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Opponent Breakdown: North Carolina Offense

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One of the nation’s best offenses in 2016 is having to reload at nearly every position.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Fedora has been regarded as one of the best offensive coaches in the country over the last decade. He led prolific offenses at Oklahoma State and Southern Miss before moving on to UNC. Fedora’s style of offense is very aggressive and very wide open. He’s utilized mobile quarterbacks over the last few years but not really dynamic dual-threat guys. This year he has his work cut out for him as his offense lost almost every skill position player as well as four offensive linemen. The first game of the season against Cal left a lot to be desired as Fedora rotated quarterbacks and couldn’t get many big plays.

The Tar Heels had some questions at quarterback at the end of last season. Mitch Trubisky had waited his turn for a couple of years and exploded once he took over. Because UNC had two high level quarterbacks for a few years it made it harder to recruit a third guy. So, Fedora went after Brandon Harris after he left LSU as a graduate transfer. Harris was benched by the Tigers after he couldn’t quite turn the corner over a full year plus one game. Harris has physical talents that you want from any quarterback but he consistently makes bad decisions. That looks to be the same after his two interceptions against Cal. In my opinion, Harris isn’t the answer for UNC but Fedora hasn’t committed to picking one quarterback.

The best option for UNC is Chazz Surratt if you ask me (or anyone with working eyes). Surratt is a redshirt freshman who showed really good intermediate accuracy as well as solid running ability. He completed 64 percent of his passes on Saturday and added 66 rushing yards on designed runs and scrambles. The offense scored 4 touchdowns with him in the game while Harris led them to a field goal and an interception while driving into field goal range. Fedora deserves all the heat if he refuses to go with the player that is playing better and is the future at the position.

The UNC passing game was mostly short crossing routes over the middle and comebacks and short hitches on the outside. Surratt had a lot of trouble finding open guys and had to extend plays to create openings. UNC had a couple of deep threats over the last few years but they don’t seem to have those guys that can stretch the field and open up things for others this year. They do, however, have a couple of really good possession guys that can get separation on crossing routes and get in and out of breaks well. Purdue’s Jackson Anthrop had a really good game against Louisville and his quarterbacks relied on him a lot. I could see UNC looking for the same this week.

UNC had two of the best running backs in the conference last season but Fedora was known for underutilizing them when they were playing well. That absolutely can’t happen this year if he’s looking to have a successful season. He, again, has two strong running backs and used them very well against Cal. I still think that he could use them more. They combined for 23 carries but that number has to be 30 or more if you ask me. Michael Carter is a true freshman with great speed while Jordan Brown is a sophomore that runs with speed and power. The Tar Heels also used Brown as a receiver out of the backfield to add some options for Surratt.

I think that the Brown/Carter combo could be a real issue for Louisville if Fedora commits to the run. Purdue didn’t run the ball very well, but D.J. Knox was able to get a couple of good runs due to his burst and surprising ability to fall forward when tackled. Jordan Brown showed the same ability against Cal. I also think that the swing passes they used could cause some issues for Louisville even if they are just able to stretch the defense with them and open up some of the other routes against zone coverage. Another thing that we might see on Saturday is misdirection plays. Purdue had a little success there and Louisville is relying on some younger players that could be over-aggressive.

UNC was left with one reliable receiver coming into this year in Austin Proehl. The son of the longtime NFL receiver plays just like his dad as a possession receiver with quick feet. Proehlplays outside mostly, but he can move into the slot and he also returns punts. He and Thomas Jackson are guys that do a good job of running crisp routes and finding passing windows in the middle of the field. Jackson is a former walk-on that made some really impressive plays last year including taking a quick screen past All-American Tarvarus McFadden and the rest of FSU’s defense for a long touchdown last year. These two guys worry me more than the others but Brandon Fritts is a guy to look out for after Purdue had so much success with their tight ends.

It’s never a good thing when you have to replace four offensive linemen, but UNC returned a veteran tackle and had a highly rated backup move into the other tackle spot. They were also able to reach into the transfer market fora graduate transfer center in Cameron Dillard. The pass protection last week was hard to get a true feel for because of Surratt’s penchant for extending plays. He ended up taking a couple of “coverage” sacks as well as getting tackled as he was attempting to escape. I didn’t see a lot of bad pockets or blown assignments when I watched but there were times when the pocket was very tight. Stretch runs and other outside runs seemed to work best with the line. They got some real push when they were on the move and provided plenty of room for the running backs. Cal wasn’t very good against the run last year, so that’s definitely something to take into account.