If you are trying to find something positive in North Carolina’s 3–9 football season, at least the Tar Heels won’t lose a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year. Yes, that is straining for positives, particularly when you consider that the season finale at a packed Carter Finley Stadium VS. N.C. State was like a bowl game, and that didn’t end that well for UNC with a 33–21 beat-down type of a loss.
The defeat to the Wolfpack ended like five other forgettable games this season: blowing a lead late because a tired — and injury-depleted — defensive unit couldn’t stop an opponent at the end.
We already knew that finding offense would be tough after losing quarterback Mitch Trubisky, as well as a group of talented running backs and receivers from the previous season. The injuries and the unexpected deficiencies on defense couldn’t have been anticipated. Neither the team’s penchant for penalties that produced a school-record 872 penalty yards.
But what exactly happened to make the 2017 season this bad? Lets see…
1Injuries, injuries, injuries
By the final week of the season, the number of Tar Heels who were out for the season with injuries had grown to 21. That included four linebackers, several other starters and much of the receiving corps. Austin Proehl, UNC’s best returning receiver, broke his collarbone in the loss to Duke and was expected to be out for the season.
He managed to return for the last two games of his college career, but he was the exception. There were games where players were forced to play out of position. Freshmen were thrown into the action who would have otherwise probably taken a red-shirt season. Youthful mistakes often were costly.
2An early “spring practice”
When it became clear that this Carolina team was going nowhere, much of the season was like an early spring practice as young players got more reps in practice and significant playing time in games to allow them to get better for next season. This “spring practice” didn’t end with an intrasquad scrimmage but with a thud after being competitive for most of the day against its rival.
3Who is the quarterback of the future?
Now that the failed experiment with graduate transfer Brandon Harris over, which quarterback will lead the Tar Heels into next season? Both red-shirt freshman Chazz Surratt and sophomore Nathan Elliott showed promise but also had their share of flaws. Their performances uncovered why neither emerged from preseason practice with the initial starting assignment.
Although Elliott solidified his starting role in the last three games, his inconsistent passing against the Wolfpack showed he still needs to improve a lot. Both were hurt by a patchwork offensive line.
4Can defense finally be a force?
There is a lot of young talent considering that underclassmen made 76 of the 86 tackles against N.C. State. The only starters against N.C. State who will be lost to graduation are defensive Dajuan Drennon and cornerback M.J. Stewart. Experience hasn’t necessarily translated to defensive success in recent seasons, but recruiting success of late suggests that this could change.
5Future stars emerge
There is plenty of young talent, particularly on offense, led by tailback Michael Carter and All-ACC first-team selection Anthony Ratliff-Williams, a wide receiver and kick returner. Also showing promise were two other wide receivers — Dazz Newsome, and Rontavius “Toe” Groves before he joined the long list of injured players. These stars will go into 2018 battle-tested.
An interesting season ahead… Stay tuned y’all!
With the NCAA cloud gone and recruiting getting a bit easier, next season will be an important one for Carolina. Coach Larry Fedora will need to show that the 2017 season was an injury-induced aberration and that the program still is on solid ground. With rivals Duke and N.C. State going to bowl games, Fedora will be hitting the recruiting trail hard as he tries to prove that his program is better than just a three-win season.
So what are some of your predictions for the Carolina Tar Heels Football team heading into 2018? Please be sure to hit us up on Twitter @919BlogNC or visit our Facebook page at FB.com/919Blog and let us know! We would love to hear from ya.
This post was created in collaboration with 919 Blog contributor R.L. Bynum for exclusive digital publication on 919Blog.com