Ratliff-Williams believes the result showed the team couldn't overcome the widespread injuries it endured, but didn't represent the talent or potential of this year or last year's team.
But even with the swagger and confidence of its leading receiver last season returning this year, plenty of questions about the offense still have no answers. The depth chart is still blurry in positions where the team would like to have them shored up.
And that leaves plenty left to be decided before the Tar Heels can hit their stride again, like they did in recent successful campaigns just a few years ago.
For the second year in a row, the biggest and most prominent hole comes from the lack of a clearly-defined starting quarterback. Head coach Larry Fedora said he'd prefer either Chazz Surratt or Nathan Elliott — who split time under center last year along with Brandon Harris — to take the job and hold onto it.
“We're looking for separation,” Fedora said. “That's the number one thing, somebody that takes over the team, and then the team becomes theirs.”
“And when somebody separates themselves from the others, then we'll make a call.”
Separation hasn't come yet, though, as both are still running equally with the first team in the midst of summer camp. They're "neck and neck" at the moment, with some time, but not a lot, left to sort everything out in the offense.
With plenty of other question marks on offense to deal with, the whole team would benefit from one of the two taking the reins as the games get close. Ratliff-Williams would prefer that, too.
“I think it'll be very important for the team aspect and being able to have that one quarterback in, have that guy that guys can turn to when things aren't going the way they want them to go,” Ratliff-Williams said. “We're currently working on that now and inputting that work to show who is the better quarterback and who is the guy that we need on the team.”
Finding that consistent quarterback is central to the rest of the team, balancing out returning running backs Jordon Brown and Michael Carter, who combined for 13 touchdowns in split touches last year, on the ground. Whether one runner takes the starting job this time around, or both share time, neither can be effective without a passing game that gets the ball into Ratliff-Williams', or any other receiver's, hands.
"We're working to be really balanced," Ratliff-Williams said. "We don't want to do too much of one thing or the other because there could be one thing going and the other not be going one game. If that one thing is going one game, you want to push it to the max and make it work to the best of its ability."
To find that balance, the team also needs to solidify its offensive line, as senior tackle Charlie Heck will be the only returning starter to the unit. For the offense to run or pass, it'll need enough time for the plays to develop. Junior defensive tackle Aaron Crawford, who practices against the unit every day, said he's seen new players who are capable of picking up the protection where the last group left off.
"I think we have a good core group of guys that will be able to get the job done," Crawford said. "We lost William Sweet early last year and that hurt us, but I consider him to be one of the starters and he's coming back. I think him and Charlie (Heck) will really anchor down the outside."
But the biggest question remains: who will be under center on Sept. 1? Once the team solves that, the other answers will follow.
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