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UNC Football: Coping with opt-outs

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Carolina’s task against #5 Texas A&M will be tougher without three of their best players.

Wake Forest v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

As of this article posting, UNC Football only expects three opt-outs for the Orange Bowl against Texas A&M. Unfortunately, they’re three extremely important players. Running back Michael Carter, wide receiver Dyami Brown, and linebacker Chazz Surratt are all top talents and leaders on their side of the ball. How will Carolina cope with their absences?

Offense

You cannot just take 1,245 rushing yards, 267 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns off the table and call it good. Michael Carter is dynamic, fast, slippery, and tough. He doesn’t truck defenders as often as his backfield-mate Javonte Williams, but he has shown the ability. Ask his Duke doppelgänger:

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, Javonte Williams can capably carry the load. Part of what made the Carolina rushing attack so effective was having the Gruesome Twosome assault defenses in successive waves. Over the course of the season, this kept the tandem fresh. Carter’s absence will require more from Javonte, but for one game, it’s not asking too much. Especially when you consider UNC’s quick-strike capability.

Dyami Brown’s absence will rob Sam Howell of his top go-route receiver. Dyami leads all receivers this season in catches (55), yards (1,099), and touchdowns (8). He’s averaging 20 yards per catch, and his hitches are balanced out by backbreaking catches over the top. His vertical threat creates space for the rushing attack and in the slot for Dazz Newsome.

Coincidentally, Dazz stands to benefit the most from both Dyami and Michael Carter opting out. The senior receiver has not performed to his junior-season level so far, but part of that can be attributed to how effective UNC’s rushing attack has been this year. With targets available, and the offense in need of a playmaker to step up, Dazz should be counted on to for explosive plays.

Carolina can also turn to a bevy of younger receivers that have seen limited targets, but have made plays. Antoine Green and Josh Downs both only have three catches this season, but 33% of their catches have resulted in a touchdown. Emery Simmons has stepped up during Beau Corrales’s injury this season. And Khafre Brown has shown explosive play capability with two touchdowns, one for 76 yards.

Losing Michael Carter and Dyami Brown is tough, but manageable. Defense might be a tougher task.

Defense

Chazz Surratt has been absolutely instrumental to the defense. He led the team with 91 total tackles, and co-led the team (along with Tomon Fox) with six sacks.

After an up-and-down senior campaign, Surratt put it all together with an all-world performance against Miami. He showed NFL scouts all of the tools. He stood up Donald Chaney on a 4th & 1 run for a turnover on downs. He spied D’Eriq King to keep him from devastating Carolina like so many running quarterbacks have (only 53 yards with a long of 15) in the past. He even tipped a throw while in pass coverage.

Because Jay Bateman paired Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel almost exclusively throughout the year, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. They complement each other really well, and Surratt masked Gemmel’s weakness in pass coverage and allowed him to do what he does best; clean up around the line of scrimmage.

None of the other linebackers on the team have stood out. It’s tough to imagine that Eugene Asante or Khadry Jackson can step right in an have similar production to Surratt. It may take another step-up in performance from the freshmen to make up for his absence. Ja’Qurious Conley was especially disruptive against Miami and could be a force against Texas A&M with two weeks to prepare.

Expectations must be adjusted with these three opt-outs. The offense will not be at optimal levels, but will still be dangerous on any given play. The defense lost its heart and soul, but has enough interesting pieces to perhaps get enough stops to allow the Tar Heels to outscore the Aggies.