North Carolina (4-3, 2-2 ACC) had a pair of 1st-and-goals inside the 10-yard-line on its opening two drives, but the Tar Heels had to settle for a 19-yard Casey Barth field goal and a Anthony Elzy lost fumble in the end zone, netting only three points. Add in Johnny White’s 76-yard touchdown run 69 seconds into the second quarter and you have UNC’s total offensive output on Saturday night.
Miami (5-2, 3-1 ACC), on the other hand, started slow with a pair of Matt Bosher field goals (38, 34) but methodically picked the North Carolina defense apart as the injuries mounted for the boys in blue. Jacory Harris (21-of-32 passing, 217 yards, 3 TD, INT) led the Hurricanes out of a 10-6 hole to take a 13-10 halftime lead on a six-yard touchdown pass to LaRon Byrd, and then the junior quarterback found Travis Benjamin (24 yards) and Leonard Hankerson (19 yards) for touchdowns to blow the game open in the third quarter.
Damien Berry (109 yards, TD) finished the scoring with a two-yard touchdown run with 9:04 remaining in regulation.
UNC quarterback T.J. Yates completed 12 of his 21 passes for 140 yards and two interceptions, thanks in large part to an aggressive Hurricane defense that tallied five sacks.
Miami outgained North Carolina, 442-289, and won the turnover battle, 3-1.
INSIDE THE GAME
Running Game Yin and Yang
The run defense statistics were nearly identical entering Saturday night’s primetime showdown as Miami ranked 68th nationally in allowing 154.3 yards per game and North Carolina was one spot behind in 69th (154.5 ypg). The Hurricanes tallied 225 rushing yards and a touchdown on 44 carries, while the Tar Heels churned out 149 yards and a touchdown on 29 attempts.
And while the rushing numbers in this contest were similar in some respects – both teams averaged 5.1 yards per carry – there was no question that Miami dominated that aspect of the game. Berry and Lamar Miller (67 yards) gashed UNC consistently through the first three quarters and Mike James (54 yards) took over the controls in the fourth.
“One of the most significant factors of the ball game was that we never really got a good handle on their running game,” UNC head coach Butch Davis told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They were able to keep us off-balance with the run and the play-action pass.”
The Hurricanes posted 21 runs of five yards or more on the evening, compared with just eight for the Tar Heels. The bulk of UNC’s ground production came on two plays – a 76-yard touchdown run by White (85 yards) and a 30-yard scamper by Shaun Draughn (71 yards).
Injuries Adding Up
There were warning signs before this game ever kicked off that health concerns were going to play a role in the final outcome. Cornerback LeCount Fantroy (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jordan Nix (elbow) didn’t make the trip to South Florida with injuries, and linebacker Quan Sturdivant missed his fourth straight game with a lingering thigh injury. Those three joined six other Tar Heels already listed as out with injury against Miami.
Already down two starting corners with Kendric Burney and Charles Brown sidelined for their role in the ongoing NCAA investigation, the Tar Heel secondary was reduced to a paper-thin representation when cornerback Mywan Jackson and strong safety Da’Norris Searcy went down with injuries during the first half.
Harris made a point to go after the remaining defensive backs, including true freshman Tre Boston and red-shirt freshman Terry Shankle. Boston missed a tackle on Benjamin’s 24-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter and Hankerson pulled in a jump ball in the end zone over Shankle eight minutes later.
“I think it was obvious that they were trying to pick on us in the secondary tonight,” senior safety Deunta Williams said. “… One thing I was telling those guys is that when we were freshmen, they picked on us. They’re going to keep picking on you until you make them start going away from you.”
The defense wasn’t the only unit to suffer losses, however. After having lost the team’s leading receiver in tight end Zack Pianalto to a fractured leg last weekend against Virginia, fullback Anthony Elzy and tight end Ryan Taylor were sidelined with injuries on Saturday night and White left the game with a stomach illness.
“It’s a challenge,” Davis said. “As I told the players in the locker room, ‘Coaches always say that you’re one injury away from somebody having to go into the ball game and step up.’ I would venture to say that it would probably cost us every single kid that maybe we have that we thought we were going to red-shirt… We’ll probably end up having to play all of these kids before the season is over with.”
Yates said it even more succinctly than his head coach, saying, “We can’t afford to lose any more guys than we already have.”
Red Zone Flame Out
Three of the four offensive and defensive units that took the field in Miami Gardens entered the contest ranked in the top-20 nationally in red zone efficiency. The Tar Heel offense had converted on 92 percent (22-of-24) on its opportunities to stand T-6th. UNC’s defense ranked T-4th nationally, allowing opposing offenses to convert just 62 percent of their opportunities (13-of-21).
Miami’s defense was equally as impressive, ranking T-16th in allowing scores on 19 of 26 drives (11 TD, 8 FG). But it was Miami’s offense – converting just 73 percent (19-of-26) of its opportunities, good for 102nd – that stole the show at Sun Life Stadium.
The Hurricanes were a perfect 5-of-5 against North Carolina, starting with two field goals and adding three touchdowns.
The Tar Heels, however, converted only one field goal in two red zone attempts, with Elzy’s fumble in the end zone serving as UNC’s last trip inside Miami’s 20-yard-line. That play occurred with 2:40 remaining in the first quarter.
“Especially against a team like that, having a lead and having some momentum is definitely an advantage for you,” Yates said. “If we had put the ball in the end zone on those first couple of drives, it would have been a completely different ball game for us. When we’re in the red zone, we’ve got to take full advantage of getting points.”