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October 15, 2011Several numbers helped to tell the story of Miami's 30-24 victory against Carolina on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
UNC (5-2, 1-2 in the ACC) spotted the Hurricanes a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, a hurdle that proved too large to overcome. Miami grabbed a 14-0 lead before UNC had run an offensive play.
"You get down 14-0 in the first quarter and that takes some people's confidence away," senior cornerback Charles Brown said. "Maybe they think we're not supposed to be here or aren't going to win the game. It took some toughness to get back in the game."
Miami (3-3, 1-2) drove the ball for a touchdown with relative ease on the opening possession, and then Carolina's T.J. Thorpe fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return. The Hurricanes recovered the ball and quickly turned the fumble into seven more points.
There were more key numbers. Safeties Matt Merletti and Gene Robinson were two of the Tar Heels' top three tacklers. Merletti led with seven total, and Robinson tied defensive end Quinton Coples with six.
Anytime the safeties lead the team in tackles, the opposition is getting downfield way too often and the defensive front is not making enough plays. Miami got downfield by relying more on the pass than the run. UNC had prepared for the run.
Miami used the pass to make a collection of big strikes.
"We can't give up big plays," Brown said. "We have to make them work for everything they get. We can't make it easy."
The Hurricanes have the ACC's leading rusher in Lamar Miller, and the Tar Heels' defensive plans were directed at stopping him. Miami surprised UNC by throwing the ball 30 times, completing 20 of those for 267 yards and three touchdowns.
"All week long I was preparing myself mentally for the run, and I kind of got caught off guard with the pass," Carolina cornerback Jabari Price said.
Another telling set of numbers were the ratio of run and pass. Quarterback Bryn Renner had 37 pass attempts, while running back Giovani Bernard ran the ball 27 times and Ryan Houston ran it five times.
Had the Tar Heels run the ball more and passed less, the result on the scoreboard might have been different. Miami struggled to stop UNC's running game all day.
"It's all up to Coach [John] Shoop," Bernard said. "He's the offensive coordinator. He's doing his thing up there [in the press box]. As a team player, you're going to do whatever they call to the best of your ability.
"We talk about that all the time. If Coach Shoop calls a play, we're going to do it to the best of our ability. It's matter of what Coach Shoop likes. He's up there reading their defense."
The most disappointing aspect of the game, however, had to be the mental state the Tar Heels presented at the outset. The players conceded that they were emotionally flat for the second consecutive week, while their opponent came obviously excited to play.
"It's kind of shocking," Merletti said. "Everyone was excited for this game. It's weird we had the wind taken out of us so quick. That is something we need to improve on; we need to start games fast and be able to finish games as well."
Interim head coach Everett Withers said the team prepared in the same fashion this past week, but he said he would assume responsibility for the Tar Heels' lack of excitement at the beginning.
"I take the blame for that if they weren't ready," Withers said. "I didn't feel like we practiced any different this week. If that is the case, then I'll take the blame."