MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Everything finally caught up.
With the NCAA and University investigation sitting out 14 players for at least a game this year, the injuries that the North Carolina football team didn’t need hit hard seven games into the season.
During Miami’s 33-10 beatdown of UNC, the Hurricanes brought new meaning to the words “exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses,” grilling the team’s more-than-depleted secondary time after time on offense while the defense took advantage of a Zack Pianalto-less UNC passing game.
UNC struggled after Johnny White’s second-quarter touchdown to create any type of offense facing a mix of unhealthy starting field position and an inability to produce any positive yards against the nation’s No. 4 pass defense.
In the 12 offensive plays following the lone UNC touchdown, the Tar Heels netted six yards in six and a half minutes of play.
“Once we got the ball we were so unsuccessful on third down because we were so unsuccessful on first down, which led us to get behind the count with second and long,” Yates said. “We gave up some sacks and negative runs on first down and it killed the start of our drives.”
Gone from UNC’s offensive repertoire on Saturday was the senior tight end Pianalto, who broke his right fibula at the ankle joint in the Virginia game and is out for the rest of the regular season.
Pianalto, who still leads the team in receptions, picked up a large portion of his catches in the situations Yates described.
And if their bond wasn’t apparent enough, Pianalto’s replacement Ed Barham didn’t log any stats against Miami, if he was targeted at all. Yates finished the post-touchdown game with 46 yards on 6-for-15 passing and two interceptions.
While the offense went scoreless for the final 43:51 of the contest, the defense may have had the tougher go of it. Miami rattled off 30 straight points against a UNC defense hit on all sides by injuries and investigations.
Up front, defensive tackle Jordan Nix did not play due to an elbow injury while linebacker Quan Sturdivant missed his fourth straight game because of a hamstring injury. Nowhere were absences felt more than in the secondary, though.
Already without two of its normal starters in the secondary — Kendric Burney and Charles Brown — UNC had to do a patch job in order to protect against Miami’s air game. LeCount Fantroy was out with an injured shoulder and was replaced in the starting lineup by Tre Boston while Butch Davis and his staff scrambled to find a substitute for Da’Norris Searcy after he was knocked out of the game on a second-quarter kick return.
Miami recognized the replacement players in UNC’s last line of defense and continued applying pressure.
“I just think it was the scheme we had going into this game,” senior linebacker Bruce Carter said. “We needed our corner to have support on the edge and we got a young secondary. They did a great job coming in and finding our weakness on defense.”
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw ample passes to Terry Shankle’s side of the field when the freshman cornerback entered the game in the second half. Harris found Leonard Hankerson in the corner of the end zone near the end of the third on a 19-yard pass over Shankle. He would go 8-of-13 for 116 yards and two scores in the second half.
“Well I think it was obvious they tried to pick on us in the secondary tonight,” senior safety Deunta Williams said. “But at the same time, we haven’t had Kendric or C.B. all year.
“I was telling them how when we were freshmen we would get picked on too. The only way to get them to stop picking on you is to make them go away from you.”
In all, 24 Tar Heels recorded defensive statistics compared to Miami’s 18. Those numbers don’t include players like redshirt freshman Josh Hunter, who saw time in the secondary in the final minutes of the game while injuries continued to plague UNC.
“Coaches always say that you’re one injury away or one something from somebody having to go into the ball game and step up,” said Davis, who against Louisiana State said he burned eight redshirts.
“I would venture to say that probably cost us every single kid that we thought we were going to redshirt. We probably won’t be able to redshirt any of them. We’ll probably have to end up playing all of these kids before the season is over.”
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