By J.T. Wilcox | Staff Writer
Miami’s roller coaster season took another deep plunge Saturday.
With their ACC Coastal dreams hanging in the balance, UM played arguably its sloppiest game of the season – turning the ball over three times, committing 12 penalties and giving up nearly 300 yards rushing – losing 59-21 to No. 23 North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
North Carolina (9-1, 6-0 ACC) opened up a 45-0 lead on the Hurricanes (6-4, 3-3) early in the third quarter after Tar Heels senior quarterback Marquise Williams ran for his third touchdown of the day.
Miami, which will host Georgia Tech next Saturday, was able to produce three touchdowns in the in the final 25 minutes of the game – Lawrence Cager’s first career touchdown reception, a Brad Kaaya touchdown run and a scoring run by little-used running back Trayone Gray – to make the final margin 59-21
Williams completed 11 of 16 passes for 105 yards with a touchdown pass but it was his 101 rushing yards and three rushing scores that did the most damage to Miami’s defense. Tar Heels running back Elijah Woods ran for a game-high 132 yards with a touchdown. Also, Ryan Switzer returned a punt 78 yards for a score – which allowed UNC to lead 31-0 at the half.
Kaaya finished 24 for 43 with 326 yards with a touchdown, but threw an interception and lost a fumble – both turnovers UNC converted into touchdowns. Also, sophomore Joe Yearby had the best day of any Cane – accounting for 152 yards of total offense (73 rushing & 79 receiving).
The 59 points given up by the Hurricanes defense, which came into this week’s game ranked 74th in total defense in the nation, made school history. Saturday’s loss marked the first time in school history that the football team has given up 58 or more points twice in the same season.
With the Canes completely out of the ACC Coastal race, North Carolina now only contends with Pittsburgh (7-3, 5-1) for the Coastal divisional title. Still, the Tar Heels must win just one of their final two games (at Virginia Tech and at North Carolina State) to clinch a spot in the ACC Conference Championship against Clemson.
All season, Miami’s players and coaches – including dismissed coach Al Golden – spoke about winning the ACC Coastal as one of their chief motivators; but with that off the table, Miami interim head coach Larry Scott said his team has to finish the season strong.
“You play for pride,” Scott said. “You play for the opportunity to play. You play for the commitment that you made to your teammates, this university and each other. Such is life. Once you make a commitment to something – you’re committed to it…and you have to finish it the right way.”
“That’s what you have to dig deep and play for. We’re going to make sure we finish the season the right way,” Scott said.
Overall Grade = D-plus
Miami’s performance Saturday fully cemented the fact that it is merely an OK team. OK teams beat bad teams. OK teams have a 50/50 chance of beating other OK teams. And OK teams get beaten – badly – by good and great teams.
All of the Canes’ flaws were on display in this game too.
Poor tackling, penalties and putting on a wholly flat performance have been the norm for this Hurricanes team – even in the wins.
There was a new nuisance Saturday though: turnovers.
Prior to Saturday, the Canes were among the country’s best in turnover margin. They were taking care of the ball and finding a way to turn over their opponents. Neither of those things happened against the Tar Heels though.
Quarterbacks = C-minus
Kaaya wasn’t great Saturday – but no one around him really was either.
Still, Kaaya was subject to making a lot of back foot throws because he was under duress and he made a very bad read on his first half interception.
Running Backs = C
Joe Yearby and Mark Walton both had positive days.
That’s why this group received the highest mark Saturday.
Yearby’s 73 rushing yards on 13 carries and team-high 79 receiving yards only solidified his status as Miami’s most consistent offensive weapon this season.
Walton too was solid with his 40 rushing yards and 52 receiving yards.
There was a Trayone Gray sighting. And he did score a touchdown Saturday. The grain of salt is that it was against UNC’s backups and it came while the game was completely out of reach, but it still begs the question as to why he doesn’t get more meaningful touches during games.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends = C-minus
Nothing really stood out with this group.
It was nice to see Lawrence Cager catch the first touchdown pass of his career.
But it was troubling to see Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters each only have one more catch than I did.
Stacy Coley led the team with five grabs for 58 yards, but none of Miami’s receivers made an impact on the game.
Offensive Line = D
Looking at Miami’s total yardage – 425 yards and 25 first downs – you’d think the offensive line played better than what the grade says.
Still, UM’s offensive line is consistently the worse graded group on the team this year.
Miami rushed for 99 yards on 32 attempts – continuing the trend of the O-Line not getting any push at the point of attack. Also, Kaaya’s fumble was a sack-fumble, as he took a clean shot on a blitz.
The coaches tried shuffling the group around – again. And – again – it didn’t help.
Defensive Line = D
No pass rush and poor play at the line of scrimmage led to UNC’s big day – especially on the ground.
Miami’s defensive linemen were consistently seen being moved off the ball and pushed down field as Tar Heel ball carriers just ran through large running lanes.
Linebackers = D
This group, like the group in front of them, had a rough day trying to stop North Carolina’s running attack.
Miami still struggled trying to defend the quarterback option play. Some of that falls on early week preparation by coaches, but a good portion of it lies at the feet of the defenders – namely the linebackers.
They are taking poor angles and making bad reads, which makes it even harder to stop the option because both potential ball carriers are threats.
Jermaine Grace got a late sack and led the team in total tackles with eight, but no other linebacker was among the top eight tacklers Saturday – five defensive backs were though, which is usually a bad sign.
Defensive Backs = C-minus
Looking at the box score, the secondary did a fair job of keeping North Carolina’s typically explosive receiver corps in check.
As a whole, North Carolina only totaled 189 passing yards. Brandon Fritts was the only receiver that caught a touchdown and the Tar Heels only had two plays go for 30 yards or longer.
Where the group loss points was in run tackling support. Consistently UNC ball carriers were able to break and run through tackles and simply out-will the defensive backs – the last line of defense on run plays.
The worse was seeing Rayshawn Jenkins completely whiff on a tackle on North Carolina’s backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Special Teams = C-minus
Michael Badgley missed his only field goal attempt on the day. Justin Vogel punted the ball six times – averaging nearly 41 yards per punt – which is why the group was able to avoid a D-grade.
The least special part of the day for this group was a fourth quarter kickoff return in which Trayone Gray mishandled the ball as he attempted to run out of the endzone, fumbled it inside his own 5-yard line and ended up falling on the ball at the 6-yard line.