CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- At halftime on Thursday night, it was obvious that Miami was in trouble against North Carolina . Trailing at the break for the first time all season, the Hurricanes needed to find a way to jump-start their offense without star running back Duke Johnson and starting wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, both lost to injury in the first quarter.
Quarterback Stephen Morris was off early, missing receivers high and wide while completing less than 50 percent of his first half passes and tossing two interceptions. Backup running back Dallas Crawford wasn't able to get success early, gaining just 24 yards on 9 carries before halftime.
So what happened at halftime that led to a 27-23 win?
"I didn't really have to say too much [at halftime]," Hurricanes coach Al Golden said after the game. "They knew. We took a bunch of punches there, just like we did in the first quarter against Georgia Tech."
The Yellow Jackets jumped to a 17-7 first quarter lead on Miami the last time the tenth-ranked Hurricanes were on the field, capitalizing on two turnovers to jump out to the early lead.
Miami rallied in that game, overcoming four turnovers for a 45-30 win, just like they did on Thursday night against the Tar Heels.
"It says a lot about the guys," Golden said. "There's no turning back for this group right now. They're not turning back. There's no finger pointing, they are too invested in each other and in what they've given and what they've sacrificed to turn back."
The last two games, both crucial ACC Coastal Division contests, have required the Hurricanes to pull themselves out of a mess to emerge victorious. Miami's 2013 campaign seems to be both representative of, and a karmic response to, the NCAA uncertainty that has now reached the halfway point of a third season.
Al Golden's entire tenure at Miami has been about overcoming obstacles, and yet the Hurricanes have continued to recruit Florida successfully and show flashes of brilliance. But while the flashes were impressive, consistency has not been a trademark of recent Miami teams.
"We've lost a bunch of those [games]," Golden said. "Sometimes you lose those because you don't believe that you're going to win, or you start thinking about the outcome and you don't execute, or you really didn't pay the price all year long and you can't finish from a conditioning standpoint or a mental toughness standpoint. None of that was the case in this game."
The story is completely different if not for a career-best performance from backup running back Dallas Crawford. Crawford's second half was a whole game's worth of production; 24 carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score with 16 seconds remaining.
Check this stat, courtesy of Miami Assistant Athletic Director Chris Yandle: Before Thursday, Crawford, a redshirt sophomore, had just 31 career rushes. He topped that total with 33 in Johnson's absence, a snapshot of the grittiness that has built up over the last three seasons with this team.
"We're resilient. We've been through a lot over the years," Crawford said after the game. "It took a long time to get to this point. In years past we would have probably lost this game."
Personal goals and achievements are great, but what do we make of Miami, a team that is still undefeated and has risen to the top of the college football rankings. If you talk to the players, you won't hear any comparisons to No. 9 UCLA or No. 11 South Carolina.
"It's not about the record. We just knew we had to win a Coastal [Division] game," Crawford said. "That was our biggest mindset. It's not about the record, it's not about the ranking, it's about winning your division."
After three seasons of turmoil, this team is smarter than to dream about BCS titles just because of a 6-0 start and Top 10 ranking. If they win the ACC Coastal, they will get one shot at, likely, the winner of Saturday night's Florida State-Clemson showdown in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 7. While the national scene is talking about The U being "back" or not, the Hurricanes on the field are just trying to get back to winning conference titles.