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UNC football: Six games in and still no quarterback

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In a lost season, there’s no satisfying answer for how to move forward at the quarterback position.

NCAA Football: Virginia at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

With a record of 1-6 and three games against ranked teams remaining on the schedule, the writing that’s been on the wall for weeks has now been there long enough that it can’t be washed off. This season is a wash, undone by an absolutely unthinkable and insurmountable number of injuries to not only key players but depth as well. There was a little bit of hope that the team would be able to shake off the already-significant turnover caused by graduations and declarations of intent to play professionally. That hope has long been buried.

Yet another reason for this season’s catastrophe is that Larry Fedora has refused to commit to a quarterback at all, and we’re halfway through the season. In his defense, no clear starter emerged from training camp, but the two-quarterback system just doesn’t work well unless you have truly transcendent talent. You can look back to 2013 and the Bryn Renner/Marquise Williams combo as a case study, and in fact that year was the last year a UNC team has started so poorly. That team started 1-5, although they did then rattle off five straight wins before losing to Duke in the regular season finale, and then beating Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

Graduate transfer Brandon Harris and redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt are no Renner/Williams, though. Fedora needs to commit to someone, but who? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each option.

Chazz Surratt

Pros

  • Surratt has far and away performed the best of the two quarterbacks if you take the entire season’s performance into account. Aside from a DNP this past Sunday that Fedora attributed to Harris having a “better week of practice,” Surratt has seen significant playing time in all of UNC’s games. In those games, he is 100 of 170 for 1,167 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. Harris is 31 of 60 for 322 yards, one touchdown, and six interceptions. Twice as many interceptions on less than half as many attempts! Surratt also has four rushing touchdowns; Harris has zero.
  • He also has three years of eligibility remaining. Logically (read: hopefully) with experience he will improve as a player, learn how to make better decisions on the fly and be able to work on the parts of his game that are underwhelming. A few decisions he has made this year (see the end of the Duke game) have reinforced the fact that he is inexperienced at that level. More experience isn’t a bad thing.

Cons

  • Aside from a mysterious back issue that caused him to miss some time earlier in the season, Surratt has been relatively healthy. That puts him in hallowed ground on this current UNC football roster—in fact, UNC has managed to avoid any significant injury at the quarterback position. But if, and this is a big if, UNC believes in Surratt as its quarterback of the future, there’s got to be some merit to the idea of sitting him in games that no longer matter.
  • Surratt started out the season strong but has regressed over his past couple of games. Against Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, he was 37 of 72 for 320 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Add in that DNP against Virginia in an absolute must-win game and you have to wonder where his confidence is at right now.

Brandon Harris

Pros

  • It hasn’t done him much help this season, but Harris is by definition the older and more experienced quarterback, having transferred over from a P5 school. There have been times when the decisions he makes do not reflect that experience, but there are times when he has shown the poise that made several people this summer, including yours truly, think he was the real deal. The Louisville game, in particular, showed him at his best.
  • Brandon Harris has been given every chance to succeed, which sends a positive message to future players who may consider transferring to Chapel Hill. If you put faith in us, we’ll put faith in you...maybe even to a fault. There are admittedly several times this season where I have thought Brandon Harris certainly must have thrown his final pass as a Tar Heel (See: Georgia Tech). That the coaching staff continues to have faith in him is indicative of...something.

Cons

  • No matter which way you draw it up, Harris’ time with the UNC football program will be over in just a few months. Giving him more reps doesn’t really work as a justification, seeing as he won’t be able to return next year. If he hasn’t picked up the UNC system by now, it’s certainly not happening against Miami or Virginia Tech or NC State. At this point, he is what he is.
  • I can’t possibly imagine the countless hits his confidence has taken so far this year. As I alluded to above, when he checked into the Georgia Tech game, had his first pass intercepted, and sat on the bench the rest of the game, I thought he was toast. Instead, after sitting out the Notre Dame game, he returned and threw three interceptions in a game UNC lost by six points.

Nathan Elliott

Pros

  • Bah gawd, that’s Nathan Elliott’s music! At this point, the Heels just need to go through their quarterbacks and see what they have to roster. Fedora treated the first game of 2017 as if it were a preseason game, so we might as well treat the rest of 2017 as the 2018 preseason. Elliott is the only other QB on UNC’s roster with experience at the collegiate level, having gone 8 of 9 for 55 yards last year as a redshirt freshman serving as Mitchell Trubisky’s backup.
  • I don’t necessarily want to use the fact that he has a year of experience in “the system” as something that’s working in his favor because as this season has shown, that “system” is broken beyond any and all repair. But it surely must count for something that he spent time last year backing up a player who’s currently starting in the NFL, right? At the very least, teams would have little to no film on him.

Cons

  • Getting benched for two different players probably wouldn’t be the greatest thing to happen to Chazz Surratt moving forward. Unless the situation was handled transparently and respectfully, switching gears to Elliott risks alienating a player who has shown flashes of potential in his short time so far in Chapel Hill. Surratt clearly beat out Elliott in training camp, at least, and he has done nothing so egregious as to warrant a shift to Elliott.
  • Slotting in Elliott would be a clear throwing in of the towel for a team that has fought like hell to compete amidst all of the injury, turnover, and questionable coaching. As I’m not a UNC football player nor someone affiliated at all with the program, I have no feel for the locker room at the moment. I don’t know if Surratt is the players’ guy or anything. But you want your quarterback to be a leader. I think it’s a little bit too late for Elliott to do that, at least in the middle of a season.

Quick hits

  • If UNC wants to try out a pro-style offense, Logan Byrd looms as a potential captain of that ship. Byrd was highly touted coming out of high school as a pocket passer and pro-style quarterback, and if UNC decides that the option isn’t working out, Byrd would be a fine way to institute a clean slate.
  • If UNC wants a feel-good story, they could hand the team to walk-on Manny Miles. Miles is a junior with zero collegiate experience, but if we start him maybe his dad Les will come fix the offense?
  • If UNC wants to throw caution to the wind and mess with everyone’s head, true freshman Jack Davidson is right there. Davidson hails from Myers Park and was the Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the Shrine Bowl, so there’s some potential.
  • If Mitchell Trubisky doesn’t like Chicago, can he go back to being Mitch Trubisky and keep playing in Chapel Hill?
  • We could let Michael Carter toss around the pigskin

Verdict

There’s obviously no point. What do you think? Please tell us in the poll below.

Poll

Who should start at QB for UNC going forward?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    Chazz Surratt
    (162 votes)
  • 6%
    Brandon Harris
    (15 votes)
  • 15%
    Nathan Elliott
    (37 votes)
  • 6%
    Other
    (15 votes)
  • 2%
    Based on the law of averages, the two-QB system is theoretically bound to work eventually
    (6 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now