UNC Rides Much-Maligned Defense to a 20-13 Road Win Over No. 16 Miami

Following each of UNC’s thrilling comebacks against Pitt and Florida State, head coach Larry Fedora gave the same message.

One of these days, the tables would turn and the struggling defense would be forced to bail out the high-powered offense.

That time came on Saturday, when Malik Carney’s strip sack in the final moments capped an impressive defensive effort–and sealed the Tar Heels’ 20-13 road win over No. 16 Miami.

Coming off the worst offensive performance of the Fedora era, the Tar Heels sprinted out to a 17-point halftime lead behind a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Mitch Trubisky and a pair of field goals from Nick Weiler.


TJ Logan (left) and Mitch Trubisky (right) carried the UNC rushing attack against Miami, with Elijah Hood struggling in his first game back from a concussion. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

TJ Logan (left) and Mitch Trubisky (right) carried the UNC rushing attack against Miami, with Elijah Hood struggling in his first game back from a concussion. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

UNC became the first team to score on Miami’s much-improved defense in the first quarter all season long, and appeared to have found its groove again. That progress then slowed to a halt after halftime, as the Tar Heels were held scoreless over the final two quarters.

Instead, the game was won by the defense for a change—a group that not only made the game-sealing play, but one that also stopped the Hurricanes on third down 11 times and held them to just 3.9 yards per rushing attempt on 36 tries.

“It looked like, to me, they controlled the line of scrimmage pretty well,” Fedora said of his defense. “I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage the entire game.

“There were only a couple times it looked like we misfit a gap and a guy got through,” he continued. “But very seldom, did they get to the linebacker level.”

As fate would have it, the skies opened up with heavy rain early in the fourth quarter—creating conditions similar to those the Tar Heels played in during their loss to Virginia Tech.

Not long after, Miami tailback Joseph Yearby took a handoff from quarterback Brad Kaaya and scampered 42 yards down the right sideline. UNC was able to force him out of bounds,however, and then make a critical red zone stop.

A 22-yard field goal put the Hurricanes within one score, but Carney’s heroic effort ended their next drive—and with it, their chances of tying the game.

Defensive tackle Jeremiah Clarke scooped the ball off the ground, while tailback Elijah Hood followed up three plays later with a bulldozing 13-yard run on 3rd-and-12 that put the final nail in Miami’s coffin.

“You get Malik Carney who comes in during a two-minute situation—and it’s the first time our defense has been on the field in a two-minute situation—and they had the opportunity to win it, and they do that,” Fedora said.

The coach then smiled a bit. “And that run by Hood there at the end was just unbelievable.”

In a battle between two of the ACC’s top quarterbacks, Trubisky completed 33 of his 46 throws–finishing a yard shy of 300 in addition to the two early scores. He also channeled his inner Marquise Williams by carrying the ball 13 times for 47 yards.

MJ Stewart and the rest of the Tar Heel secondary held Miami to just 221 yards through the air. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

MJ Stewart and the rest of the Tar Heel secondary held Miami to just 221 yards through the air. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heel secondary, meanwhile, played perhaps its best game of the year as it held Kaaya to completions on just 16 of his 31 passes for only 221 yards.

“They hit us on some runs, and we had some negative yardage plays,” Fedora said. “But I thought Mitch had a real good command of where he was taking the ball. He threw the ball really well today and the receivers did a nice job.”

It was the eighth straight road win for UNC, which moves to 5-2 while also moving back into a tie for first atop the ACC Coastal Division following Virginia Tech’s upset loss to Syracuse.

There’s still plenty of work to do, as the Hokies still own the tiebreaker over the Tar Heels.

If the UNC defense continues to build off this effort, though, Fedora and his bunch have a good shot at taking care of their end of the bargain.

“We’ve got all of our goals still sitting in front of us,” Fedora said. “That’s a big thing, to be at this point of the season and to have that. We’ve got another divisional opponent coming up, so that’ll be one we have to get ready for—but I’m proud of where this team is.

“We talked about it before the game,” he added. “They’ve become a team.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will stay on the road next week for a game in Charlottesville against Virginia, which is 2-4 in 2016 after a 45-31 loss to Pitt on Saturday.

Game Notes:

  • A pair of UNC senior wide receivers set career milestones against Miami–as Bug Howard had a career-high 10 catches for 156 yards and Ryan Switzer’s nine receptions moved him past Quinshad Davis as the school’s all-time leader in catches with 206.
  • This is the first time UNC has ever beaten two ranked teams on the road in one season.
  • The Tar Heels’ three ACC wins in 2016 are by a combined 10 points.
  • TJ Logan led UNC in rushing with 84 yards on 15 attempts. Elijah Hood struggled to find space in his first game back from a concussion, and was held to just 31 yards on 13 carries.




UNC Football Faces Stiff Challenge Against Revamped Miami

Among the many memorable moments from UNC’s 2015 season was a 59-21 blowout over Miami that served as the final game at Kenan Stadium for seniors such as Marquise Williams and Landon Turner.

The visitors fired head coach Al Golden after the year and brought in former Georgia boss Mark Richt—who now has Miami ranked No. 16 and ready to exact revenge on the Tar Heels this Saturday in South Florida.

The Hurricanes enter this game at 4-1 after suffering their first loss of the season last week against Florida State when their potential game-tying extra point was blocked with under two minutes to play. Each of Miami’s four wins, though, have come by at least 14 points or more–including a 35-point victory in Boone over Appalachian State.

After a week to reflect on the loss to Virginia Tech, UNC knows it's in a must-win situation against Miami this week. (Smith Cameron Photography)

After a week to reflect on the loss to Virginia Tech, UNC knows it’s in a must-win situation against Miami this week. (Smith Cameron Photography)

This group of Hurricanes might not resemble the dominant Miami teams of the early 90’s and 2000’s, but UNC head coach Larry Fedora definitely won’t be expecting a repeat performance of last year’s demolition.

“I think Mark’s doing a great job with them,” Fedora said Monday. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I think they’re playing energized, they’re playing hard and they’re playing well.

“Other than the other night [against Florida State], they’ve been pretty dominant.”

In nearly 200 games as the head coach at Georgia, Richt managed to win a whopping 74 percent of them—despite competing in the ruthless SEC.

He brought with him to Miami—his alma mater–a reputation as a great recruiter and offensive mind. Because of that, many people envisioned a breakout year for star quarterback Brad Kaaya being the key to a successful season.

While Kaaya has been solid, the team’s defense—led by a trio of true freshmen at linebacker—currently ranks seventh in the country in total yards allowed. Virginia Tech, which manhandled the Tar Heels last week, is one of only two teams in the ACC (NC State being the other) to have allowed less yards than Miami this season.

UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the rest of the Tar Heels’ high-octane offense will have to be at their best in order to avoid another letdown.

“They’re a really tough defense that’s been putting up some good numbers,” Trubisky said. “Definitely one of the best defenses in the ACC.

“They’ve got some young guys—especially at linebacker—flying around and making plays,” he continued. “They’ve got some ballers, so they’re gonna be ready to go.”

Earlier this week, UNC received good news when word got out that junior tailback Elijah Hood will play against Miami after missing last week’s game due to a concussion. The Tar Heels will need Hood’s ability to run in between the tackles in order to expand their options offensively—especially since they’ll need every point they can get against that stingy defense.

Miami’s offense—like each of the other opponents UNC has faced this season–will certainly test the team’s run defense for as long as they can find success.

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has risen up NFL Draft boards thanks to his size and arm talent. (Smith Cameron Photography)

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has risen up NFL Draft boards thanks to his size and arm talent. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

However, the added bonus of having a 6-foot-4 quarterback in Kaaya that’s near the top of NFL Draft boards means Miami could easily force the Tar Heels into trying to outscore them.

“He can spin it,” Fedora said of Kaaya, using one of his favorite phrases to describe throwing ability. “He’s a quality quarterback, there’s no doubt.

“I don’t know where he’s projected [in the NFL Draft], but he’s gonna go high,” the coach continued. “One thing I can say is Florida State got after him the other night, but he stood in there and played really well.”

This game will also mark UNC’s third this season in a tough atmosphere against a school with a long and storied football history. First Georgia in the Georgia Dome, then Florida State in Tallahassee and now this.

With the body of work Richt has put together in his first five games at Miami, it’s clear this game will look plenty different for his team than last year’s did.

For the Tar Heels, though, it’s more about making sure this game looks plenty different than last week’s.

“Again, another ranked opponent on the road in a hostile environment,” Fedora said. “Our guys have done that, so they know what to expect.

“I expect our guys to bounce back,” he continued, referencing the loss to Virginia Tech. “I think they understand the task at hand.”


Trading Places: UNC and Miami Find Roles Reversed in 2015

When the UNC football team takes the field at Kenan Stadium this Saturday against the Miami Hurricanes it will be a matchup of two teams who have each broken tradition in a big way recently.

An afterthought on the college football landscape for many years, the Tar Heels are 8-1 in 2015, and have won eight games in a row—including an undefeated 5-0 record against conference opponents.

At 17th in this week’s AP Top 25, and 23rd in the College Football Playoff rankings, this UNC team is heading toward uncharted waters.

Just don’t tell that to senior quarterback Marquise Williams.

“We’re still irrelevant,” Williams said after posting a school-record 524 yards of total offense last week against Duke. “We like that. We like being irrelevant. It keeps a chip on our shoulder, and we like to play hard.

Marquise Williams

Marquise Williams and the Tar Heels are just fine flying under the radar. (Photo: Smith Cameron Productions)

“If we continue to just win football games, eventually we’ll be known.”

Miami comes to Chapel Hill at 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. But the Hurricanes are no longer the perennial national championship contenders they once were.

Former head coach Al Golden was sent packing just under three weeks ago after a 58-0 loss to Clemson—the worst in the school’s history.

However, interim head coach Larry Scott has led the Canes to back-to-back victories over Duke and Virginia since taking over—leading UNC head coach Larry Fedora to hand out some praise at his weekly press conference.

“They definitely have a lot of talent, and they’re playing well,” Fedora said. “I think Larry [Scott]’s doing a good job with them. They’re gaining confidence as they go. I think they have the quarterback back I believe, and so they’re probably feeling pretty good right now.”

Brad Kaaya, Miami’s talented, 6-foot-4 sophomore quarterback, missed the Duke game with an injury. However, he’s thrown for over 2,000 passing yards and put together a touchdown to interception ratio of 12 to three–as he’s been unquestionably the most consistent offensive player for Miami this year.

Defensively, though, this is a group ranked 75th in the nation, giving up 410 yards per game. But looking at the film, Williams says they still have athletes good enough to run with anybody–including the explosive Tar Heels.

“Their defense has got a lot of life,” Williams said. “Big up front, very fast. This is a fast Miami team. You know those Florida boys have always been fast. And they come out and compete.”

The Charlotte native continued by recalling the stranglehold the brash, energetic Miami teams of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s had over young football fans.

“Growing up I was a Hurricane myself,” he said. “It’s gonna be fun to have the opportunity to play against those guys.”

Anyone watching this year has noticed that UNC is the new team on the block making all kinds of noise with its athletic exploits.

Brad Kaaya will present the Tar Heel defense with a stiff challenge. (Getty Images)

Brad Kaaya will present the Tar Heel defense with a stiff challenge. (Getty Images)

As the seniors head into this, their final home game, fifth-year offensive guard Landon Turner reflected on what it’ll mean to play underneath the Kenan Pines one final time–knowing the ACC Coastal Division can be won on Saturday if the Tar Heels beat Miami and Duke beats Pittsburgh.

“I feel comfortable enough with my maturity that I’ll be able to handle that,” Turner said about the emotions surrounding this weekend. “If anything it’ll probably give me a little more motivation, or give me an extra edge—just because I do know after this it’s my last game here.

“It’s been five years, and it’s been a great ride,” he added. “So I wanna go out and leave a legacy.”

Whether they’re ready or not, the Tar Heels are relevant again on the national scene.

The Hurricanes are fighting to get back to that point, and can speed things up by winning out and stealing the Coastal for themselves.

So if Turner and company want to be remembered as the class that re-wrote the narrative on Carolina football, they can start by beating Miami on Saturday.

Broadcast Information:

The game will be carried live on WCHL’s airwaves, and will begin at 3:30 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • UNC is looking to go 7-0 at Kenan Stadium for the first time since 1980, which was also the last time the Tar Heels won the ACC Championship.
  • Miami has won the last two meetings between the schools–winning 27-23 in 2013 and 47-20 last season.
  • Sophomore cornerback MJ Stewart, who was suspended against Wake Forest and Virginia, leads the ACC in passes defended (13) for the UNC pass defense, which ranks third in the nation in yards allowed (158 per game).

Tar Heels Licking Wounds Heading Into Bye Week

It was tricks not treats for the Tar Heels over Halloween weekend.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heel football team heads into a bye week with a bitter taste in the mouth following a 47-20 beating at Miami Saturday. UNC head coach Larry Fedora’s squad was thoroughly dominated in all three phases of the game.

Coach Fedora says UNC, now owning a 4-5 overall record and 2-3 mark in the ACC, didn’t do much right in Sun Life Stadium Saturday.

Tough day at the office for the Tar Heels (Miami Athletics)

Tough day at the office for the Tar Heels (Miami Athletics)

“They did a great job. They started a lot faster than we did. They pretty much won every phase of the game. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. They ran the ball on us, we couldn’t move the ball on them, and special teams were atrocious,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heel offense had a season-low six yards rushing and quarterback Marquise Williams was continually battered in the backfield.

Falling behind big early, the Tar Heels were forced to abandon their multi-faceted offensive playbook and become one-dimensional – allowing the Hurricanes to concentrate all their efforts on the passing game.

Coach Fedora says it was a recipe for disaster.

“We gave up six sacks. We didn’t run the ball very good at all and got into a position that we were down so far that we had to throw it every down. That’s not what we’re built for,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heel defense earned a dubious distinction in the process. Star Miami running back Duke Johnson’s 90-yard scoring run was the longest rushing play by a UNC opponent in school history.

To add insult to injury, the normally reliable special teams play was nowhere to be found as well. There were two errant snaps on what should have been routine punts.

Coach Fedora says he’ll use the bye week to shore up the cracks in the special teams armor.

Marquise Williams airs one out (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams airs one out (UNC Athletics)

“We’ll go back and evaluate what we’re doing with those kids and make sure that we get it corrected. That’s not very characteristic of the way we play on the special teams. I’m not sure what the reason was,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heels have three games remaining on their schedule – Homecoming against Pittsburgh, a Thursday night contest at Coastal-leading Duke and a battle with N.C. State, who got off the ACC schneid last weekend, to wrap up the regular season.

UNC will need to win at least two of them to earn bowl eligibility. Coach Fedora says the team will get healthy in the bye week and then prepare to close the 2014 campaign strong.

“We need all the help and days we can get to get some extra work in. We’ll try to get some guys healthy, get them freshened up and make a run these last three games,” Coach Fedora says.


Tar Heels Trounced By Canes 47-20

The North Carolina football team fell at Miami 47-20 in a critical ACC Coastal Division matchup Saturday afternoon and dropped to 4-5 on the season and 2-3 in the conference.

With the win, the Hurricanes improved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in ACC action.

Duke Johnson went over the 3,000-yard mark for his career and scored three times despite getting most of the second half off. Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya threw three touchdown passes to help guide his team by UNC.

Miami's Duke Johnson sprints ahead (Miami Athetics)

Miami’s Duke Johnson sprints ahead (Miami Athetics)

Johnson had a 90-yard touchdown run that tied the Miami record for longest rush from scrimmage, and he finished with 177 yards on 19 carries for the Hurricanes. His one-yard scoring run opened the scoring and later, he turned a middle screen into a 37-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

Kaaya completed 11 of 17 passes for 189 yards, and now has 20 touchdown passes in his freshman season. Clive Walford had two touchdown grabs, the first Miami tight end to do so since Greg Olsen in 2005.

Quarterback Marquise Williams had a pair of touchdown runs and Cayson Collins returned a fumble 39 yards for a score for UNC, but the Tar Heels struggled mightily to gain any traction against a motivated Hurricane bunch.

With Miami up 30-6 at halftime and leading 322-57 in total yards, it was practically over.

 Johnson has had a rushing touchdown in each of his last eight games, the first Miami back to do that since Willis McGahee in 2002. And in his last five games, he’s racked up 843 yards on 97 carries.

UNC's Williams drops back (Miami Athletics)

UNC’s Williams drops back (Miami Athletics)

It was the second straight week that Miami led by 24 at halftime. The Hurricanes have had that big a lead at intermission only once in their first 83 ACC games, before doing it last week against Virginia Tech and again Saturday. They’re in form.

 Next up for the Tar Heels after a bye week comes a home game contest against Pittsburgh Nov. 15.



Underdog Tar Heels Strive To Survive Hurricanes

The North Carolina football team, 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in ACC play, will take on the 5-3 Miami Hurricanes, also 2-2 in conference, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Sun Life Stadium.

***Listen to the story***

Both teams harbor realistic hopes of an ACC Coastal division crown, but neither can afford a loss this weekend.

Miami is playing formidable football these days. Coming off two dominating wins over Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes currently sit as 17-point favorites in the betting lines.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora (Elliott Rubin)

UNC head coach Larry Fedora (Elliott Rubin)

But junior offensive guard Landon Turner says the Tar Heels are ready for the challenge. The Notre Dame game changed the team’s mindset.

“I think it [ND game] helped a lot. You play a high-caliber team like that and play very well. I think that spoke volumes and boosted our confidence up for the weeks to come. It was tough to lose. The loss hurt, but it was still healthy for us. We still came out of that game winning,” Turner says.

Miami’s star running back Duke Johnson has tallied a touchdown in seven straight games and has amassed 35 first downs in the past five outings. He’ll be a handful for the Tar Heel defense.

Duke Johnson (Miami Herald)

Duke Johnson (Miami Herald)

UNC head coach Larry Fedora says Johnson’s legs take pressure off the rest of the Hurricane offense.

“They’re getting better in the offensive line. They’ve got Duke Johnson and have the big kid behind him that comes in and does a great job. They’ve always had the guys that can fly on the outside. I think they’ve done a good job with the quarterback and bringing him along. It helps when you have an offensive line and Duke Johnson that can run the football like that to take some of the pressure off him so he doesn’t have to throw it all the time,” Coach Fedora says.

Miami’s freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has matured greatly in the past few games, playing with a newfound sense of comfort and confidence. Earlier in the year, the young signal caller was prone to coughing up the football, but he’s cleaned up his act.

“You watch his film as he goes, and he’s more poised every week. I watched the TV copy of the Virginia Tech game. He handled every aspect of it just like a junior or senior. He wasn’t rattled by the noise or hype. He did a nice job of managing the team,” Coach Fedora says.

The Hurricane defense has been up and down in 2014, but Coach Fedora says their experience has allowed them to be a much more worrisome unit than in years past.

“Defensively, a lot of these guys were playing three years ago. I think they have six or seven seniors starting on the defense. I think out of the eleven guys, there’s one sophomore on the defense. You have some age and experience. They’ve been through the battles together. They’re playing well on defense,” Coach Fedora says.

As for the Tar Heels, UNC junior quarterback Marquise Williams says the offense must get off to a faster start this weekend.

“As an offense, we’ve got to start out much faster. This past Saturday, we started off too slow. We’re just going to keep playing our style of football – smart, fast and physical,” Williams says.

Williams in action (Elliott Rubin)

Williams in action (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora says the keys to UNC’s success on Saturday will rest in special teams play and stopping the run.

“On special teams, we’re going to have to create another game-changing play. That’s going to have to happen. On defense, we’ve got to play with a lot of energy from the very beginning. We’ve got to stop the run. We’ve got to put the game on the freshman quarterback’s back,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Miami 9-8, but fell to the Hurricanes by a 27-23 margin in dramatic fashion a season ago. The two schools have battled to a 5-5 draw in their 10 games as ACC members since 2004.


Moving Forward: A Player’s Perspective

CHAPEL HILL– Shockingly, the Tar Heel football team is now sitting at 1-5 on the season. But it was the latest defeat at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes on Zero Dark Thursday that may have hit the Carolina players the hardest.

UNC had a 23-13 lead after all in the fourth quarter only to see it disappear in a 27-23 loss to a team now ranked No. 6 nationally in the polls.

Senior quarterback Bryn Renner says the offense settled for field goals rather than touchdowns far too often in the red zone.

“We had a lot of chances in there, and obviously we came up with a ton of field goals. We have to capitalize and get touchdowns in a game like this against a top ten opponent,” Renner says.

Renner couldn’t say enough about the exhilarating 199-yard performance from tight end Eric Ebron. He says Ebron may be the best tight end in the country.

“He’s essential. He’s one of the best tight ends in the country, if not the best. He’s critical to our success passing the ball. And he’s a heck of a player,” Renner says.

Speaking of Ebron, how did he continually find himself open against the top-notch Miami defense? He says it all starts with belief.

“Just doing my job and running my routes. You know, just believing in the concepts, believing in the coaches, believing in everything,” Ebron says.

Despite the setback, Ebron says he believes the Tar Heels displayed to the nation that this Carolina team is much better than their unfortunate record suggests. In fact, Ebron says some of the younger guys really grew up on Zero Dark Thursday.

“We showed the world that our record doesn’t speak for the way that we can play. We are young, and we are developing as a team and a unit. I feel like this game really helped mature some of our younger players,” Ebron says.

Going forward, senior defensive lineman Kareem Martin says the Tar Heels have two options: feel sorry for themselves or fight for wins.

“It’s always tough after a loss. But at the end of the day, next Saturday we’re going to be playing another football team. Whether we’re down or not, they’re going to come into Chapel Hill and we’re going to play them,” Martin says. “We can feel sorry for ourselves and get another loss against Boston College or take this loss, learn from it, and get ready for Boston College.”

Saturday’s game against Boston College will kick off at 3:30 p.m. in Chapel Hill.


Coach Fedora Gives Thursday Night Reflections

CHAPEL HILL– The Tar Heel football team played with passion and fought hard in front of a spirited crowd on hand in Kenan Stadium for Zero Dark Thursday. But it wasn’t enough.

Falling to the Miami Hurricanes 27-23 was a tough pill to swallow for the coaches, players and fans.

“There’s nothing that I’m going to say that’s going to make them feel any better. They’re hurting, our fans are hurting, and everybody’s hurting. Those are hard to swallow. Our guys did everything we asked them to do as far as believing in each other and playing hard to the last second. I’m hurting for them. I really am,” Coach Fedora says.

That was Head Coach Larry Fedora following the game. One of the more questionable plays of the contest came in the second half when Carolina was called for a delay of game on offense on third down and inches to go. Coach Fedora says he is at a loss for what happened there.

“We substituted. They felt like they needed to hold up the ball. You’re supposed to give the team three seconds to be able to substitute, which we felt like we gave them more than three seconds. That was his [referee’s] explanation to me,” Coach Fedora says.

Despite the crushing defeat and final touchdown drive given up to the Miami attack, Coach Fedora says the defense played a strong game overall, snagging four interceptions of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris over the course of the contest.

“It put us in position to win the football game. Any time you create four turnovers you got a chance. Our defense made a lot of plays. I hate to look at it as those two drives in the fourth quarter,” Coach Fedora says.

But make no mistake; Coach Fedora says the Tar Heels will not abandon ship on the season. He hopes to still make something of the season despite the 1-5 record.

“We’re just going to go back to work. We’re going to do what we do. Our kids are going to come back and continue to work hard. And the coaches are going to continue to coach them hard. And we’re going to hopefully build off it and get better,” Coach Fedora says.


Almost Magic: Tar Heels Lose Miami Tussle

CHAPEL HILL—The pregame festivities inside Kenan Stadium for Zero dark Thursday certainly set the stage for a prime-time ACC showdown between the struggling 1-4 North Carolina Tar Heels and the undefeated Miami Hurricanes.

The rain falling at the kickoff didn’t seem to put any damper on the mood of the crowd in attendance. There were just a few empty seats in the corners of the stadium.

The Tar Heels received the kickoff and failed to get off to a quick start. A false start penalty didn’t help the cause. But a three and out it was. Tommy Hibbard booted the ball over to the Hurricanes.

Dominique Green provided the first shot of real adrenaline to the contest when he snagged an athletic interception of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris on third down. The Tar Heels were now back in business, taking over possession at their own thirty-eight yard line.

***Listen to the call***


Tailback T.J. Logan gashed the Miami defense up the middle and tight end Eric Ebron made a nice catch to move the Tar Heels down into Miami territory, but quarterback Marquise Williams tossed an interception in the end zone to disappoint the Carolina crowd.

A 59-yard run by Duke Johnson had the Miami offense knocking on the door of the end zone. But senior safety Tre Boston stepped up big time on the goal line, throwing Miami runners for a loss in back-to-back plays to force a field goal for the Hurricanes.

The field goal by Matt Goudis was good and gave the visiting team the early 3-0 lead with 8:45 remaining in the first quarter.

On the next series, Tar Heel quarterback Bryn Renner came up empty yet again when a pass to Sean Tapley on third down came up a yard shy of moving the chains.

Senior Kareem Martin made a nice tackle for a loss along with a quarterback hurry to lead the Tar Heel defense to a nice stop of the Miami attack back on their own side of the field.

Back on offense, Carolina continued to incorporate a quarterback shuffle with Marquise Williams getting numerous snaps. Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson was certainly holding true to his comments earlier in the week on employing Williams’ unique talents more often.

Lightning struck in Kenan. And it was registered by star tight end Eric Ebron. He scampered to the end zone on a 71-yard pass from Marquise Williams. It was Ebron’s longest career touchdown reception. He eluded two tackles and then was off to the races.

The Tar Heels seemed to be building on their momentum. The fans were roaring and the defenders were flying around the field with vigor. But a long bomb by Miami stunned the crowd and put Miami back on the doorstep of a score.

But the Carolina defense stiffened yet again. A Miami field goal put the score at 7-6 in favor of the home team.

Carolina got the ball back, but a controversial no call on some physical defending by a Miami cornerback left the Tar Heels in punt formation.

One of the developing stories on the night was the mounting injuries for the Miami squad. Player after player seemed to be dropping out of the contest. But credit the Tar Heel defense for some tough, physical play.

Carolina was back at work with a few ticks left in the first quarter. And T.J. Logan continued to pound away on the ground, carrying the load, and bringing an end to the first quarter of action on Zero Dark Thursday.

At the close of the first quarter, Ebron already had amassed 101 yards receiving to go along with his touchdown that gave UNC a one point lead at 7-6. Meanwhile, Miami rusher Duke Johnson had tallied 83 yards.

The Tar Heels didn’t waste any time moving the ball down the field to start the second quarter. Renner whistled a perfect ball to a wide open Quinshad Davis to set up a great scoring opportunity inside the Miami 20-yard line. But the Miami defense rose up and forced a long field goal attempt for Carolina.

And disaster struck for the Tar Heels next. A blocked field goal fell into the hands of Miami’s Gunter, and he ran it all the way back to end zone to put the Hurricanes up 13-7 and silence the crowd.

With 12:33 left in the half, the stunned Carolina offense took up the ball now facing a six-point deficit. But the proceedings didn’t seem to faze the Tar Heels as they marched the ball right back down the field on the heels of an explosive 16-yard run by A.J. Blue and some strong passing by senior signal caller Renner.

And the scoring drive was capped off with a pass to Davis for a touchdown. The Tar Heels reclaimed the lead at 14-13 with 9:50 left in the half.

***Listen to the call***


Miami was back in the saddle. And a blown assignment by the Tar Heel secondary on third down gave away a huge chunk of yardage to the Miami offense as Morris connected for a 42-yard completion to Allen Hurns.

But this time it was Tre Boston to the rescue. He picked off Morris to return the ball to Carolina. The Carolina defense was delivering an inspired performance in Chapel Hill and in front of a nationally televised audience.

***Listen to the call***


Back with possession, Marquise Williams picked up fourteen yards on a quarterback keeper to get the Tar Heels moving the ball back down the field in pursuit of another score.

A healthy dose of Logan and Ebron continued to progress the football. And the drive was finished with a successful 25-yard field goal by Thomas Moore.

With the score at 17-13 and 3:26 left in the half, Miami took over once again on offense. And the struggles continued for Hurricane quarterback Morris. A punt was the result of the series.

And the half came to a close with the scoreboard reading in favor of the team in black Nike uniforms. Carolina was ahead going into the locker room, 17-13.

The halftime stats showed why the game was proving to be so tight. The total yardage was almost dead even with Carolina racking up 291 yards and Miami notching 288 of their own. The first downs favored UNC 13-7 and the time of possession edge went to the Tar Heels as well by just over three minutes.

According to ESPN, Ebron’s 144 yard total was the highest yardage accumulated in a half by any tight end in the nation so far this college football season.

Miami got the ball first to start the second half and did a nice job moving into Carolina territory quickly with some timely patterns. But Kareem Martin delivered a massive blow to quarterback Morris to get a sack and force a field goal attempt for the Hurricanes.

And Goudis missed the field goal to keep the score locked at 17-13.

Ebron added a reception that pushed him up to 167 yards. That was good enough for the UNC single game record for yards by a tight end. And boy, the Tar Heels were clicking on all cylinders now.

Ryan Switzer slashed ahead for a quality pick-up. The vaunted Hurricane defense seemed to be back on their heels against the fast-pace offense of the Tar Heels.

A costly pass interference call on Miami handed a first down to Carolina. But the Tar Heels returned the penalty favor with a chop block that set them back 15 yards. Coach Fedora was furious on the sidelines.

Ultimately, it was Thomas Moore trotting onto the field for a 35-yard field goal attempt. And the ball sailed through the uprights to give UNC a 20-13 lead with 6:59 left in the third quarter.

Miami advanced across the fifty yard line in their next series with ease. And again, Morris was able to find an open receiver to convert on a crucial third down to push the Canes deeper into Carolina territory.

But another Miami drive was halted by a pass landing into the wrong team’s hands.

The theme of the night was quickly becoming turnovers. With the interception by UNC’s Norkeithus Otis, the Tar Heels had already totaled up three picks on the evening. The crowd was going wild with 3:24 left in the third quarter.

***Listen to the call***


T.J. Logan continued his fine play on the ensuing Tar Heel drive, surging ahead for first down yardage. The Tar Heels were slicing and dicing down the field playing at warp speed and mixing it up well. Renner even carried the ball himself for some extra yardage.

The decibel level at the end of the third quarter was deafening inside Kenan Stadium. The crowd could sense an upset with their team now looking to stretch the lead. And the Tar Heel sideline was filled with spirit and passion now heading into the final 15 minutes of the contest.

The 12-play, 76-yard drive stalled out, but another Moore field goal was critical, placing UNC up by more than a touchdown at 23-13.

There was still plenty of time left in this one, however. But Miami knew they needed to make something happen soon. And they played like it, zipping their way down inside the Carolina red zone.

Dallas Crawford bashed his way in for the touchdown to narrow the gap to three points with 11:29 to play. That was a statement drive for the Hurricanes.

The pressure was squarely back on Carolina’s shoulders. How would Bryn Renner handle it?

With a three and out. Hibbard punted the ball back into the hands of the surging men from Miami.

And would you believe it? Another interception for the Tar Heels makes it four on the night. Dominique Green grabbed this one to set UNC’s offense back up for a chance at more points.

T.J. Thorpe tight-roped his way up the sidelines to pick up big yardage. But Renner returned the favor by throwing an interception of his own to give the ball right back to Miami. The game was quickly turning into a game of hot potato. No one seemed to want to hold on to the ball.

With 7:59 left on the clock, Miami was unable to do anything with the ball. And it was Carolina’s ball again with the game hanging in the balance.

A rough delay of game penalty on Carolina eliminated their third and short. And a play later, Renner was sacked by a swarming Miami defense.

Hibbard launched the ball a whopping 54 yards to pin Miami back inside their own 10-yard line with 4:11 left in the Thursday night affair.

But the Hurricanes put together a methodical drive right down the throats of the Tar Heel defense. And with 1:40 remaining in the contest, Miami had the ball at the Carolina 36-yard line.

The tension was palpable in Kenan Stadium as the Tar Heels took a timeout with 53 ticks left on the clock to get set for a third and three for Miami.

Miami bashed ahead for the first down and then Morris completed a touchdown to Waters to get inside the 12 yard line of Carolina. And with the drama building, Miami Head Coach Al Golden called a time out with 25 seconds to go.

Miami scored the go-ahead touchdown to claim a 27-23 lead with 16 seconds left to go in the game.

But the Tar Heels didn’t go down without a fight. Eric Ebron hauled in a long pass to give Carolina a sniff at the end zone to end the game.

And that’s the way it ended. Miami escaped with the win. And the Tar Heels were left shaking their heads, dropping to 1-5.


Coach Fedora, Tre Boston Embracing Thursday Night Spotlight

CHAPEL HILL– The wait is over. It’s time. All the hype and anticipation feeds into the No. 10 Miami Hurricanes rolling into Chapel Hill to take on the struggling 1-4 Tar Heels Thursday night.

Yes, the Tar Heels beat Miami a year ago, but that contest seems like ancient history with the way the season has unfolded.

But Head Coach Larry Fedora says he has liked what he’s seen out of the team in practice all week.

“We’ve had a great week of practice. We came in on Sunday in practice, that was our Tuesday practice, and that was our big work day. And then yesterday and today was a polish day. I thought we moved around really well,” Coach Fedora says.

Despite his belief that the offense is beginning to run smoother in practice and really gel as a unit, Coach Fedora says until he sees it during live game action, it’s all for show.

“You got to go do it. You got to go do it in a game. That’s the thing. You have to overcome the mistakes you make. You’re going to make some mistakes. That’s going to happen and you have to overcome them,” Coach Fedora says.

In order to pull out an upset victory Thursday night, Coach Fedora says he knows his team cannot afford to commit the penalties they’ve been racking up all season, especially those silly mistakes that come pre-snap and post-snap.

“You got to play smart. When you’re having as many penalties as we’ve had, you’re just not playing smart. […] The pre-snap and post-snap penalties, those are stupid mistakes,” Coach Fedora says.

Yes, Miami presents enormous challenges for the Tar Heels. But Coach Fedora says he’s been focusing on cleaning up his own team’s act more than worrying about the top-ten team Carolina is facing.

“I have to tell you we put more emphasis on ourselves, trying to correct the mistakes that we’ve made, and the things that are keeping us from being a good football team,” Coach Fedora says.

Well, Zero Dark Thursday is upon us. And senior safety Tre Boston hopes the atmosphere is “ridiculous” inside Kenan Stadium.

“It’s an opportunity for us to go “blackout.” I don’t think Kenan’s ever done this before. We’re trying to get fans involved in this to help us and get an atmosphere that is ridiculous. I know our fans can do it. It’s been sold out. That’s what it means to us to get fans involved and get their emotions in here,” Boston says.

And that atmosphere will start to build when WCHL’s pregame coverage starts at 4:30 p.m. Thursday live from Ram’s Plaza and Franklin Street for Tar Heel Downtown. Kickoff is set for 7:45 p.m.