The talk surrounding North Carolina football football this offseason — outside of whether games would take place or not — centered on the team’s offense. Rightfully so, too. Sam Howell is really good; the receivers are explosive, and there’s a dynamic duo in the backfield.
During his sophomore debut, Howell completed 25-of-34 pass attempts for 295 yards (8.7 yards per attempt), one touchdown and two interceptions. Howell’s two interceptions came on forced throws into Syracuse’s secondary — with safety Andre Cisco responsible for the second pick. Overall, it was an OK-not-great performance from Howell. (Special teams weren’t great for the Heels, either.)
However, when matched up with a Syracuse front that may very well struggle (again) to protect Tommy DeVito, North Carolina’s defense looked dominant. In victory, the Tar Heels finished with 11 tackles for loss — good for the fourth most in the FBS this weekend.
Defensively, the Heels were led by Chazz Surratt: nine tackles, including two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss, both career highs. Going back to the 2000 season, Surratt is just the eighth UNC player to record eight tackles and two sacks in the same game.
Three different UNC players recorded two quarterback hurries, including Surratt; Chris Collins and Raymond Vohasek were the other two.
After a strong freshman season in 2019, Tomari Fox looks poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. Fox scooped up two tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry, which led to a Surratt sack, against Syracuse.
This performance marked the first time since 2009 that UNC held a conference opponent to less than 75 rushing yards and 250 pass yards in the same game.
It’s wise to assume that Howell and the passing game will come fully online sooner rather than later. That said, it must be reassuring for Mack Brown to know that his defense is capable of winning games, too.