Carolina fell flat on its face in a season opener against a Power Five opponent. Larry Fedora doesn’t have a great record in opening games at UNC. He’s gone just 2-4 with his only wins coming against Elon and Liberty. This time, a lot of the criticism has fallen on Fedora for not settling on a single lineup that could work. Some, inexplicably, even called for him to be fired. Sure, he made a few decisions that left us scratching our heads, but all of his moves were easily defensible.
Chazz Surratt had just led the offense on drives of five and nine plays (neither of which led to points) to open the second half. On the third series, Harris came back in much to the chagrin of Carolina fans everywhere. This was something that HAD to be done. Fedora had to see if Harris could keep his composure after he made a major mistake to end the first half. That question was quickly answered when Harris threw his second interception of the day on his second (and final) play of the half. Now we have to hope that Coach Fedora learned from this experiment, and we will see Surratt under center more often.
Many Carolina fans questioned why Coach Fedora abandoned the hot rusher. I was one of them. It seemed to be a repeating theme from past seasons. However, in this first game, Fedora had to see how his other options could handle pressure.
This time, Jordon Brown found himself in the huddle with Surratt and his second half started well with a five-yard reception and six-yard rush. He proved that he could be a serviceable change-of-pace back and contribute in the passing game, pulling in a team-high nine receptions for 53 yards. Remember, there’s only so many touches to go around and Coach Fedora now knows that he can utilize both Brown and Michael Carter out of the backfield in multiple roles.
I’ll admit it. I questioned the call of going for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter when down 28-24. Take the points, trust your defense was my thinking. Looking back, however, the defense didn’t do too much to earn that trust. In fact, on the very next series, the defense gave up a 3rd and 16, 3rd and 8, and finally a 3rd and Goal for a touchdown.
Freeman Jones also missed a 45-yard field goal earlier in the game. Had he missed this 47-yard field goal, it could have shaken his confidence for the season. Coach Fedora made the right call. The play wasn’t executed correctly, and that falls on the freshman quarterback to make the right read.
All of this is to say that Coach Fedora is still in a good position to succeed, he and has proven that he can guide a team to success after an early season flop. In 2013, the Tar Heels lost to South Carolina in week one and then proceeded to go 1-4 before Fedora righted the ship and finished on a 6-1 streak, capped by a Belk Bowl victory. In 2015, the Tar Heels again lost to a South Carolina squad. However, this time they tore off on an 11-0 streak to win the Coastal. Finally, in 2016, Carolina lost to Georgia, but finished up 8-5. Look for this season to be no different.
In fact, Fedora could be well on his way to becoming one of the all-time coaching legends at UNC, even in the face of poor starts (and other complaints). I’ve compared his coaching stats to that of three coaches who are regarded as the all-time greats for UNC Football. Will he ever pass Bill Dooley, Dick Crum, or Mack Brown? Probably not, but his name will most likely be in the conversation.
What do the numbers say? Let’s look:
- In five seasons, Fedora is more than halfway to Crum’s record 72-win mark. If he were to keep on his current pace of eight wins per season, he would surpass that number in his ninth season (2020-2021).
- Not included in the chart: In their first five seasons the three other coaches had somewhat similar records or worse. Dooley went 27-27, Crum went 42-16-1, and Brown went 24-31-1. Fedora, at 40-26 as of today, is far ahead of where Dooley and Brown were at this point.
- Fedora is also averaging at least one more win per season over Dooley, Crum, and Brown.
- Coach Fedora hasn’t gotten it done in the Bowl Games. If he wants to be considered as an all-time great, this has to improve drastically. Coach Dooley had the same problem. even though he had three conference championships, he could not get the wins needed in the bowl games.
- Although Fedora has no conference championships to claim, he has captured two division championships and almost captured that conference championship in 2015.
This season’s version of North Carolina football is going to take time to work. They may very well have a 1-2 record when the game against arch-rival Duke rolls around. This team is going to, expectedly, take their lumps. They are going to struggle. They may lose games that they should have won (Cal) and will probably steal a game or two that they should lose. History tells us, however, that we should always trust the judgement of Fedora.
Sure, we can criticize him for not playing Michael Carter much in the second half or bringing Brandon Harris back in to throw another interception, but he would rather take those hits now so that they can be better prepared for Louisville next week and still keep a clean shot at the ACC Coastal Division.
Hopefully, we are not here next week questioning the same things. I do not expect to be, but if we are, I will not be losing hope that Coach Fedora can turn things around as the season progresses.
What do you think? Can Coach Fedora turn this team around? Is this season already a lost cause after one game? Let us know in the comments!