Miami honored its 2001 national champions at halftime Saturday.
But not even they could inspire the 2016 Hurricanes.
The 16th-ranked Canes said they had put their one-point loss last week to Florida State behind them. They said they were zoned in on winning the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But they played the first half like their minds were on another planet, trailing by 17 points at halftime and eventually falling to North Carolina 20-13 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Never miss a local story.
With two consecutive losses in the ACC and only five days before they play Virginia Tech on the road in a Thursday-night ESPN game, the Hurricanes (4-2, 1-2 ACC) will have a difficult time achieving their goal, despite the No. 17 Hokies (4-2, 2-1) falling to Syracuse Saturday.
“Another heartbreaking loss for us here at home,’’ said coach Mark Richt, who refused to blame the defeat on lingering effects from the FSU game. “I’ve learned over the years not to say too much at a time like this. I know there’s a lot of tremendous things that did happen in the game — that [late third-quarter, early fourth-quarter] goal-line stance was phenomenal. ... If you could be in the locker room and just see how much they do care about this team and this university and wanted so badly to come out of here with a victory tonight, I think everybody would have really at least respected that.
“We’ve just got to get better. Got to get better.’’
Down 20-3 at halftime, UM rallied to make it 20-13 with 6:54 left and got the ball back with 1:45 remaining.
After an 11-yard completion by Brad Kaaya to tailback Mark Walton, Kaaya went back to pass and fumbled when he was hit by defensive end Malik Carney. Tackle Jeremiah Clarke recovered the fumble with 1:31 left, securing the victory for North Carolina (5-2, 3-1).
“He was trying to get up in the pocket, the guy came around the edge and swiped the ball out,’’ Richt said. “Even the play before, I don’t know how he got the ball out and completed it. We just couldn’t keep that guy from coming around the edge and tomahawking the ball from behind.”
Miami stopped the Tar Heels on four straight downs from the UM 1-yard line as the fourth quarter began and the skies became dark gray, unleasing a torrential rain storm a few minutes later. But the UM offense again fell short, being held to only four third-down conversions in 15 attempts by a UNC defense that was anything but vaunted.
The Canes rushed for 139 yards, 82 of them by Mark Walton. Meanwhile, UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky was back in the groove with a 299-yard and two-touchdown night, hitting receiver Bug Howard 10 times for 156 of those yards.
After being asked if the shoulder he injured against FSU bothered him, Kaaya paused a couple seconds and said “No’’ three times.
“The whole point of emphasis in this offseason was just getting people to all do the right thing -- all 11 guys doing the right thing,’’ said Kaaya, who completed 16 of 31 passes for 224 yards. “Everyone has to get the play, get the signal, be on the same page. ... That’s the only way that it works.’’
Kaaya said the Canes “can’t dwell on these last two games. The ACC is up in the air right now. It’s all over the place. We just have to keep going and stay the course. This is a quick turnaround. Virginia Tech, that game is in five days.”
The Hurricanes seemed lethargic in the first half, their defense looking confused and slow, and for what seemed like the first time this season, they missed tackle after tackle. By the end of the game they were down several players with injuries, including cornerback Sheldrick Redwine, and starting defensive ends Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson.
“Our MO, the way we operate on defense, is next man in,’’ defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “One physical game coming off another physical game. We’re trying to practice not feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Special teams also went awry. Among the problems, UM kicker Michael Badgley, who had his extra-point-attempt that would have tied Florida State late in the fourth quarter blocked last week, had a 35-yard field goal blocked by Jalen Dalton in the first quarter Saturday.
Badgley later hit a 47-yarder in the second quarter to put UM on the board, 10-3, and made it 20-13 on his 22-yard field goal late in the final quarter.
UM’s other points came from a two-yard run by Joe Yearby that culminated a four-play, 61-yard drive in the third quarter.