In the Tar Heels’ game at East Carolina on Sept. 8, Elliott finished 22-39, threw for 219 yards and had no turnovers. He was at his best in the first half, throwing 170 yards. UNC trailed at that point only 21-19.
In the second half, Elliott was 7-12 for 49 yards, as the Tar Heels (0-2) struggled to move the ball down field. UNC was shut out in the second half, losing 40-19 to the Pirates (1-1).
UNC’s first-half passing success can be attributed to its running game. At the half, UNC had 147 rushing yards on 14 rushing attempts. Sophomore running back Antonio Williams had 96 yards and junior running back Jordon Brown had 53 yards.
That allowed UNC to catch ECU off guard in the passing game because the Pirates were focused on stopping the run.
But UNC’s momentum slowed late in the first half when Williams was ejected from the game after he blocked ECU defensive back Colby Gore with the crown of his helmet.
In the second half, the Tar Heels ran the ball eight times and gained 13 yards in the second half against ECU (not including a 17-yard scramble by UNC freshman quarterback Cade Fortin in the final play of the game). Those plays set up third and long plays Elliott could not convert.
“I think after you do something a few times, they kind of know what you’re doing,” Elliott said. “That’s kind of how the game goes...But Antonio being out was huge.”
Many of the plays were also short passes that didn’t gain any yards. Elliott was inaccurate on a few throws too. And two drives stalled after a couple bad snaps went past him.
Elliott didn’t throw any touchdowns in the game and UNC was shut out in the second half. He, and the rest of the offensive starters were pulled from the game with five minutes left to play.
“We just didn’t finish when we got it in the red zone,” Elliott said Saturday. “You can’t make a living off kicking field goals. You’ve got to put it in the end zone.”
Elliott is at his best when the running game is working. That was also evident in the second half of UNC’s game at Cal, where Elliott found success running the ball. In that game, he threw for 135 passing yards, 124 of them in the second half. He also ran for 58 yards.
UNC coach Larry Fedora said he still saw room for Elliott to improve after the game against ECU.
“He had some problems with his feet, which led to his problems with accuracy, and that’s usually the case for a quarterback,” Fedora said. “What you have to be careful of is when you’re in this position right now, you’ve still got to play. You can’t be worried about making mistakes.
“You rely on the fundamentals that you’ve been taught, the techniques that you’ve been taught, you rely on what you see with your eyes, with your pre-snap secondary movement. All those things,” he added. “And then you take the ball where it’s supposed to go.”
Elliott will have to improve going forward. UNC’s home game this week against Central Florida, a team that finished last season 13-0, was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. UCF was among the best teams in the country last year.
UNC will next play Pitt on Sept. 22 at 12:20 p.m. in Chapel Hill.