North Carolina hosts Miami tonight in a nationally-televised Thursday night game. This game doesn’t quite carry the significance the Tar Heels hoped it might, but a victory would still be plenty significant for UNC.
Before the preview and prediction, some stories you might have missed this week:
-- About what’s ailing the Tar Heels, who are off to their worst start since 2007.
--About how UNC is hoping to start fresh tonight against Miami.
--And one about what this game means to a couple South Florida guys who play at UNC.
And now, let’s get to it:
It’s like old times again for the Hurricanes, who are back in the top 10 of the Associated Press top 25 and back in the conversation nationally. Miami has been dominant on both sides of the ball through five games, and the Hurricanes are outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 30 points. This is a big play offense. Stephen Morris, Miami’s quarterback, ranks among the top 20 nationally in passes longer than 40 yards, with six through five games. Duke Johnson, the sophomore running back, has 18 runs of at least 10 yards, five runs of at least 20 yards and three of those have gone for 40 or more yards. Defensively, the Hurricanes have made their share of plays, too. They’ve forced 16 turnovers – tied for seventh nationally – and they rank 14th nationally in turnover margin. On the lines, Miami is big and physical and nasty. Four of the five players on the starting offensive line weight at least 315 pounds. All but one of the top five defensive tackles weigh at least 300 pounds. Johnson is among the best running backs in the ACC, if not the nation, and Morris is an adept, experienced quarterback.
Simply put, the Tar Heels are reeling. Nobody expected this – that UNC would basically be playing for its season at this point. But that’s what it’s come to. An unexpected victory could be just the elixir the Tar Heels need to turn things around. Another loss, and UNC would have to win five of its final six games just to become bowl eligible. The Tar Heels have been bad offensively and worse defensively. There is hope, though, on both sides. Offensively, T.J. Logan, the freshman running back, showed some flashes in his limited action against Virginia Tech. Defensively, UNC actually played well – mostly – outside of those two long passing plays it allowed against the Hokies. The Tar Heels believe they can build off of what they did well at Virginia Tech. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen. UNC has to find some semblance of a running game. Defensively, it has to limit the big plays. Penalties have hurt the Tar Heels, too. They’re averaging 67 penalty yards per game, which ranks tied for 106th nationally, and in each of the past three weeks they’ve had a touchdown wiped away by a penalty. After sitting out the loss at Virginia Tech with a foot injury, fifth-year senior quarterback Bryn Renner will “definitely” start tonight, coach Larry Fedora said recently.
--Stay in the game and stick around. You really have to wonder about the Tar Heels’ mental state at this point, and whether they’d be able to handle the adversity of falling behind by couple of touchdowns early. UNC doesn’t need a great start or even a particularly good one. But it can’t afford to be down 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
--Avoid the meltdown plays on defense. I’m cheating here, because I used this for UNC’s last game against Virginia Tech. Look, Miami is going to make some big plays. The Hurricanes are that good. So against Miami, the definition of a meltdown play changes. It’s not necessarily surrendering a 40-yard pass, because one or two of those are probably coming. But a meltdown would entail, say, allowing a lot of those plays, or making it easier than it should be for Miami.
--Find a rhythm offensively. Easier said than done against Miami’s defense, but UNC won’t have much of a chance if it plays on offense like it has been. There were some positive signs against Virginia Tech, but Renner’s return makes the offense less dimensional. He needs to be sharper than he’s been all season. It’d help if the Tar Heels figured out a way to run.
Hurricanes are fierce
Morris, Perryman, the Duke
Not as bad as Fran
Miami 37, UNC 24
See you in the press box.