CHAPEL HILL, NC – Tez Walker was “freed” by the NCAA last week. Saturday, he was formally unleashed by North Carolina.

The transfer receiver, whose eligibility was held up for the 1st 4 games of the season before finally being granted eligibility, showed why the Tar Heels fought so hard to get him into the lineup.

Walker caught 6 passes for 132 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead UNC to its most impressive win of the season, a 41-31 victory against Miami at Kenan Stadium that improved the 12th-ranked Tar Heels to 6-0 for the 1st time since 1997.

Walker also had a 20-yard run and recovered a late on-side kick while while Drake Maye threw for 273 yards and Omarion Hampton ran for 197 to hand the Hurricanes (4-2, 0-2 ACC) their 2nd straight loss.

At least this time, Miami coach Mario Cristobal didn’t have to agonize of whether to take a knee or not.

Here are 3 takeaways from the win that thrusts UNC (3-0 ACC) smack into the middle of the College Football Playoff picture:

Running Heels

Mack Brown’s emphasis on improving UNC’s running attack this season paid dividends in the 2nd quarter. With Miami putting a concerted effort on pressuring Maye and his offensive line unable to protect him, the Tar Heels took to the ground to answer a touchdown that put the Hurricanes ahead for the 1st time in the game.

They drove the ball 75 yards on 9 plays, all but 1 of which were runs, for a touchdown that tied the score at 14.

Hampton, the ACC’s 2nd-leading rusher, had 41 of the yards, including the final 2 into the end zone. The 70 rushing yards on the possession were all the more impressive considering that the Hurricanes came into the game as the league’s best defense against the run. They’d averaged only 58 yards allowed per game in their 1st 5 games.

The success running the ball helped open things up for Maye, who came alive in the 2nd half to help UNC extend its streak of 6 straight games scoring 30 or more points.

The Tar Heels finished the night with 235 rushing yards. Hampton’s big game was his 2nd triple-digit performance of the season. He’s the 1st 100-yard rusher against the Hurricanes since Pittsburgh’s Izzy Abanikanda ran for 111 in last year’s season finale.

Tale of 2 halves

Miami was clearly the better team in the 1st half, outgaining UNC 273-218 and building a 17-14 lead that could have been even bigger had running back Henry Parrish Jr. not fumbled at the 1-yard line as he was heading into the end zone in the 1st quarter.

But the roles shifted dramatically after halftime.

The Hurricanes’ downfall started on their opening possession of the 3rd quarter. Just when it seemed they were ready to produce a quick answer to a go-ahead touchdown by the Tar Heels, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke mishandled a low snap. UNC’s Myles Murphy recovered.

Although the Tar Heels didn’t turn the mistake into points, it seemed to kickstart their defense. The next 2 Miami possessions ended with an interception by Cedric Gray and a sack by Kaimon Rucker. UNC held the Hurricanes to just 32 total yards in the 3rd quarter, scoring 21 unanswered points to break the game open.

No hangover for Hurricanes

Last week’s loss to Georgia Tech could have been a soul-crusher for Miami. While coach Mario Cristobal’s epic mistake by not taking a knee got all the attention, the Hurricanes still would have won had they not allowed a Yellow Jacket receiver to get behind them for the winning touchdown as time expired.

To the Hurricanes’ credit, they didn’t let the disappointment beat them twice. They played a solid 1st half against UNC. Van Dyke threw for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns, Jacolby George had over 100 yards receiving and the defense recorded a season-high 4 sacks before the intermission.
But they weren’t able to sustain the momentum or their aggressiveness.

The Tar Heels knocked Miami back with a quick 56-yard strike from Maye to Walker to start the 3rd quarter. And the Hurricanes didn’t recover until Van Dyke hit Xavier Restrepo with a 13-yard touchdown pass with just over 7 minutes remaining, then added a 56-yard strike to Brashard Smith with 2:17 to play.