A win’s a win, but goodness gracious! Carolina pulled out a heart-stopping 45-42 win over Miami when Cedric Gray snatched a tipped Miami pass to kill their red zone drive, saving the day and putting the Tar Heels over .500 once again.
Inconsistency was the theme of the day (and this season) as the offense was in the groove in the first half, and off the rails in the second. Fortunately, three interceptions (intertwined with four pass interference penalties) made the difference in a crucial Coastal Division win.
Here are three things learned as the Heels returned to winning ways:
Offense continues to sing, strut, spurt, and stall
The offense was humming along in the first half, putting up 31 points with a solid running game (Ty Chandler had two rushing touchdowns in the first half - including a 51-yard score on the opening drive). Miami wasn’t able to stop the run.
With the game tight in the fourth quarter, Carolina had two three-and-out possessions with head-scratching play calling. UNC seemed more concerned with Miami’s timeouts than getting a first down.
Also, if Josh Downs wasn’t open, Sam Howell was tucking the football and running. On the one hand, he ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns. On the other hand, the offense is stagnating to an alarming level.
Josh Downs had 11 catches. The rest of the team had six. This imbalance will spell doom if Downs has a, well... down night or if Carolina goes up against a corner with the skills to keep the ball out of the dynamo’s hands.
Justin Olson seemed to get more snaps over Emery Simmons and Antoine Green. This experiment should be stopped immediately.
Penalties continue to haunt Carolina
It wasn’t quite Florida State bad, but it was still bad. Carolina was flagged 10 times for 101 yards. In the first half, UNC penalties were the only real way Miami got any first downs.
Miami’s best offense has been Howell throwing a pick-6 and UNC’s defense committing the dumbest penalties imaginable. Other than that, their running backs have been solid running 10 yards sideways for no gain.— Michael McKay (@LABMcKay) October 16, 2021
The Heels were called for pass interference four times (at least two of those calls were awful, including the Gemmel pass defense in the end zone) which amounts to 60 yards of offense. Miami didn’t need that help!
Going into the teeth of the schedule with tough games at Notre Dame and Pitt (sandwiched around a tough “out-of-conference” home date against Wake Forest) will be painful if Carolina continues to insist on committing self harm. The offense may need to play near-perfect, turnover free football to give this defense a puncher’s chance. The penalties will kill any remote chance at winning these games.
Consistent Pressure on the Quarterback
Tyler Van Dyke is going to be a problem in the ACC in the next three seasons. The freshman quarterback didn’t really get going until the second half, but once he and the Hurricanes were on track, he was able to stand like a statue and deliver passes all over the field, getting first down after first down.
Even though he isn’t a running quarterback in the mold of Jordan Travis, Van Dyke was able to run ten yards at a time to pick up first downs. Also, UNC would get into the backfield, but couldn’t bring him down for big losses, with Myles Murphy registering a 1-yard sack in the fourth quarter.
The only big sack that UNC got on him was the 11-yard sack by Gio Biggers... dialed from a corner blitz. That’s clutch play-calling, but it shouldn’t take gimmicks to get to the quarterback.
Kenny Pickett at Pitt comes to mind as a quarterback that UNC must get their paws on to disrupt offense. We already know that UNC can’t stop running quarterbacks. We don’t want to add pocket passers to the list.