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UNC Football: Week 2 Highs and Lows

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We lost against a team led by the nation’s best player. We don’t need to fire Larry Fedora.

Louisville v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Hey, it turns out that Lamar Jackson guy from Saturday won the Heisman last year. And get ready for the name Archie Griffin to be evoked in the coming weeks, as Jackson is currently a Heisman candidate yet again. He’s pretty good at football. Anyone who thinks he won’t be capable of making plays at the next level is fooling themselves.

Let’s address some facts, then. UNC is currently 0-2, including 0-1 in conference play. That’s not ideal, sure, but it’s no reason to fire up the #FireFedora hashtag. The Cal loss was a bit inexplicable, but as much as Andre Smith and the UNC defense wanted to back up his strong words, Jackson is just too good. But even in a loss, UNC had some positives.

Highs

Special Teams

Anthony Ratliff-Williams was named THB’s player of the game, and deservedly so. Aside from his 94-yard kickoff return that kept UNC in the game just when it seemed like it was slipping away, he also downed a perfectly placed Tom Sheldon punt that pinned Louisville at their own one-yard-line. As explained in his POTG article, ARW set a UNC record for kickoff return yards in one game with 199.

In the coming weeks, UNC will have to make the most out of winning the field position battle, as it seems that both the offense and defense are exhibiting some growing pains. With an electric returner and a 29-year-old punter who can pin opponents deep, special teams might end up being the key difference in some wins this season. Although Giovani Bernard and Ryan Switzer are gone, Ratliff-Williams looks to be a worthy heir.

Brandon Harris

In (supposedly) unexpected relief of a hobbled Chazz Surratt in the second half, Harris showed why so many people (myself included) had anointed him as UNC’s starter before the season started. He went a respectable 17 of 23 for 216 yards and his first UNC touchdown. He also didn’t turn the ball over.

His performance was leaps and bounds beyond what he showed in the first game. A graduate transfer as a backup QB isn’t exactly a common scenario—more on that later, actually—but that Harris was able to come off of the bench ice cold and perform so well is reassuring.

Tight Ends

After having a relatively anonymous game in the opener, UNC’s tight ends came alive against Louisville. Brandon Fritts was certainly puttin’ on the Fritts as two of his four catches were touchdowns, both from Chazz Surratt. Tight ends are an essential safety valve for young, inexperienced quarterbacks, and Fritts showed that he was capable of being a reliable target for Surratt.

A loss is a loss, yes, but let’s not discount the fact that UNC managed to hang up 35 points against Louisville. That said, there were obviously a lot of things UNC did (or didn’t do) that left fans wanting.

Lows

Defense, especially over the middle

One of my favorite tidbits of sports history was the nickname fans gave the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets, who set a still-standing record in defensive incompetence when they allowed 130.8 points per game. They were referred to as the Enver Nuggets, because they had no D.

Thankfully, the Tar Heels don’t have any Ds to be found anywhere in their name, because we’d be seeing some of the same jokes at their expense after their no-show on Saturday. 705 yards of total offense allowed is a UNC record, and 525 of those came from Lamar Jackson.

Time and time again, especially on third down, Jackson was able to find an open man running a seam or drag route over the middle, and UNC’s linebackers were at a total loss in pass coverage. Against UNC, he increased his season total when throwing between the numbers to 36 for 49 for 590 yards and five touchdowns. That’s absurd, and it blows any notion that he can’t succeed as a traditional pocket passer out of the water.

And real quick, in defense of Andre Smith’s comments, I know that he and the defense failed to back them up. But do you want your defense to really admit that they can’t stop someone? Confidence is worth a lot, and you gotta go out there seriously believing you can win every game.

Wrapping up the quarterback

I lost count of the times that UNC’s defenders should have had Lamar Jackson down in the backfield but allowed him to slip free and either chuck the ball downfield to an open receiver or scramble for a big gain. I understand that he’s one of the most elusive quarterbacks in all of the NCAA right now, but that’s all the more reason to get him down on those rare occasions you get a chance to. Worse yet, several of those instances were on third downs, when a stop would have forced Louisville to punt.

The again-nebulous QB situation

Here’s hoping this is much ado about nothing, but the fact that Harris performed so well off of the bench means that Fedora will probably keep the QB depth chart vague yet again. It’s unclear what sort of injury kept Surratt from starting the second half (differing outlets have speculated that it was either an ankle or back injury) but whatever it was, it was serious enough to keep him out for the entire rest of the game.

Whether it is serious enough to keep him out against Old Dominion remains to be seen, but before his exit, Surratt showed why he should be the starter for a long time to come. Harris will be gone after this season; Surratt won’t. The QB of the future needs to be the QB of the present as well.