Scouting Auburn’s 2020 opponents: North Carolina

Stay tuned to RadioAlabama Sports as Noah Gardner breaks down each of Auburn football’s 2020 opponents. Follow Noah on Twitter at @PointGuardner.

Game History: North Carolina leads the all-time series 4-2. The two teams last met in the 2001 Peach Bowl with North Carolina winning 16-10.

2019 Team Stats: 7-6 (4-4) ACC, beat Temple 55-13 in the Military Bowl.

PPG: 33.1

PAPG: 23.7

RYPG: 188.2 (4.6 YPC)

PYPG: 285.9 (61.5 PCT)

SKS allowed: 37


RYPG allowed: 143.5 (4.0)

PYPG allowed: 229.6 (60.1 PCT)

SKS: 31

Offensive Impact Player: QB Sam Howell (#7)

2019 stats: 3,641 YDS, 61.4 PCT, 38 TD, 7 INT

It didn’t take long for Mack Brown to find the quarterback to lead his rebuild. In his first year back coaching, Brown struck gold in freshman quarterback Sam Howell. The former No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country was arguably the most prolific passer in the ACC last season. Howell finished second in the conference leaderboard for passing yards by 24 to Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, but if Howell was the one wearing orange and purple, he probably would have been in the Heisman race. He threw two more touchdowns and one fewer interception than Lawrence, culminating in a Third Team All-ACC selection and being named the ACC Offensive & Overall Rookie of the Year. What’s next for Howell in his sophomore season? It will be interesting to watch as not only he grows older but his supporting cast does as well.

Defensive Impact Player: LB Chazz Surratt (#21)

2019 stats: 115 TKL, 15 TFL, 6.5 SKS, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 10 QBH, 1 FF, 1 FR

How often do you see a former starting quarterback and move to linebacker ultimately to earn a First Team All-ACC selection? Well, Chazz Surratt did just that, and he posted absurd numbers in the process, finishing as the runner-up for ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He played quarterback for the Tar Heels in his freshman and sophomore seasons, but last year, he found his home at linebacker, leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Not only did Mack Brown find his leader on offense, but he also found his leader on defense. Considering Auburn will be starting a brand new offensive line this season, Surratt is going to be a handful for the Tigers.

Offensive Key Unit: Wide-receivers

North Carolina is bringing back it’s top-nine receivers. including two that had 1,000-yard seasons. Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome combined for 123 receptions, 2,052 yards and 22 touchdowns. Teams are lucky to have one go-to guy at wide-receiver, but North Carolina has two. Additionally, they have a solid supporting group around the two players with a prolific quarterback tossing the ball to them. With the loss of Noah Igbinoghene at cornerback, Auburn will still be searching for at least one lockdown defensive back. Good luck finding two that can handle this group. Auburn’s safeties will have to help keep the lid on the defense because there is explosive potential from this group.

Defensive Key Unit: Linebackers

Chazz Surratt’s impact on the defense has already been discussed, but the Tar Heels also return their second-leading tackler in Jeremiah Gemmel who also hails from the linebacking corps. The two players have 199 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. With Boobee Whitlow transferring and the entire offensive line departing for graduation, Auburn’s cast in the running game is going to look dramatically different from last season. In the second game of the season, Auburn will still be trying to figure out what that hierarchy looks like in the running game. North Carolina’s two linebackers know how to find the football, and it will be a tall task for Auburn in trying to keep these two out of the backfield.