Even on an afternoon where the Tar Heel defense turned in what might have been its best performance of the season, a handful of explosive plays proved costly. This is nothing new.
On offense, the Tar Heels were forced to rely on quarterback Nathan Elliott, who played a “gritty” game, according to Fedora. Once Chazz Surratt was forced to leave the game after suffering a big hit from Miami’s Zach McCloud in the first quarter, and with Brandon Harris also unable to play because of an injury, it was Elliott who filled in and gave the Tar Heels a chance.
“I was just really excited for the opportunity,” Elliott said. “It was great to be out there with the guys. I haven’t had many reps previous to this, but being back out there was a lot of fun.”
Yet, his three interceptions and Jordon Brown’s late fumble were both backbreakers.
Similar to earlier California, Duke and Virginia losses, the margin between victory and defeat was small against Miami, a reality UNC players once again were forced to acknowledge after the fact.
“It’s tough, but it’s a part of the game,” linebacker Cayson Collins said about dealing with the perpetual heartbreak endured this season. “You can control what you can control. That’s something a lot of the older guys have continued to say to the younger guys.”
In a lot of ways, UNC did control what it could control. The Tar Heels led for most of the first half because its defense played well, but ultimately went into the break down 7-6 due to the offense’s inability to finish drives.
On its second possession of the game, UNC came up empty-handed after a one-yard touchdown run by Brown was taken away on review. Facing a second-and-goal at the one-yard line, UNC actually went backwards 10 yards as it turned the ball over on downs.
That series in particular summed up the Tar Heels’ day. They were in a position to win, which was not expected against Miami. But they couldn’t execute when needed.
Nevertheless, there were some encouraging signs. First-year wide receiver Beau Corrales caught a pair of touchdown passes, finishing with 64 receiving yards. And despite his mistakes, Elliott provided a “spark” to UNC’s offense, according to Fedora, who opted to keep him in when the injured Surratt could’ve possibly returned.
“He ran the ball and did some things and gave us some opportunities,” Fedora said of Elliott. “There was one ball that he probably didn’t need to throw that he pressed on, but you know what? That kid, as many reps as he has gotten, he went out there, and I thought he did a heck of a job.”
While two of Miami’s three touchdowns were plays of 51 yards and 78 yards, respectively, UNC was otherwise strong on defense.
Opposing quarterback Malik Rosier completed just 16 of his 38 passes, while Miami running back Travis Homer gained only 46 yards on 16 carries.
In past contests, UNC had started off well defensively, only to fade as the game went on. Against Miami, defensive coordinator John Papuchis’ group gave the Tar Heels a chance to win from start to finish. UNC never allowed the Hurricanes to score on consecutive possessions, clamped down in the red zone, and forced a pair of turnovers, the final of which gave UNC the ball with a chance to win late in the fourth quarter.
One weekend after its lowest point of the season, the Tar Heels almost beat a top-10 team, while showing progress in several areas. But even Fedora knows winning and committing four turnovers are two things that don’t often go together.
“There were a lot of good things overshadowed by the things we didn’t do,” he said. “That’s the gut-wrenching stuff right now.”