Talking Points: Zero Dark Heartbreak
Posted October 18, 2013
1. North Carolina had opportunities to bury Miami in the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels ended up giving those opportunities back to the Hurricanes. It cost Carolina a win on Thursday.
Up 23-20 with 9:40 left in the game, North Carolina defensive back Dominique Green intercepted Miami quarterback Stephen Morris at the Hurricanes' 49-yard line. Morris' fourth turnover of the night gave the Heels another chance to sweep the leg, except North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner was intercepted by Miami's Tracy Howard inside the red zone just three plays later.
The Tar Heels limited the damage of their own late turnover by forcing a three-and-out and initially drove to the 50-yard line with under 6:00 left in the game. On 3rd-and-1, quarterback Marquise Williams was subbed out for Renner. As the play clock ran down to 10 seconds, Renner was still getting instructions from the sideline. The offense didn't line up until there was five seconds left and looked generally confused. Renner pointed to the clock as officials held the ball until the substitutions were complete. Slideshow: North Carolina falls to No. 10 Miami, 27-23
Instead of burning a timeout, the Heels were hit with a delay of game penalty and head coach Larry Fedora exploded on the sidelines.
On the next play, John Heck committed a false start and pushed the Heels back for a 3rd-and-10. Renner was sacked and North Carolina was forced to punt.
ESPN announcer Rece Davis prophetically stated that those two plays were "why [UNC] is 1-4." They'd end up dropping to 1-5 on the season following a gut-punch scoring drive by the Hurricanes.
Starting on their own 10-yard line, Miami ran the ball five straight times for 41 yards. The Hurricanes converted a 3rd-and-2 to North Carolina's 28-yard line. Morris settled down and took a couple shots down the sideline to move Miami down to the Heels' 3-yard line. Dallas Crawford punched it in for the go-ahead touchdown and the eventual win.
2. Miami entered Chapel Hill with a reputation for explosive plays, but key injuries to wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and running back Duke Johnson took away their fastball early on in the contest.
Dorsett, who left the game after taking a helmet to his knee, set up a field goal with a 69-yard reception. Johnson, who left the game after taking a knee to his head, set up another field goal with a 59-yard run. Neither player returned.
Then there was Morris, a quarterback with plenty of preseason focus thanks to a strong finish last year and buzz generated at the Manning Pass Academy. Except the Hurricanes secretly replaced Morris with Jacory Harris at some point during the week and wanted to see if anyone could tell the difference. Morris was generally erratic and threw four interceptions, including one that doinked off the helmet of Seantrel Henderson.
Until the final 92-yard game-winning drive, North Carolina's defense had done a decent job pressuring Morris and creating turnovers. Big plays were nullified in the red zone early on, forcing the Hurricanes to settle for field goals.
3. Renner took the majority of snaps at quarterback for North Carolina and finished the night with 300 yards 28-of-36 passing. He threw one touchdown and one interception. Williams was used in a change-up package and threw for 98 yards on four completions. 71 of those yards came on a touchdown pass completion to Eric Ebron late in the first quarter.
For the most part the tandem was effective and exposed Miami's defensive passing statistics as a false positive. Florida was the best offense the Hurricanes had seen up until Thursday night in Chapel Hill and the Gators coughed the game away in the red zone.
Fedora left himself open to second guessing with a curious substitution pattern.
Williams was inserted into the game on North Carolina's second drive, which Renner had engineered to the Miami 32-yard line, and threw an interception. During the awful delay of game sequence late in the contest, Williams was subbed out in a short yardage situation and left many to wonder why the quarterback who posed a ground threat was not on the field.
At 1-5 and bowl eligibility slipping away, how Fedora handles the rotation going forward will be fascinating to watch.
4. Speaking of Ebron, got a hunch he'll be playing on Sundays.
5. North Carolina continues to be plagued by mistakes in the red zone and special teams gaffes.
Miami kept constant pressure on the edges during field goals. An attempt was blocked early in the second quarter, snagged by Ladarius Gunter before the ball touched the ground and returned for a touchdown. At one point, the Tar Heels didn't have enough players on the field for a punt.
Then there was the delay of game sequence. The coaching staff was confused by the officials holding the ball as the play clock ticked away.
“I didn’t think they were going to hold it up all the way to the end, but again, that’s my fault, I should have called a timeout– it’s my responsibility," said Fedora.
“Well I was hoping to pick up a first down. It was 3rd and 1 and we substituted and they felt like they needed to stand over the ball and we couldn’t snap it. I’m not sure I understand that yet, so I’ll have to get an interpretation there," said Fedora. "Again, that’s my responsibility, that’s my fault we didn’t get that off."
6. Much has been made about "Zero Dark Thursday." There was the black uniform and matte helmets, which will always annoy purists. Then there was ticket sales for a showcase game on ESPN. Regardless of bare spots in the stands, the entire promotion came across successfully on television.
7. I've written enough to cross ESPN's green line that indicates field goal range.