Trubisky gives Tar Heels what they need with bounceback performance in illinois

Mitch Trubisky is still trying to figure out how to become the player he wants to be. In the meantime, hes happy to be playing more like the quarterback the North Carolina football team needs him to be.

Mike Granse—USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10

CHAPEL HILL — Mitch Trubisky is still trying to figure out how to become the player he wants to be. In the meantime, he’s happy to be playing more like the quarterback the North Carolina football team needs him to be. After a disappointing performance in his first career start a week earlier against Georgia, the junior looked much more comfortable and confident in his role as the Tar Heels’ leader Saturday in leading the Tar Heels to a bounceback 48-23 win at Illinois. “I haven’t played a complete game yet. I haven’t played like the player I want to be yet,” Trubisky said Monday. “I’m just trying to let loose and have fun out there. I think that’s when I’m at my best. I just need to keep improving each week.” Trubisky’s stat line in the season-opening loss to Georgia wasn’t horrible. He completed 24 of 40 passes for 156 yards and didn’t commit a turnover. But he was admittedly tentative while trying “not to do too much” and missed on two potential big plays with bad throws on deep balls he’s been regularly hitting in practice. Though Illinois’ defense wasn’t nearly as stout as the one he faced against the Bulldogs, Trubisky brought a much more aggressive approach to his performance in Champaign. That became evident on UNC’s second possession of the game, when the 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback broke free for a 39-yard run that ended with him initiating contact with an Illini defender rather than stepping out of bounds of sliding to the ground. Trubisky scored the Tar Heels’ first touchdown on a 1-yard run two plays later, kickstarting an attack that rolled up 462 yards and eight scores. He ended up completing 19 of 24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 42 yards and two more touchdowns. He still has yet to throw an interception this season. “He had a lot fewer mental mistakes,” coach Larry Fedora said of Trubisky, who spent his first two seasons at UNC as a backup to record-setting Marquise Williams. “He was much more relaxed and did much more of what he’s been doing in practice.” Fedora added that his quarterback did a better job with both his downfield vision and his footwork in Saturday’s victory. His biggest improvement, however, may have been the result of an improved running attack. The Tar Heels appeared to put more of an emphasis on establishing a ground game than they did against Georgia, as the duo of Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan combined to carry the ball 24 times for a total of 142 yards. As a team, UNC compiled 37 rushing attempts against Illinois, 18 more than it had in the opener a week earlier. “It takes a load off a lot,” Trubisky said of the increased emphasis on the run. “That’s what we want to do. We want to be a balanced offense. We want to run the ball. We went to get the ball into our playmakers’ hands. When Elijah and T.J. do what they did, it opens up everything for us. That’s when we’re at our best.” Trubisky said that he and his team “still have a lot of work to do” before reaching their full potential. Both should have an opportunity to clean up some of their mistakes and take another step forward on Saturday against a presumably overmatched FCS opponent in UNC’s home opener against James Madison. One of Trubisky’s top priorities will be hitting a few downfield passes, a staple of the Tar Heels’ explosive offense the past few years but noticeably absent so far this season. His longest completion during the opening two weeks has been only 24 yards. “It’s going to happen,” Trubisky said. “I think teams are preparing for the long ball more because of last year and they know we have a bunch of deep threats. We just need to keep taking what the defense gives us. “Sooner or later if they keep giving us the underneath stuff, the deep passes will come. We just need to keep working on the timing with me and the receivers. It will open up. I’m not really worried about that.”