Until the first play of North Carolina’s fourth drive during Saturday’s game against Miami, quarterback T.J. Yates wasn’t looking too good.
In North Carolina’s first three drives, the junior quarterback was sacked once and amassed a whopping two passing yards on 1-for-3.
But then, Yates found sophomore fullback Devon Ramsay in the flat for his second completed pass.
At the end of the play, Ramsay was 27 yards downfield and Yates had the confidence he needed. Yates went on to complete his next six passes, including a 29-yard touchdown to Greg Little that put the Tar Heels ahead and in control of the game, 7-0.
“It was good just to get the ball on the edge, just to get something going in the passing game,” Yates said of his first completion. “That definitely did a lot for my confidence, get things rolling.”
And when Miami tied the game on the Hurricanes’ ensuing drive, Yates kept rolling the Tar Heels down the field — on just the type of plays that should have killed the drive.
On first down, Yates picked up a fumbled snap, and instead of going down for a sack, avoided the rush, picked up the ball and threw a one-yard completion to Todd Harrelson. A sack or loss of yardage would have moved UNC out of field goal range.
The next play, Yates was flushed to the right and under pressure as Miami sent a full blitz. But instead of throwing the ball away on second-and-nine, Yates looked left — across the blitzing defenders — and lofted a perfect pass over the blitz to a wide-open Johnny White for 25 yards to the Miami nine-yard line.
The play set up a UNC field goal to put the Tar Heels in the lead for good.
Yates finished 10-for-17 in the first half and 17-for-31 for the game with 213 yards and a touchdown.
But more importantly, Yates managed a UNC offense that did not turn the ball over against Miami — while the Hurricane quarterback Jacory Harris tossed four interceptions. Before the game, Harris was the most efficient quarterback in the ACC. Yates wasn’t even in the top 10.
But it was Yates who put the Tar Heels in position to win with efficient play, while Harris struggled with pressure and a ball-hawking UNC defense.
“The role of your quarterback is to get the ball into the hands of playmakers and to make plays that give you a chance to win,” coach Butch Davis said. “He’s just poised and presence of a guy that’s had experience.”
And while it was Yates who put UNC in the drivers’ seat, he handed the keys to junior tailback Ryan Houston in the fourth quarter.
Of Houston’s 83 rushing yards (a game-high) 38 came on nine fourth-quarter rushes.
Houston averaged 4.2 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, and following Miami’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive, it was Houston who slammed the door on Miami by spearheading a 11-play, 60-yard drive that took 5:18 off the clock and gave the UNC defense some time to rest.
“It was the best drive I’ve ever seen in my life,” said cornerback Kendric Burney. “Because we were pretty much blown up … Our offense definitely bailed us out there.”
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.