Miami's win brings relief to Canes, ACC
October, 18, 2013
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio was the picture of relief Thursday night as he hurried out of the coaches' box and into the elevator after the Hurricanes' ugly 27-23 victory at North Carolina.
"Six-and-oh is 6-0," he said with a smile. "A win on the road is a win on the road."
It was classic coachspeak, and it couldn't have rung more true on Thursday night in Kenan Stadium.
The No. 10 team in the country -- allegedly -- survived four interceptions from quarterback Stephen Morris. It won in spite of as-yet undisclosed injuries suffered during the game by its top two playmakers -- running back Duke Johnson and receiver Phillip Dorsett. It won even though the defense allowed a season-high 500 total yards and had no answer for tight end Eric Ebron. It won in large part because of running back Dallas Crawford, who finished with 137 rushing yards, two touchdowns and 33 carries.
In an otherwise inglorious performance, Miami somehow found a way to avoid losing to a North Carolina team that, now 1-5, is off to its worst start since 2006. And it needed every second on the clock to do it.
"It's a great win, because you're on the road, you're down 10 points, you're fighting the elements and the environment, we have four interceptions, we lose pivotal players and everybody just rallies," said Miami coach Al Golden. "It just says a lot about the guys. There's no turning back for this group right now. They're not turning back. There's no finger-pointing. They're too invested in each other in what they've given and what they've sacrificed to turn back. I told them all week we're going to have to win this game by playing until there are four zeros, right to the end."
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesSophomore Dallas Crawford stepped up with 137 yards rushing and the game-winning touchdown.
The ACC has had three good reasons to brag lately -- No. 3 Clemson, No. 5 Florida State and No. 10 Miami -- but on Thursday night, the ACC of old was on display. For the majority of the game, it looked like North Carolina had the upper hand, and the conference would once again be its own worst opponent in the national spotlight. The Tar Heels played their best defense of the season, and were leading 17-13 at the half. Even with Johnson and Dorsett in the game, Miami couldn't punch it in twice from inside the 5-yard line. Quite frankly, it was a terrible game, as Morris launched one errant throw after another, the teams traded turnovers, bad snaps sailed through the air, and UNC continued to hurt itself with foolish penalties.
Thanks to Crawford, though, and Miami's relentlessness, the league kept its grip on three undefeated teams.
With Johnson sidelined by an injury early, the running game fell on Crawford's shoulders. On the game-winning, 90-yard drive, Crawford had eight carries for 29 yards, including the go-ahead three-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left in the game.
"I was so happy he got his opportunity to shine," said Morris. "Obviously he's a talented running back, a talented receiver as well. I was so happy for him. When we were on the sidelines I was just hugging him and saying thank you and how much I appreciated him."
As he should.
Morris finished with 19 completions in 35 attempts, four interceptions and no touchdowns. Golden said it was an uncharacteristic performance and thought Morris was trying to do too much.
"I'm not going to leave him here," Golden deadpanned. "I'm not going to leave him here. We're going to bring him back with us and get him ready for next week."
Credit to Morris -- he took full responsibility and conceded, "Obviously everything went terribly wrong for me offensively."
"I don't know why I was so off," he said. "I really have to sit back and study what I'm doing throughout the week, look at everything I need to do on and off the field, make adjustments, maybe study better, meet with my coaches more. I don't know. I've just got to play better."
In complete defiance of the unwritten rules of football, Miami won for a third consecutive week in spite of losing the turnover battle. The Canes have now committed 12 turnovers in the past three games.
Crawford helped offset that.
Before the winning drive, Crawford said he got an impromptu pep talk from former Miami running back Clinton Portis.
"It calmed me down," Crawford said. "He told me, 'This is your moment, this is what you've been waiting on,' and it paid off."
Golden called Thursday's performance from Crawford -- who also blocked a punt -- "unbelievable." In the locker room at the half, Golden said the staff challenged the group, asking who would step up.
Crawford answered with the game-winner, and the defense preserved it.
"We're resilient," Crawford said. "We've been through a lot over the years. It took a long time to get to this point. In years past we would've probably lost this game. But in listening to all of the coaches, coach Golden, and believing -- it's all about believing, and that's what we did tonight."
Miami -- and the ACC -- will take it.
After all, 6-0 is 6-0.