North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner said Monday that confusion and miscommunication led to the critical delay of game penalty that halted the Tar Heels’ second-to-last drive against Miami and helped set up the Hurricanes’ game-winning touchdown drive.
With less than six minutes to play and UNC clinging to a 23-20 lead last Thursday night, the Tar Heels needed only to gain inches to convert a third down near midfield. Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels’ backup quarterback, had been in the game on second down. UNC substituted Renner and others for the play on third down.
The substitutions, though, came late in the play clock. And they led to confusion and miscommunication, Renner said. After UNC made its late substitutions, an official stood over the ball and allowed Miami time to substitute. UNC, then, couldn’t begin a play until the official was out of the way, and the play clock wound down.
In the ACC, officials use a guideline that suggests defenses be allowed at least three seconds to match the offense’s substitutions. Since UNC made its substitutions so late in the play clock, Miami’s time to substitute came as the play clock neared zero.
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Renner said he knows the substitution guideline as “an unwritten rule.”
“I think it needs to be clarified,” Renner said. “If it’s going to be a rule, then we should implement it, and they should have time (to substitute). But I think especially during the course of the game, you really don’t see that – the (official) going over the ball with 10 seconds on the clock. So I think it was just an unwritten rule that needs to be clarified.”
Clearly, UNC was attempting to catch Miami off guard with some late personnel changes. But the strategy backfired, and led to the Tar Heels’ failure to call a timeout at a critical moment. Had UNC converted the third and inches, it likely could have burned at least another minute or two off the game clock.
Renner said he was aware of the play clock running down, but he said he thought he’d have enough time to get the play off.
“At the time, we had about six seconds on the clock,” Renner said. “So I’m like, ‘OK, he’s going to move away.’ And he told me that he was going to pump the clock, which means restart the play clock to 25. So I was like, ‘OK, then we should be fine.’ And then he backs up and then he doesn’t pump it. And so I got kind of confused.”
The delay penalty cost the Tar Heels 5 yards. UNC then was called for a false start, resulting in another 5-yard loss. Renner was sacked on the next play for another loss, and then UNC punted. From there, Miami drove 90 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with less than 20 seconds to play.
UNC had all three of its timeouts when it endured the delay penalty.
“There’s a lot of things that haunt me from that game,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said Monday when asked specifically about the delay penalty. “I mean, I can pick out – just like I can in every game – five or six plays that you take them the other way, and we’re on the other side of that win column. So yeah, it’ll definitely haunt me.”