As the fourth-quarter game clock neared six minutes remaining, UNC backup quarterback Marquise Williams ran through the middle of Miami’s defense for a five-yard gain to set up 3rd-and-inches at UNC’s 49-yard line.
The Tar Heels were leading 23-20 after their defense had forced a three-and-out deep in Miami territory. Umpire Jim Eckl marked the ball with 33 seconds left on the play clock and quarterback Bryn Renner subbed in for Williams approximately 10 seconds later.
Renner promptly huddled the offense and then broke the huddle with seven seconds remaining on the play clock as substitutions ran in from the sideline. The fifth-year senior quarterback stepped under center with four seconds on the play clock, although Eckl stood over the ball until only one second remained. Teams are required to be set in formation for one second, meaning UNC was unable to snap the ball in time and was called for a delay of game with 5:34 remaining.
Renner was animated on the field while Fedora was livid on the sideline. The second-year UNC head coach was still agitated during his postgame press conference.
“We substituted and they felt like they needed to stand over the ball until we couldn’t snap it,” Fedora said. “I’m not sure I understand it yet. I’ll have to get an interpretation there. But again, it’s my responsibility. That’s my fault that we didn’t get that off.“
When asked what explanation he was given following the play, Fedora said: “That they need to give them three seconds to have the opportunity to substitute. I thought there was a lot more than three seconds on the clock when we substituted. Maybe there weren’t. I don’t know. I thought there was well over that.”
NCAA Rule 3-5-2-e states the following:
“While in the process of substitution or simulated substitution, Team A is prohibited from rushing quickly to the line of scrimmage with the obvious attempt of creating a defensive disadvantage. If the ball is ready for play, the game officials will not permit the ball to be snapped until Team B has placed substitutes in position and replaced players have left the field of play. Team B must react promptly with its substitutes.”
The three-second aspect of equation is difficult to ascertain. In the Interpretations section of the rulebook, Rule 3-5-2-II states that “when Team A has completed its offensive formation, Team B must promptly position its personnel. Team B will be allowed time to complete substitutions.”
Regardless, Fedora’s attempt to surprise Miami backfired. After the delay of game penalty, right tackle Jon Heck was called for a false start on 3rd-and-5. Renner then was sacked for a 4-yard loss on 3rd-and-10 by linebacker Tyriq McCord.
UNC went from a 3rd-and-inches to a 4th-and-14 and was forced to punt. By the time the Tar Heels got the ball back, they trailed 27-23 and only had 16 seconds to work with.
Renner declined to comment on the delay of game penalty, but confirmed that the offense executed the play properly.
“There was a lot of frustration,” Ebron said. “That shouldn’t have happened. There’s nothing that we can do. The referees felt like they did their job, but we felt as if that play happens, maybe the game changes, maybe it doesn’t.”
Thursday’s pivotal 3rd-and-1 scenario adds to a growing list of miscues this season. North Carolina kicked off to open both halves against Middle Tennessee, and then two weeks later, a first-half two-point conversion attempt failed against Georgia Tech that allowed the Yellow Jackets to take a 21-20 lead into the fourth quarter.