For a second week in a row, the Miami Hurricanes offense struggled to get any traction against an ACC defense, this time only scoring 13 points in a 20-13 loss to North Carolina.
From the outset of the game, the Tar Heels seemed to be a step faster, a touch quicker, and more ready to play than the Hurricanes. With an early Field Goal, and a touchdown not too long after it, North Carolina scored the first points Miami has allowed in the 1st quarter this season. For a team that has started on defense fast all year, that definitely set the tone of the game.
For Miami, things just never seemed to be going right. Trailing 3-0, the Hurricanes marched down to the 21 before stalling to attempt a field goal. But, just as was his last kick against FSU, Michael Badgley’s 38 yard attempt was blocked, from the same area of the line, by a defensive lineman getting pressure up the middle.
North Carolina took full advantage of that swing in momentum, scoring a touchdown on the ensuing drive to go up 10-0.
In the second quarter, North Carolina continued to move the ball and score points on the Canes defense, adding another 10 points in the 2nd quarter en route to a 20-3 halftime lead.
After halftime, the Canes defense came alive. Challenged by Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz and all the position coaches, the Miami defense held North Carolina scoreless in the 2nd half. North Carolina was able to move the ball at times, hitting a few big plays on broken coverages, but Miami would not let them score. The highlight of the 2nd half was a goal-line stand where the Canes’ defense stopped UNC 4 consecutive times from at or inside the 1 yard line. Those kinds of stops are the things that turn the tides of games and seasons.
But that was not the case for Miami tonight.
For all the talent it has at skill positions, Miami’s offense has been mired in a bad funk for the last 2 games. The Canes were only able to muster 3 points in the first half, and 13 for the game. The run game, the centerpiece of Mark Richt’s offensive paradigm, was only able to muster 139 yards against a North Carolina defense that came into the game ranked 113th in FBS vs the run.
On top of that, the receivers all struggled to create separation against press man coverage, and dropped multiple passes. On top of that, QB Brad Kaaya just never seemed to have his wits about him, missing on several open passes, and being pressured relentlessly all game long.
For his part, Head Coach Mark Richt said that the offense needs better “execution. Catching the ball when it’s in your hands. Hitting a target when it’s open. Protecting your quarterback when you need to. Finding the right running lanes when the blocking is there.” I would personally add calling better plays to that list, but that’s just my feelings on the subject.
Brad Kaaya, when asked whether his shoulder was hurt and impacted his performance, simply replied “No”. Which, if true, then leads me to question other parts of his performance, as Kaaya went 16 for 31 for 224 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. But we’ll save that for another day.
One of the big keys to the game, as with any game, were 3rd down conversions. North Carolina got them, finishing 14 for 23 on 3rd downs on the day, while Miami did not, going 4 for 15 on 3rd down.
For a team that scored more points through 2 weeks than any Miami Hurricanes team ever, this version of the offense we’re seeing in October is simply not good enough. The defense has played to an elite level in recent weeks, but the offense has let them down time and again. On twitter during the game, I implored the defense to give me stop after stop after stop to give the offense a chance to get back in the game. And, time and again, the defense did just that.
But it doesn’t matter if the offense can’t score.
I’m not going to go throw for throw through the game, but Brad Kaaya missed several reads and throws, a few of which would have been touchdowns. And the receivers dropped balls that could have helped the offense keep moving.
In spite of all of that, the Canes defense got the offense back the ball with a chance to march down the field and score a potential game-tying touchdown, same as last week. This drive would end before the extra point, however, as Kaaya fumbled as he was sacked from the blindside, and North Carolina recovered. After gaining 2 first downs on the ensuing drive, the game would be over after UNC took a knee to run out the clock.
Miami is now at a crossroads. With 2 consecutive losses where the defense looked good and the offense didn’t do anything against teams who had previously given up yards and points by the boatload, things need to change in a hurry for the Canes to get back on the winning side of things.
If they don’t, more score lines like this will be in our future.