The Miami Hurricanes (3-3, 1-2 in ACC) preserved their fourth quarter lead in a 30-24 victory over their ACC Coastal Division rival North Carolina Tar Heels (5-2, 1-2 in ACC).
The Week 7 win kept Miami alive—really on life support—in the hunt for a conference title.
Although the game appeared to be non-competitive at certain junctures, there was some variance among the individual Hurricane players. Here are the stars and duds from Miami's perspective.
Quarterback Jacory Harris was brilliant again. He completed two-thirds of his pass attempts for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers are eerily similar to those he posted against Virginia Tech in Week 6.
On Saturday, Harris was both decisive and accurate. In 2010, he was mercilessly bashed for struggling to epitomize either.
This season has been completely different, however. Harris hasn't thrown a single interception in ACC play.
His performance is even more impressive from a national vantage. Harris ranks eight among all FBS players with a 170.8 passer rating.
Sophomore passer Stephen Morris is the lone victim of Jacory's stellar play.
Morris earned valuable starting experience last season amid Harris' lingering concussion and ineffectiveness. He was unrefined but acceptable. During the last five weeks, though, he has thrown only three passes.
Morris will likely regain the starting role after Harris graduates this December, but for now, he is gathering rust on the bench.
Spence—a legitimate pro prospect—was a disruptive force for the 'Canes. The senior linebacker accumulated 14 tackles during the afternoon, including a pivotal sack of North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner on the game's final drive.
His ability to stop plays before they reached the secondary prevented the Tar Heels from executing big gains and quick drives.
Miami's feature back Lamar Miller was contained for the first time all season. He accounted for a paltry 45 yards and averaged fewer than two yards per rushing attempt.
He entered this matchup as a top candidate for the Doak Walker Award, which is annually presented to the nation's best running back. Miller's shot at winning the hardware just took a big hit.
The Hurricanes totaled only 44 rushing yards.
Senior Travis Benjamin is most recognized for his contributions as a returner, but he was frequently targeted by Jacory Harris on offense against North Carolina.
Benjamin set a career-high with eight receptions. He was largely responsible for Miami's fast start as he picked up five first downs—including one score—in the game's first 25 minutes. The Hurricanes led 27-3 after his touchdown.
The team's blockers had a strong game against the Hokies, but their protection on Saturday wasn't quite up to snuff.
They did not do enough to create seams up the middle for Miller. With even the smallest of openings, he would have been able to deliver a breakaway rush like he did in each of the previous five weeks.
On another note, their pedestrian pass protection restricted Jacory Harris from scrambling out of the pocket. This ultimately helped the Hurricanes because Harris' hesitant nature takes over when the option to rush presents itself.
He didn't have that option against North Carolina.
Wieclaw had never attempted a collegiate field goal before 2011. Regardless, there was a necessity from Week 1 for him to fill the cleats of NFL Draft pick Matt Bosher. He has done an admirable job.
Wieclaw was perfect against the Tar Heels as he has been all season. He nailed three field goals, two of which were from outside of 40 yards. Each of his seven kickoffs were returned, but none made it past midfield.
His fourth quarter field goal accounted for Miami's only points after halftime. More importantly, it spared the 'Canes from overtime.
Trailing by six, North Carolina drove down the field during the game's final minute. The offense crossed Miami's 30-yard line, but still needed a touchdown. The Tar Heels never neared the end zone.
Had Wieclaw not been 3-for-3, they could have attempted a manageable field goal on that drive to tie it up.
Despite avoiding the embarrassment of Week 6's debacle, the defensive linemen were repeat offenders in my book. They allowed more than 140 rushing yards as they have in every week this season.
Their ability to pressure the quarterback was noticeably improved, but run-stopping is another issue.
Aforementioned with Sean Spence, Miami's defense did not succumb to big plays. Unfortunately, the front four struggled to sniff out rushing attempts in the backfield.
North Carolina steadily advanced during its drives as you can derive from the offense's 25 first downs. To win comfortably in ACC play, the Hurricanes will need more tackles for loss.
Sun Life Stadium hasn't been filling in for Miami Hurricane football games since it began to host them in 2008. The venue is more than 20 miles from campus instead of in the face of the fan base. Also, winning on a more regular basis would help populate it.
Home attendance should rebound as a result of this victory—at least for one week.
The Hurricane faithful will make an emotional investment in Saturday's showdown with the nationally-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Fans will be fully supportive, knowing they can retire for the season in case of a loss. A third defeat in the ACC would virtually eliminate Miami from a conference championship and even a division title.
In preparation, the Hurricanes need to keep their "winners" playing well and get the others straightened out.