A blank slate — two football teams. First, No. 10 Miami, playing at home, with an 8-1 record and heading on a one-way train toward an Orange Bowl bid. The second? North Carolina.
Two years ago, a 36-point margin of victory in a game like this would have been predictable, and gone largely unnoticed. On Saturday, there was a 36-point difference, but in the No. 17 Tar Heels’ favor.
A never-ending offensive barrage coupled with stalwart defensive play resulted in North Carolina’s first victory over a top-10 opponent in 16 years, and it was never close. For what could be a trajectory-altering win for the program, it was UNC 62, Miami 26.
From the very start, it was all UNC. And this season, ‘all UNC’ begins in its backfield. Running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined for 544 yards and five touchdowns, the former being an FBS record for a pair of teammates. The tandem’s performance (Carter: 308 yards, Williams: 236 yards) pushed them both over 1,000 rushing yards on the season. At no point on Saturday did either back look remotely stoppable.
“When we got to the stadium, we were feeling so good just to start the game,” Carter said. “I could see the look in Javonte’s eyes before the game and I told him, ‘We’re about to do numbers today.’ We expected to have a good game, but I didn’t know it would amount to this.”
After the Tar Heels took a 34-10 lead into halftime, they essentially ran the same halfback misdirection play repeatedly — and it never stopped working. Williams and Carter weaved and spun through would-be tacklers, bounced off of linebackers and safeties alike and etched their names in record books they will likely sit atop of for a very, very long time.
The Hurricanes only stopped the Tar Heels’ offense from scoring once before they kneeled from the victory formation. UNC’s offense amassed 778 yards against Miami, the most the Hurricanes have ever allowed. Yes, 778 yards with only 20 passing attempts and a second-half playbook that was reduced to clock-draining rushes through the heart of the line.
“This is the first time we’ve ever played a complete game,” Williams said. “Just both sides playing together, playing for all four quarters. We showed just how special we can be when everybody’s playing together.”
To Williams' point, it wasn’t just offense, either. Saturday’s game was the most complete the Tar Heels have put together in a long time. Miami was held to 26 points, but that under-represents the defensive performance UNC displayed. In the Tar Heels' road losses to Virginia and Florida State, dual-threat quarterbacks on the opposing team nullified huge offensive performances, resulting in ugly losses.
Miami quarterback D’Eriq King is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, and backfield spying from linebackers Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel held him to 53 rushing yards, affording UNC’s offense the rare opportunity of playing with a major lead.
“The defense will be overshadowed by the offense tonight because of the numbers," Brown said. "But I thought the defense really got it all started."
The Tar Heels' performance on Saturday was near-perfect in every facet of the game. Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell connected on deep throws with his targets-of-choice at will. The offensive line allowed just one sack, and opened up bridges for Carter and Williams to pass through on their way to a historic game. The defense stifled an explosive Miami offense that lit-up Duke for 48 points a week ago.
It was the most complete performance of the Brown era — and many eras before it — and could help define the trajectory of the program moving forward. The Tar Heels are a Clemson win away from potentially clinching a trip to the Orange Bowl. While it’s unlikely to see many performances this close to perfection now, Saturday provided a glimpse into the heights North Carolina is capable of reaching.
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