This Saturday, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson brings his Louisville Cardinals squad into Chapel Hill. Coming off of a close 35-28 win over Purdue, Louisville will be chomping at the bit to prove their dominance in the ACC. North Carolina, on the other hand, will try to shake off the poor performance against California.
North Carolina enters this week with some questions left unanswered and some new concerns that weren’t concerns at all. There are many things we could look for this weekend, but I will limit it to three.
North Carolina Defense vs. Lamar Jackson
During most of the offseason, North Carolina’s defense was touted as one of the best Coach Fedora had ever assembled. After giving up 469 total yards (363 in the air), many are questioning if the defense is as tough as it was billed. Ross Bowers found every seam and window he could, and his wide receivers were able to get behind their defenders. Jake talked about this in his film review of California’s four touchdown passes.
If the Tar Heels have any hope of pulling off the upset, they must get to Lamar Jackson early and force him into mistakes. The defensive line showed the ability to get to Bowers last weekend, but they always seemed a second too late. Getting to Jackson early will also help the secondary recover on missed assignments.
North Carolina will need to continue to keep the rushing game in check. Last week, they only gave up 106 rushing yards with a respectable three yards per carry. Jackson is a quarterback who likes to run. Whether he keeps the ball on a read-option or is scrambling from a broken play, he will get his carries (he accounted for nearly 95% of Louisville’s total yards against Purdue).
Jackson is exceptional at free-styling when a play breaks down, so the defensive line will need to contain him as much as possible, or he will have another 100-yard rushing game. To do this, the Tar Heels will need to be vigilant to not overplay Jackson and stay-at-home on assignments.
Another must is to get off of the field on 3rd Down. North Carolina gave up eight third downs (about 50%) and both 4th Down attempts last week. On Cal’s final two drives, the defense gave up two 4th Down conversions and three 3rd Down conversions en route to two touchdowns that gave away the lead and then iced the game away.
Three-Pronged Rushing Attack
Will Coach Fedora continue to evenly run both Jordon Brown and Michael Carter out of the backfield? Brown had 13 carries for 54 yards while Carter had 11 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Chazz Surratt added to the rushing totals by carrying it 16 times for 66 yards. In his press conference, Coach Fedora mentioned that he will, again, play multiple running backs against Louisville. He added “...but if one guy starts getting a hotter hand, then we can start adjusting that way.”
I would expect to see a few more two-back sets, and a healthy dose of option plays like this one:
For this to be successful, the Tar Heel offensive line will need to open up holes and set the edge against a stingy Louisville run defense that gave up only 51 yards rushing on 21 attempts. If things do break down, however, trust that Surratt will be able to create something out of nothing with his legs like this:
This doesn’t seem like something we should still be discussing, but it is not going away easily. Will we see more of Brandon Harris? How about Nathan Elliot? We can all agree that Chazz Surratt secured his position at the top of the depth chart, but the newest released version does not reflect that. Coach Fedora’s comments in his weekly press conference also suggest that we will see Harris under center this weekend:
“Their poise, their communication on the field with their teammates, plus with the coaches on the sideline was good. Brandon threw the two picks that you know we can’t afford to do. We’ve got to get better in that area. I thought Chazz made some good decisions with the ball and when he was running.”
When pressed about who would suit up as the starter, he was non-committal in his answer saying:
“We haven’t decided that yet. We’ll go through this week again and decide on what we’re going to do. You would think what you saw on Saturday, whether or not that was enough to make a change, I don’t know yet. We will see how they handle this week in practice.”
Coach Fedora also addressed the lack of continuity at Quarterback:
“It is sometimes hard to do that [switch QB’s during games]. The way we practice, both of those guys are getting the same amount of reps and working with both groups all the time. Would you prefer one guy all the time with the ones so you could have continuity? Yeah, but that’s just not what we have right now.”
This definitely sounds like we will see a mixture of Surratt and Harris. The biggest question will be if this is the final test before either is named the outright starter.
Expect to see a lot of the same as what we saw last week. Multiple running backs and quarterbacks will play (again) and the defense will have it’s hands full with another quarterback that can get it done through the air. How will the Tar Heels respond?