Between The Lines

For a brief moment in time there was some unlikely drama at the Orange Bowl. Playing to a half-empty house at Miami, North Carolina closed to 10-7 late in the second quarter and was moving towards another score. A turnover later, the drama was over and Miami cruised to a predictable 27-7 win.

What went Wrong

Turnovers. Ranking 118th out of 119 Division 1-A teams in turnover margin is cause enough for concern, if not outright panic. And, the Tar Heels manage to time their turnovers in magnificently self-destructive ways. Down by only three points late in the second quarter and the Hurricanes looking somewhat punch drunk, UNC quarterback Cam Sexton lined an interception to an awaiting Miami defender. The Hurricanes would go on to push the ball into the end zone before half-time to take a 17-7 lead.


Sexton
"Some throws are gong to be picks and we've got to bounce back from that," running back Barrington Edwards said after the game. It is interesting to note that the only team to fare worse in turnover margin than the Tar Heels this season is Arkansas, a 4-1 team who just upset the No. 2 team in the nation on Saturday, beating Auburn 27-10 on the road. Unlike Arkansas, the Tar Heels have not learned how to respond when adversity hits.

"The interception at the end of the half hurts us," head coach John Bunting said. "To have them go down and score the way they did is even worse. We can't do that against good teams and expect to win."

Conversely, the Tar Heels have not learned to take advantage of the takeover opportunities that come their way. Not for the first time this season, a Tar Heel defender had the opportunity to corral an errant throw, only to watch it bounce harmlessly to the ground as an incompletion. That happened twice on Saturday, and the Heels are making a habit out of dropping their luck.

It will probably be popular this week to criticize the offensive line for the three sacks given up, the pressure Sexton experienced all day, and the lack of holes created in the run game. Miami's defensive front seven has proven to be effective against much more experienced offensive lines than UNC's, and it should shock no one they dominated the Tar Heels.

"We feel like we're getting the offensive line on track to block the way that we want to," Bunting said, "Looking at the tape, we left some plays out there on the field. That is maybe from a run standpoint and a passing one. The passing ones are very obvious."

What Went Right

On their only scoring drive of the game, the Tar Heels executed one of their best offensive plays of the season. Sexton deftly faked a hand off while dropping back, stepped up in the pocket with authority, and hit Hakeem Nicks in stride on an inside move. Nicks snared the ball as all good receivers do, with all hands and no body, and the result was a 37-yard gain down to the one yard line. McGill would score one play later. As the Oliver! line goes, "Please, sir, I want some more."


Nick's 37-yd catch
On Saturday North Carolina used a blocking fullback less than they have at any time in Bunting's tenure – much less. The Tar Heels used only one back 65 percent of the time. Even when two backs were used, they were often split to either side of the quarterback in a shotgun formation with no tight end and three receivers. Three and four wide receiver sets were the order of the day. These changes in formation – almost abandoning the "Power I" - represents a radical departure for the UNC offense.

Aside from recognizing the importance of attacking the Miami defense through the air, another purpose of this change was to make it more difficult for the Hurricanes to stack the line of scrimmage with extra blockers. The Tar Heels even employed a little trickery – an unsuccessful flea flicker pass and a fake punt that did work. The results – a net of only 58 yards rushing and 244 total yards - weren't rewarding, but the concept was sound and the willingness to adapt was admirable.

Defensively, the Tar Heels played more aggressively. Though they gave up 27 points, they yielded only 14 first downs and 324 total yards to Miami. Their major gaffe was giving up a 62-yard touchdown run to Miami tailback Javarris James. Given their last two performances, those results represent a major step forward even if they came against a team with offensive problems of its own.

What's Next

If the Tar Heels plan on turning this season around, they better grab the wheel soon. It is a bad sign when prominent boosters begin getting interviewed about their "position" on the football program. There may not be any such thing as a "Must Win," but if there is, it is next Saturday at home against South Florida.


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