Stunned in South Florida

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – North Carolina entered Saturday’s contest with Miami in control of its Coastal Division destiny. The Tar Heels left Sun Life Stadium with their worst ACC loss under Larry Fedora and questions surrounding their potential bowl eligibility.

“This is a tough one,” sophomore receiver Ryan Switzer said following UNC’s 47-20 loss. “We all came down here feeling like we could compete, and they just whipped us.”

His head coach agreed.

“It’s hard to make sense of,” Fedora said. “Right now, today, I just have to say they whipped us. That’s all I can say.”

UNC’s defense has been a liability all season long, yet it was the defense that outscored the offense in the first half. And it was Miami that outscored UNC in every phase by a 30-6 margin at halftime and by a 44-6 differential midway through the third quarter.

The Hurricanes (6-3, 3-2 ACC) held a 409-39 edge in total yards by the time they led by 38 nearly eight minutes into the second half.

The Tar Heels (4-5, 2-3 ACC) would soften the edges with yards and scores after the game’s story had already been written. The end result was the same, however; UNC was thoroughly outplayed and outcoached in a game that had significant ramifications in the ACC Coastal Division race.

UNC’s 258 yards of total offense and 3.7 yards per play are the lowest ever by a Fedora-coach team. Those stats received a serious boost after the Tar Heels fell behind by five scores.

UNC gained 57 yards on 29 plays – a 2.0 yards-per-play average – in the first half. In those opening 30 minutes, the Tar Heels possessed the ball for just 10:22, failed to score any points offensively and did not enter Miami territory.

UNC defines explosive plays as 16 yards or more on a pass and 12 yards or more on a run. The Tar Heels failed to notch an explosive play in the first half and finished with seven for the game.

Marquise Williams, who turned in career performances against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech last month, had his right ankle taped and didn’t appear to be at full health. The junior quarterback has averaged 15.3 runs per game – not including sacks - over the past four contests, but didn’t attempt a run until the 5:17 mark of the second quarter with UNC trailing 16-6.

Fedora told reporters following the game that Williams was “100 percent” healthy.

Williams completed 22 of his 32 passes for 191 yards and an interception. He carried the ball 14 times for four net yards and two touchdowns, although that yardage includes a season-high six sacks.

“I didn’t play how I should have played today,” Williams said. “I put that blame on myself. It’s not an injury, my health; none of that. It’s just all me.”

Miami paired man coverage on its back end with a physical defensive line to take away most of the options that UNC is accustomed to having offensively.

“Those guys are great,” Williams said. “Great up front and great in the back end. We were watching it all week in film and they did an unbelievable job.”

On the other side of the ball, the Tar Heels’ intention to stop the run and make freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya beat them through the air never materialized.

Duke Johnson (19 carries, 177 yards, 2 TD) and Joe Yearby (22 carries, 104 yards, TD) both went over 100 yards as Miami churned out 295 rushing yards. As a result, Kaaya attempted just 17 passes and completed 11 of them for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

UNC’s special teams also contributed to the poor play.

Tommy Hibbard has been the Tar Heels’ primary bright spot in the third phase, and he was effective early in pinning Miami at the 1-yard line. On two other occasions, however, long snapper Conor Fry failed to put the ball in Hibbard’s hands. The first high snap resulted in a safety and the second set up a Miami touchdown at UNC’s 12-yard line.

Switzer also had a punt return for touchdown called back due to holding in the third quarter.

“It was just a sluggish day,” Switzer said. “They beat us in all three phases.”

UNC is technically still alive in the ACC Coastal Division race, although it trails Duke by two games in the loss column. The more pressing concern, in light of Saturday’s performance, is whether or not the Tar Heels can win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible.

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