In some ways, Ryan Switzer is the type of player who seems like he’s been around for more than four years.
The UNC star immediately made his presence felt as a freshman in 2013, tying an NCAA record for punt-return touchdowns in a season with five. He grew as a pass-catcher in 2014 and finished with his most well-rounded year in 2015.
So far this fall, there hasn’t been any question whom quarterback Mitch Trubisky is counting on as his go-to target. Switzer has not only claimed that role, but he’s also establishing himself as the best receiver the Tar Heels have had in head coach Larry Fedora’s five years with the program.
Receptions are often spread out in Fedora’s offense. Six different players have logged at least eight receptions through four games this year, and it’s not uncommon for UNC’s leading receiver in a game to finish with five catches.
That wasn’t the case this past Saturday, though.
In North Carolina’s 37-36 comeback win over Pittsburgh, Switzer tied an ACC record with 16 receptions on the day. He caught nine passes in the fourth quarter alone, and three of those were on fourth down.
The 16 grabs marked a career high for the senior, as did his 208 receiving yards, but it wasn’t the only time he has been stellar for the Heels.
Switzer has led UNC in receptions and receiving yards in every game this fall. He’s on a 12-game pace to notch 99 receptions for 1,287 yards and six touchdowns, and that’s not even including numbers he could put up should his team play in a bowl or the ACC title game. To put that in context, since Fedora was hired before the 2012 season, UNC has not had a receiver surpass 62 receptions or 973 receiving yards in a single season.
Through the month of September, the coaching staff made it a clear priority to get the ball in Switzer’s hands. According to SB Nation, the senior has been targeted 39 times and caught 33 of those balls, giving him a catch rate of 84.6 percent. That type of reliability is exactly what will keep Trubisky looking his way, especially in late-game situations when a big play is needed.
Switzer has an opportunity for another monster outing on Saturday when the Tar Heels square off with Florida State in Tallahassee. The game has the makings of a shootout; while UNC’s offense is its strength, its run defense will be vulnerable against All-American running back Dalvin Cook. In addition, North Carolina has already been throwing the ball an average of 36 times per game. The Heels may surpass that number against a Seminole defense that ranks No. 116 in the country in yards allowed per pass attempt, and is hurting with star defensive back Derwin James sidelined due to a knee injury.
If UNC gets pass-happy again on Saturday, there’s no question that Switzer will get opportunities to make plays. If the early part of this season is any indication, he’ll make the most of those opportunities.