North Carolina (4-2) at Miami (4-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV/Radio: WTVD, 106.1-WTKK
Miami’s strength: Somewhat surprisingly, defense – and not offense – has been most responsible for Miami’s strong start. The Hurricanes, who were a blocked extra point away from possibly going into overtime last weekend against Florida State, rank 10th nationally in yards allowed per game – and fifth nationally in yards per play allowed (3.95). It is, as always, a defense that doesn’t lack for speed and talent, and one that seems to be responding to a new coaching staff led by Mark Richt. You can’t mention Miami, either, without giving Brad Kaaya his due. The ACC doesn’t lack for prolific quarterbacks and Kaaya, in his third season as the starter, is as savvy as any. He suffered a shoulder injury last week, though, that could limit him on Saturday.
Key theme: Consider this something of a playoff game in the Coastal Division. The winner keeps hope alive of winning division. The loser, while not eliminated from the race, will face a much more daunting road to the division title. A loss would really hurt the Tar Heels, especially, and leave them hoping for a lot of help from other teams. UNC lost in ugly, miserable fashion last week in the rain and wind against Virginia Tech. Coach Larry Fedora said earlier this week that the defeat didn’t define his players, and he again praised his team’s grit. The Tar Heels will need that in large doses on Saturday.
N.C. State (4-1) at No. 3 Clemson (6-0)
Kickoff: Noon, Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
TV/Radio: WTVD, 101.5-WRAL
Clemson’s strength: The Tigers might have started over on defense, with a bunch of new players, but they’re as good on the defensive line as any team in the country.
Tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are NFL-ready on the inside and will be a major test for N.C. State’s offensive line.
Key theme: As good as Clemson’s defensive front is, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has been impressed by N.C. State’s line.
“I think N.C. State and Auburn are the two best d-line fronts that we have seen,” Swinney said.
N.C. State’s line was especially good in the rain last week against Notre Dame. The Wolfpack sacked Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer five times, three by defensive end Bradley Chubb.
The Wolfpack will have to pressure Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson to have any chance at an upset. Watson was spectacular in Raleigh last year with 383 passing yards and five touchdowns.
Other area games
Savannah State (1-3) at N.C. Central (4-2), 2 p.m., TV/Radio, Stadium, City: N.C. Central has gotten off to a hot start in conference play, winning its first three conference games of the season, and its last four games overall. They’ve been doing it with a strong running game and steady passing attack. Saturday they’ll face an improved Savannah State team, which they beat 39-22 on the road last year.
St. Augustine’s (2-4) at Winston-Salem State (4-2), 1:30 p.m., WAUG 750 AM, Bowman Gray Stadium, Winston-Salem: St. Augustine’s won its second game of the season over Livingstone College last week in double overtime. The Falcons are 2-1 in the CIAA. Last week’s win was a big one for first-year head coach Tim Chavous, as the Falcons have already surpassed their one-win total from last year. But this week will be a tough test against Winston-Salem State, which is consistently one of the best teams in the CIAA.
Shaw (0-6) at Livingstone, 1:30 p.m., WSHA 88.9 FM, Alumni Memorial Football Stadium, Salisbury: Shaw lost a tough one to Fayetteville State last week 7-6 in non-stop rain. The Bears are still winless as key injuries have put a damper on the season. Both teams enter Saturday’s contest with a 0-3 mark in the CIAA. This will be a good opportunity to get their first win as Livingstone has also struggled this year, losing to St. Augustine’s in double overtime last week.
Jonathan M. Alexander