In the wake of last week’s loss to Cal–a game in which UNC rotated quarterbacks Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt seemingly at will–plenty of eyes were focused on head coach Larry Fedora and how he’d handle the situation heading into this week’s matchup against No. 17 Louisville.
Although Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson ultimately stole the show with his incredible performance, the Tar Heels again created some drama of their own.
Fedora once again refused to show his cards until the Tar Heels’ first offensive possession, when he opted to start Surratt–the redshirt freshman who led all four touchdown drives against Cal.
“The plan was to start Chazz [Surratt], and then play it by ear from there,” the coach told reporters following the game.
On UNC’s first play of the game, Surratt tossed a shovel pass to fellow freshman Dazz Newsome. The result was a 54-yard dash all the way to the Louisville 7-yard-line.
After a pair of Jordon Brown rushing attempts, Surratt executed a beautiful play action fake before finding tight end Brandon Fritts in the endzone from one yard out.
At that moment, it seemed as if the Tar Heels might have finally found their starter.
Surratt rewarded that confidence with another solid touchdown drive in the second quarter–this one also capped with a short scoring toss to Fritts.
He completed 12 of his 14 passes for 168 yards and the two touchdowns during the first half, while having just one major mishap.
In an attempt to dodge a ferocious pass rush, Surratt scrambled backwards but couldn’t find any escape lanes–leading to a fumble, which UNC recovered, and a 21-yard loss.
Throughout the entirety of the first half, Fedora never once made the switch to Harris–who struggled mightily against Cal.
Coming out of the locker room, however, Surratt appeared to be favoring his right leg. Instead of taking his place commanding the huddle, he found himself stationed on the sideline riding an exercise bike.
Just like that, Harris was back in command.
The graduate transfer from LSU quickly proved he was looking for a huge bounce-back performance, and was razor sharp with many of his throws.
“I am never upset with the coaches,” Harris said afterward. “At the end of the day, the coach is going to give you a play out there and you got to find a way to make it happen. Any time a coach gives you a play, you have to execute.”
Harris ultimately stayed in the game for the entirety of the second half, leading a pair of touchdown drives himself to match Surratt’s earlier output.
He also completed 17 of his 23 throws for 216 yards during his two quarters of action.
With UNC struggling to run the ball–producing just 17 yards on 23 carries–it was that much more important to have strong play from the quarterback position.
For the Tar Heels to be successful moving forward, they’ll have to find consistency at the sport’s most important position–and both quarterbacks provided that on Saturday.
The outcome of the game itself showed that neither Surratt or Harris is Lamar Jackson, but nobody is.
“I thought Brandon came in and did a really nice job,” Fedora said. “I thought both quarterbacks did a nice job.”
There are certainly worse things than having two quarterbacks play well, but wide receiver Thomas Jackson admitted in his post-game media session that it can be challenging at times to deal with the rotation.
“Sometimes the chemistry doesn’t really get there, and you can’t get into the flow of the game,” he said. “And if you make a mistake on the last drive–then they switch quarterbacks–it’s kind of hard to go to the sideline and be like, ‘Alright this is what you messed up, and this is what we can fix next time,’ because there’s a different guy going in.”
As the season progresses, Fedora says he will continue to look for separation between his top two quarterbacks.
It’s not the plan to go all season without naming a defined starter at the position, but it just so happens that’s how things have continued to unfold.
Fedora will continue to play things by ear–just as he opted to do against Louisville–until given a reason to do something different.
Until then, Tar Heel fans will just have to buckle up and go along for the ride–wherever it may take them.