How the Tar Heels’ 2020 season would be defined was a bit of a mystery heading into Saturday’s meeting with the Miami Hurricanes in the regular season finale. After a 62-26 beatdown of the Hurricanes in Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday where the team set multiple program records and even an NCAA record, there is a clear answer that this season will be remembered as a success. Following one of the biggest wins in program history, we take a look who is trending in what direction we wait to see if the Tar Heels will get a shot to play in the Orange Bowl.
Carter put together one of the greatest rushing games in ACC history on Saturday. He ran for 308 yards, a number that ranks fourth in ACC history for a single game, and found the endzone twice while carrying the ball just 24 times. He averaged 12.8 yards per carry and had five carries of 20 or more yards in this one. The performance allowed him to jump Tar Heel legends Kelvin Bryant and Don McCauley and move to fourth on the program’s all-time rushing list. After being a bit quiet the prior few weeks, Carter has had a strong two week finish to the season and will be hoping he can take one more trip to Hard Rock Stadium to finish his phenomenal and, frankly, unappreciated career.
The best running back tandem in the country was on display on Saturday, as Williams joined Carter with a massive day of his own on the ground. Williams turned his season-high 23 carries into 236 yards and added three more touchdowns to his already impressive season total. With his three rushing touchdowns in the game, Williams broke Don McCauley’s record of 21 total touchdowns, as he now has 22 on the season, which is also tied for the most in the nation with Alabama’s Najee Harris this season. This performance should all but seal Williams' case to be a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and could leave a lasting impression on the media who decides the winner.
With the remarkable success of the Tar Heel run game on Saturday, the passing game didn’t need to be nearly as involved as it had in some of the other big games this season, but Brown had another huge day. Of the Tar Heels 224 passing yards on Saturday, Brown was on the end of 167 of those yards, all coming on just four receptions. All four of Brown’s receptions were for ten or more yards and two went for 50+. With his performance, he reached the 1,000 yard mark receiving for the second consecutive season, becoming the first Tar Heel receiver to ever accomplish that feat. Brown has had a sensational two year stretch and continues to climb the record books, as he is now seventh in program history in receiving yards and tied for second in touchdown receptions.
He may not have needed to have a big day, but Howell put together yet another a solid performance. He completed 14 of his 19 passes on Saturday for 223 yards and a touchdown, but it was what he did on top of that that still made this a special day. Howell scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season with his third quarter score on the ground and would haul in his second receiving touchdown of his career on the reverse pass from Rontavious Groves in the fourth. He became the first quarterback to accomplish this feat since Marquise Williams did so back in 2014 against Notre Dame.
Conley got the start in the nickel for the Tar Heels and he had a fantastic showing. His six total tackles in the first half led the team and he was simply flying the football all half. Conley had 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and one pass breakup, as well, in that first half before a quiet second half. This was still a tremendous showing for this young defensive back who should be a big part of this defense next season.
Grimes just continues to impress week after week and Saturday was his most impressive outing so far. He did a great job of locking down the outside once again, as he was only targeted two times and ripped away the first interception of his young career from Dee Wiggins in the third quarter. This supposed-to be high school senior is only scratching the surface and is well on his way to being one of the most dominant corners in college football in the next couple of seasons.
Gemmel stepped up in this one to help slow down this dynamic Miami offense, having arguably the best game of his 2020 season on Saturday. His seven solo tackles were a team high, as were his 2.5 tackles for a loss. He also added a 0.5 sack to complete an outstanding performance for him and this Tar Heel run defense.
McMichael combined with Grimes on Saturday to lock down the Miami passing game. The Hurricanes frequented McMichael over Grimes, but of the four targets that came his way, one one was caught and that lone catch only resulted in a two yard gain. He finished the game with two pass breakups including a diving pass breakup on the first drive of the game preventing a possible long connection that could have set a completely different tone to the game. McMichael has had his ups and downs throughout the season, but this was a strong finish to the season for him.
Surratt had a nice game alongside Gemmel, helping to slow down the Miami running game. Surratt’s 10 total tackles were once again a team high and he made one of the biggest plays of the games on the third drive of the game, stopping Donald Chaney Jr. short on 4th & 1 at the Tar Heel 35. He dropped into coverage 33 times on Saturday and came away with two pass breakups, as well. Surratt, like this defense, hasn’t had a perfect season, but he stepped up when needed.