The 2017 Tar Heel offensive ineptitude was a one-off. Carolina's numbers of 26 points a game (83rd in the nation) and 370 yards a game (96th) were below the standards set by Larry Fedora's offensive juggernauts from 2012-16 of 412 yards and 36 points a game and included abysmal single-digit point performances at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
First, the Tar Heels were playing a red-shirt freshman at quarterback for half the season; never in Fedora's six seasons at Carolina had they played one like Chazz Surratt who had such limited exposure to the college game itself and/or Fedora's playbook. Surratt has enormous athletic upside but as the season unfolded, his lack of precision and confidence to make the right decisions and put the ball carefully where it was supposed to be was exposed.
Ergo the move to replace him in the Miami game in week nine with sophomore Nathan Elliott, who lacks the big arm of Mitch Trubisky and the wheels of Marquise Williams but is solid, smart and cool under pressure. Elliott was anticipated to be the starter for the 2018 opener at California, and the four-game suspension of Surratt for selling team-issued Nike shoes makes that now a moot point.
Last year's unit was also having to replace the receiver juggernaut of Howard/Hollins/Switzer. There was not yet a go-to guy at tailback. And then there was that ridiculous slew of injuries.
The 2018 offense is like night and day to the 2017 squad. The Tar Heels have gotten injured receivers Toe Groves and Thomas Jackson back. Anthony Ratliff-Williams has added a year's maturity to a new position for him. Newcomers Dyami Brown and Antoine Green are talented and should play this year.
Tailbacks Jordon Brown and Michael Carter have been joined by Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams. The offensive line gets William Sweet back and, with 19 players on the roster, is deeper than ever. Tight end Carl Tucker is another injury from 2017 who's back in the fold and is a good run blocker and pass receiver.
“We have some great weapons,” Elliott says. “I'm really excited about it. Our receivers are going to help us stretch the field. It will make my job a lot easier. We have a great offensive line, we're going to be really good up there. I am really excited to see what this offense is going to do.”
One thing the Tar Heels were proficient at in 2017 was protecting the ball in the running game, losing only six fumbles. Ball-security and cutting down on penalties are major emphasis points in fall camp.
“Our kids are being held accountable every snap, every practice,” says offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic, who leads the team after every practice through extra sprints or up-downs for each penalty and turnover. “The big thing is pre-snap and post-snap penalties. We can deal with an occasional holding call. If we can cut the pre-snap and post-snap flags down significantly, it will make a huge difference.”