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UNC Football: What did we learn from Louisville?

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The Heels are 0-2, but there’s a lot more cause for optimism after hanging with the Cards.

Louisville v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The North Carolina Tar Heels are now 0-2, and we’re officially one September loss away from officially touting 2017 as a rebuilding year.

After a frustrating, and at some points stupefying loss to Cal in the opener, Carolina brought a much-improved offense to Louisville—and a defense that looked as good as one can while giving up 700 yards.

There are ten games left on the schedule, and hopefully the Heels can find six wins. TO THE GAME!

Credit where credit’s due

Guys...Lamar Jackson is INCREDIBLE. Even on TV, its hard to appreciate just what you’re witnessing. I’ve seen Reggie Bush look impossible to tackle in a phone booth, but I think there are plenty of D-1 athletes who couldn’t knock Jackson off of a piece of 2x4. He was incredible, despite the fact that he missed a lot of easy pitches and catches to the sidelines. To make up for that, there were at least four plays where any other quarterback was dead to rights (meaning Carolina pressured a quarterback for the first time since 2009!!!)—not Jackson.

Under the tutelage of Bobby Petrino, the Louisville attack is just unfair. Carolina was forced to go vanilla in order to account for Jackson, and Petrino took advantage. Third down was the Cardinals’ money play.

Schematically, Louisville had to pass less Pre-Calc and more Algebra 2. In most cases, they would motion a back out of the backfield. The ‘down’ safety covering the slot (on one side) or M.J. Stewart (on the other) would walk out with the back, forcing a linebacker onto the slot receiver. That’s where you saw (without rewatching yet) at least six long third-down conversions.

It was hard to watch, but there was no adjustment made by John Papuchis. You’re giving away a man read anyway, maybe let the linebacker run out with the 220+ lb. running back?!?!?! Oy vey.

Okay, enough about the ‘Ville.

The offense is not a lost cause

Against Cal, the Heels’ offense was seemingly confined between the hashes—Chazz Surratt made his first read, and if it wasn’t there, he took off. His two throws downfield fluttered like butterflies on a nice spring day. After 4.5 yards per pass attempt against 2016’s worst P5 defense, this blogger thought the offense was doomed.

That MAY have been a little premature. The “OC3” of Fedora/Kapilovic/Brewer did a great job getting Surratt into some quick throws and easy run/pass reads in the first half, and he looked like a new QB. He still looked lost when forced to check down, as evidenced by his 30-yard cutback/cutback/pumpfake/sack/fumble loss midway through the second quarter. Despite that play’s impact on the rushing stat line, there were nice things from Surratt.

Brandon Harris played the second half, and looked the part despite a couple of missed opportunities with open receivers on his first drive. I’d argue that its a bit unfair to send a quarterback in for his first snap on the first play of the third quarter and immediately go deep, but so is life. After settling in, Harris demonstrated why I think he gives the 2017 Heels the most upside—an ability to push the ball down the field. His deep outs to Austin Proehl all got there despite perhaps being late reads, and his post to Thomas Jackson was a thing of beauty.

The quarterback debate will now rage into the trip to Old Dominion, but the Heels have two very different options that can move the ball down the field.

Jalen Dalton redeems himself

The Tar Heel Blog staff wouldn’t have argued with kicking Jalen Dalton off the team after his boneheaded targeting penalty turned the Cal game around.

Turns out, he may be the best player on the Carolina defense.

Dalton had three tackles for loss, a sack, and an amazing 70-yard rundown of Louisville RB Malik Williams that unfortunately will get him drafted after this year. JUST ONCE, LET US HAVE A NICE THING ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE FOR MORE THAN ONE YEAR, NFL.

InsideCarolina reported at one point in the 3rd quarter, that he would not be returning to the game—Dalton returned, played, and led—a week after perhaps swinging a game in the opponents’ favor.

Quick hitters

  • What better way to start ‘quick hitters’ than with a jet sweep to Dazz Newsome? The freshman’s first career play went for 55 yards and set the tone that Carolina wasn’t going to roll over. His elusiveness is a welcome addition to the offense, and one hopes he finds more touches going forward.
  • SPECIAL TEAMS ACCOLADE #1: Anthony Ratliff-Williams broke the UNC record for single-game kick return yards with his 94-yard TD in the third quarter. As many points as I saw John Bunting defenses give up, I can’t believe Mike Mason doesn’t have that record on sheer volume.
  • Austin Proehl update: he’s a boss.
  • SPECIAL TEAMS ACCOLADE #2: Tom Sheldon’s 66-yard punt was perfect, and ARW’s fielding of that punt was even better.
  • This week in “Carolina s**t, it still happens”: With Bentley Spain already out, Jared Cohen having quit the team, and Tommy Hatton a complete mystery, of COURSE the guy to get hurt is current leader Cam Dillard. Get well soon, big guy. (And props to the O-line for otherwise being flawless—two sacks, zero QB hits).
  • Tomon Fox had about four “practice sacks” but...Lamar Jackson. The redshirt freshman will end the season with 6+ sacks, and Carolina needs him.