|Gerry Broome / Associated Press|
|Miami QB Stephen Morris threw four interceptions against a UNC defense that entered with four INTs this season.|
More than 25 NFL scouts were in attendance at Thursday night's game, and they had to come away impressed with North Carolina junior tight end Eric Ebron.
Miami senior quarterback Stephen Morris? Not so impressive. Indeed, had Miami relied more on its running game and less on Morris, the Hurricanes wouldn't have had to rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and squeeze out a 27-23 win in the final minute.
Ebron (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) might be the best tight end in the nation, and he definitely was the best player on the field Thursday. He told the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer before the season that his speed for a guy his size should be "illegal" -- he has been clocked as fast as 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- and he torched Miami's secondary for eight catches, 199 yards and a TD. His performance came against a defense that was allowing 141.4 passing yards per game, the lowest in the nation.
Ebron's touchdown came on a 71-yard catch-and-run from backup quarterback Marquise Williams in the first quarter. His best catch, though, was a 28-yarder early in the second half in which he did a 180-degree turn and nabbed a pass one-handed. Inexplicably, Tar Heels senior quarterback Bryn Renner didn't go Ebron's way again until UNC's final drive of the game, which began with 16 seconds left. Ebron gained 32 yards on that catch.
Renner (6-3, 225) was 28-of-36 for 297 yards and a TD, but he also threw an interception. That pick -- where Renner tried to force it deep instead of taking a much shorter crossing route that was wide open -- plus horrendous clock management by Renner on one fourth-quarter drive helped Miami rally from a 23-13 deficit in the fourth quarter.
Morris (6-2, 218) threw for 332 yards but played a poor game. Yes, he has a strong arm, which his boosters point out ad nauseum. But he threw four interceptions against a weak Tar Heels defense -- which came in with four interceptions total. In addition, he showed inconsistent mechanics and footwork.
Miami rolled up 556 yards despite playing most of the game without its two best offensive weapons, tailback Duke Johnson (head injury) and wide receiver Phillip Dorsey (knee). Backup tailback Dallas Crawford ran for 137 yards and two TDs on 33 carries, and presumably the only reason Miami coaches took the ball out of his hands and let Morris throw in the second half was that Crawford was tired, and Miami doesn't have a third-team tailback whom coaches trust.
Miami coaches wised up at the end. Miami's final drive began on its 10 with 4:11 left. The Hurricanes scored 13 plays later, and 10 of the plays were runs, which covered 56 yards. The first pass on the drive came on the sixth play, with the Hurricanes already having covered 41 yards on the ground.
Presumably, scouts also were there to see Miami senior offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (6-8, 345), who has immense physical talent but little production to show for it. One of Morris' interceptions bounced off Henderson's helmet on an attempted screen, and it appeared Henderson should've been at least 5 yards farther downfield at the time. Worth noting: Henderson didn't start and also was on the bench for Miami's final drive, with Brandon Linder -- normally a guard -- playing in Henderson's spot at right tackle.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.