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Why UNC’s Larry Fedora did not pull QB Nathan Elliott after his third interception

UNC’s Fedora: ‘You got to go in and you got to revamp and you got to make sure guys are doing their job’

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora talks about what was learned during the Tar Heels loss to Cal during a media availability Monday, Sept. 3, 2018.
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North Carolina coach Larry Fedora talks about what was learned during the Tar Heels loss to Cal during a media availability Monday, Sept. 3, 2018.

The first half of North Carolina’s game against California was not kind to junior quarterback Nathan Elliott.

After one half of play, the 6-1, 215-pound quarterback was 5-of-14 passing for 13 yards and three interceptions. One of the interceptions was taken back for a touchdown, and Cal took a 17-0 lead into halftime.

The lead was ultimately too much for the Tar Heels, and they lost 24-17. Elliott put the blame on himself after the game.

“If I played better, we would have won this game,” he said. “I take full responsibility for this one. This loss was on me.”

All of the blame can’t be placed on Elliott though. He faced a lot of pressure, the running game couldn’t get going, and he often found himself in third and long situations. UNC had six three-and-outs in the first half. Elliott finished 15-35 for 137 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

“Two of the turnovers were probably pressure situations, and two of them were just bad decisions,” Fedora said on Monday after looking at the film.

Elliott was best on short passes to the right side. He struggled with the middle of the field. All four of his interceptions came when he tried to throw over the middle.

He also struggled throwing the deep ball, although there were a couple of drops by the wide receivers. One of the drops by junior wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams happened in the third quarter, and would have led to a touchdown. Instead UNC was later forced to punt.

In the past, Fedora has shown a tendency to switch quarterbacks in-game when one is struggling. He did so last year with Brandon Harris and redshirt sophomore Chazz Surratt. But Saturday he didn’t.

When asked why he didn’t pull Elliott after the first half, Fedora said he felt Elliott gave the Tar Heels the best to win. With Surratt suspended for four games, UNC’s No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart is 6-3, 209-pound true freshman Cade Fortin.

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North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott (11) picks up ten yards and a first down in the third quarter against California. Elliott used for 58 yards in the Tar Heels’ 24-17 loss on Saturday, September 1, 2018, at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Elliott played much better in the second half. UNC’s coaching staff called a few read-option plays and quarterback runs for Elliott, which caught Cal off guard at times. He led UNC in rushing with 58 yards on 10 carries.

While Fedora said Elliott has to play better, he said he’s not worried about his quarterback.

“He’s played this position a long time,” Fedora said. “There’s pressure with being the quarterback and the leader of the team, and he understands that.”

Elliott has a chance to put up good numbers next week with UNC’s game against East Carolina in Greenville. The Pirates (0-1) lost to N.C. A&T (2-0) on Sunday, a Football Championship Subdivision team. The Aggies passed for 187 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Fedora said it starts with the offensive line though.

“If you don’t win up front, you’re going to have a hard time on offense,” he said. “Your quarterback has got to make good decisions. And the running backs gotta run hard.”

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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