North Carolina coach Larry Fedora danced around a question about whether sophomore quarterback Chazz Surratt would play in Thursday’s game against Miami, but he was clear about who would be UNC’s starting quarterback.
Junior quarterback Nathan Elliott.
“Yes, he is,” Fedora said Monday night when asked if Elliott would start.
Elliott, who is 6-1, 225 pounds, has started the first three games at quarterback for UNC. Surratt, who was expected to compete for the starting job in the Spring, was suspended for those three games after selling team-issued sneakers.
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Elliott’s season got off to a rough start. Through UNC’s first two games against California and East Carolina, he was 37-74 for 356 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. The Tar Heels lost both games. Fedora stuck with him despite his struggles.
But on Saturday, in a 38-35 win over Pitt at home, Elliott was on point. He was 22-31, for 313 yards and two touchdowns. UNC utilized a lot of passes in the flat and screen plays to get its best play-makers out in space with defenders, allowing them to rack up yards after the catch. The ball left Elliott’s hands a lot quicker and he wasn’t pressured as much.
It also helped that the running game was going. Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams had career-high 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns. As a team, UNC ran for 173 yards.
“When they are more efficient on the early downs, with them running the ball, it takes a lot of stress off me and the offensive line,” Elliott said of the running backs. “And they’ve been doing a great job interchanging all those backs.”
In the Spring, Fedora said he didn’t know which quarterback — Surratt or Elliott — would be his starter heading into the 2018 season. He said neither quarterback had separated themselves from the other. Surratt started in seven games for UNC before he was injured last year against Miami. He finished the year passing for 1,342 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He also had five rushing touchdowns.
Elliott came in against Miami last year when Surratt went down and started UNC’s final three games.
He won two out of the three games against Western Carolina and Pitt, and lost to N.C. State in the season finale. Elliott finished passing for 925 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Fedora said Monday that Surratt has had an increased number of repetitions in practice now that he is available. He said he’s played some with the first-string players, and some with the second-string players.
But he didn’t reveal much more. He said Surratt “could and he couldn’t” play on Thursday.
“Depending on what I think,” Fedora said.
In the past, Fedora has used multiple quarterbacks in a game. He did so last season, with Brandon Harris and Surratt early in the year, and in 2015 with Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky.
“I could use two or three (quarterbacks on Thursday),” Fedora quipped.
Elliott said it doesn’t matter to him who plays as long as the team is winning.
“At the end of the day, everybody in that quarterback room wants the same thing that I want, and that’s to win,” he said. “And that’s the end goal.