“We talked this week about wanting to start fast,” Davis said. “We wanted to get off to a good start. And I don’t think you could have scripted a better way to start.”
After the Tar Heels jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead by excelling in all three phases of the game, Miami (4-2, 1-1 ACC) exploded in the third quarter for 20 points, highlighted by a Kyle Wright to Darnell Jenkins 97-yard touchdown pass – the longest completion ever surrendered by a UNC defense.
“You’re going to face adversity in games like this,” Davis said. “There’s going to come a point in time – it could have happened in the first quarter [or] it could have happened as it certainly did in the second half – and you have trust each other, believe in each other and you have to be able to respond in a way to overcome some of that adversity.”
North Carolina (2-4, 1-2) refused to fold, however, as an opportunistic defense regained its composure and kept the Hurricanes out of he end zone until a late touchdown with 1:42 remaining in the contest. True freshmen Charles Brown and Quan Sturdivant registered crucial interceptions during that stretch, giving the Tar Heels four interceptions in one game for the first time since 1999.
Davis has preached since his arrival in Chapel Hill the importance of both establishing a ground game and limiting the opponent’s rushing attack. For the first time this season, North Carolina accomplished both of those tasks on Saturday, holding Miami to 109 rushing yards while churning out a season-high 183 yards of its own behind Anthony Elzy’s career-high 95 yards and one touchdown.
“Elzy sparked the win, breaking that big, long run on that first series,” quarterback T.J. Yates said. “He really sparked us to get the game going and to score a lot of points. That just makes it so much easier on the defense, too.”
The Tar Heels won both turnover (4-1) and time of possession (32:41 to 27:19) battles for the first time this fall, making life a little easier for Yates. The red-shirt freshman took advantage of a potent running attack and a stifling defense to complete 15 of 23 passes for 218 yards. North Carolina finished with 401 total yards on the afternoon.
Elzy continued his emergence in UNC’s rushing attack following his 74-yard outburst against Virginia Tech last week, gaining 80 yards on 11 carries in the first quarter alone. The bulk of that yardage came on his 39-yard touchdown scamper off the left edge on the Heels’ second series.
Connor Barth connected on his first of four successful field goal attempts – a 33-yarder that set a UNC school record for most consecutive field goals made (16) – and the Tar Heels capitalized on a Sturdivant blocked punt as Yates scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak to give North Carolina a 17-0 cushion early in the second quarter.
“Records are records – they’re cool to have, but I’m just so happy for the way our team played today,” Barth said. “We’ve matured so much these last few weeks… that’s why this game means so much more to me than the 2004 game.”
UNC’s rushing success wasn’t limited to the red-shirt freshman tailback -- human highlight reel Brandon Tate took a reverse 54 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, following a Hakeem Nicks’ block to give North Carolina a 27-0 lead headlining into halftime.
Miami began their rally on their opening possession of the second half, driving 68 yards on seven plays and concluding with a Kyle Wright QB sneak from two yards out.
An Elzy fumble on the ensuing series gave the Canes new life at the UNC 30-yard line, and head coach Randy Shannon’s offense capitalized as Wright found wide receiver Sam Shields over the middle for a four-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-3.
Senior place kicker Francesco Zampogna missed the extra point, however, hitting the left upright to keep the deficit at 27-13. The Hurricanes gained 195 of their 411 yards in that third quarter.
Freshman defensive tackle Marvin Austin said the team was never worried about the Miami onslaught.
“I knew our offense was going to go out there and handle their business, and that when the defense was called, we were going to go out there and handle our business,” Austin said. “Our coaches are going to put us in position to make plays, and it was on us to make [those] plays.”
Following Jenkins’ 97-yard touchdown, Barth tacked on two more field goals (35, 20) to stop the bleeding and give the Tar Heel defense a sufficient cushion in the fourth quarter, before Javarris James’ one-yard touchdown plunge cut the North Carolina lead to 33-27.