied by all the defenders chasing into the backfield, is demoralizing to a defense. A better team would have made Carolina pay dearly for this.

Linebackers: B

The linebackers suffered the same “near-miss” sack syndrome that the defensive line did. But they also had all three of the team’s sacks. Tomon Fox and Chazz Surratt got to Jurkovec in the first quarter, and Tyrone Hopper blasted him in the fourth.

The pressure that UNC’s linebackers put on Jurkovec led to tangible net positives for the Tar Heels. In the first quarter, 3rd and six, Chazz Surratt shoots into the gap between the left guard and left tackle, and is met by the running back staying behind for pass protection. Jeremiah Gemmel stunted and waited for Surratt to meet his blocker before shooting into that space and gets his hands up as Jurkovec begins his throw. He has to float his pass above two defenders, but Gemmel’s pressure causes him to sail that pass. Hunter Long, BC’s star tight end is then forced to reach as high as he can to corral the pass, and Trey Morrison damn near spears him like Goldberg.

I picked the gif of Selina Meyer there in reference to Chazz Surratt. This guy is going to be a first-round draft pick by the time this is all said and done. Whether he’s making physical plays at the point of attack, at the line of scrimmage against bigger linemen, or chasing down a speedy receiver like Zay Flowers for minimal gains, he was everywhere.

Carolina’s underwhelming line play is survivable if Chazz Surratt plays at this kind of level. If he goes down, the whole system breaks down with him.

Defensive Backs: B+

The Rude Boyz had a tough job defending a probably first-round NFL Draft pick at tight end, and a shifty speedster in the Dazz Newsome mold. Hunter Long and Zay Flowers were the top two names on the scouting reports, so it should come as no surprise that they led BC in receiving, with 9 catches for 96 yards and 8 catches for 61 yards, respectively.

What Boston College did not have on their scouting report was a free safety by the name of Trey Morrison, or Ed Reed 2.0, as I will now refer to him. With the recent departure of redshirt senior Myles Wolfolk, Trey Morrison moved to safety permanently, and he made the position his home. Remember the play described in the Linebackers section? Here’s what it looked like:

In his Baltimore Ravens days, Ed Reed would give you the devastating hits, and the athletic interception returns. Morrison had one of those too, to seal the game for Carolina:

Trey Morrison also had the courage to take down big running back David Bailey after he trucked Kyler McMichael on a run up the middle. He was devastating.

Speaking of Kyler McMichael, the big cornerback was unlucky not to get an interception. He sat on the first down marker in zone coverage with tight end Hunter Long running towards him. Jurkovec’s pass was probably going into McMichael’s bread basket, until a chasing Chazz Surratt dived to tip the pass from reaching Long. A possible pick-six was only an incomplete pass, and McMichael had both hands on his helmet afterwards.

Ja’Qurious Conley had a quiet game in his first start at nickelback. He was matched up against Hunter Long early in the first quarter and was subsequently roasted by him on several occasions. He did make a great shoestring tackle on tight end Spence Witter on 3rd and 14 to limit him to a seven-yard gain, forcing a punt.

Special Teams: B

Another missed field goal < 50 yards for Grayson Atkins. That’s not great. He made his other field goal attempt from 35 yards. That was good. He made all three of his extra points. Also good.

The kick return fair catch that pinned Carolina at their own four-yard line was bad. Trey Morrison’s interception and two-point run to the endzone was good. Let’s just go with a solid B.

Coaching: B

Phil Longo did a much better job of varying the run/pass amounts throughout the game. I cannot tell if Howell’s insistence on trying to hit the deep passes that led to sacks and hits were his fault or instructed by Longo.

Jay Bateman had the defense in the right position to make plays. They just need to wrap that quarterback up and put him on the ground. I’m pleased with the organization and set-up. The players will clean this up as the season moves along. Virginia Tech will be tough, but I think we spank Florida State.

Finally, some wise words from the head coach:

We didn’t beat the spread, but that shouldn’t matter. On to Virginia Tech!