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Heel Tough Blog: Miami Recap

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

It may not have been easy on the nerves, but the Tar Heels found a way to hold on and beat the Miami Hurricanes 45-42. Thanks to a late interception from promising young linebacker Cedric Gray, they were able to hold off the late charge from the Hurricanes in a game that could have been a significant setback for the program. Here are our biggest takeaways from this nail-biting win for the Tar Heels on Saturday.

Sam Howell is Motivated to Leave a Legacy

Howell tied the school record for touchdowns with 99 on Saturday, but that is not the reason for this conclusion. Instead, it’s about the fact that right now he is simply willing his team to victories. The Tar Heel was far from a dominant one on Saturday, including Howell himself struggling at times throwing the football. However, Howell once again was a major factor as a runner, finishing the afternoon with 98 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. On both of those touchdown runs, Howell staved a couple of heavy hits to stay on his feet and find endzone. This continues to be an underwhelming season for the Tar Heels but Howell is doing what he can to try to will this team to as many wins as he possibly can.

Defensive Execution is A Major Issue

We have been harsh on Jay Bateman so far this season and rightfully so, but Saturday was another game where the Tar Heels simply did not execute on the defensive side of the football. The team had some absolutely egregious missed tackles in the open field that led to big plays and important first downs that simply shouldn’t be happening from a defense that was supposed to take a step forward this season. Too many times players took poor angles to the ball carrier and simply whiffed on tackles in the field. Communication didn’t seem to be as big of an issue as a week ago, but there were still some lapses in coverage, especially late in the game that left you scratching your head. The team also struggled to get off blocks again today, something that they simply have to start doing a better job of collectively as a unit. Hopefully, this bye week will allow this defense to recollect itself and find some answers to the various question marks that it has at this point.

Phil Longo Has Some Explaining to Do

Bateman wasn’t the only coordinator that came under fire on Saturday. Longo’s game plan looked rather conservative overall but became even more conservative late in the game. The three straight running plays on the final offensive drive that picked a combined four yards left a lot to be desired and put the pressure on the Tar Heel defense. If this was a defense that had dominated the entire day, it would make some sense, but with just how bad the defense was struggling in the second half, you would like to have seen them be a little more aggressive.

Penalties Becoming A Concern

This is an issue that has popped up from time to time in the Mack Brown era and they have resurfaced for the first time since early last year in these past two weeks. The Tar Heels were called for ten penalties that resulted in 102 yards on Saturday and took seven penalties that resulted in first downs for the Hurricanes. Last year when this issue surfaced, the team’s offense had enough firepower to overcome it. This year, that is not the case and that is why this is an issue that must be corrected as soon as possible.

Cedric Gray Deserves a Ton Praise

It’s no secret that this has not been the start to the season that the Tar Heels were hoping for but there are individual players that deserve to be recognized. While the defense had another rough showing on Saturday, Cedric Gray continued his emergence with another strong performance. Gray pulled down possibly the most important interception of the Tar Heels 2021 season with 0:06 on the clock to seal the victory on a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage. He pulled down another interception earlier in the game and added six total tackles and one tackle for a loss. There are a lot of issues that still have to be settled for this defense going forward, but the Tar Heels have found a gem at linebacker in Gray.


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