It’s a sign of how beaten down the UNC fanbase was that two narrow wins have completely changed the mood of UNC Football fans going into the week. Two fourth quarter comebacks, but under completely different circumstances, and your North Carolina Tar Heels are one of only two teams in the country that have two Power Five wins. After two seasons of trying to find positives in loss after loss, it’s nice to be in the position to have to temper the excitement a little.
So with that said, who shined, who stunk, and who else played a role in the events of Carolina’s 28-25 win over Miami Saturday?
Sam Howell: Yes, he led this off last week as well, but how can you call him anything else BUT a winner? The true freshman started hot, leading to scores on the first three drives including this perfectly thrown ball to a wide open Dyami Brown.
The play calling then seemed to stifle the freshman again, and Miami’s defense settled in to keep Carolina off the scoreboard for a while. The Heels held on but eventually surrendered the lead, and on their last-chance drive, it appeared that the magic was done. Two straight sacks led to a 4th and 17, and Mack Brown almost decided to punt. A review to see if Howell fumbled gave Phil Longo time to convince Brown to go for it, leading to this:
Here’s what 4th and 17 looked like from field level near the Miami bench pic.twitter.com/7L0I3HrmAV— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) September 8, 2019
Howell wasn’t done, though, as simply converting didn’t get them the win. They had to punch the ball in, and it only took them five more plays before another beautifully thrown pass with an amazing catch by Dazz Newsome:
The go-ahead TD for UNC from ground level pic.twitter.com/XX84llewon— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) September 8, 2019
So, two weeks in a row, Carolina has asked their freshman quarterback to lead them down the field while trailing in the fourth quarter to win the game. This week they asked him to do it after having the lead and giving it up, and both times his rose to the challenge. The kid is going to make some mistakes at some point this season, but you cannot ask for any better start to his college career.
Javonte Williams: Miami came into the game with a stout defensive front, and a game plan to bottle up the trio of Carolina running backs who racked up 200+ yards last week. They mostly succeeded, as Michael Carter only gained 30 yards and Antonio Williams only got two carries for five yards. Javonte, however, was able to succeed and keep drives alive. His 10 carries for 77 yards helped Carolina continue to commit to the run game and force Miami to account for it, even on the last drive. The real gem, though, came on his touchdown run where it looked like he was down in the pile and instead popped right back up and trotted into the end zone. Williams and the other running backs are a huge key as to why Howell is able to be so comfortable at the start of his career.
UNC Fans: It was a sold out night game at Kenan Stadium, and in recent years fans had gotten used to falling flat on such a big stage. Listen to those on-field sounds again and how alive Kenan was at the end of that game. The effort fans put into that game was rewarded by the players, who made it a point to celebrate with the students after the game was over. In short, Mack asked for the trust of the fans and the team rewarded them with an amazing first quarter and a thrilling come from behind win. All of a sudden the remaining home slate becomes a lot more attractive, and there’s a chance this won’t be the last night game in Kenan this year.
Ben Kiernan: One way to make sure you don’t give up bad punt returns is too...have bad punts, I guess? Kiernan had a rough night to put it mildly. The freshman had four punts for an average of 27.5 yards. Lest you think that’s just one bad punt bringing the average down, his longest punt is credited as being only 35 yards. His short kicks helped wear out the Carolina defense as they consistently had to play with a shorter field. The punt unit as a whole has almost cost Carolina both games, and it’s something that has to get cleaned up.
Clock Management: This is the sort of thing you expect with a freshman quarterback leading a squad under a new offensive coordinator, but for the second week in a row Carolina had multiple Delay of Game instances. These instances either resulted in a timeout or a penalty. That mismanagement made it to where Carolina had one timeout on that last drive, and had taken it before that 4th and 17. Then coming out of that timeout, Brown was going to send the punt unit in with only 2:55 left. That meant that Miami potentially just needed one first down to kill the rest of the clock, and even if Carolina held Howell would have had very little time to try and get a touchdown. Thank goodness Phil Longo convinced Brown to go for it, and thank goodness Miami’s coverage somehow left Toe Groves open despite not sending the house.
Injuries: Carolina was relatively lucky last week against the Gamecocks, but they were not so fortunate this week. Senior corner Patrice Rene left the game, and it was announced today he had a torn ACL, meaning he’s done for the year. Starting center Nick Polino went out of the game, never came back, and was seen later in a walking boot. Right now it’s not known when he’ll be back. Cam’Ron Kelly should see more time with Rene gone, but the loss of that experience in the backfield is huge, and losing snaps from a center like Polino hurts one of the strengths of the team, the offensive line. Antoine Green also left the game, but at least Carolina has a deep core of receivers.
The aforementioned Wide Receivers did serious work on Saturday. No one had over 100 yards, but Howell was able to complete a pass to five different receivers. Three of them (Dyami Brown, Rontavius “Toe” Groves, and Dazz Newsome) all had a huge play in the game with either a score or conversion. Brown even got into the passing act on a reverse and was able to go to Howell as a secondary option...Tomon Fox didn’t lead the team in tackles but Miami’s Jarren Williams will probably be seeing Fox in his nightmares, as Fox sacked the freshman three times...Jason Strowbridge is the guy you should thank for making it to where Carolina was able to take the lead on that TD throw. He blocked the extra point, which caused Miami to try and fail at the two point conversion on their go-ahead score, which meant the TD drive was for the lead instead of the tie.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments!