Updated: Oct 30, 2019
The Victory Bell is finally back in Chapel Hill. After a final five minutes that resembled games against Miami in 2017 and Virginia Tech a year ago after a fumble gave the Duke Blue Devils a final chance to drive the field, the Tar Heels would proceed to add another historic chapter to Kenan Stadium lore with a game-winning interception on an ill-advised pop pass by Duke running back Deon Jackson. Let’s find out what we learned in the Tar Heels wild 20-17 victory on Saturday.
The Cardiac Heels Do It Again
They just can’t make it easy can they. The Tar Heels had 1st & Goal from the Duke 3-yard line with 3:01 to go in the ball game when Javonte Williams went airborne with the football. Duke defensive lineman Trevon McSwain would hit Williams in mid-air, though, forcing a fumble, the third turnover for the Tar Heels on the day. The Blue Devils were able to put together a drive, moving the ball 92 yards down the field with the aid of three personal foul penalties on the Tar Heels that got them all the way down to the Tar Heel 1-yard line. Chazz Surratt would respond with maybe the most important play of the 2019 season for the Heels, sealing an important win. This is the team’s seventh game decided by one possession, which is tied for the most in the country so far this season. Prior to this season, this is a game that the team would have lost. Things are different now, though, because of just how battle tested this team is.
This Running Game Is This Offense Right Now
The Tar Heels running game ran for 205 yards on 45 carries, leading the way for a Tar Heels offense that totaled over 400 yards of offense once again on Saturday. The three Tar Heel running backs who touched the football combined to average 5.8 yards per carry on Saturday and the Tar Heel offensive line continued to show that they are a much more effective run blocking unit than pass protecting one. After Tar Heel fans begged Phil Longo to run the ball a week ago against Virginia Tech, he did just that on Saturday. With the offensive line struggling to protect quarterback Sam Howell, this is something Longo shouldn’t go away from running the football anytime soon.
The Offensive Line and Secondary Are Big Concerns
We talked about it a little above, but the offensive line is beginning to become more and more of a concern with each week. Don’t get me wrong; the unit has been effective when the Tar Heels have ran the football. However, the pass protection concerns are growing with another tough day protecting Sam Howell. That is far from the biggest concern on the team right now, though, as secondary sustained yet another injury on Saturday. Storm Duck left the game following the first defensive drive and would not return, leaving Greg Ross Jr. and DeAndre Hollins to play the rest of the snaps at corner, where both really struggled in one-on-one coverage. Depth at corner has gotten so thin that, following the injury to Duck, the Tar Heels didn’t play a single snap with a nickel corner on the field. As the secondary continues to get thinner, it’s only getting tougher and tougher to keep opposing passing from being able to move the ball on this defense.
Chazz Surratt Has Been a Hero For a While
Surratt will be remembered as the hero in this game when the book is written somewhere in the future, but he has been a hero for this defense for a while. In his first season at linebacker, Surratt is leading the team in total tackles with 75 and tackles for loss with 8.5 and is just half a sack behind Tomon Fox for the team lead in sacks. Surratt has missed a few tackles in the open field, but he is the main reasons that the Tar Heels 2019 defense is allowing just 164.9 rushing yards per game this season. He’s done a good job in coverage as well, where he has primarily had to cover running backs one-on-one in space and been successful in doing so. Surratt is not only the hero against the Blue Devils on Saturday; he’s the hero of this 2019 Tar Heels defense.
Next Week's Game Now Becomes the Most Important of the Season
It feels like this is something that we’ve been hearing this each week since that Georgia Tech game, but this week it’s the truth. The Tar Heels matchup with Virginia in Chapel Hill will pit the two teams tied atop the Coastal against each other and there is a good chance that the winner of this game will represent the division in the ACC Championship Game in December. Following an emotional win like this, it will be interesting to see how the Tar Heels come out of the gate next Saturday.