A touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky to Ryan Switzer put the Tar Heels up 20-3 going into halftime on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. UNC would hang on for the 20-13 victory thanks to a strip sack by Malik Carney, and some strong play from the Carolina defense.
Let’s take a look back at the highs and lows from Saturday’s game, along with some highlights. Thanks to UNC Athletics for the video.
- Bug Howard
With Miami seemingly making the decision to bottle-up Switzer and not allow him to get into open space, Howard stepped up for the Tar Heels in a big way. He had a career day in catching 10 passes for 156 yards. Howard was Trubisky’s go-to guy throughout the game. Though he didn’t factor in scoring any touchdowns, he was crucial in picking up numerous first downs for the Heels. He had one stretch, on the drive towards the end of the third quarter, where he picked up three first downs in a row on three consecutive passes. Howard is a big target, and he came up big on Saturday in the Tar Heels’ victory.
- Offensive Play-Calling
The Tar Heel coaches received a lot of criticism for the offensive play-calling in the previous game against Virginia Tech; however, against Miami, the coaching staff came out with an almost perfect game plan against a tough Hurricane defense. The team has usually relied heavily (sometimes to a fault) on the passing game in previous games, despite having a pretty good pair of running backs. However, on Saturday, the coaching staff mixed up the run and pass throughout the game. There were 46 passing plays and 43 running plays for UNC. The offense was able to establish a rhythm, extend drives, and keep their defense rested (a winning formula). The Heels also won the time of possession battle (32:59), which doesn’t happen often with an uptempo offense. The coaches also opened up the playbook by allowing Trubisky to use his legs in the read-option (13 runs for 47 yards), and they added the Wildcat formation as a wrinkle (which we have not seen before from this team, and I am sure Miami was not prepared for it either).
In my opinion, I was a big fan of Fedora going for it on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. I didn’t necessarily like the play-call, as I would have handed the ball off to Elijah Hood again, but I like having the guts to go for it in that situation.
- Kicking Game
Weiler has been a huge weapon for the Tar Heel offense this season. On Saturday, he nailed two field goals of 42 and 52 yards. Fedora obviously is very confident in Weiler, as he didn’t hesitate to send him out there to make the 52-yarder. It seems so long ago that UNC wouldn’t even attempt a field goal outside of 30 yards. Just ask a State fan today how important it is to have a good kicker.
A punter will never get much attention, unless they make a mistake in a game. However, Tom Sheldon has been silently consistent throughout the entire season. He has averaged 44.0 yards per punt, which is good enough for 3rd in the ACC. He was a huge find for Fedora, as the Heels have struggled the past few years to find a punter who could consistently get off a good punt. Sheldon had five punts for an average of 47.8 yards on Saturday, with one of those being a 63-yarder.
- Former Walk-Ons
Mack Hollins, Thomas Jackson, and Weiler are all former walk-ons who continue to contribute in big ways to this UNC team. I already talked about Weiler’s contribution above, but Hollins and Jackson had some huge catches in Saturday’s game. Hollins caught only one ball, but it went for 49 yards and put the Heels in scoring position (sadly, he broke his collarbone on the play). He is a great special teams player, and he is able to stretch defenses out by catching the deep ball. I am still not sure where Jackson came from, but for the last few weeks he has made some big catches late in games. Similar to Hollins, he only had one catch (six yards) but it came at a crucial point in the game. On 3rd and 2, his six-yard catch helped get a first down for the Tar Heels and extend a drive, while eating time off the clock late in the fourth quarter.
As the coaching staff has said, this group has continued to show improvement from game to game and this was certainly their most complete game of the season. Miami came in averaging over 40 points a game, and the Heels held them to only 13 points. Coming in to the game, the UNC defense gave up an average of 228 yards on the ground, but they limited Miami to only 139 rushing yards. The pass defense was just as good as the run defense. The defensive backs, MJ Stewart and Des Lawrence, had great games in not allowing Miami to really get the ball to their outside receivers. Brad Kaaya was only 16-31 on the day, with UNC getting a hand on five of those pass attempts. The defense never really allowed the Hurricanes to get into much of a rhythm all game long, as they forced five 3-and-outs in the game.
- Mental Fortitude
A lot of people probably wrote this team off after last week’s terrible loss at home to Virginia Tech. However, this team seems to respond well to adversity, as it is their second win of the season coming off of a loss. Credit the team for having a great week of practice and the coaching staff for having a great game plan. The Heels came out strong from the opening kickoff to set the tone and send a message that there were not going to be any hangover effects from the previous week’s loss. They showed their mettle by beating a ranked team on the road for the second time this season (this is the first time UNC has ever beaten two ranked teams on the road in a season, and they are now 2-0 in the state of Florida).
Too many penalties. UNC had 11 penalties for 70 yards on Saturday, with six of those being pre-snap penalties. I will cut the offensive line some slack because they played in a loud environment with two back-ups playing in the place of injured starters. However, these penalties are drive killers and need to be corrected. UNC averages 8.2 penalties per game (up from 6.1 last year), which is 113th (out of 128) in the NCAA. It didn’t come back to bite them in the Miami game, but as we saw in the first game of the season against Georgia, they can hurt you.
- These Guys