University of Miami coach Al Golden used the word “execute” or variations of it several times after the Hurricanes’ 18-14 loss to North Carolina.
As in, “They executed and we didn’t,” a subdued Golden said.
“We just failed to execute,” Mike James said.
“A lack of execution,” Denzel Perryman said.
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It’s not much of an explanation, but translated from footballspeak it means, “We really messed up.”
Neither team gave a pretty performance on a windy Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. It was a maddening game, constantly interrupted by mistakes and fluttering yellow flags. Dropped passes, interceptions, blown assignments, missed field goals and nearly 200 yards in penalties (140 for North Carolina).
The Hurricanes had a prime opportunity against a mediocre opponent to remain undefeated in the Atlantic Coast Conference but lost their second game in a row — and have No. 12 Florida State and Virginia Tech on the docket.
Worse, quarterback Stephen Morris went down with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Backup Ryan Williams got UM within one play of a first down in UNC territory with 26 seconds left, but his fourth-down pass to Clive Walford was 5 yards short.
UM’s inexperienced and gentlemanly defense (“After you, Mr. Running Back”) is ranked 118th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, yielding an average of 510 yards and 34.7 points per game before Saturday. But the defense played its finest game of the season against the Tar Heels only to see the offense flounder. For the first four games, UM’s offense kept scoreboards humming and had to because the defense allowed opponents to be just as productive.
In the past two games, against Notre Dame and UNC, the offense has scored just 17 points.
The Hurricanes aren’t getting outrun or outsmarted but they are getting out-executed. One costly example was the Tar Heels’ two-point conversion.
After South Florida native Giovani Bernard eluded five UM tacklers to score his second touchdown, UNC lined up, stacking the right side. Holder Tommy Hibbard zipped a pass to tight end Eric Ebron, who dragged two defenders into the end zone. UNC 15, UM 7.
“If you think about it, that’s the difference,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “They could have been kicking a field goal other times but they had to score a touchdown. So that’s a huge play for us.”
(The presence of Fedora made you wonder whatever happened to the career of Butch Davis, who should have won a couple national titles by now.)
UNC executed, UM did not, and the screwups pained Golden greatly. You could see it in his face. You could see it in his limp, twisted tie.
“We work on it all the time and it’s just disappointing,” he said. “One of our safeties ran off the field, and I don’t know why. Regardless, we should be able to cover down. It’s disappointing we have some guys who don’t know how to react in that situation. We covered it on Thursday. We cover it all the time in training camp. We didn’t execute it.”
It’s like the Hurricanes have prepared for an exam, they’ve studied, they know the material and then neglect to bubble in their answers on the last page.
Frustration: An offsides penalty on fourth-and-1; relinquishing 177 rushing yards and an average of 6.6 per carry to Bernard; claiming zero sacks; stalling on nine of 15 third-down conversions.
But the UM defense, on pace to be the worst in school history, showed significant progress. The defensive line, filled with underclassmen, displayed muscle and resolve on key stops that kept the game close. Linebacker Denzel Perryman, a sophomore, made 11 tackles and linebacker Eddie Johnson, a redshirt freshman, made his first interception, halting a 72-yard drive.
“Better,” Golden said. “We’ve got to continue to grow.”
And fast, before the Seminoles and Hokies arrive.
UM has got to execute, which it did not do on Bernard’s wide-open, 16-yard reception that set up his 17-yard touchdown run.
“A standard wheel route, and we blow a gasket,” Golden said, looking like he was about to blow one, too.