The Tar Heels traveled to Miami on Saturday with a chance to get to 5-1 and pick up another win against ACC Coastal opposition. The Tar Heels grinded out 27-24 victory, taking down the Hurricanes for the fourth straight time and putting themselves alone atop the division. Here are our biggest takeaways from the win that has the Tar Heels in the driver’s seat for a trip to Charlotte in December.
Defense Bent But Didn’t Break
We have been asking this Tar Heel defense to look somewhat like the unit that the team had back in 2015 in Gene Chizik’s first stint in Chapel Hill and they were just that on Saturday. The team allowed 537 yards of total offense, but created two huge turnovers in the 4th quarter and forced two more on 4th down stops. This was far from the best performance that this defense could have put together, but if they can recreate this type of performance moving forward, they should take that in a heartbeat.
Running Game Comes Alive
One of the issues that this offense had the previous two weeks was the inability to run the football with their running backs, but that wasn’t an issue for the Tar Heels on Saturday. Caleb Hood started the game and looked really good, running for 74 yards on 13 carries prior to an injury in the 4th quarter that kept him on the sideline for the final offensive drive of the game. Omarion Hampton wasn’t exactly flawless in this one, but when the team needed him to handle the load in the 4th quarter, he did. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit, as well, for the push that they got up front in run blocking situations, especially on early downs. There is still room for more improvement for this running game, but this group had a lot more success on first down runs, which is something this team needs.
Tar Heel Staff Remains Extremely Aggressive…Almost Too Much
The Tar Heel staff has not shied away from gambling on 4th down so far this season and that mindset was on full display in this game. The team went for it three more times on 4th down, converting two, but the one that they didn’t nearly came back to bite them. On 4th and 4 from the Miami 7, the Tar Heels decided to go for instead of taking the field goal that could have put them up 10-0 early in the game. Maye would throw an incompletion and keep the game a one possession one at that point while also giving Miami some life that they desperately needed at that point. Luckily, when it mattered the most on the second-to-last offensive drive of the game, the team kicked the field goal to eventually hold on and win.
Run Defense Takes Step Forward
The Hurricanes entered the game with one of the better rushing attacks in the conference, but they were shut down by the Tar Heel defense on Saturday. They held them to a total of 41 rushing yards on 23 carries, the fewest amount of yards that the Tar Heels have allowed on the ground since they allowed 24 to Virginia last season. For the second consecutive week, the unit did a good job of getting off of blocks to be in a position to make plays and the linebackers were simply outstanding filling the gaps. This run defense has been tremendous in each of the past two weeks and it will need to continue to be with vaunted rushing attacks lying ahead in the next two games.
Pass Defense Takes Step Back
Much like that Virginia game last season, the Hurricanes didn’t need to have a ton of success on the ground to have a chance in this game. After looking good a week ago, this Tar Heels pass defense was bludgeoned by a struggling Tyler Van Dyke, who threw for a career-high 496 yards and three touchdowns. They were once again picked apart in the middle of the field and could not tackle in space after the catch. The team only got two sacks of Van Dyke, but provided some of the best pressure of the season. This team has to be better in coverage moving forward, especially against tight ends, who have killed this team in two of the past three games.