Coming out of their second bye week, and still trying to sort out a lineup that has suffered from a shuffle of short-term injuries and suspensions, criticism has mounted for the Tar Heels during the 16-day hiatus between games.
After a 38-35 roller coaster win over Pitt in the only home game UNC has played this season, things couldn’t have gone much worse against Miami. Chazz Surratt, in his return from suspension, threw two pick sixes as part of his three interceptions. Nathan Elliott netted -25 rushing yards and fumbled the ball, contributing to the 21 points the Hurricanes scored on quarterback turnovers.
Senior safety J.K. Britt has heard the criticism and knows the team has its back against the wall.
“We are playing for coach Fedora, we are playing for ourselves,” Britt said. “Because we know when we go inside the locker room as a team it doesn't matter who believes in us, as long as we believe in us. We know that we are all we got.”
Some of the uncertainty for the Tar Heels could be answered by two major returns.
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Aaron Crawford, who has yet to play due to a knee injury he suffered this summer, could see his first action Saturday. Asked about Crawford, Fedora had high praise.
“Coming out of camp we thought he was the best player on our defense, what he did in spring ball and during camp," Fedora said. "So it'll be nice to have him back.”
Also expected back is junior safety Myles Dorn. Dorn injured his knee in the season opener but said he was at a 100 percent heading into the weekend. The Tar Heel secondary has been one of the highlights for the team, ranking No. 21 in passing yards allowed in the country, and the addition of Dorn could improve the unit further.
Watching from the sidelines, Dorn has been anxious to get back on the field.
“It wouldn't be as bad if we were winning games,” Dorn said. “You win, everybody is happy. When you’re losing and you know that you can have an impact on the game is when it hurts the most.”
Another question that seemed to be settled for the time being is the quarterback situation. After both Surratt and Elliott played two weeks ago, Andrew Jones of Tar Heel Illustrated reported on Wednesday that Surratt will miss the remainder of the season with a wrist injury.
Just hours later, however, Jones cited sources close to the situation who said that true first-year Cade Fortin would see time this weekend and could potentially start.
Fedora was complimentary of Fortin’s growth since making his lone appearance against ECU, where he completed three passes on six attempts and added a 17-yard rush.
“He feels good about the guys that are out there and they feel good about him,” Fedora said. “You've gotta have that.”
If Fortin is the answer at quarterback that UNC has been looking for, and with Crawford and Dorn potentially coming in to reinforce the defense, the Tar Heels may have an opportunity to shake off a rocky start to the season. And they’ll get a chance to do it in their first home night game since 2015.
Fedora knows what’s at stake. And in his strange seven weeks, maybe it wouldn’t be so strange to pick up a win.
“(The fans) will create a great atmosphere here," Fedora said. "And we've got a great opponent coming in here. And we know we need to get this thing rolling. It's a great opportunity for our team to find out where we are in this seventh week of our season.”
@James_Tatter | @DTHSports