North Carolina Football: 5 Things the Tar Heels Did Well in a Close Loss
The University of Miami and the North Carolina Tar Heels met yesterday in a titanic ACC clash, as both teams were looking to make a statement at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
If Carolina won the game, the team would be bowl-eligible in mid-October for the first time in a long time. If the Hurricanes won the game, they would attain their first ACC victory this season and break a four-game losing streak in Chapel Hill.
Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels came up short as Miami rocketed out of the gate en route to a 30-24 victory, and the Hurricanes withstood a late Carolina rally as 'Canes LB Sean Spence sacked Renner and his teammates blew up a desperation hook-and-ladder at the end of the game.
Here are five things the home team did well in a heartbreakingly close loss to their ACC rival...
1. QB Renner Started Slow, but Finished Respectable
North Carolina QB Bryn Renner came into this game looking to star RB Giovani Bernard to establish the run game to ease the pressure on him to make plays downfield.
In the beginning of the game, Miami rocketed out of the gate and the game looked like it was going to be over before it started. The Tar Heels' offense was inept for much of the first half, as Miami had a 27-10 advantage going into the locker room.
Then they adjusted and Renner came out firing. The quarterback went 29 of 38 for 289 yards passing and two scores in a late rally that came up short.
The Hurricanes tried to bring pressure, and got there sparingly but Renner checked the ball down to his receivers or handed the ball off to Bernard for some tough yards.
A solid outing for him, and a learning lesson for the entire offense.
2. Erik Highsmith Made Some Clutch Catches
In yesterday's game, North Carolina was looking to make an immediate statement in the game by coming out and smacking Miami right in the mouth.
Well, in all honesty that plan didn't work until the 2nd half. The few bright spots for the Tar Heels was WR Erik Highsmith.
Often targeted by Bryn Renner, Highsmith compiled 73 yards receiving on 5 catches, with a critical play coming on a third-down conversion where Highsmith went high and left his body open for a huge shot, and came down with a circus catch to keep North Carolina's hopes alive.
Highsmith, like his teammate Giovani Bernard did everything right in the second half as the Tar Heels tried to mount a rally and tried to answer the prolificness of the Hurricanes' passing attack.
3. Giovani Bernard Runs for 100 Yards for Fifth Straight Game
One of the biggest rising stars on the Tar Heels' offense, RB Giovani Bernard came into the game looking to counter the Hurricanes' star RB Lamar Miller.
Bernard came into the first half, and really couldn't get anything going as North Carolina really struggled on offense as Miami raced to a 27-10 lead going into the half.
Things changed for Bernard and the Tar Heels' offense in the second half, as they played keep-away for most of the third and fourth quarters with the suddenly high-powered Miami offense.
The Tar Heels gained tough yards on the ground, as Bernard had 27 carries for 127 yards in the heartbreaking loss.
Bernard is going to be a star in the ACC, and will be the Tar Heels' go-to-guy in the UNC ground machine for years to come.
4. 2nd Half Defensive Improvement
In the beginning of the game, the Tar Heels' defense was on it's heels as the Miami offense came out firing on all cylinders, as they marched right down the field and scored on a Mike James 5-yard TD catch.
And then on the very next possession, Miami forces a fumble on the kickoff and Jacory Harris found Tommy Streeter for a wide-open 27-yard touchdown strike to go up 14-0 before Carolina even stepped on the field for an offensive series.
The Tar Heels yielded 27 points in the first half, after outscoring opponents 42-3 in the first quarter and not allowing a touchdown in that juncture of the game.
Things changed in the second half, as North Carolina got more pressure on Jacory Harris, and caused three-and-outs on multiple possessions for Miami as the Hurricanes' offense stagnated from ineptness and failure to establish a run game due to Carolina's defensive adjustments.
North Carolina almost won this game defensively in the second half, but giving up 14 points and falling into a 27-10 hole early proved too much to overcome as Miami did just enough to win the game, and held off the Tar Heels' offense when it counted.
5. Didn't Back Down from Big Spotlight
The North Carolina Tar Heels are a team based in tradition. They have been average in the ACC for a very long time until this season. They hadn't been mentioned as having a chance to be bowl-eligible this early in the season in quite a while.
They have been surrounded by controversy the past few years, stemming from actions of people in former head coach Butch Davis' regime.
Speculation was rampant that the Tar Heels would be set back years when Davis was fired, and so far this season the Heels have proven that they can and will compete with anyone, anywhere and will not back down from the national microscope.
The schedule going forward has tests against Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech remaining in this season.
The Tar Heels will take alot from this game, and learn from it and get back to winning, so interim head coach Everett Withers could very well have the 'interim' tag removed from his title and get his chance to continue the team's resurrection in both the ACC and in the country.