North Carolina picked off Miami quarterback three times including linebacker Cedric Gray’s interception with six seconds remaining to preserve a 45-42 win on Saturday in Kenan Stadium.
Here’s what we learned from the Tar Heels’ win:
Howell can take a hit
UNC quarterback Sam Howell has been under pressure and sent scrambling many times this season. But he never appeared to take the physical punishment that the Canes defense brought — some of it illegally.
Howell twice drew roughing the passer penalties against the Canes. One came when defensive end Zach McCloud was called for throwing his full body weight on a hit after Howell had thrown a pass.
The second came when James Williams flung Howell to the ground after the ball was well out of his hands. Both of Miami’s penalties came on scoring drives that totaled 10 points.
Howell seemed to get his revenge on two touchdown runs of 30 and 11 yards, respectively, when Miami defenders tried to hit him to the ground instead of wrapping their arms around him to tackle. Howell simply bounced off those attempts and landed in the end zone both times.
Howell finished with 98 yards rushing.
Second quarter woes shift to after halftime
Carolina had been outscored 41-0 in the second quarter of their losses this season, which included a 21-0 shutout against Florida State last week. Mack Brown made the quarter a point of emphasis in practice, with players stopping to throw up two fingers in acknowledgment in the same way they do the fourth quarter.
The Heels responded against the Canes too. UNC had two interceptions that led to 10 of its 17 points. That total matched its season high for the quarter that came in Carolina’s win over Duke.
The third quarter, was a different story. Miami totaled 194 yards in offense in the third and outscored the Heels 17-7. Carolina was held to two three-and-out series offensively.
The Canes made it a 38-34 game and had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead.
The Heels have plenty of fight left
The game itself may have been a testament to Carolina, despite the disappointments of their season thus far, haven’t quit on the season. That point was made clear on arguably the most important drive of the game, with all the momentum in Miami’s favor, when UNC came up with two big stops.
The Canes were looking to take their first lead of the game on their final possession of the third quarter than crossed into the fourth. But on third-and-3, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke’s pass was batted down by linebacker Cedric Gray. Van Dyke’s fourth down pass was broken up by safety Giovanni Biggers.
Before that drive, the Canes had scored on all three of their second half possessions and the Heels were reeling.
Carolina would score on its ensuing possession to go back ahead two scores.