“At the end of the ball game, to be able to eat up over five minutes of the clock, make them burn two of their timeouts and put some points on the board (was big),” head coach Butch Davis said.
Early on in the game it appeared that UNC’s go-to offensive player last week, Ryan Houston, wasn’t going to have the same sort of success against Miami. What were four- and six-yard runs against the Blue Devils turned into two- and three-yard runs against the Hurricanes.
“We knew he was a banger,” Miami head coach Randy Shannon said, “I thought the first half and the third quarter we did a real good job on him.”
Though Houston wasn’t making headway against the Miami run defense, the coaching staff believed that staying committed to the run would pay some dividends late in the game.
“We did a lot of runs early that didn’t go for big yards like we wanted to in the first half,” Houston said, “But Coach Pittman said to keep going and the runs in the first quarter that were giving us two or three yards, in the fourth quarter are going to break for five or six.”
Without Houston struggling for yards, the question was: how was UNC going to move the ball?
Fortunately, offensive coordinator John Shoop had an answer. He used the pass to set up the run.
“We did some different things, making them think we were going to run inside and shooting Devon (Ramsay) out in the flat, or making them think we were going to run inside and getting Jhay (Boyd) around the edge,” UNC quarterback T.J. Yates said. “We tried to throw different things at them [because] they were rushing us pretty good.”
It took some creativity, starting with UNC’s first scoring drive -- a drive that didn’t begin until 3:02 left on the first quarter clock. Yates faked the handoff to Houston, then hit Ramsay for a 28-yard-gain. Next he completed a shuffle pass to defensive back (yes, you read that right) Mywan Jackson for a nine-yard gain. On third-and-two in that series, Yates hit Zack Pianalto for 13 yards, setting up a 29-yard touchdown completion on a quick slant to Greg Little.
The Tar Heels employed a naked backfield early and often in the second half. On UNC’s second scoring drive, which resulted in a field goal, the Tar Heels relied on two big screen plays, one to Little and one to Johnny White.
On their first drive of the second half, Shoop went to a naked backfield on first down and Yates completed a quick slant to Little. On another play in that drive - a drive that resulted in another Casey Barth field goal - Shoop went to the naked backfield look again on first down. Without getting creative, the Tar Heel offense would have had a lot of difficulty moving the ball or putting points on the board.
After Miami closed the score to 23-17 in the third quarter, the Tar Heels needed to burn some time off the clock. Three of UNC’s first four possessions in the second half were three-and-outs, and it took more Burney heroics (with an assist by Melvin Williams) to run the score to 30-17.
Miami came back with a vengeance and pulled the game back to within a touchdown, 30-24, with 7:21 left in the game. That is when the rubber met the road for the UNC offense. Without a long drive and some type of score, they were vulnerable to the same type of ending that left them on the wrong end of a 30-27 score to Florida State.
The Tar Heel offense came through to seal the victory with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a 33-24 lead, leaving just 1:57 left on the clock. Ryan Houston’s hard-running was key to the success of that drive. Houston carried the ball seven of those eleven plays, gaining 36 yards.
“It was the best drive I ever saw in my life,” said Burney. “We had pretty much blown up -- Miami had scored twice on us. Everybody stepped up and they took some time off the clock – that was huge. That was probably the biggest part of the game, that drive right there.”
Burney was definitely being overly modest, but the offense came up big when it had to come up big - and the result was a big victory.