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UNC Football: Position Grades vs Miami, Part 2 - Defense

Turnovers get the job done

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of the retrospectives on Saturday’s UNC-Miami game from the Miami side of things are no doubt repeating something along the lines of “you can’t lose the turnover battle 4-0 (or 3-0, if they’re being realistic) and expect to win the game.” Of course, there was a defense, wearing Tar Heel Blue, that was there for those turnovers, sometimes simply taking advantage of the situation and sometimes creating them, stopping Miami from scoring even when they were moving the ball pretty well. It wasn’t the prettiest defensive performance you’ll see, and penalties made it even uglier, but it was full of big plays in a game that was decided by which team could make more of them.

Defensive Line: C+

There was some good from the Carolina defensive line — Desmond Evans got into Tyler Van Dyke’s face a few times, though his pressures mostly seemed a beat late to really have much effect. His backup, redshirt freshman Beau Atkinson, impressed on limited snaps, collecting half a sack and collapsing the line in the run game with strength and attention to detail. Myles Murphy had a standout couple of plays in the run game, making a couple of athletic plays to stuff runs in the backfield and also recovering a muffed snap that got kicked around a ton before he pounced on it. Jahvaree Ritzie held his ground on the goal line and was rewarded with his knee forcing a fumble in a situation where Miami seemed almost guaranteed to score. But other than those few flashes, the defensive line performance wasn’t great. Miami’s big offensive line moved them with regularity to the tune of two running backs averaging 5.3 yards per carry on their combined 18 attempts, and they were lucky that the 3rd quarter offensive explosion forced Van Dyke to throw it a ton more in the second half. On passing plays, it was feast or famine. All three of UNC’s sacks were created by a stand-up player rather than a defensive lineman with his hand in the ground, but the defensive line created some pressure on Van Dyke, too. On the other occasions, though, Van Dyke was too comfortable, and especially because he’s the kind of quarterback who breaks down even if you can get him a little bit off his spot, the number of times he was allowed to just be a statue and hit his target was unacceptable. I don’t expect pressure on every snap, but even some condensed pockets or forced movement would’ve made a ton of difference here.

Linebackers: A-

To nobody’s surprise, the stand-up player mentioned above was Kaimon Rucker, who finished the game with 2.5 sacks and several more pressures, absolutely terrorizing both of Miami’s highly-touted tackles in the passing game. The Butcher wasn’t just a pass rusher, though, as he also was second on the team in total tackles with 6. His off-ball partner in crime, Cedric Gray, was equally outstanding, leading the team with 10 tackles and getting in on a bunch of big plays, including the fumble recovery in the end zone (just take a knee!). His best play of the night, though, was his interception, where he dropped back into zone coverage, read Van Dyke’s eyes, and snagged the pass at the height of his jump. It was the kind of interception that makes a Madden player throw their controller away in disgust. Power Echols’ most memorable play of the night might have been crushing Van Dyke on a blitz while the quarterback uncorked a perfect deep ball for a touchdown, but he also played able support to the two, especially in the run game once backs had gotten to the second level. And Amari Gainer made a lot of noise in limited snaps, coming up with four tackles near the line of scrimmage or at the sideline, where he flashed impressive range.

Secondary: B-

For the first time in quite a while, Alijah Huzzie actually looked human. The star nickel corner had the unenviable job of covering Miami’s most-targeted receiver, Xavier Restrepo, for most of the game, and while Restrepo was held to under 10 yards a reception for just the second time this season, he also caught two touchdowns, one of them against Huzzie on a simple slant and the other on a sweet switch-release concept from a bunch formation that left him wide open due to a coverage bust on UNC’s part. Huzzie also got burned for another Miami touchdown to Jacolby George after biting either because he thought Van Dyke was getting sacked or on a false step. George’s 6 catches for 125 yards and a score came against the entirety of the UNC secondary and they were probably lucky he wasn’t targeted more often in favor of Restrepo, who had 11 catches on 17 targets. On the bright side, Marcus Allen, Huzzie, and Tayon Holloway all got their hands on passes from Van Dyke and would have had at least a couple more breakups if not for penalties nullifying them, and Gio Biggers had what must have been a cathartic, if ultimately academic, interception to end the game after going out of the game with injury earlier. Ending it with a pronounced kneel, given Miami’s previous week, gets him bonus points.