Halloween is just around the corner and Kenan Stadium fittingly remains a horror show for Miami quarterbacks.
Former Hurricane signal callers Kyle Wright and Jacory Harris each had forgettable four-interception performances in Chapel Hill, and tonight Stephen Morris joined that dubious club, minus the disastrous final result.
Miami's offense was supposed to go as far as its senior quarterback took it this season. Instead, a cornerback turned second-string running back stole the show in this Thursday night showdown, with Dallas Crawford leading the Hurricanes to a miraculous 27-23 comeback victory.
Morris, a one-time Heisman Trophy contender, was off all game. The senior quarterback overthrew receivers from the get-go and was a turnover machine. Morris' lack of consistency was just enough to keep North Carolina in the game, convincing a rowdy Tar Heels crowd that an upset could be in the making.
Instead, there was a next-man-up mentality as Crawford took over for Miami.
Stepping in for the sensational Duke Johnson—who tore off on a 59-yard run on his fourth carry of the night before being sidelined in the first quarter—Crawford immediately picked up the slack and amassed 137 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with :16 remaining.
Johnson was one of many casualties that made for a closer Thursday night showdown than anticipated. The Hurricanes also lost wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, as well as safety Kacy Rodgers II, early in the contest.
Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush were also dinged up, putting Miami in scramble mode, but it didn't dampen the Hurricanes' spirit. Even with an identity-less offense.
Miami posted 566 yards on the evening, but it was a feast followed by famine-type outing. Johnson's big run was ended by a 22-yard Matt Goudis field goal. Two drives later, a 68-yard Dorsett haul-in resulted in another kick, despite 1st-and-Goal from the UNC 7-yard line.
Down only four at the half—mostly due to an early second quarter blocked field goal attempt and 67-yard touchdown return—Morris' arm remained erratic the rest of the night. Some big gains helped move the chains, but in critical moments, sticking with the pass wound up costing the Hurricanes.
After a Goudis field goal attempt sailed wide right on Miami's opening possession of the third quarter, Morris stalled the next drive with his third interception, bouncing a pass of the helmet of offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson and into the arms of Norkeithus Otis.
Down 23-20 two possessions later, after a Crawford-fueled drive resulted in a three-yard touchdown, Morris surrendered another pick on 3rd-and-4 from the Miami 38-yard line.
Between Morris' inefficiency and the loss of Johnson and Dorsett, the Hurricanes were all over the place. Miami posted 556 total yards on the evening, but were 8-of-18 on third down conversions and settled for early field goals, where touchdowns looked like gimmies.
Still, defense rose to the occasion, allowed the Hurricanes to hang around and with one final possession, the ground game was relied upon. Eduardo Clements picked up 27 yards on back-to-back runs and the breather was just enough to rejuvenate the heavily relied-upon Crawford, who proved his reliability.
With the game on the line, the sophomore picked up two crucial third downs, including the game-winning three-yard touchdown in the final minute—none of which would've been possible without a dominant performance from Hurricanes offensive line.
Miami had its share of blowouts against lesser foes this season—Florida Atlantic, Savannah State and South Florida—as well as a grind-it-out win over defense-minded Florida and second half revival against quirky Georgia Tech. North Carolina proved a completely different beast and a much-needed lesson in resiliency.
Last October the Hurricanes folded on a potential game-winning drive against his same Tar Heels squad. Down 18-14, backs to the wall, Miami crumbled.
A year later, Miami's maturity was on display, front and center in both conference games to date.
Down 17-7 at home to Georgia Tech was one thing. With a 23-13 early fourth quarter deficit at North Carolina without a handful of offensive stars, the Hurricanes followed the lead of calm, cool head coach Al Golden and again found a way.
Miami descended on Chapel Hill with 6-0 on the radar, and while this one didn't go as expected, the process itself will pay dividends for the Hurricanes as the season rolls on.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog