On Georgia Tech’s first touchdown of the day, UNC defensive tackle Jeremiah Clark had his arms around the ankles of GT quarterback TaQuon Marshall. If Clark finishes the job, he goes down at the 12-yard line and the Yellow Jackets have a difficult 3rd and goal to face.
Instead, the score was 7-0 and Georgia Tech had effectively set the tone for the entire game, orchestrating a just-like-they-drew-it-up drive that took 18 plays and nearly nine minutes, and it included four third-down conversions. It was the start of a long day, and a continuation of an even longer season.
That one play, and the drive it capped off, summed up how things have gone for UNC quite nicely. Injuries have devastated a team that was already struggling to reload key positions on both offense and defense. Out of necessity, several players are now starting at a time when they had no idea how large a role they were going to fill. This year’s UNC team is scrappy but they come up just too short when it counts. Today wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time.
QUARTERBACKS: 2/10. Will the North Carolina Tar Heels starting quarterback please stand up? Please stand up? Please. Stand up.
Chazz Surratt had what I like to call the classic Rex Grossman game: playing the role of game manager poor enough to lose the game badly but not playing poor enough to be the sole reason the team lost. He threw one backbreaking interception and had a couple of others that hit the turf after hitting a defender’s hands first. So far this season, his valleys have been far lower than his peaks have been high.
And then there’s Brandon Harris. Fedora told reporters before the game that whether or not the two-QB system would happen this game would be based on “feel.” Well, Fedora “felt” that Surratt was performing poorly enough to throw Harris to the wolves. Harris responded by almost immediately throwing an unforgivable interception on his only pass attempt, and he was gone the rest of the game. That might have been his last chance.
RUNNING BACKS: 5/10. Since UNC fell behind early and trailed by double digits for most of the game, the run game fell out of favor before it could really have an impact. Jordon Brown has clearly emerged as the lead back, with Michael Carter and Johnathon Sutton to spell him.
Brown did alright in the running game, but he shined in the receiving game, and now it’s obvious that we’re going to run like a dozen swing passes to him every game. He led all UNC players in rushing yards, receiving yards, and receptions, plus he scored UNC’s only touchdown of the game. A light in the darkness.
WIDE RECEIVERS: MEDICAL REDSHIRT/10. In grading this group of players, I feel like a professor trying to give a fair grade to a student who missed half the semester because they were in the hospital. UNC’s WR depth is so shot at this point that out of Chazz Surratt’s 18 completions, only four were caught by WRs.
Jordan Cunningham pulled in two, and Devin Perry and Anthony Ratliff-Williams had one each. It’s like the scene in Space Jam where the Tune Squad is so hurt they’re only down to four players. Except in this case, Bill Murray isn’t walking through the tunnel to save the day.
TIGHT ENDS: 3/10. Carl Tucker was ruled out for the year earlier in the week, so the brunt of the tight end work fell to Brandon Fritts. Fritts had another play that summed up UNC’s season when late in the fourth quarter, with the Heels facing a 3rd and 4, Fritts caught the ball and had the first down but in his fight for more yards, ended up getting tackled and forcing UNC to face a 4th and 1 (which did end up getting converted). The commentator described UNC’s offense as “on the Fritts.” Ha ha.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 6/10. A hodgepodge offensive line continues to perform admirably in the face of undesirable circumstances. The GT defense managed to get only two sacks and two hurries on Surratt, and only three times were UNC runners tackled behind the line of scrimmage. It’s hard to ask for much better from a position group that looks in no way like the one that started the season.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 4/10. The D-line performed decently. Two of UNC’s three sacks came from players on the defensive line: Aaron Crawford and Tyrone Hopper. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider how rarely GT actually drops back to pass.
That said, with the triple option run by the Yellow Jackets, it’s difficult for players on the line of scrimmage to have much influence on what’s more often than not an east-to-west style of running and not a north-to-south. Several tackles and big hits came on players who had just pitched the ball to someone running in space.
LINEBACKERS: 5/10. The offense fell so flat that the defense was tasked with a gargantuan effort in keeping the scoreline respectable. Things could easily have been much worse than a 26-point loss, as wild as that sounds.
Linebackers like Cayson Collins (who had that other sack and led the team in tackles) and Cole Holcomb (who had a fumble recovery) are doing what they can to fill Andre Smith’s shoes. It’s not an easy job, and some of these guys just didn’t have the tools needed to keep up with Georgia Tech's runners, but they don’t deserve scorn for doing their best.
SECONDARY: 3/10. Again, the secondary wasn’t called upon often simply because of the gameplan GT runs. Not to mention that the Yellow Jackets played from ahead for pretty much the entire game. K.J. Sails got an awful pass interference penalty in the endzone, on a ball that he easily could have made a play on if his head was on a swivel.
On GT’s one passing touchdown of the day, M.J. Stewart got beat in man coverage. Myles Dorn did recover Georgia Tech's second fumble in the endzone, though, and the team combined for three passes defensed. So that’s something? But it’s hard to balance out all of those runs that made it to the second level and just kept going. 53 pass yards allowed is nice. Over 400 rushing yards allowed is not.
SPECIAL TEAMS: 2.5/10. A couple of decent returns from ARW and M.J. Stewart were nice, although one was brought back by a penalty. UNC’s Freeman Jones missed a pair of kicks, including one that was nowhere close from only 40 yards out. He’s no Nick Weiler. The brightest spot perhaps on UNC’s entire team is punter Tom Sheldon, who pinned GT inside their own 20 twice.
COACHING: 3.5/10. One of those punts came on 4th and 4 from the Georgia Tech 46, and GT proceeded to have that backbreaking 90-yard touchdown drive right after it. Let me say this: This 1-4 record is not solely Fedora’s fault, and I am in no way willing to #FireFedora, but some of his decisions aren’t great.
I still don’t get why he’s being so coy about the quarterback situation. It’s obviously tanking both players’ confidence. And with a team that’s so hurt by injury...you gotta take some chances every now and then.
In the third quarter, down 17-0, UNC faced another 4th and 4 in Georgia Tech territory, this time from their 48. UNC punted into the endzone, and GT promptly went on to make the score 24-0. This team has fought tooth and nail to be able to go out there and compete despite all the hardships faced by players who have to watch from the sidelines now. At least give the guys who are out there a chance to do something special, Coach.