MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Stephen Morris was gone from the game midway through the fourth quarter Saturday. But something else was gone well before then.
Morris' passing touch.
Morris late last month was conjuring memories of legendary Miami quarterbacks. In a two-game stretch against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, he threw for an eye-popping 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns, five against the Wolfpack.
But Morris suddenly has become pedestrian. Yes, it's understandable he was 18-of-35 for 201 yards in a 41-3 walloping the previous week at powerful Notre Dame. But it wasn't understandable what unfolded in Miami's 18-14 loss Saturday to North Carolina at Sun Life Stadium.
Morris was a mediocre 12-of-26 for 155 yards with two interceptions. He was knocked out of the game midway through the fourth quarter with an injured left ankle.
Don't blame the loss by the Hurricanes on Morris' injury. Backup Ryan Williams did the best he could. With the way Morris was playing, one can't assume he suddenly would have come alive and pulled off impressive last-ditch wins the way he did against Georgia Tech and North Carolina Sate.
"He moved us," Hurricanes coach Al Golden said of Williams. "We just needed a couple more plays."
Down 18-14, Williams drove the Hurricanes from their own 17 with 1:47 left to a first-and-10 at the North Carolina 29 with 55 seconds remaining. But Williams took an ill-advised six-yard sack on second-and-10 and on fourth-and 16, he threw just an 11-yard completion to Clive Walford.
But Miami already had dug a hole with offensive shortcomings. The Hurricanes (4-3, 3-1 ACC Coastal Division) had entered the game averaged 42.3 points and 558.3 yards in their three ACC wins. There was no reason to believe their offense wouldn't continue to shine against North Carolina (5-2, 2-1), which had given up an average of 31.0 points in its first two conference games.
The Hurricanes did end up with 415 yards. But they managed 14 fewer points against the Tar Heels than lightweight Wake Forest had put up earlier this season against them.
"We left some plays on the field," Golden said. "We didn't execute at the time. We had two turnovers, which is difficult."
Left on the field with 8:26 remaining in the game was Morris. That obviously was a big topic of conversation after the game.
With Miami down 18-14, Morris completed a nine-yard pass to Phillip Dorsett to set up fourth-and-1 at the North Carolina 48. After releasing the ball, Morris backpedaled and landed wrong on his left leg.
"I have no idea," Golden said of the extent of the injury. "I heard it was an ankle. ... We'll get it looked at."
Morris was down on the field for a minute or so before being helped to the bench and had his ankle put in a boot. Some Miami players said they aren't concerned because Morris is so resilient, but fullback Maurice Hagens wasn't one.
"I'm really concerned," Hagens said about Morris, who was unavailable for comment. "I've been with Stephen for almost three years, and he's like a brother to me. When I see him go down, it's not a football thing, it's like a heart-to-heart thing. But you just got to have the next-man mentality when the quarterback goes down."
The next man was Williams, a redshirt sophomore from Pembroke Pines, Fla., who was the starting quarterback at Memphis in 2010 before transferring to Miami. He got some advice from Morris before entering the game.
"I saw Stephen lying there," Williams said. "I didn't know whether he was going to get up or not, so I kind of paused and they told me he was down. So I ran over and got my helmet. ...(Morris) was just telling me to relax and not try to force anything."
On his first snap, the fourth-down play, Williams gave the ball to Mike James for a three-yard gain and a first down. But the Hurricanes eventually turned that ball over on downs on fourth-and-6 at the North Carolina 26 with 5:45 left. The play before that was a strange call, a James run up the middle on third-and-seven.
Williams finished a reasonable 9-of-13 for 80 yards. His worst play was the sack.
"I wasn't really nervous," said Williams, who will start next Saturday against rival Florida State if Morris isn't healed. "I knew we needed a touchdown, and we didn't get it."
Williams' teammates didn't blame him. As for what's been happening with the Miami offense lately, running back Duke Johnson said there is blame to go around.
"I'm surprised, but that's expected when you're not doing your job," Johnson said of the dropoff.
Johnson was asked to elaborate.
"Doing your job as far as blocking right, making sure you're there where the play designs you to be and not trying to do too much,'' Johnson said. "Just doing exactly what coach drew you up to do.''
The uneven offensive showing wasted a decent defensive showing by Miami. No, the Hurricanes couldn't stop North Carolina running back Giovani Berard, but they actually did a better job on him than some teams have.
Bernard rushed for 177 yards while averaging 6.6 yards per carry. But he had come in averaging 9.1.
Bernard scored touchdowns on runs of 10 and 17 yards, the second putting the Tar Heels up for good at 15-7 late in the second quarter after a two-point conversation. The Hurricanes did get within 15-13 on a 5-yard TD run by Morris late in the third quarter. But, in an example of Golden citing poor execution, Miami had a delay of game penalty for snapping the ball too early on a two-point conversation attempt before opting to kick the extra point.
"You shouldn't worry about the offense," said James, who at least was one of the few bright spots with 96 yards on 22 carries. "Nobody is perfect. Everybody has off days. We haven't played as well as we wanted to, but we'll be back next week."
It remains be seen whether Morris will be back in uniform next week. And if he is, will his game be back?
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson