Hello again, Canes fam! We’re back for our first opponent Q&A of the season.
Joining us today to talk about his beloved North Carolina Tar Heels is Al Hood, a staff writer at our SB Nation sister-site Tar Heel Blog.
I returned the favor and answered some of Al’s questions about Miami, and you can see that conversation here:
Time for a view from The U. We asked @TheStateOfTheU a few questions to take the temperature of Miami fans, and also what to expect from the game this weekend, https://t.co/wnoERD8NBj pic.twitter.com/Mc70UsZgsF— Tar Heel Blog (@tarheelblog) September 5, 2019
Here we go with the Q&A:
Q1. What are your thoughts about Mack Brown 2.0?
It’s still early, of course, but right now I don’t think you could ask for any better. From the jump, Mack made it a mission to reconnect to a fan base that had been left behind by Larry Fedora, pushed through to get some renovations done to the facilities, and salvaged a weak recruiting class that wasn’t going to commit to a Dead Man Walking staff. The coup was Howell (as you are about to reference), someone that Mack was able to steal from Florida State and keep in-state. His 2020 class is already setting up as one of the best ones in the country, and all of this was before he coached his first game. It’s clear from game one that the coordinators he chose are there to work, as OC Phil Longo did a great job managing the offense against South Carolina, and DC Jay Bateman just had a perfect scheme to confuse the Gamecocks. There’s something that hasn’t been in Chapel Hill for a while: hope. We have a long away to go, but by simply showing they were ready to go from the start, fans are aware there is a new tone to the program.
Q2. Does the comeback win over South Carolina change your outlook for this season?
Going in, I thought 6-6 and getting to their first bowl game since 2016 would be something worth celebrating. Now, getting five wins out of a schedule that includes Mercer, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and the rest of the ACC Coastal doesn’t seem so daunting. I’m still holding at 6-6 because as great as the win against South Carolina was, there’s still a freshman at quarterback and a pretty thin defensive front. Plus, now there’s tape for teams to use to prepare for the attack, something South Carolina didn’t really have on a multitude of levels. They will likely drop some winnable games, but now instead of just being happy with 6-6, I think I’ll be disappointed if they don’t get there.
Q3. Sam Howell came in and won the starting QB job as a true freshman. Was that more about his skill or the lack of quality of others at the position?
I think he showed on Saturday he earned the job because of his skill. It’s right to question the decision after the coaching staff didn’t seem to trust him in the first half, but after leading the team to two 90+ touchdown drives when trailing in the second half, he showed why he was so highly rated. It’s also tough for both Cade Fortin-who ended up transferring-and Jace Ruder who will be the backup, because even though they have a year at Carolina, it’s under the old scheme. Neither really got a great chance to shine last year because of a combination of injuries and pure ineptitude by the prior staff, so they came in having to forget what they learned and start over, whereas Howell got to start fresh. I think fans wouldn’t be surprised to see Ruder come in at some point in the season if Howell hits a wall.
Q4. Who else besides Howell should we know on UNC’s offense?
The running backs, Michael Carter, Javanote Williams, and Antonio Williams. All three combined for over 230 yards of offense on Saturday, and all of them combined to wear down the South Carolina front on Saturday. No play exemplified that better than the first play after South Carolina pinned the Tar Heels on their own 5 in the third quarter, and Antonio ripped his first down run for 20 after barely playing in the first half. I would expect Miami to key in on them.
Dazz Newsome came into the year regarded as the best receiver on the team, and he was the one who caught that seeing-eye pass from Howell in the fourth quarter Saturday. Dyami Brown and Beau Corrales had the TD catches on Saturday, showing that if you just try to key on Dazz you’ll be burned.
Q5. What should we expect from UNC’s defense in general?
That Jay Bateman will scheme for you, it’s just a question of whether or not they can actually follow through. On Saturday, Carolina got into the backfield often, and wore down an experienced South Carolina offensive line and forced a senior quarterback into some bad throws late in the game. Knowing that Miami has someone a lot less experienced under center, I’d expect him to employ a lot of that pressure that he did against the Gamecocks. That said, just because he makes the right play call, it doesn’t mean it’ll get executed. The two touchdowns given up were due to defensive mistakes not related to the play call. Surratt missed a tackle on the first, and a defender didn’t react correctly on the second and left a man wide open. So, even if the defense gets through, there’s still a chance
Q6, Former QB Chazz Surratt did a great job at LB. How has he made such a swift transition?
It really is commendable the job he did overall. I think some of the praise he got was solely because of the transition, because as a true linebacker, he absolutely had some rough moments That said, you have to get equal amounts of credit to him and the coaching staff. Chazz came in with a lot of hype as a quarterback and just completely lost his confidence early, and the previous coaching staff likely didn’t help that. A lot of players would have moved on for a fresh start, but Surratt was willing to completely change his position and commit to it, and the new staff saw potential in him and made sure he had what he needed to make the move. He started Saturday because of the suspension to Ross, so expect him to see less time on the field. That’s actually a positive, because now he can take the confidence he gained by playing so much and maximize his chances when he comes in.
Q7. Besides Surratt, who are players to know on defense?
I mentioned the big one, Carolina played without Dominique Ross at linebacker because of the one half suspension for the “fight” against NC State, and Mack suspended him for the second due to a rules violation. He’ll be coming in fresh and add so much needed depth to a defense that didn’t give up a single 10+ play drive against the Gamecocks. Also keep an eye on three guys in the secondary, the cornerback Patrice Rene, and the two safeties Myles Dorn and Myles Wolfolk. Rene sat the first half on Saturday due to the State incident, and when he came back in the second South Carolina just couldn’t get anything going in the air. The secondary is the strength of the Carolina defense, and the ones responsible for communicating the defensive play calls.
Q8. UNC has used special teams to beat Miami in the past. Could that happen again this week?
I laughed out loud when I read this. My hot take going into the season was that special teams would cost Carolina two games this season, and their kick/punt coverage unit sure tried to get game one under their belt. Carolina has an inexperienced kicker whose first two fields goals of his career came on Saturday, a rugby style punter who was inconsistent, and a coverage unit that averaged 20 yards on kickoffs and 30 yards on punts. It’s much more likely special teams help lose to Miami than beat them.
Q9. How do you expect the game to go?
I know Miami has had an extra week to prepare for this game, but one wonders how much of an advantage that was when, like South Carolina, they didn’t have any actual game tape of what the offense or defense would look like. The Gamecocks had to scout Army for the defense, Ole Miss for the offense, and find high school tapes of Howell to see what he’d do under center. Carolina, however, has actual game tape of what Miami looks like earlier than vice-versa. Don’t discount the intangibles; a rare 8 PM game in Chapel Hill and Mack Brown’s first game back after a great offseason and opening win.
I think Miami’s game plan is to try to stop the run better than the Gamecocks and force Howell into throwing early. Howell has already faced that pressure, taken hits, and has the confidence of the team behind him. On the other side I think Miami works to protect their freshman QB, but Bateman will have some scheme ready. Carolina will miss tackles, and at some point Howell will have a game that reminds you he’s a freshman, but I think all of the intangibles are too much. Carolina takes it, 28-21.
Thanks to Al for joining us for the Q&A this week. You can check out his work, and the work of other talented writers, over at Tar Heel Blog.