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2019 SOTU Awards: WORST Play of the Year — 4th and 17 vs UNC

The ‘Canes blew a lat lead to UNC by giving up a 4th and 17 to freshman Sam Howell

Georgia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

After a week 0 loss to the Florida Gators, the Hurricanes had a bye week heading into their match up in Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels. Manny Diaz’s team would struggle all season coming off of a bye, and this was the beginning of that trend.

UNC came out hot and led 17-3 at the end of the first before Miami woke up and started to score points. The ‘Canes ended the half down 17-13 before pulling within one point at the end of the third. When the 4th and 17 play took place, Miami was actually leading 25-20 with 4:38 left in the 4th quarter.

On 1st down from their own 25, UNC gives the ball to Javonte Williams who breaks off a 22 yard run. On 1st down from their own 47, the Tar Heels complete a pass from Sam Howell to Dyami Brown for four yards. On 2nd and 6, Howell is sacked by Shaquille Quarterman pinning the heels into a bad 3rd and 13 predicament.

On 3rd and 13 from their own 44, UNC drops back to pass and Howell is sacked by Gregory Rousseau for a loss of four. The Heels call a timeout and try to figure out a plan. It’s 4th and 17 with the game on the line and 2:55 left in regulation.

At this point, Miami still has three timeouts. Typically the idea is to burn one right before the quarterback snaps the ball. That way seemingly they either go right back to this play and at least you had a picture of it to digest before, or you’ve taken away their “go to play” and they’re on to Plan B. Either way it’s a benefit to your defense.

With the cornerback backing off and the safety not budging, my assumption is that this is going to be cover 4 match. The overhang nickel, Trajan Bandy, winds up playing a deep hook under the out route from the slot wide receiver. Quarterman gives a ton of pre-snap blitz looks but in the end plays the flat to the top half of the screen.

The outside receiver takes an inside release on his vertical possibly to get a natural pick going on the CB and safety. The inside receiver runs the deepest out route in the history of out routes, to like exactly 19 yards to get the first down. The back comes across the QB on a quick dip play fake and runs the flat. The Tar Heels keep six in to protect against five.

The players around the play are the safety, Gurvan Hall over the top and Bandy underneath. If Bandy is playing deep and under the slot, why does he start so far way on the snap of the football? UNC actually has speed at the skill positions on offense. If Hall is constantly so deep he’s off the screen, why isn’t he over the inside receiver when he catches the ball?

The rest of the play is odd, too. Gilbert Frierson is the safety who blitzes (bottom of screen) and is for some reason the inside pressure where he’s stopped on a dime by a punch to the chest. The slowest pressure in the world comes from Michael Pinckney who doesn’t have the speed or change of direction to get pressure on that looping stunt.

Under Manny Diaz there have always been holes in coverage. This is one part an issue from over blitzing. When you bring pressure there has to be a hole somewhere in the coverage. Another issue is the lack of technique. The linebackers have had poor technique since Manny arrived. Another issue is the lack of defensive speed. Quarterman, Pinckney, Hall and Bandy look like they haven’t gotten faster since arriving on campus, and have possibly gotten slower over the years.

Then there’s the constant loss of communication between cornerbacks and safeties. I’m not sure if that’s the issue with having too many coverages and blitzes, having two different coaches for the positions and practicing them apart, or what the answer is. But it’s been an issue for years at Miami, especially on easy route combinations like vertical and out that beats the ‘Canes on 4th and 17.

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images


Don’t forget, 4th and 17 was like the Steve Bartman play for the Chicago Cubs against the Marlins in 2003. Sure Bartman cost the Cubs an easy out but there was a lot of baseball left to play. 4th and 17 wasn’t a touchdown throw. Miami proceeded to allow UNC to move 40 yards in under two minutes. Howell completed a 20 yard throw before running for 4 yards on his own. A penalty on Trevon Hill gave UNC a free 5 yards. Then the Heels ripped off a 9 yard run from Michael Carter before Howell his Dazz Newsome for a 10 yard touchdown. Carter then ran in a two yard two point conversion to put the Hells up 28-25.

The game still isn’t over. With 1:01 left on the clock Miami moves the football on UNC until the drives stalls on the Tar Heels 32. From there Bubba Baxa misses a 49 yard field goal and the ‘Canes lose in Chapel Hill.

Thankfully the 2019 season is behind ‘Canes fans and with Alonzo Highsmith (maybe) coming in as a “GM” type role, Rhett Lashlee as a new, high powered OC, and the potential of Tyler Van Dyke, Manny Diaz can get us excited for 2020 all over again.