CHAPEL HILL, N.C., --The Miami Hurricanes' defense spent the past two weeks hearing about its poor play. And even after Saturday's 30-24 victory against North Carolina, it is unlikely to win over many more fans.
Still, the shaky unit was able to make the plays needed for the Hurricanes to capture their first ACC victory this season. It was also the first time UM (3-3, 1-2 in ACC) won at Kenan Stadium in five tries.
"Our defense needs to play together to be a good defense," UM coach Al Golden said. "And I thought they played together (Saturday) and it gave us a chance to win."
The biggest play was delivered by the linebacker Sean Spence, the Hurricanes' best defender. North Carolina was in position to steal a victory despite trailing by 24 at one point. After Tar Heels receiver Reggie Wilkins caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bryn Renner to make it a six-point game, they recovered an onside kick with 45 seconds remaining.
With no timeouts, UNC moved the ball to the UM 30 before Spence made the chances of a comeback more difficult. He sacked Renner for a seven-yard loss, leaving the Tar Heels only time for one more play.
Their desperation attempt of a "hook and ladder" failed.
Spence gave credit to defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio for calling the right play on the sack.
"Coach D, he wanted to get some pressure," Spence said. "He called the perfect play. We beat the protection that they had and I just made the play. He gets all the credit for calling that play."
Added center Tyler Horn, "With Sean Spence out there, you know he's going to make a play."
The defense allowed 429 yards, but forced one fumble and had four sacks. It also stopped the Tar Heels on a key 4th-and-2 inside the UM 10 early in the fourth quarter.
"The offense had already done their job," Spence said. "They put up 27 points. Coming into halftime, we already said that we (the defense) had to win this game. It shouldn't matter, they gave us a great lead."
Those timely defensive plays were more than enough for the Hurricanes' offense.
Quarterback Jacory Harris continued his strong play of late, completing 20 of 30 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. He has now gone three straight games without an interception. After starting slow the previous two weeks, the Hurricanes put the pressure on their opponent.
On the opening drive, Harris led UM 71 yards in 13 plays that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to running back Mike James. The defense then forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, giving Harris another shot before the UNC offense even took the field.
Harris wasted little time.
On the drive's first play, he connected with receiver Tommy Streeter for a 27-yard touchdown. The Hurricanes then got consecutive field goals from Jake Wieclaw before Harris struck again. This time, he hit receiver Travis Benjamin for a 30-yard touchdown that made it 27-3 with 5:17 left in the first half.
"We wanted to score five times in the first half," Harris said. "That was our goal, but we wanted five touchdowns. We'll take it how we get them, points are points. We still got to execute. We've still got to take care of the small things to be a high-octane offense."