UNC’s defense makes enough big plays as Heels alone atop Coastal with win

By R.L. Bynum

After its best performance of the season a week earlier, Carolina’s defense went through its share of struggles Saturday at Miami. But that unit made enough big plays to keep the Tar Heels in control on a day that Caleb Hood emerged as their main running back.

With Carolina’s 27–24 win in Miami Gardens, Fla., the Tar Heels (5–1) are alone atop of the ACC Coastal Division at 2–0 and learned how to win when quarterback Drake Maye wasn’t always on top of his game.

“To have a great year, you have to win close games and usually you’ve got to win close games on the road. It’s absolutely unbelievable,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “They are getting more confidence. We hadn’t been a confident team. There are a whole lot of things we can fix and we can get better as a team.”

After throwing only one interception in the first five games, Maye had passes intercepted on consecutive pass attempts, one just before and one just after halftime. He turned it around in the fourth quarter by directing an impressive 81-yard, 18-play drive for a 19-yard Noah Burnette field goal.

Miami (2–3, 0–1 ACC) responded with a 63-yard drive and a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to Colbie Young to cut Carolina’s lead to three but the Hurricanes couldn’t recover the onside kick.

It was initially ruled that Miami’s Al Blades Jr. recovered it, but he hadn’t re-establish himself inbounds. With Carolina’s history of bad calls from officials on offside plays, there was plenty of relief for the Tar Heels when the call was overturned.

The defense sealed the win with one last big play: a DeAndre Boykins interception that ended Miami’s final drive.

“Our defense is growing up,” Brown said. “They got three or four fourth-down stops; it was an unbelievable goal-line stand. They stripped the ball when [Miami] was going to score. So, give the defense so much credit tonight. They are getting better, and it’s obvious they are getting better.”

Linebacker Power Echols led the way on defense with 14 tackles (one for a loss), with linebacker Cedric Gray collecting 13 tackles.

“Our coaches know what they’re doing and they stayed positive at a time where a lot of people were concerned and worried,” Brown said of his defense, which held Miami to 41 rushing yards a week after holding Virginia Tech to 99 rushing yards. “The kids believed in [defensive coordinator Gene Chizik] and they just kept working and working and working to get better. Second thing is we’ve got good players, and they’re smart and they want to win. And they were driven tonight, and they were not gonna lose that ballgame.”

Maye went 19 of 28 for 309 yards and two touchdowns to throw for more than 300 yards for the third consecutive game and the fourth time this season. He directed two first-half scoring drives of more than 90 yards.

“Offensively, we made some good plays,” Brown said. “We weren’t as consistent as we’ve been. And, again, you can’t turn the ball over on the road. So, that’s something we can go work on for next week.”

Hood made some big runs early and finished with 75 rushing yards, but went out late the game, possibly with an injury, in favor of Omarion Hampton.

Brown lamented that his offense is now passing to run it.

“That’s OK as long as we’re making some yards,” Brown said. “I was disappointed we didn’t finish the game on offense. We should, and that’s a factor of them knowing we’re gonna run it, us knowing we’re gonna run it and us not being where we want to be yet.”

Big defensive plays set up UNC’s first two touchdowns, the first coming after Gray made a huge third-down stop.

After a pair of good second-effort Hood runs helped UNC get out of a hole at the Carolina 3, Maye found J.J. Jones (top photo) wide open down the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown pass. Jones ran right past Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, caught the pass in stride and sprinted into the end zone untouched on Carolina’s first drive.

Noah Taylor pressured Van Dyke into a quick incompletion on a fourth-and-goal at the 1 early in the second quarter before UNC’s second score to complete a goal-line stand.

Maye hit Antoine Green on a 52-yard pass in the second quarter to set up a 2-yard Hampton touchdown run, and it was 14–0 with 8:44 left in the first half. The Miami safety couldn’t make the play on a post pattern on the completion.

The Hurricanes broke through on the next drive, which went 76 yards, on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Van Dyke to Key’Shawn Smith.



Maye and Josh Downs teamed up on two big plays for another score. They hooked up on a 22-yard pass on a fourth-and-nine. Two plays later, with Maye getting hit, he somehow got the pass off; Downs made a terrific catch coming back to the ball at the Miami 5, broke free from one defender and powered past two others to the end zone for a 15-yard scoring play with 1:31 left in the first half.

Miami scored twice in the last 28 seconds of the first half to cut UNC’s halftime lead to 21–17. Van Dyke passed to Henry Parrish Jr. while falling to the ground on a 7-yard touchdown pass. After Maye’s second interception of the season, Andres Borregales booted a 38-yard field goal as time expired.

Blitzing Boykins sacked Van Dyke for a seven-yard loss on a fourth-and-three after the second of back-to-back Maye interceptions ended the first drive of the second half. That led to a 38-yard Burnette field goal to push UNC’s lead back to 7.

Gray made another big play early in the fourth quarter when he punched the ball out of the hands of Miami running back Jaylan Knighton, and Gio Biggers recovered it at the UNC 17 to set up the late field goal.

NOTES — Carolina is 3–0 on the road this season, with all three one-possession games. … UNC is the only unbeaten team in the ACC Coastal after Duke lost 23–20 in overtime at Georgia Tech. Carolina visits the Blue Devils (4–2, 1–1) at 8 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network). … The first-quarter Carolina drive that ended with a fourth-down incompletion deep in Miami territory was the first Maye finished this season in 18 drives to reach the red zone that didn’t produce a touchdown. … Carolina had two sacks, to give the Tar Heels 11 for the season. … UNC safety Don Chapman, linebacker RaRa Dilworth and nose tackle Ray Vohasek missed the game, and right guard William Barnes didn’t play in the second half, all with upper-body injuries. Jonathan Adorno replaced Barnes … Carolina leads the all-time series with Miami 13–11 and has won four consecutive games, the longest streak by either team in the history of the series. UNC is 7–8 at Miami but is 4–1 in the last four meetings.

UNC 27, Miami 24

ACC standings

X-No. 13 North Carolina6091
Georgia Tech3446
Virginia 1637
Virginia Tech1628
X-No. 9 Clemson7091
No. 20 Florida State5373
N.C. State3373
Wake Forest2464
Boston College2537

X-Clinched division title
Saturday’s results
North Carolina 36, Wake Forest 34
Duke 24, Virginia Tech 7
Pittsburgh 37, Virginia 7
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 14
Clemson 31, Louisville 16
Boston College 21, N.C. State 20
Florida State 38, Syracuse 3
Saturday’s games
Louisiana at Florida State, noon, ESPN3
Virginia Tech at Liberty, noon, ESPN+
Duke at Pittsburgh, noon, ACC Network
Boston College at Notre Dame, 2:30, NBC
Miami at Clemson, 3:30, ESPN
N.C. State at Louisville, 3:30, ACC Network
Coastal Carolina at Virginia, 3:30, ESPN3
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 5:30, ESPN2
Syracuse at Wake Forest, 8 p.m., ACC Network

(current rank)
27SaturdayW, 56–24HomeFlorida A&M1–0
3SaturdayW, 63–61BooneAppalachian State2–0
10SaturdayW, 35–28AtlantaGeorgia State 3–0
24SaturdayL, 45–32HomeNo. 19
Notre Dame
1SaturdayW, 41–10HomeVirginia Tech 4–1, 1–0 ACC
8SaturdayW, 27–24Miami
Gardens, Fla.
Miami 5–1, 2–0 ACC
15SaturdayW, 38–35DurhamDuke6–1, 3–0 ACC
29SaturdayW, 42–24HomePittsburgh7–1, 4–0 ACC
5SaturdayW, 31–28CharlottesvilleVirginia8–1, 5–0 ACC
12SaturdayW, 36–34Winston-SalemWake Forest 9–1, 6–0 ACC
19SaturdayL, 21–17HomeGeorgia Tech 9–2, 6–1 ACC
25FridayL, 30–27,
2 OTs
HomeN.C. State 9–3, 6–2 ACC
DecemberACC championship
3Saturday8 p.m.CharlotteNo. 10 ClemsonABC

Photo via @UNCFootball

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