Photos by Smith Hardy
Fans of the North Carolina football team will be the first to criticize coach Larry Fedora’s two-quarterback rotation for a number of reasons: lack of rhythm, poor chemistry, etc. But could the different handedness of UNC’s two options create an additional turn in the system?
Brandon Harris — a right-handed graduate transfer from LSU — and lefty redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt both saw time as the coaches analyzed the quarterback battle. As C Jackson Cowart noted in his postgame column after the Tar Heels' 35-30 loss to California, shifting quarterbacks certainly didn’t help UNC on the scoreboard.
But the change affects more than just the quarterbacks themselves. With the handedness changing each time a new QB lines up behind center, the offense changes with it. Most obviously, the strong side of the formation changes, but so too does the primary direction for handoffs and the spin of the ball off the quarterback's hand.
“You kind of notice (the spin) once the ball’s in the air,” said senior Jordan Cunningham, who had four catches for 39 yards on Saturday. “You have to look the ball in and keep your eyes focused on the tip of the ball.”
Cunningham said the spin is mainly an optical difference, though Thomas Jackson — who caught UNC's only touchdown pass Saturday — said quarterbacks with differing handedness can affect how receivers prepare to catch the ball, too.
“It’s just a different spin on the ball,” Jackson said. “You just got to know how to shape your hands to wherever the ball’s going to go.”
With Harris and Surratt subbing out seemingly every other drive, the UNC quarterbacks' chemistry with their receivers is still a work in progress — something Jackson hinted at after the game — so their pass-catchers hardly have time to prepare for something like the differing spin from whomever is behind center.
But that's just fine for the Tar Heel receivers.
'I’m just focused on doing my job,” Cunningham said. “I trust that whatever quarterback is in there (will) give me the ball or whoever they’re targeting.”
Austin Proehl, the team's top returning receiver entering the season, admitted after Saturday's loss that the spin changes between the two signal-callers. But the senior refused to allow handedness to serve as an excuse for UNC's lackluster passing performance.
“This is Division-I football,” he said. “We’re all athletes, we’re all here to play receiver. We’ve got to make plays when the ball is thrown to us.”
Regardless of who starts at quarterback this Saturday, the Tar Heels have a tough test against No. 17 Louisville, led by junior quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson — who last season drew comparisons to former left-handed Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick. Surely the spin from the right-handed Louisville star won't be an issue for the Cardinals.