One unbeaten reaches showdown as UNC hosts Miami

The Hurricanes suffered a last-second loss to scuttle a battle of perfect records

Tight end Bryson Nesbit and the Tar Heels will look to stay unbeaten when UNC hosts Miami on Saturday in Chapel Hill. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — UNC did its part.

The Tar Heels held up their end of the potential battle of unbeatens last weekend, blowing out Syracuse in one of the best all-around performances the Tar Heels have turned in since the turn of the century, at least.

The win improved Mack Brown’s Heels to 5-0 on the year, leaving them as one of just 11 unbeatens remaining in Power Five — Louisville, Florida State, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia, USC, Oregon and Washington are the others. In the mid-majors, only Liberty, Air Force and James Madison remain undefeated.

Two weeks ago, the number was 21 in Power Five, meaning the group’s membership has been nearly cut in half in the last 14 days.

Brown has kept tabs on the survivor pool.

“So each week, it gets tougher,” he said. “It gets tougher to see who can survive and who can move forward in that group, and I’m glad we’re part of it.”

One of the teams that fell by the wayside last weekend, when four Power Five unbeatens went down, was UNC’s opponent on Saturday night at Kenan Stadium — Miami.

The Hurricanes nearly made it, leading Georgia Tech with 35 seconds to play on Saturday. Instead of taking a knee and running out the clock, however, Miami decided to run the ball. The Hurricanes fumbled it and gave up a game-winning touchdown to the Yellow Jackets with 1 second on the clock.

It was a crushing loss for the Hurricanes, who dropped eight spots in the AP Top 25 but still managed to hold on to the No. 25 spot, making Saturday’s game a battle between ranked teams — UNC moved up to No. 12 — despite not being a clash of unbeatens. It’s just the eighth time in the last 40 years that the Tar Heels have hosted a game between ranked teams and just the fourth time ever that a 5-0 UNC team will take the field at home.

Brown was skeptical that Miami’s tough loss the previous week would have an impact on Saturday’s game.

“If anything, they’ll come in with a chip on their shoulder because they weren’t happy with how it finished,” he said. “The players will be on edge. The coaches will be on edge.”

Meanwhile in Miami, the Canes appear to still be struggling to get over the blow. Coach Mario Cristobal opened his postgame press conference by saying, “I made the wrong call.”

He doubled down during his first press conference of UNC week.

“Obviously, tough one on Saturday. Really tough one,” he said. “I made the wrong call, you know, take full ownership and not taking a knee and not giving them the opportunity to have a couple of extra plays and preventing us from sealing the win.”

Cristobal and the Canes are working on healing.

“You do it with honesty and transparency,” he said. “Go in and fix all the things that we can do better. Realize the opportunity in front of us, understand that football is very much like life. … And the way that we train our players, the type of DNA and the players that we recruit, we expected a good response today. And that’s what we got. There’s a lot of conviction in our preparation and proper processes, and the guys are very, they’re very eager to get back to work and prepare for this weekend’s opportunity.”

The ending of the game was far from the only area of concern for the Hurricanes. After three straight 40-point games and a 38-point opener against Texas A&M, the Miami offense suddenly seemed off-kilter against Georgia Tech. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who had one interception on the year, threw three against the Yellow Jackets, and the offense was held to a mere 20 points.

Brown was worried that the Tar Heels would be the team having an off day looking ahead to a marquee matchup with the Canes.

“Because there was so much hype about Miami, I wondered if we’d play as good,” Brown said.

He needn’t have worried. Drake Maye led the Tar Heels’ offense with ruthless efficiency, topping 400 passing yards, and the defense had its best performance of Brown’s second stint in Chapel Hill.

Now that defense will have to keep Miami’s offense under wraps, which is a daunting challenge even in light of the Hurricane’s struggles last week.

“They’re the most talented team we’ve played at this point,” Brown said. “They have speed all over the place.”

In other words, his UNC team will need another peak performance to stay alive in the Power Five’s survivor pool.