The Miami Hurricanes (6-1, 3-1) used a blitzing, aggressive defense, and capitalized on the mistakes of North Carolina (3-4, 2-2) in the second half to overcome a nine point halftime deficit – which could have been a 16-point deficit – to defeat North Carolina 34-16.
“I’m not sure what to say, except it was certainly a tale of two halves,” head coach John Bunting said following the game. “Between field position, procedures, and not being able to run the ball like we did in the first half; made for a miserable third quarter.”
Tyrone Moss, rushing for 195 yards and four touchdowns, was the Miami offense on Saturday. Well, not exactly. He only accounted for 60 percent of Miami’s total offensive output of 321 yards.
North Carolina simply had no answer for Moss, who made the North Carolina defense look as if their feet were mired in Florida swampland. A combination of speed, quickness, and the relentless refusal to go down, Moss was clearly the best running back the Tar Heels have faced to date. Miami did a good job of moving around their All-American candidate offensive lineman, Eric Winston, who often created the space for Moss to operate, as if Moss needed it.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Tar Heels intercepted Miami quarterback Kyle Wright three times – which exceeded the number of Tar Heel interceptions in their previous six games combined. They also held Miami to 321 yards of total offense, their lowest offensive output of the season. The previous Miami offensive low was the 328 yards gained versus Florida State in the season opener.
As Bunting noted after the game, 20 of the Hurricane points came as the result of only 30 yards of total offense. Despite having no answer for Moss, the Tar Heel defense acquitted themselves well on the road against the No. 6 team in the nation.
Trimane Goddard had the best game of his career to date, intercepting Wright twice, once on an extremely athletic play that not only gave UNC possession, it denied Miami a touchdown. Goddard also led the Tar Heels in tackles with nine and played a solid all-around game.
Goddard is on the verge of adding “star quality,”
to the UNC secondary.
Only a true sophomore, Goddard is on the verge of adding “star quality,”
to the UNC secondary. He also turned in an impressive performance a week ago versus Virginia and seems to be staking a claim as the most effective player in the UNC secondary.
The Tar Heel linebackers, however, accounted for only 11 tackles combined. Given the fact that Larry Edwards and Tommy Richardson have led the Tar Heels in tackles all season, the lack of defensive production from the linebacking corps is puzzling. Unfortunately, that’s something else for which there doesn’t appear to be an adequate answer.
A few gallons of ink have already been used on the drop by Jarwarski Pollock in the second quarter. Had Pollock made the catch, which appeared to be a routine one, the Tar Heels would have extended their lead to 23-7 in the first half.
Pollock pointed to the drop in post-game interviews as a play that changed the complexion of the game. He may be right, but there is more to say about the offense – or the lack thereof - than just his drop.
If you were like me, you kept asking yourself, “Where is Ronnie McGill?” Particularly in the second half, when the Tar Heel offense stuttered, stalled, and looked intimidated at times. McGill rushed for 66 yards – but rushed for minus-one yard in the second half – by my count he got two carries in the entire second half. Granted, once the Hurricanes seized the lead, their aggressive, blitzing defense – ranked No. 1 in the nation - made any offensive play, run or pass, seem like an exercise in futility.
With all due respect to Barrington Edwards and James “Cooter Arnold,” McGill is handily the Tar Heels most effective runner, as he demonstrated again on Saturday. While the Tar Heels' offensive brain trust seems intent on rotating several backs in the offense, it is puzzling that McGill hasn’t yet made the case to them that he deserves more and more carries.
After the game, word came out that McGill suffered from dehydration for much of the day. Perhaps that explains why he wasn’t used more regularly in the second half and why he shared the load in the first half. If true, job number one for the Tar Heels is to figure out how to hydrate McGill sufficiently to enable him to carry the ball 25 times or more per game – then give it to him.
There were also far too many pre-snap penalties, something that seems to be a recurring problem with the UNC offense. It is understandable, to some extent, that the Tar Heel offensive linemen became jittery in the second half when Miami, operating with a lead, blitzed on nearly every play. But illegal procedure and delay of game penalties crop up too often for an offense that cannot afford to put itself into a hole. In game seven, it is difficult to explain why pre-snap penalties continue to plague the Tar Heels so frequently.
Baker continues to earn respect because of his toughness and refusal to point fingers at his teammates.
The Tar Heels had no answer for the Miami blitz in the second-half, and it was painful to watch the Hurricanes swarm a shell-shocked Matt Baker until he was ultimately forced from the game. Baker continues to earn respect because of his toughness and refusal to point fingers at his teammates.
It needs to be restated that the Tar Heels did face the nation’s best defense on Saturday. Lots of teams that will face the Hurricanes will have few answers for the problems their defense creates.
In a game where offensive points would be at a premium for the Tar Heels, surrendering points on special teams is a backbreaker. The blocked punt did as much to change the momentum of the game as any other play.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, did two things very well on Saturday on special teams. One, they returned the ball well on kickoffs, which helped with field position particularly in the first half. The Tar Heels averaged 23.6 yards per kickoff retrun. Second, they limited Miami’s returners, led by Devin Hester, to only 44 return yards on three kickoffs (14.6 yards per return) and 32 yards on four punts (8.0 yards per return). The Tar Heels obviously spent some time preparing for Miami’s strong return game.
To duplicate last season’s late season rally to become bowl eligible, the Tar Heels now must win three of their remaining four games, one of which is Virginia Tech in the season finale. That means that the Tar Heels must quickly erase this loss, particularly the second half meltdown, and focus on last season’s bowl opponent, Boston College, who is coming off a demoralizing loss to Virginia Tech Thursday night.
That also means that the Tar Heels need to find some answers, and quickly.