Let's face it; it was inevitable that Carolina's tendency to disappear for a quarter or a half was bound to cost them a game sooner or later. The second half of the schedule is considerably harder than the first, and although Miami wasn't the strongest team the Heels will face this season, when you give up fourteen points before the offense takes the field, it's pretty easy to lose a football game. UNC never makes anything easy though, do they?
Carolina's woes in the first half were numerous, but mainly centered on the secondary. The Hurricanes gained 267 yards through the air, 250 of them coming in the first half. While the Heels bottled up Lamar Miller – he would only have 29 yards rushing – Travis Benjamin and Tommy Streeter were wide open catching passes at will. Each would have a first half touchdown on defensive lapses, and were big reasons why the Heels did not have a single defensive stop in the first half. Nor, for that matter could they get much pressure on QB Jacory Harris. The man who threw five interceptions in his last two games against Carolina was never picked off and not sacked until the fourth quarter. The first half defense was lackluster, and the Heels were lucky to only be down 27-10 at the half.
UNC's lone first half touchdown came on the traditional all-Giovani Bernard rushing drive, were he had seven straight carries before Bryn Renner found Dwight Jones in the end zone. Unfortunately, when the defense showed up for the second half, they left the offense in the locker room for most of the third quarter. Carolina forced four straight punts and a fumble, but the offense provided no support, with one drive ending in a Bryn Renner fumble and a second in a failed fourth down attempt on Miami's nine. For most of the game Renner was off, displaying a hesitancy that led to four Miami sacks, and more than few mis-thrown passes. For a while, it seemed like the game would end with more UNC passes thrown out the back of the end zone than Carolina scores. Renner would end up outthrowing Harris, completing 29 of 38 passes for 288 yards, but the performance looked a lot less impressive than the numbers suggested.
Even so, a short-field touchdown in the fourth quarter cut the lead to 27-17 with a little more than eight minutes remaining. The UNC defense, now completely on their game, pushed Harris back ten yards before forcing a punt... which Charles Brown promptly fumbled, only to fall on the ball at the Heels' 22. Renner couldn't get a first down, first failing to rush it on third down and then giving Dwight Jones an uncatchable pass on fourth. UNC burned their remaining timeouts holding Maimi to a meaningless field goal, and Carolina found themselves on their own thirty down thirteen points with 2:19 remaining.
And, to be fair, UNC put together a competent two-minute drill. Playing to a half-empty stadium, the Heels threw too many passes over the middle and took a little too long getting to the line of scrimmage for my taste, but Renner found Reggie Wilkins for a 20-yard touchdown pass with roughly 50 seconds remaining. Suddenly UNC was only down six, needing only a successful onside kick to keep the game alive. And when Trace Jones fell on the ball at the Carolina 44, it looked for a moment like they'd actually pull it off.
Renner immediately completed two first down passes, to Jones and Bernard, respectively, to put the ball on the Miami 30. And here the tentative quarterback of most of the game returned with a vengeance. Renner was sacked for a seven yard loss on first down and forced to spike the ball on second. With only seven seconds remaining, the play called was a strange hook and ladder sort of thin, with a short pass over the middle to Bernard followed by two laterals. It never got anywhere near the end zone, and the game ended with Jheranie Boyd being tackled by the sideline at the 24.
All in all, it was very a frustrating performance. In a week where Georgia Tech stumbled and Clemson almost did likewise, it was the perfect opportunity for UNC to secure its place in the Coastal Division race. Instead, the game was over almost as soon as it began, as the Heels fell behind early, and couldn't muster a strong offensive response until the waning minutes. This was possibly the only game I'll see in person all year, and just once I'd have liked to see a full sixty minutes of good play from this team. It wasn't to be, but if the Heels would like to give it a try, next week at Clemson would be an excellent time to start.