Surratt injury, Harris’ passing further complicate UNC quarterback situation

Brandon Harris prepares to throw a pass in UNC's loss to Louisville on Saturday (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY)

CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina band played the song “One Shining Moment” during a halftime ceremony Saturday in which members of the school’s basketball team received their national championship rings.

It was also appropriate, because for one shining moment during the first half of the game against Louisville, it appeared as though the Tar Heels had finally achieved the quarterback separation coach Larry Fedora has been seeking since the start of preseason camp.

Redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt made his first career start and with the exception of one bad decision that turned into a 31-yard loss, looked poised and confident in running his team’s offense. He completed 12 of his 14 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns over the first two quarters against the 17th ranked Cardinals.

But just as he was on the verge of establishing himself as UNC’s undisputed field leader, he limped to the locker room with an injury that prematurely ended his day.

“The very first time I ran it, I got hit in my lower back and it progressively got worse as the game went on,” Surratt said afterward. “I could have went back, but that’s a head coach’s decision.”

Fedora agreed that Surratt probably could have continued in the second half, but was skeptical as to whether the former national prep Player of the Year would have been at 100 percent. It’s also likely he was being protective of the player that is rapidly developing into the future of the Tar Heels’ program.

The coach’s decision was made easier by the presence of graduate transfer Brandon Harris, who was brought in from LSU as a one-year insurance policy in case Surratt or the other two young quarterbacks on UNC’s roster weren’t ready to play this season.

Harris started the season opener against California and was unimpressive, throwing two interceptions before giving way to Surratt.

Although Harris wasn’t able to prevent the Tar Heels from suffering a 47-35 defeat that dropped them to 0-2, he did earn a measure of redemption by going 17 of 23 for 216 yards and a touchdown.

“They called my number, so I tried to go in and help the team win,” the 6-3, 220-pound signal-caller said after the game. “Coach came to me and said I was going in the game, so I tried to go in there and just help the team win. Unfortunately, we came up short.”

The sting of the defeat was even worse for Surratt, whose excitement over winning the starting job was tempered by the fact that he wasn’t able to finish the job he was given.

“It was frustrating,” said Surratt, who took the bulk of the first team snaps at practice last week after being told Monday that he’d be starting. “But I was on the sideline supporting the rest of the team.

“I was excited and I was looking forward to (playing). I knew one day it would come, but I was expecting it and ready for it. I was just trying to go out execute the gameplan.”  

The play of UNC’s quarterbacks was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal day for the Tar Heels. At the same time, Surratt’s injury — combined with Harris’ bounceback performance — has once again complicated a quarterback situation that finally seemed to be on the verge of being settled.

Fedora said after the game that “the plan was to start Chazz and then play it by ear from there.” What he decides to do and how much each quarterback plays in next week’s game at Old Dominion will depend on Surratt’s health.

Whichever is in the game, both their coaches and teammates have more confidence in them now than they did prior to Saturday’s game.

Especially Harris.

“He  just seemed more relaxed,” wide receiver Thomas Jackson said. “He got the things he need to get fixed, he got them fixed. He had a fantastic day, both him and Chazz. That is huge for everybody. It starts with the quarterback and the line and moves out from there.”