CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina’s quarterback uncertainty has extended into the season.
Coach Larry Fedora already knew it would be tough to replace No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Mitch Trubisky at quarterback long before the start of a preseason camp that saw the Tar Heels trying to sort through their options. But things didn’t get any clearer in a season-opening loss with LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris and redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt never able to keep the offense running in its traditional fast-paced hum.
Fedora wouldn’t commit Monday to a starter for Saturday’s game against No. 16 Louisville and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, either.
“Based on what you saw Saturday, whether or not that was enough to make a change, I don’t know yet,” Fedora said. “But we’ll see how they handle this week in practice.”
Harris started after winning the preseason battle for the job.
“You can’t do it all on one game,” Fedora said. “You just, you can’t. There’s too many things, too many variables. But we’ll see. We’ll continue to battle it out there and we’re going to put the guy on the field that we think can help us win the football game.”
Harris had a mistake-filled afternoon in the 35-30 loss to California. He threw two interceptions — a no-no with Fedora’s emphasis on ball security — and missed a wide-open receiver in the end zone with an overthrown ball.
He completed just 7 of 16 passes for 60 yards and ultimately ceded the majority of the second-half work to Surratt, a former Associated Press instate prep player of the year.
“I have no idea,” Harris said Saturday when asked where he thought the QB competition stood. “That’d probably be a better question for the head coach.”
Surratt completed 18 of 28 passes, though many were safe calls such as short routes or screens. He threw for 161 yards (5.8 yards per attempt) and a TD while also running for a score on the game’s final play with the outcome already determined, but avoided any turnovers.
“I learned just be yourself and do what you do every day in practice,” Surratt said Saturday. “That is what Coach Fedora preached to me. I just tried to stay within myself and let the game come to me.”
The Tar Heels got 89 plays and tallied 440 yards, but they never looked much like the fast-paced and efficiently running offensive machine that has been the norm through Fedora’s first five seasons with Trubisky, Marquise Williams or Bryn Renner at the start of his tenure.
It’s been the thing UNC could lean on to cover a history of shaky defensive performances. But as its offense rotates QBs while replacing its top three receivers and top two tailbacks, the defense repeated past mistakes by surrendering two TDs of at least 50 yards to a team picked to finish last in its Pac-12 division.
The pressure will only increase against the Cardinals and Jackson, who accounted for 485 yards of total offense and two scores in the season-opening win against Purdue.
“It is sometimes hard to do that,” Fedora said of his team finding a rhythm with the QB rotation. “The way we practice, both those guys are getting the same amount of reps and they’re both working with both groups all the time.
“Would you prefer it was one guy all the time with the 1s and nobody got injured so you could have continuity all the time? Yeah, you’d prefer that. But that’s just not what we have right now.”
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap