Mark Richt gave the crowd no hints as to who was going to play quarterback by choosing not to announce a starter. Malik Rosier did, however, take all the first team snaps throughout warmups. But at the end it was N’Kosi Perry who took the field as the Miami Hurricanes quarterback. Perry’s first attempt was a dime to wide receiver Mike Harley, one of the Hurricanes captains, for a 28-yard gain. That was as exciting as the first drive got as Miami went on to punt in their next set of downs.
For his second act, Mark Richt sent out Jack Spicer to punt over sophomore Zach Feagles, who has been the Hurricanes starter since stepping onto campus as a freshman in 2017.
In come Tar Heel running back Michael Carter, who played only a limited role in the Tar Heels 38-25 win over Pitt in which he totaled just 28 yards and 4.7 yards a carry. In the Tar Heels first drive, he torched the Hurricanes defense with runs of 22 and 30. But it was the Hurricanes that ultimately held their ground on the goal line and forced North Carolina to settle for a field goal.
The Hurricanes second drive was a thing of beauty. Perry hit true freshman wide receiver Brian Hightower for a 13-yard reception which was immediately followed by a 56-yard Travis Homer run that put the Hurricanes at the four yard-line. Deejay Dallas cleaned it up with a four yard score on the very next play and just like that Miami took the lead on a four play 75-yard drive.
Then out came the turnover chain! On third and six on the Tar Heels second drive, the Hurricanes middle linebacker, Shaq Quarterman, flew threw a massive hole in the North Carolina offensive line for the easy sack that forced North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliot to fumble. Jonathan Garvin picked it up and took it to the house for a touchdown and the Canes took a 14-3 lead.
The Hurricanes defense continued to dominate on the ensuing drive, but an unsportsmanlike penalty on Gerald Willis III gave the Tar Heels a fresh set of downs and 15 yards, which led to a 17-yard touchdown run by North Carolina back-up quarterback Chazz Surratt.
Miami put together a decent drive as the first quarter wound down and the second quarter began. Perry, who was 5-6 for 74 yards in the first quarter, hit wide receiver Darrell Langham for a gain of 22 yards and Dallas had a 17-yard run before Miami was forced to settle for a field goal. Kicker Bubba Baxa cleanly hit a 35-yarder to cap off a 10-play 57-yard drive to give the Hurricanes a 17-10 lead.
THEN OUT CAME THE CHAIN AGAIN! On third and long, Gerald Willis blew through the Carolina offensive line and forced an errant pass by Surratt that landed right in the hands of Miami defensive end Joe Jackson, who returned it 42-yards for a touchdown. It was the Hurricanes second defensive touchdown of the game and it put the Hurricanes up 24-10.
If there’s a way that you want play to start a game for a quarterback making his first career start against an ACC team, Miami was doing it through a quarter and a half. The two defensive touchdowns have given the Miami offense time to settle down and rest. However, Surratt was doing all he could to make sure North Carolina stayed in the game with his legs. He made plays on the ground the whole night, but it was not enough to beat the Hurricanes defense consistently.
Dallas got the action going for the Canes with 5:05 left in the first half with a 25-yard run. Perry hit Mike Harley on the following play for a 42-yard pass down the Hurricanes sideline while rolling to his left that put them at the five-yard line. On third and goal, Perry hit Langham for a touchdown to give the Hurricanes a 20-point lead. The Canes had to settle for six after Bubba Baxa’s extra point attempt was blocked.
Senior cornerback Jhavonte Dean became the third recipient of the Hurricanes turnover chain when he intercepted a lazy pass by Surratt that seemed to stay in the air for an eternity. Dean’s play gave Miami a chance to take last second shot a score, which is exactly what Perry and the offense did. Dallas took a handoff with :11 left in the half for 22 yards that set the table for a 28-yard field goal by Baxa to make it a 33-10.
It was an unexciting third quarter at Hard Rock Stadium. The polar opposite of the 43-point first half. North Carolina came out of the gates flat and lost a fumble to open up the second half and Miami’s offense did the same. On second and nine Perry got swarmed by Carolina defenders and lost the ball and the ball was recovered by the Heels.
On Miami’s second possession of the second half, Perry tried to squeeze a throw into a tight window that was tipped and eventually brought down and returned 19 yards by North Carolina freshman cornerback Bryson Richardson.
But the Heels were unable to capitalize on Perry’s error. Carolina kicker Freeman Jones just barely missed a 48-yard field goal.
The Hurricanes, like their opponent, struggled to get their offense going in the second half and the quarter was scoreless.
The Tar Heels tried to keep the game even relatively close in the quarter by going for it on multiple fourth downs. Their aggressiveness backfired as Surratt threw a fourth down a pass that was intercepted, for the third time this game, by Hurricanes striker Romeo Finley that was returned for an 83-yard touchdown to make it a 40-10 game. That pick-six marks the first time a Miami Hurricanes defense has scored three touchdowns in a game since September 23, 2000 at West Virginia.
That is largely due to the inefficiency of North Carolina’s quarterbacks and the pressure that the defense is putting on them. Through three and a half quarters, Carolina quarterbacks were just 20-35 for 114 yards with three interceptions.
To add insult to injury, Miami punched in another score on the ground. This time it was senior running back Trayone Gray with the one-yard touchdown run to seal an 11-play 61-yard drive to make it a 47-10 game.
A late fumble recovery by B.J. Jennings gave the Hurricanes their sixth turnover of the night and capped off a statement win over a team that gave the Hurricanes all they could handle in their 2017 matchup in Chapel Hill.
Despite all of the pre-game talk being all about the quarterback, it was the defenses effort that made all the headlines. However, N’Kosi Perry finished his first career start 8-12 for 125 yards and an interception. Perry flashed all of the abilities that made him such a highly touted recruit.
The running backs played a phenomenal game as well. As a unit, they combined for 243 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry and became the third straight team to run for over 200 yards on North Carolina.
It also seems as if Perry found his favorite target at wide receiver. For the second straight game, Mike Harley lead the team in receiving yards. Harley went for 70 yards, including the 42-yarder in the first quarter that set up a Hurricanes touchdown.
But at the end it was the defense that deserves the most credit. They dominated in every facet of the game and collected 14 tackles for loss. That is two and a half more than their nation-leading 11.5 average tackles for loss in a game.