Remember when almost losing to Nebraska seemed like a disaster? When dropping road games to Cincinnati and Florida State by a combined 16 points was considered a low-mark for this storied program? Let’s go back to that.
Needing a win against No. 23 North Carolina to stay alive in the ACC Coastal division race, the Hurricanes played their worst game of the season – oh wait, a 59-21 loss to the Tar Heels somehow wasn’t the most embarrassing performance by this team in three weeks, let alone the entire season (see: 58-0 loss to Clemson at home).
The Hurricanes showed up in Chapel Hill on Saturday for roughly 10 minutes of game time. The game got off to a reasonable start with both teams trading defensive stands on the first four possessions. Then sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya mishandled a high snap on Miami’s third drive, North Carolina recovered and the day spiraled out of control for the Hurricanes.
Senior quarterback Marquise Williams capitalized on the turnover with a 10-yard touchdown run. The Canes went three-and-out on their next two drives on offense, only to see North Carolina score 10 more points on a 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Elijah Hood and a 25-yard field goal by junior Nick Weiler.
Down by three scores not even five minutes into the second quarter, the Canes needed to come away with points on the next drive to keep the game competitive. Instead, Kaaya apparently thought his receiver was wearing a baby-blue jersey and threw the ball straight to senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, who returned the interception 60 yards to Miami’s 14-yard line. Williams ran it in for a touchdown on the next play, putting the Tar Heels ahead 24-0 with 6:24 left in the half.
The Canes started the next drive at North Carolina’s 44 after the Tar Heels failed to recover an onside kick. Miami responded fittingly by squandering the field position and walking away empty when sophomore Michael Badgley missed a 32-yard field goal with 3:50 left in the half.
North Carolina (9-1, 6-0) added another touchdown with 40 seconds remaining on a 78-yard punt return touchdown by junior Ryan Switzer. Before the Canes could attempt to regroup at halftime, Kaaya turned the ball over for the third time when he was blasted by freshman linebacker Andre Smith and fumbled. North Carolina took a 31-0 lead into the break.
In the first 30 minutes of play, the Canes (6-4, 3-3) racked up nine penalties for 80 yards, turned the ball over three times and scored zero points. But they did outgain North Carolina in total yards 189 to 186.
North Carolina opened the second half with a five-play, 61-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Williams to redshirt freshman tight end Brandon Fritts. After another Miami three-and-out – the team’s fifth – North Carolina marched 65 yards in six plays for another touchdown, ending in a 3-yard touchdown run by Williams. North Carolina led 45-0 with 10:26 remaining in the third.
Miami avoided the shutout on the following drive when Kaaya connected with freshman receiver Lawrence Cager for an 8-yard touchdown, Cager’s first as a Cane. The Tar Heels responded with their seventh touchdown of the game. Junior running back T.J. Logan scored on a 9-yard rush to put North Carolina ahead 52-7 with 3:14 left in the quarter.
The Canes drove 94 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown on their next possession. Kaaya ran in a quarterback sneak from one yard out to cap the impressive drive with 14:26 left on the clock and the game long over.
North Carolina emptied its bench on the next drive but still managed to go 60 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Junior running back made it 59-14 on a 3-yard rush with less than nine minutes to play.
Kaaya remained in the game and took the Canes 80 yards in 10 plays for Miami’s third score. Sophomore running back Trayone Gray recorded his third career touchdown on a 1-yard rush. Kaaya finished with 326 yards and a touchdown along with an interception on 24-of-43 passing.
North Carolina outgained Miami 487 to 425 in total yards and 300 to 298 on the ground.
The Canes next play their final home game of the season against Georgia Tech at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.