UNC Football News

Trubisky officially UNC’s starting quarterback

CHAPEL HILL — For the first time in three seasons, there’s no quarterback controversy in Chapel Hill.

Unlike the last two seasons when he’s waited until the fall to announce his starter, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora officially named Mitch Trubisky the starting quarterback Friday morning.

“I thought Mitch did a good job this spring and didn’t just assume he was going to be the starter. He worked extremely hard and earned it,” Fedora said in a release. “We always want to have competition at every position. Mitch is the QB with the most experience returning, but he worked hard this spring, competed every day and deserves to be the starter.”

The reality of UNC’s situation became pretty apparent after presumed second-stringer Caleb Henderson threw three interceptions in last week’s spring game. Considering Trubisky completed 13-of-22 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception, it was pretty unlikely he’d be anywhere other than top spot on the depth chart when the season opens against Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game on Sept. 3 in Atlanta.

Despite the lengthy path to the job, Trubisky has been Fedora’s guy all along. Graduating early from Mentor (OH) to enroll at UNC in January 2013 as a part of Fedora’s second recruiting class, Trubisky was handpicked to run the coach’s uptempo offense.

But with Williams’ talent and support from the locker room, Fedora was forced to keep Trubisky in the wings until Williams exhausted his eligibility.

Though this year’s quarterback competition was very much contrived, it’s not the first quarterback controversy Trubisky’s been part of. He and Williams engaged in a very real battle during Trubisky’s redshirt freshman preseason. Fedora refused to tap a starter until Sept. 1, 2014, an ‘or’ appearing between Williams’ and Trubisky’s names on the depth chart until after both quarterbacks played in UNC’s season-opening wallop of Liberty.

Williams, who replaced injured Bryn Renner as the starter midway through the previous season, earned the nod, but Trubisky still appeared in 10 games during his first season.

Trubisky was often inserted for the third offensive series of games during the 2014 season, and he completed 42-of-78 passes for 459 yards.

Last year, Fedora halted the third series rotation, and Trubisky’s
playing time became more irregular. Fedora benched Williams in favor of

Trubisky in the second quarter of an early season game against Delaware,
because he apparently just enjoys creating controversy at the position.

But two days later, Fedora reaffirmed his commitment to Williams and kept Trubisky in a reserve role for the rest of the season. (Williams and the UNC offense shredding through the ACC schedule didn’t hurt matters.)

Trubisky made appearances in nine of 14 games last season, but he became more efficient and completed 40-of-47 passes for 555 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added 101 yards on the ground and scored three rushing touchdowns.

“I learned a lot,” Trubisky said of his time as backup. “I think mostly just patience, being patient for my opportunity and just doing my role to help the team. It’s all about the team, and just executing and doing what I’ve got to do for the team, just being a team player. It’s not about me or my playing time, it’s about the success of the Tar Heels, and that’s what I’m about.”

With Williams exhausting his eligibility, it was in the team’s best interest to hand the keys over to Trubisky.

Though he’s never started a game, by playing in 19 games during the first two seasons of his career, Trubisky is far from a rookie stepping into a new role.

“We don’t feel that he’s a newcomer by any means,” wideout Ryan Switzer said. “Mitch has been one of the leaders since he stepped on campus. That’s just his personality. It’s not any different for us when we step out on the field. Everybody has their full faith and confidence in him and not that we’re trying to put any pressure on him, but we believe that he can get it done. He’s shown that he can so we definitely feel like he’s mentally and physically prepared as well.”

Switzer, who’s also Trubisky’s roommate, says underneath all the humble team-first talk is a confident quarterback who’s ready to take the reins.

“He’s always been a team-first guy,” Switzer said after the spring game. “I think that with that being said, he does believe that he is the best option for us going forward. I feel like he thinks this is long over-due and he’s ready to take the reins of this team.”

Broin’ out with Chase Rice

CHAPEL HILL — Within my first 10 minutes inside Carmichael Arena Saturday night, I saw a Blue Cup raised by a manicured man on stage and a smuggled Bud Light cracked open by a man in a cowboy hat beside me.

A vaguely recognizable song covered by some country twang pumped through the speakers, prompting the half-full arena to mumble along to words they used to hear on top-40 radio a couple years ago.

Ah yes, I must be at a bro-country concert.

Wearing a custom No. 44 UNC basketball jersey, Chase Rice belts it out at Carmichael Arena Saturday. (Brooke Pryor/NSJ)
Wearing a custom No. 44 UNC basketball jersey, Chase Rice belts it out at Carmichael Arena Saturday.
(Brooke Pryor/NSJ)

And yes, bro-country is a real genre, quarterbacked by the likes of Florida-Georgia Line and tonight’s headliner, Chase Rice. It’s a sub-genre of country music, the kind that would make Johnny Cash roll over in his grave. The originally written songs are about drinking, hot girls, college and religious come-to-Jesus-moments sung by dudes in snapbacks with megawatt smiles, perfectly groomed stubble and gelled hair who spend a lot of time cruisin’ and crushin’ it down on some dirt roads.

I’ve been to a handful of country concerts — Brad Paisley, Sugarland, Little Big Town — but Saturday night was my first bro-country concert experience, and aside from a couple moments of hard eyerolls, it was a lot of fun. I don’t know that anything I saw was worth a $35 upper level general admission ticket, but for the $8 student ticket to Rice’s Back to College at UNC’s Spring Jubilee stop, I’d consider it to be a fun Saturday night pregame.*

*Alcohol wasn’t actually for sale at the event, which makes it a pretty sobering pre-bar activity. But more on that later.

The crowd was a sea of girls in cowboy boots and dresses and men in either khakis and button-downs or blue jeans and cowboy hats. It smelled faintly of old beer and sweat, a combination that must have been achieved by people who went straight from the spring football game in Kenan Stadium to the concert headlined by the former UNC linebacker (which qualifies this as loosely related to sports, therefore vaguely relevant on a sports website).

When I walked in, second-opener Chris Lane was a few songs into his set. Right now the self-proclaimed Carolina boy from Kernersville has a six-song EP out and one song, Fix that’s starting to build steam, checking in at No. 32 in iTunes top-100 country songs. I missed Lacy Cavalier, a 19-year-old newcomer who just put out her own EP.

Other than Fix, I didn’t recognize any of Lane’s original songs, but he was all about doing covers of hip hop and pop songs, apparently a staple of any good bro-country artist. I’ll admit that I loved when he covered old Backstreet Boys and N*Sync, but I nearly walked out of the venue when he tried to pull off a country-fied Whip/Nae Nae. There are songs that should never, ever be covered by a country artist and that’s at the top of the list.

Brooke Pryor/NSJ
Brooke Pryor/NSJ

Once Lane closed on Fix, we waited for about 30 minutes for Rice to come out. In the time it took to change the set and tune the instruments, the pit area, available only to current UNC students who purchased floor-specific tickets, went from 40 percent full to about 70 percent capacity. Floor tickets weren’t available to the general public and people who purchased lower level seating weren’t allowed to move down to fill in the empty space, leaving awkwardly empty space in prime seating (standing?) areas for Rice’s homecoming tour stop.

Rice brought a fun energy from the moment the curtain dropped, athletically bouncing and running around the stage throughout his whole performance. He sang songs about margaritas and guacamole — and in case you weren’t sure, he sure loves to drink, especially in Chapel Hill.

Brooke Pryor/NSJ
Brooke Pryor/NSJ

Remember when Miley Cyrus kept talking, joking and singing about how she was so 4/20 friendly during her MTV Video Music Awards hosting gig? We get it, you love weed.

Rice toed that line with constant drinking references, which probably would’ve gone over a lot better had Carmichael actually been able to sell beer. Instead, the crowd held up cups of pepsi and sprite when both Rice and Lane asked their fans to raise a glass. Not quite what they were going for, but good try, y’all.

Of course, there were a couple covers, highlighted by Rice’s take on fellow North Carolinian Eric Church’s Smoke and two Blink-182 covers

The best moment of the night was when Rice put on a custom No. 44 UNC basketball jersey, his last name stitched on the back, and sang his nostalgic North Carolina anthem, Carolina Can. With lines about faded blue denim on Franklin Street, He’s Not cups, and James Taylor, the song was obviously the crowd’s favorite singalong of the night.

From there, Rice kept the jersey on the rest of the night, slowing it down for his ballad Jack Daniels and Jesus before building the tempo up for a Ready Set Roll finale.

Rice performed nearly all of his hits, with one notable one absent from the set list. Rice released a new single, Whisper, Feb. 5, and it has nearly 5 million plays on Spotify. At No. 94, it’s Rice’s highest-ranked song on the iTunes Country chart. It seemed kind of odd that Rice didn’t come out for an encore performance to promote the new song.

After a set of nearly an hour and a half, Rice wrapped up around 11:15 — just in time to go crush a Blue Cup.

Brooke Pryor/NSJ
Brooke Pryor/NSJ

UNC football piles on the points in annual spring game

CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina football team scored a combined 144 points in its annual spring game Saturday afternoon.

That’s not a typo. 144 points. Blue team 74, White team 70.

But in this scenario, 144 points doesn’t mean that the Tar Heels, who went 11-3 last season, made 48 field goals or scored 18 touchdowns and six field goals.

Instead, coach Larry Fedora and his staff replaced the traditional scoring system for a more complicated one used in every practice, one borrowed from the Seattle Seahawks to give both offensive and defensive players a numerical measure of their success.

“Anytime the offense and the defense are going against each other, in any phase in practice, we use that scoring system to create competition,” Fedora said. “Just so they know what they’re doing. It’s not the score that you’re used to but that way, within the practice, your defense has the opportunity to see how they’re performing. It’s not just did we keep them from scoring touchdowns. It’s really not a difficult deal.”

Well actually, that depends on who you ask.

“It didn’t make sense to me,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Switzer, who had two catches for 10 yards Saturday. “I don’t know. I just go out there and run my route and do what’s asked of me. I didn’t pay too much attention to the score today but I know probably confused a lot of people out there, including me.”

The system relies on different point values assigned to different downs. On first and second down, if the offense gains more than four yards, they get a point. If the defense holds them to less than four yards on first or second down, they get a point. If it’s third-and-short and the offense converts, they get one point, but if the defense gets a stop, they get two. But on third-and-long, the offense gets two points for a conversion while the defense gets one for a stop. On third-and-mediums, only a point is up for grabs for either side.

The defense earns three points for creating a turnover while the offense earns three points for a touchdown. Special teams can’t earn any points, meaning that Nick Weiler’s 52-yard field goal Saturday afternoon didn’t put anything up on the scoreboard.

“I looked up at the beginning and was like, ‘ah this is going to confuse everybody,’” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who completed 13 of 22 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception. “That’s how we score practice too, so it was nothing new to us. It’s about being efficient on first and second and converting third downs. So it wasn’t confusing to us but I felt bad for the fans because they don’t know how it’s being scored.”

Because so many players, including six starters from last season’s Coastal Division Championship team, missed the spring game with injuries, the offense squared off against defense in front of a crowd around 5,000. With only one side of the ball typically scoring touchdowns, the traditional final score would’ve been a bit lopsided and not give a full picture of the team’s defensive success.

The offense led 41-34 at halftime, but the defense came roaring back in the second half and outscored their counterparts 36-33.

In the second spring under defensive coordinator coordinator Gene Chizik, UNC’s defensive unit showed more understanding of the complex schemes, grabbing four interceptions and making six sacks.

“Last year, we were much more vanilla,” senior cornerback Des Lawrence said. “We were only able to come out here with two calls last year. They just wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing. This year, we were able to put a lot of things in.

“I feel like this year everyone knows where the next man is going to be it allows them to play faster and also allows us not to think and when you’re not able to think and you’re just playing out there on god-given ability, you’re going to be able to make plays that you usually make.”

Sophomore safety Cameron Albright made two interceptions, including two on throws by sophomore quarterback Caleb Henderson.

Lawrence and linebacker Cole Holcomb led with nine and 10 tackles, respectively, while sophomore defensive end Malik Carney tallied two sacks. Lawrence made the play on Trubisky’s lone interception, adding three more points to his team’s tally.

For the defensive players, the point system is a motivational tool since the stakes, at least during practices, are pretty high.

“It’s a lot of trash-talking going on during practice because you get mad because some of the point system, you don’t like it,” Lawrence said. “It’s just some way they have to tally it. But when practice is over, the loser has to carry the winners’ pads. I think that’s a big thing for us that allows the competition to stay up.”

Offensively Saturday afternoon, UNC put together three touchdown drives, including two in the first half on an 18-yard pass from Trubisky to Mack Hollins and a 16-yard run by Khris Francis.

In the second half, sophomore running back Jacob Schmidt finished a 96-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run, part of his big afternoon with 16-carry for 74 yards.

Putting up a lot of points is nothing new for UNC’s offense, but the practice system helps them break down the plays in a new way.

For junior running back T.J. Logan, who had 53 yards on 12 carries, it helps him understand the importance gaining any kind of yardage on each individual down, something that will come in handy with the season opens Sept. 3 against Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome.

“When I’m out there, if I can just get three or four yards, not even take it to the house, I can get some points for my team and help us win the game,” Logan said. “Every run isn’t going to break, so getting three, four hard yards, running into people, things like that, it helps us keep the drive going and make big plays.”

Williams, Boeheim and Emmert on NCAA investigations

HOUSTON — No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 10 seed Syracuse will square off Saturday night in the second national semifinal game, but it might as well be the Hot Takes national championship.

With the NCAA investigating both teams in the last couple of years for serious infractions, it feels nearly every other question directed at coach Jim Boeheim, coach Roy Williams and NCAA President Mark Emmert at the first day of Final Four availability involves the investigations, punishments (or lack thereof) and benefits to cheating.

While the NCAA has yet to make a ruling on the UNC case that centered around long-running academic fraud, it handed down Syracuse’s punishment a year ago. Among other things, Orange head coach Jim Boeheim served a nine-game suspension, and his team was docked scholarships for academic misconduct, impermissible benefits and a university drug testing policy that occurred within the program for more than a decade.

We didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know in today’s press conferences, so rather than rehash all of that for the trillionth time on the interwebs, here’s a couple highlights from asked of Emmert, Williams and Boeheim about scandals and investigations of the two programs.

Q. You’re trying to become the sixth coach of all time to win his third national championship, yet you’ve had this NCAA investigation looming over the season. How have you been able to balance the up-and-down emotions of the season.
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, it really hasn’t affected the coaching part because it’s been my sort of salvation. I go over there and I don’t think about all that stuff.

We have talked about it so much, it’s been such a big story that I’m tired of it. We have, in my opinion, the greatest sporting event there is, the Final Four, going on. It’s about four schools, four teams, four coaching staffs who have worked their tails off to get here.

All that other stuff that sometimes I call ‘junk’ has been talked about too much. I really want to focus on my team, the other guys, their teams, what’s happening. It’s okay to be a college basketball player and it’s a great event to be in the Final Four.

The first part of the question about being the sixth guy. I really don’t think about those things. I’m trying to figure out how in the dickens I can get enough baskets against Syracuse’s zone. I’ve been fortunate to have great kids that make me look very good and I hope they keep doing it for a long time.

Q. The investigation obviously has gone on for a while, like it did with Syracuse, yet you guys are here. How much tangible impact has it had so far?
COACH WILLIAMS: Jimmy and I had to answer this same question together this morning. Hopefully we won’t have to answer it continually while we’re here.

I think it affected us because it was our school. Jimmy went to Syracuse. I went to North Carolina. We’ve always loved those places, perhaps more than any other coach. It had nothing to do with these players. These players were not involved. It affected us as a distraction, as the way people looked at us personally.

Again, our teams are here because they played their way here. They had nothing to do with all the stuff. I’m looking forward to talking about zone defenses and fast breaks, basketball players who have accomplished a great deal.

Q. Mark, the slogan at the Final Four is, ‘The road ends here.’ There are a lot of North Carolina fans, coach, administrators, those outside of their fan base who want to know what’s the end of the road, when’s the end of the road in their investigation?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Obviously a very complex circumstance. I’m not going to comment on the nature of the case itself. It’s been moving along very well. The university’s been very cooperative, will be at a place where my staff can issue allegations or notice of allegations in the very near future.

Other than that, it is premature to say when that will occur, but they’re certainly getting to the end of the road on it.

Q. The investigation at Syracuse has always been completed. You’ve handed out the sanctions. As you look back on it, that was an investigation that took several years and involved some very serious academic malfeasance, to say the least. Putting them in the field this year, do you have any reservations about that sending a message that says it’s okay to do that because after a brief absence from the tournament, you’ll be right back in?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Yeah, sure, I understand why optically people have a lot of questions around all that. It makes perfect sense that they might.

The reality is, is that the Committee on Infractions handed down, which is a group of individuals from the membership, as you know, handed down their sanctions on Syracuse University. The university dealt with those sanctions and this group of young men that are playing right now had nothing to do with any of those violations the.

From Joe’s point of view and the committee’s point of view, their job is not to determine who is eligible or not, that’s up to the members to make that determination. They saw Syracuse as having responded appropriately to the allegations that were against them and having dealt with the penalties that the membership imposed on them.

So we’ve got a team that’s playing right now that, again, had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions, and they should be allowed to play.

It shouldn’t impact these young men. That’s what the judgment of the membership was. I support it.

Q. Mark, I’m going to quote Jim Boeheim. He said, Cheating to me is intentionally doing something, like you wouldn’t want to get this recruit, you arranged a job for him, or you went to see him when you shouldn’t. You called him and you got an edge in recruiting. That’s cheating. I think if something happens that you’re not aware of that it doesn’t really affect the recruit, I don’t look at it in the same way. He basically was standing up for what he had done, what happened at Syracuse was not cheating. Do you agree with what he has said?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Well, look, the Committee on Infractions looking at the facts in that case. It was a voluminous set of data. It took far too long for all the information to be collected and gathered. I think everybody agreed with that.

When the data were put in front of a Committee on Infractions — this is a body of members of the association that aren’t paid employees of the NCAA. They’re conference commissioners. They’re athletic directors. There’s a former Attorney General of the United States. A former university president. It’s a cross-section of the membership.

When those folks looked at the facts, they reached the conclusion that, indeed, violations of our rules and bylaws had occurred and imposed sanctions that were consistent with their view and that behavior.

I’ll let Coach Boeheim define that how he wants to. But the committee determined these are clear violations of the rules and that, therefore, it warranted some pretty significant sanctions, and they were imposed.

Q. You’re relying on what the committee did. Are you saying you agree lockstep with what their definition of cheating is? I’m trying to get your opinion on what Boeheim said.
PRESIDENT EMMERT: I have enormous confidence in the Committee on Infractions. I think that process works remarkably well. It’s the closest thing you’re going to see to ‘a jury of your peers’ model for as broad an association as this one that includes a wide collection of institutions and members.

I have complete confidence in what that body did in this case.

Q. A lot of people have talked about the presence of Syracuse and UNC here, noted that the risk of breaking rules seems well worth the reward. I wondered if you think the current penalty structure is at all an adequate deterrent and if it’s a concern of yours?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: It’s always a concern of ours that the rules that the members have put in place strike that right balance between being deterrence from behavior that nobody wants to see, to also being too punitive and impacting students, for example, that didn’t have anything to do with it.

I would disagree with those observations that people have. The fact of the matter is that Syracuse, as I have said several times now, went through an exhaustive process. It went through a hearing on infractions. It dealt with the sanctions that were put in place.

This current group of student-athletes had nothing to do with those sanctions, and they happen to be a very good basketball team.

I think to conclude from that that there was no impact on the university is simply wrong. I think they disagreed at that time, and I think they would disagree today that there were no penalties that were inflicted on them.

Then, of course, the UNC case, as I just said earlier, we haven’t even gotten to a place where there have been allegations delivered to the institution. So we can’t make any comment, observation about them one way or the other.

Keep your fire extinguisher handy, because the stories written in the next couple of days from these quotes will be keyboard melting.

Romar Morris turns heads at UNC’s Pro Day

On Twitter, Romar Morris goes by @speedkills_21, and after posting a 4.30 40-yard dash, speed might just land the former UNC running back in the NFL.

Morris turned heads with two blazing fast 40-yard dashes in front of NFL scouts from nearly every team Tuesday morning at Navy practice field.

“When I ran it, I heard a couple scouts yell like, ‘wooo,’ which made me yell ‘woo’ too,” Morris said.” I felt pretty good after my second rep.”

Tuesday’s 40 time was pretty impressive, but Morris said he ran it in 4.28 a couple weeks ago.

Because he didn’t get many touches during his senior season, Morris felt like having a good workout Tuesday was imperative to his future success.

“I felt like it was very necessary for me to have a great workout,” Morris said. “That’s something, I didn’t really have the numbers last year, but I contributed a lot to the team, whether it was on special teams or blocking or anything. I just gave all I can to the team. I feel like I had to come out here and show what I could do and impress the scouts because they haven’t seen me in a couple years.”

With a crowded backfield last season, Morris’ production dropped off from 65 carries in 2014 to just 10 in 2015. In 2015, Morris had just 64 rushing yards, 54 receiving yards and one touchdown.

With his traditional offensive role decreasing, Morris found a home on special teams — something that Morris thinks will make him a more attractive NFL prospect.

“I love special teams because in the league you’re going to have to be able to play special teams,” Morris said. “Special teams is one thing that I keep myself on. I want to be in the NFL playing special teams as long as I can. If I get to the NFL and only play special teams, I’ll be happy with that. So just being in the process, playing special teams, playing offense/defense, I can do whatever they ask me to do.”

Turner still turning heads

Fresh off a trip to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, offensive lineman Landon Turner showed off his skills a little bit closer to home.

Before he came back to Chapel Hill, Turner spent time in California learning a variety of new techniques from different professionals.
“It’s really nice to work with a new coach, especially an NFL offensive line coach,” Turner said. “I worked with Hudson Houck, who was an O-line coach for the Cowboys for a while, in California. Got a few sessions in with Nick Hardwick, he used to play for the Chargers, when I was in San Diego.

“I’ve had some different styles. There’s a thousand ways to skin a cat and I just love the game. That was the fun part for me. That was the fun part today, doing the drills.”

Turner, who has a visit scheduled with New Orleans in early April, took some reps at center during the pro day, snapping the ball to quarterback Marquise Williams.

Though he primarily lined up at right guard during his time at UNC, Turner wants to expand his versatility to be a more attractive pro prospect.

“They only travel with seven guys, so I want to be one of those seven guys,” he said. “Typically, unless you’re a knockout, it’s good to be versatile. I want to be one of those seven guys. I’m going to be one of those seven guys come this fall that’s going to be traveling on an NFL team. I’m going to show them I can play more than one position.”

Pogge implements agent program

With Pro Day comes an influx of scouts, family and agents to the practice field. In the past, there’s been a negative connotation associated with agents on UNC’s campus, but these days, UNC has a new system to promote positive agent-player interactions.

Associate Athletic Director Paul Pogge, who began working at UNC in 2012, implemented a program to connect athletes with agents to keep the university more in the loop with those dealings.

“It’s pretty extensive in everything that he does,” coach Larry Fedora said. “Basically, what he does, the agents that are registered with the state, they register with the university. And when they do that, then Paul sets up interviews with our players for them. And Paul is usually present in every one of those interviews.

“And then we instruct our guys that if anybody tries to contact them outside of Paul, they let Paul know and then Paul basically bans those people from our campus. The ones that do it the right way are welcome on our campus and the ones that aren’t, they’re not welcome.”

Pogge’s program helped connect quite a few former UNC football players with their current representation, including Morris to Wilmington-based agent Gary Shipman.

“With that, I was able to meet a lot of agents over the last two years and get to sit down and talk to them and get familiar with them and they pretty much sold themselves to me,” Morris said. “I feel like Gary Shipman was one of the best. He really goes after it for his players and he really goes hard for you.”