Fedora still noncommittal on QB choice, even as Surratt’s stock rises

The UNC coach said his decision between redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt and first game starter Brandon Harris won't be based solely on Saturday's loss to Cal

Chazz Surratt sets up to pass during UNC's season opening game against California at Kenan Stadium (Rob Kinnan/USA Today)

CHAPEL HILL — Larry Fedora continues to be noncommittal about North Carolina’s still-unsettled quarterback situation. But if you read between the lines of both the Tar Heels’ depth chart and the coach’s regular weekly press conference Monday, it appears as though redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt is inching closer to the starting job.

If he hasn’t won it already.

Surratt was by far the more effective quarterback in UNC’s season-opening loss to California on Saturday, completing 18 of 28 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown after coming off the bench behind graduate transfer Brandon Harris.

Although both Harris and Surratt are still listed on the depth chart with the word “OR” between them, Fedora’s comments about the two gave the impression there weren’t any ifs ands or buts about which will get the call for this week’s ACC opener against Louisville.

“I thought Chazz did a really nice job,” Fedora said of Surratt, the national high school Player of the Year in 2015. “I thought both of them did a nice job with their poise. (But) Brandon threw the two picks, which we can’t afford to do and so he’s got to get better in that area, and I thought Chazz made some good decisions with the ball and when he was running.”

Surratt was UNC’s second-leading rusher Saturday, gaining 66 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown on the game’s final play. Though some of his runs were the planned variety, he also made several plays by scrambling out of trouble when his protection broke down.

“I obviously wanted to win, but for the first time the game wasn’t too fast for me,” Surratt said after his first college game action. “I learned just to be yourself and do what you do every day in practice. That’s what Coach Fedora preached to me. I just tried to say within myself and let the game come to me.”

Harris, playing mostly in the first half, went 7 for 16 with 60 yards and those two interceptions.

The first came on a tipped ball across the middle. The second, which short-circuited a potential scoring opportunity just before halftime, came on a pass in which, according to Cal linebacker Devante Downs, Harris never took his eyes off his primary receiver.

Even more damaging than the turnovers was a throw in which Harris sailed the ball high over the head of a wide open Anthony Ratliff-Williams in the end zone.

“It was obviously not the game you want, especially when you are in a new environment, in a new conference and with a new team and the coaches are still getting a feel for you,” Harris said. “Obviously it wasn’t the start we wanted.”

Harris struggled with his accuracy during his previous career at LSU, where he started 15 games over the past two seasons. Judging from Saturday’s performance, it’s a problem that has followed him to UNC.

He hinted, however, that his struggles could at least partially be attributed to the shuffling between him and Surratt and his inability to develop a rhythm.

Though Fedora admitted he’d also prefer to have a one-quarterback system rather than going back and forth between the two, he said, “That’s just not what we have right now.” He said both Surratt and Harris would continue to take practice repetitions with the first unit until one showed clear separation from the other.

Ultimately, Fedora said that he’s “looking for the guy that’s going to put us in a position to win,” stressing the importance of “taking care of the football.”

“We’ll go through this week again and decide on what we’re going to do,” the UNC coach said. “You would think based on what you saw Saturday, whether or not that was enough to make a change, I don’t know yet. But we’ll see how they handle this week in practice.”