Inconsistent North Carolina offense mired by injuries, inexperience

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame isn’t the only team with questions at the quarterback position.

After LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris started North Carolina’s season opener against California on Sept. 2, he was quickly overtaken by redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt, who has made four consecutive starts for the 1-4 Tar Heels.

In his first taste of FBS football, Surratt — a 6-foot-3, 215-pound lefty from Denver, N.C. — has completed 63.3 percent of his passes, throwing for 988 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions, along with rushing for 147 yards and four scores.

Engulfed by a sea of inexperience, Surratt has been capable but inconsistent.

Unfortunately for head coach Larry Fedora, a young quarterback has been the least of his concerns.

“Offensively, it’s just a lack of execution,” Fedora said of his underperforming offense, which has averaged 12 points in its last two games — both losses.

“I’ve said before, it’s not one guy. It’s one guy here and then on the next play it’s somebody else.”

And, occasionally, the guilty party has been Surratt. Trailing Georgia Tech 10-0 in the third quarter last weekend, with a clean pocket in which to operate, the lefty whizzed a pass across the middle into triple coverage that was picked off by Yellow Jacket safety A.J. Gray.

“We would love to have that ball back that he threw on the pick, and he threw a couple others that could have been picked off,” Fedora said. “We’ve got to keep putting him in position where he’s making good decisions.

“On the interception, there was nowhere to go with the ball. But we’ve got to learn from that. You don’t throw it no matter what.”

With No. 21 Notre Dame (4-1) on deck, Surratt better learn fast.

And that also goes for the rest of his offense.

Through five games this season, North Carolina’s injury totals are astronomical. Thirteen — yes, 13 — Tar Heels have been ruled out for the season. Nineteen players were unavailable last weekend, including 13 offensive players.

The most significant offensive losses are the team’s top two returning wide receivers — Austin Proehl (broken collarbone) and Thomas Jackson (unspecified). In 13 games last season, Proehl — a 5-10, 185-pound senior — registered 43 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns. The 5-11, 200-pound Jackson added 17 catches for 186 yards and four scores.

That’s 60 catches and seven returning touchdowns rotting on the Tar Heel bench.

That adds more pressure onto Surratt, who’s still adjusting to life as a starting quarterback in the ACC.

“I’m not thinking about down the road with him,” Fedora said. “All I’m doing is trying to make sure we have a plan in place that he can execute for this week. That’s it.”

That’s easier said than done — especially considering Surratt’s youthful surroundings. Without a host of proven playmakers, Fedora has been forced to shrink his offensive playbook.

“Any time you’re putting together a game plan — and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got all 11 starters and they’re all seniors — you’re always trying to decide how much to do,” Fedora said, “and you’re always trying to figure out, ‘OK, what is the lowest common denominator? Let’s not do more than we can handle for us to be effective.’

“When you start changing out a lot of personnel and you’ve got multiple issues that you have to deal with, you do. You start paring it down, and then you start thinking, ‘Do I have enough?’ ”

But, in this case, how much is enough?

“It’s limited. It is what it is,” Fedora conceded. “But there’s enough in the game plan to be successful.”

That is, if North Carolina finds a way to consistently execute. If Surratt settles into his position. If the injury bug suddenly loses interest.

If new playmakers finally arise.


Twitter: @mikevorel

North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt (12) jumps over offensive tackle Bentley Spain (75) as he runs the ball in the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Georgia Tech Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)