Honestly, I don’t think this score particularly surprises anybody. Miami was given a 90+ percent chance to win by ESPN FPI, a -16.5 line in Vegas, and was a ranked team going against a UNC team whose only Power 5 victories in two years have come against Pittsburgh. But the way it happened was a particular kind of awful: UNC was out-talented, which doesn’t happen too often, out-coached, which kind of does, outplayed, and, most damningly, besides the skill position players on offense for a bit, didn’t really seem to care once the margin was sufficiently big. Last year’s team was a dumpster fire that wasn’t salvageable at much of anything thanks to a historic rash of injuries, but they tried in every game but one regardless of the score. This year’s team has holes basically just at quarterback and linebacker with an injury-caused inconsistency at defensive tackle; it’s pretty close to being a quality team. And yet, for the 2nd time in 3 games, they didn’t give the effort required of them. I don’t know if it’s that they’re tired of losing, they know their coach is on the outs, or if it’s been caused by the extracurricular shenanigans, or a combination of everything, but it’s causing a product that’s starting to not deserve fan engagement. I’m trying, guys, but at some point, if they’re not going to try, why should I for them?
I published this film-based entreaty to Larry Fedora to not start Nathan Elliott against Miami the day before the game, and I stand by all of it except for this bit:
I don’t really care whether it’s Chazz Surratt or Cade Fortin who gets the call instead...
I now do care. Surratt has the physical tools Elliott lacks both in arm and in legs, and the option looks shown off in the first half were legitimately exciting. But as a passer, he still seems unable to move past his first read, unable to manage a pocket, and wasn’t on the same page as his receivers. I mean, 2 pick-sixes is just unconscionable. Elliott has the same problems he always has: the only time he can get the ball past the line of scrimmage is a ridiculous play by Anthony Ratliff-Williams. AND he fumbled three times. It’s time to play the freshmen. My vote goes to Jace Ruder because he re-adds the dimension that Surratt’s best moments showed off, but either would be fine.
Running backs: A-
Easily the standout group of the evening, the Carolina running backs were the only reason the game even looked close for the first quarter. Michael Carter showed why he was longlisted for the Doak Walker Award with 7 carries for 75 yards, which was somehow even more impressive in person as he showed off every trait you could want in a running back: breakaway speed against an extraordinarily athletic Miami defense, the agility to shake linebackers and safeties, and the power to go through weak tackle attempts. His allies in the backfield weren’t too shabby, either; Antonio Williams continued a strong season with 4 carries for 24 yards and Jordon Brown had a nice carry for 14 yards but didn’t do much with his other 5. The unit was also capable in the receiving game, which was good because the quarterbacks needed some sort of safety valve. Each of the three had a reception over 10 yards, though several of Carter’s and Brown’s were swallowed in the backfield.
Wide Receivers: B (Tight Ends incomplete)
This is kind of a placeholder grade, as the quarterbacking was so inept that we couldn’t see the receivers really do much. Anthony Ratliff-Williams had his requisite spectacular catch, this one perhaps topping his highlight reel as he reeled in a tipped ball while being knocked to the ground. The freshmen, Dyami Brown and Antoine Green, made some good plays on the ball that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Green bailed out Elliott in a collapsing pocket, coming back from 10 yards deep to make a catch at the line of scrimmage and then recovering back past his defender for a 2 yard gain. Dazz Newsome continues to look like a future star; his one positive reception was a beauty. Beau Corrales did some good things in his first game back. But the sample sizes are so small here that it’s hard to come away with anything but a general decent feeling about the future and commiseration for the fact that such an obviously talented group is being shortchanged by their signal-caller.
Offensive Line: D
I can only imagine this was the general thought running through both quarterback’s heads all night, as they got about zero pocket to speak of on what seemed like most passing plays. Nathan Elliott’s fumble that was scooped and scored came on a 4-man rush, Chazz Surratt threw a pick-six right into a blitz, you get the idea. The OL only passes because they created some holes in the running game, particularly in the early part of the second quarter where they carried out their assignments in UNC’s inverted veer/flexbone looks to perfection. Other than that, though, it was a long, long day for this unit.
Defensive Line: D+
It was a very weird day for this unit at first. One play they’d get gashed for a big gain, the next they’d knife through and make a great stop. As the game went on, though, the unit’s frustration seemed to settle in. The good plays became fewer and farther between, and the bad plays just piled up. Jason Strowbridge in particular had a stellar early game with 2 run stops and a bunch of disruption, but disappeared as the game went on. Malik Carney had a triumphant return from suspension, with 5 tackles, a sack, 2 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble that Jeremiah Clarke recovered. But there’s just as much bad to talk about, such as Miami’s first touchdown, where the defensive line got beaten so badly it looked like they hadn’t even gotten off the ball, or a 20+ yard run in the 3rd quarter where the Miami offensive line completely moved the defensive line counter-clockwise to make the biggest running lane I’ve ever seen. There was just too much of that to give this unit anything higher.
I honestly don’t remember a linebacker making a notable play this whole game. The unit got caught wrong-footed on a number of occasions, left the intermediate middle of the field far too open, and didn’t really clean up plays like they were supposed to. The usually reliable Cole Holcomb had just 3 tackles on the day. There’s not really much more to say.
UNC GOT AN INTERCEPTION IN WEEK 5!!!!
Bryson Richardson and Trey Morrison, the freshman nickel corners, are legit. Morrison had a sack early on N’Kosi Perry when the latter was scrambling; Morrison came out of nowhere to make a big tackle. Richardson showed great concentration and ball skills on his interception, which came on a tipped ball. The future of the NB position looks pretty bright.
Patrice Rene is a maddening player. He has rare tools, but he just hasn’t seemed to put it together through three seasons. He doesn’t play the ball nearly enough, though he had a nice PBU in this game, and seems to always get beaten at the catch point. He’s been on the wrong end of opponents’ connections too often through four games.
At the end of the day, though, Miami only threw 12 passes. They didn’t need to do much more. The unit did some good, some bad. So there you go.
Special Teams: B
Thomas Freeman missed a field goal :(
It was a 47-yarder, so it’s acceptable, but it hurts to see the only consistently good part of the team mess up. Hunter Lent still has a boomstick on his leg, and UNC’s return men look as good as ever.
Michael Carter was the best player on the field, and rushed 7. Freaking. Times. Four of those were in the first quarter.
A theme with the coaching staff this year has been pretending that mediocrity is a building block for success. After Cal, we were supposed to believe that two touchdown drives with the opposing defense in prevent mode could be a foundation for the rest of the season. After a tight win against mediocre-at-best Pittsburgh, we were told that the team had its bite back.
The truth is simple: There is nothing that can be done with the team as we’re seeing it in games that will make it competitive. The offensive playmakers are there. The line is talented. The defense has legitimate players, and at least looked competent against Cal. But when you don’t have a quarterback who threatens to stretch the field in any meaningful way, it all means nothing. For some reason, Larry Fedora has been unable to admit this to himself, and he’s dragging the team down for it. I recognize that there are problems with throwing a freshman quarterback into the starting lineup on a team that may have already lost morale. But the season is mathematically salvageable, and if he wants any hope of maintaining respectability, to say nothing of his job, he’ll do the right thing and roll the dice.