In a season filled with close games, the North Carolina Tar Heels finished 6-6 and made a bowl game. No matter how you slice it, Mack Brown’s first year back in Chapel Hill has to be considered a rousing success. Here are some awards for this very exciting Tar Heel season.
Offensive MVP: Sam Howell, QB
The true freshman won the job in camp and never let go. Howell has completed 60 percent of his throws for 3,347 yards with 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The emergence of the Heels’ quarterback was the single biggest development during the 2019 season.
Defensive MVP: Chazz Surratt, LB
Entering last season, Surratt was competing for the starting quarterback position. Now he is an All-ACC linebacker who tied for the conference lead with 110 tackles in the regular season and paces the team with 13.5 tackles for lost yardage.
Best Freshman: Sam Howell, QB
The North Carolina offensive staff eased Howell in during the opener against South Carolina. After leading a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Gamecocks, coaches put more on his plate, and Howell responded by becoming the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Best Play of the Season: Chazz Surratt interception to beat Duke
Okay, so the play wasn’t as spectacular as some of the catches made by Dyami Brown or Dazz Newsome, and it was also the result of a poor decision by the Blue Devils. But it was all about timing. In the closing seconds of a 20-17 game, Surratt stepped in front of a Deon Jackson jump pass, sealing a Victory Bell win for Duke.
Best Performance by a Player: Dyami Brown vs. Virginia
The sophomore receiver’s outstanding year was highlighted by his play in the loss to Virginia. On that day, Brown had six catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns.
Best Game (Team Performance): Rout of NC State
With bowl eligibility on the line and a 10-6 halftime deficit, the Tar Heels ripped off 28 points in the third quarter to beat the Wolfpack 41-10. Carolina won the yardage battle 620-289 and forced three interceptions and a fumble.
Defining Moment: Final Moments against Clemson
In the most talked-about ACC game of the year, UNC drove 75 yards on 16 plays, taking over half of the fourth quarter, and scored a touchdown with 1:17 remaining to make the score 21-20. The drive showed the fight and determination that Mack Brown had instilled in this Tar Heels team, even if their two-point conversion to take the lead failed.
Biggest Surprise: Clemson game
Especially considering how the defending national champs played the rest of the way, it is stunning that Carolina went toe to toe with Clemson. Though growth is still needed, this game alone is a reason for optimism going forward.
Biggest Disappointment: Injuries, again
In what seems to be a major problem every year, North Carolina had too many guys go down. While injuries popped up everywhere, the secondary was most effected with Patrice Rene and Trey Morrison lost for the season.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Charlie Heck, OL
Heck battled his own injuries this season, but he was a team leader during his time at Carolina. The young Tar Heel front will have to go on without the second team All-ACC tackle.
Player to Watch in 2020: Desmond Evans, DE
Evans is currently a senior in high school, but he is also a five-star prospect who was coveted by the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Florida. But the Sanford, N.C., product decided he wanted to make an immediate impact for his home state Heels.
Offseason Storylines: Mack in Year 2
After consecutive nine-loss seasons, Carolina fans have to be thrilled with returning to a bowl game. But what is the next step? In Brown’s second year, with another quality recruiting class coming in, more will be expected.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo by UNC Athletic Communications, courtesy of goheels.com)