Two-quarterback systems don’t work, but that hasn’t stopped head coach Larry Fedora yet.
After the underwhelming performances of not one, but two UNC quarterbacks last Thursday night against Miami — the offense held hostage to an unpredictable merry go-round between Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt — more than one player under center has proven to reap few benefits for the Tar Heels in recent memory.
Although it has become a recent fixture of Fedora's Tar Heels, he'd be hard-pressed to find much evidence that rotating quarterbacks has ever worked in college football. Historically, teams have responded best with a consistent player leading the offense — like North Carolina did under Mitch Trubisky just a few seasons ago.
Nonetheless, Fedora has been hesitant about the quarterback position the last two seasons in particular — and that’s hurting his program.
After the 3-9 finish in 2017 that included swapping starts between three quarterbacks, questions remained about whether or not multiple quarterbacks could make an appearance again this year. Fedora was mum, but wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who directly benefits or suffers from the player under center, knew what he preferred.
“I think it'll be very important for the team aspect and being able to have that one quarterback in, (to) have that guy that guys can turn to when things aren't going the way they want them to go,” Ratliff-Williams said at ACC Kickoff in July.
And yet, when things didn’t go the way the team wanted against Miami, UNC turned to two different struggling leaders throughout the game for the first time this season.
In the 47-10 loss to the Hurricanes, Elliott and Surratt threw for a combined 114 yards and no touchdowns — at least none for their own team. Elliott and Surratt handed three touchdowns to the defense by way of two pick-sixes and one fumble return between them, racking up poor 10.1 and 16.8 quarterback ratings, respectively.
“They just made more mistakes than they needed to,” Fedora said after the loss to Miami, according to the News and Observer. “We’ll evaluate and make a decision about who we need to go with in the next game.”
Over the last several years, though, evaluating the position through game tape hasn’t led to any clear-cut decisions about a consistent starter moving forward. That’s a problem that has repeated itself too often.
The frequent resolution for Fedora has been to decide on indecision and stick to rotating play callers. It’s unclear why the coach can’t find his guy, even if not the ideal player, and stick with them.
Last season can’t and shouldn't be a blueprint to repeat, but once again into 2018, uncertainty is bubbling up because of the same issues.
At one point before the 2017 campaign, four players had worked their way into the conversation as the potential starter. By the first game against California, Fedora still hadn’t announced his guy — and things really didn't become any clearer the rest of the season either.
Brandon Harris took the first snaps of the season. It appeared that North Carolina would follow behind the Louisiana State grad transfer, but two drives later, Chazz Surratt came in and played well.
A combination of Harris, Surratt and eventually Elliott split time the rest of the season. Fedora appeared to have learned from his mistakes in the offseason, naming Elliott the starter well before the first game, albeit with some help by a suspension handed down to Surratt.
But Elliott struggled in the first part of the year until he finally found his confidence against Pittsburgh, picking up the team's first win of the year. Now that Surratt is back, though, Fedora doesn't seem sure anymore who his starting quarterback is.
At this point in the season, whatever is to become of the 2018 Tar Heels can be aided by choosing one over the other, though that's only possible if the team is willing to make such a decision.
There are too many good options on offense, including Ratliff-Williams, and a trio of running backs — Antonio Williams, Jordon Brown and Michael Carter — who are suffering without a consistent leader game after game who is responsible for getting them the ball.
At media availability before the Miami game, I asked Fedora if he was considering a return to the two-quarterback system the rest of the season, especially since Surratt was back from suspension.
“I could use two or three (quarterbacks), actually,” Fedora answered, walking away with the conclusion of media availability.
And that attitude toward the quarterback position is precisely the problem — both last week and moving forward.
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