As Virginia Tech gets ready to kick off against UNC, we take a look at what to expect from the Tar Heels. Get ready for this weekend's game with our Inside the Enemy look at North Carolina's football program.
Larry Fedora is in Trouble
Three seasons ago, North Carolina fans would've scratched their heads had they seen this headline. In 2015, head coach Larry Fedora lead the Tar Heels to an 11-win season, the best in school history. QB Mitch Trubisky was about ready to take the field and become a first-round NFL talent the next season. It looked like UNC football was heading back to the winning ways of the Butch Jones era.
Then again, perception is not always reality. The Tar Heels started 2016 at 7-2, ranked 15th in the country; since then, UNC is 5-15, and 2-10 in ACC games. The Heels finished last season at 3-9, including a 52-point blowout-loss at Virginia Tech.
2018 isn't looking much better for the Tar Heels, who currently sit at 1-3. As if losing back-to-back games to Cal isn't bad enough, the Tar Heels found an even more impressive way to make their fans shake their heads: lose by 22 to ECU. It's safe to say that things haven't been going well on the field for Fedora and the UNC football program.
Unfortunately for Fedora, it's been no different off the field. To start, Fedora made a huge splash in the off-season at ACC Media Days. “Our game is under attack ... I fear that the game will be pushed so far from what we know that we won’t recognize it 10 years from now," Fedora said.
“I don’t think it’s been proven that the game of football causes CTE. We don’t really know that. Are there chances for concussions? Of course. There are collisions. But the game is safer than it’s ever been.” (SB Nation)
While some football fans and players felt those comments needed to be said, they were also met with major backlash from the media and some of the UNC alumni base. North Carolina was already behind the ESPN 8-ball after the academic scandal a few years ago. In an era where CTE and football safety are such hot-button topics, Fedora didn't do North Carolina's national reputation much of a favor. What happened a few weeks later didn't help the cause either.
In August, North Carolina football went through their third major scandal in the past ten years. After it was discovered that UNC football players were selling their university-issued Jordan Shoes, 13 players were suspended. One of those players was Chazz Surrat, who was expected to be the starting quarterback. With Butch Jones being fired amid a major scandal, this was not a good omen for Fedora.
With everything that has gone wrong, the UNC fan base has shown that they have had it. One UNC fan wrote to AD Bubba Cunningham: “If this continues any further I will pull all funding and denounce my allegiance to this once fine university.
“You should be ashamed of yourself to let this raucous affair continue. I hope you do what is best and relieve Larry Fedora of his head coaching duties immediately.” (News Observer)
The hashtag #FireFedora is trending on Twitter. There were many empty seats in North Carolina's last home game, a 38-35 victory over Pittsburg.
Amidst the disaster on and off the field, Fedora is well aware of how important the second half of this season is going to be. A win over Virginia Tech would help his cause, meaning the Hokies better be ready for whatever tricks Fedora has up his sleeve
The QB Struggles
Unfortunately for UNC fans, Mitchell Trubisky can't come back. Ever since his departure, the Tar Heels have struggled mightily at the quarterback position. Last season, Chazz Surratt, Brandon Harris and Nathan Elliot combined for 16 interceptions on the year, completing just over half their passes.
2018 hasn't been good either for the UNC signal-callers. Projected starter Chazz Surratt was suspended to start the season, meaning Nathan Elliot had to take over. In his first game, Elliot threw four interceptions, as Cal had more return yardage that day than total offense.
With the news that Chazz Surratt is out for the season, things don't look to be much better behind center for the Carolina Blue.
To Elliot's credit, however, he has looked better the past couple of weeks. He threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns against Pitt two weeks ago, completing 71 percent of his passes.
Still, desperate times call for desperate measures, and that's why UNC is looking to add one of the biggest "free agents" in college football. That "free agent" is former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, a name that brings some bad memories to the target audience of this article.
It was announced this week that Bryant would be visiting Chapel Hill for the game Saturday. This could be a much needed spark for a football team where virtually everything has gone wrong. But regarding the game this weekend, look for Nathan Elliot to play with a little chip on his shoulder.
Elliot will have to do everything to prove that he is the future for this UNC offense. The three-star commit from the state of Texas will do whatever it takes to prove that he is worth the hype, and that North Carolina won't have to look elsewhere at the quarterback spot.
Virginia Tech will have to mature quickly in the secondary, as Elliot has shown the ability to put up big numbers
Roy Williams can't be the Defensive Coordinator
If only the football team could play defense the way the 2017 National Championship Basketball team did at North Carolina. To put it kindly, the Tar Heel defense has been less than sub-par. A lot less.
In many statistical categories, the UNC defense finds itself ranked in the dreaded 100's range. While UNC does rank in the top-30 in pass defense, there's probably a reason for that; the Heels are 112th in the FBS in rush defense. Last week against Miami, UNC allowed 229 rushing yards on 34 carries, including a 56-yard burst from Travis Homer.
UNC is also 115th in 3rd down defense, which likely means that opposing offenses are getting in a lot of third-and-manageable situations.
The most concerning stat for UNC fans is the lack of turnovers forced. While Miami showed off the turnover chain six times last Saturday, UNC managed to force two turnovers... to add to their season total of just four. Four turnovers in just four games; that ranks 124th in college football. Considering that UNC had just three interceptions last season, the lack of improvement this season has to be discouraging for Larry Fedora.
As bad as these numbers are, they could be even worse had UNC not cancelled their game against UCF. McKenzie Milton is the real deal, along with the rest of the explosive Knight offense.
Virginia Tech has ran the football well this season. If Peoples, McClease and Wheatley can continue to be effective without fumbling the ball, they should have another big day against this Tar Heel defense. It's no wonder many UNC fans are looking forward to basketball season already.
RB Michael Carter is a rising star
That's enough for the negative statistics, whew. Every thorn field has its rose, and UNC has a flower waiting to blossom in RB Michael Carter.
Carter, who did not play the first two weeks of the season, has just gotten back into the mix. Last week against Miami, Carter had 7 carries for 75 yards, an average of 10.7 yards per carry. One of those runs was a 30-yard burst right up the gut, which had to be an encouraging sign for Larry Fedora.
Although Carter got no touches in the second half as North Carolina was shut down, expect him to be a big part of the game plan Saturday. With Surratt out for the season, North Carolina will have to lean on their running game.
In last year's Inside The Enemy against UNC, Carter was also mentioned. The sophomore from Navarre, Fla. was a four star recruit coming out of high school. Although he received limited touches last year, he made the most of them. Carter had 97 carries for 558 yards, as well as 8 touchdowns.
Carter is known for his great open-field speed, as he has the ability to break big runs. Last season against UVA, Carter had two runs that went for more than 40 yards and ran for 157 in that game.
After struggling last week, the Hokies run defense will have to turn around quickly if they want to shut down Michael Carter
The Return of Aaron Crawford
With all the player suspensions up front, it's no wonder the UNC rush defense has struggled so much this season. But another major piece of the puzzle was missing, and this one not due to the shoe scandal.
DT Aaron Crawford suffered a knee injury last August, which caused him to miss the first five games of the season.
Last year, Crawford was one of the best defensive lineman for the Heels, as he finished his sophomore campaign with 29 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks.
The Junior from Ashburn, Va. who played in high school with Redskins DL Jonathan Allen is supposed to be a major force this season.
Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, Crawford will make his season debut Saturday.
"They aren't going to be able to run up the middle on us, for sure," junior safety Myles Dorn told Inside Carolina on Wednesday. "A.C. is a great player. Like I said, nobody can block him in the middle, so we can eliminate most inside run games when he is in the game. And we can just really focus in on other things when he is in the game. He is a great weapon for us." (247Sports).
It will be up to C Kyle Chung and the rest of the Hokies' offensive line to determine what kind of impact Crawford has in his debut.