The Miami Hurricanes are headed to Chapel Hill this Saturday for at 12:30pm ET showdown with the North Carolina Tar Heels. UM beat UNC at Sun Life, 33-10 on October 23rd last season but hasn’t won at Kenan Stadium since joining the ACC.
The No. 3 Hurricanes fell 31-28 against the unranked Tar Heels back in 2004, giving UNC its first ever win against a top five team. The two squads played back-to-back games in Miami over the 2005 and 2006 seasons and in a return to Chapel Hill, the Canes fell 33-27 in the first meeting between Randy Shannon and Butch Davis.
Davis proved to have Shannon’s number, going 3-1 again his former protege, winning his second straight home match up in the series in 2009, 33-24. Shannon got his first win against Davis last October and Miami’s first against North Carolina since 2006.
Turnovers have been the name of the game in this series, with Miami usually playing the role of the one who gave the game away on a platter. Especially during the Shannon era.
In 2007 it was quarterback Kyle Wright who played the role of goat, tossing four interceptions in the loss – two of which came in the fourth quarter and the final at the UNC eight-yard line when the Canes looked to pull within six with over six to play. Instead it remained a thirteen-point game before Miami scored in the final few minutes.
A similar story on the road in 2009 when Jacory Harris was Miami’s four-interception man – two of which were returned for touchdowns in the nine-point loss. The Canes put up 435 yards against a solid Tar Heels defense and while Harris threw for 319 yards, the turnovers were too much to overcome.
Much like Wright’s failed comeback attempt two years prior, a giveaway killed fourth quarter momentum. Facing a 2nd-and-9 from the UNC thirty-two, Harris was picked a fourth time and it was returned for a touchdown.
Miami was looking at a chance to take a 24-23 lead but instead found itself down 30-17, a deficit too steep to overcome and a blow too crushing to bounce back from. The Canes got on the board one last time, but still had a fourth-straight loss at Kenan.
UNC enters this weekend’s showdown with a 5-1 record and 1-1 in ACC play, having beaten Virginia and lost to Georgia Tech. Other wins came against James Madison. Rutgers, East Carolina and Louisville. North Carolina faces Miami at home this week and then hits the road for a showdown with Clemson.
Redshirt freshman running back Giovani Bernard leads the Tar Heels and is a St. Thomas grad, meaning that he’ll bring his best effort when the hometown Hurricanes visit. Bernard’s most productive outing of the season game against East Carolina, where he carried 24 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. Bernard has eight scores on the season and his longest run was for sixty yards, week two against Rutgers.
Bryn Renner is the sophomore quarterback for the Tar Heels, his strongest outing a 22-of-23, 277-yard performance in the opener against James Madison. Against the toughest competition faced to date, Georgia Tech, Renner was 17-of-25 for 204 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss.
Still, Renner leads the ACC and is fourth nationally with a 177.6 pass efficiency rating, which doesn’t bode well for a Miami defense that allowed Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas to post a career day, going 23-of-25 through the air for 310 yards. Thomas also threw for three touchdowns, ran for two, had no interceptions and one fumble.
Defensively the Tar Heels gave up 312 yards to the triple-option-happy Yellow Jackets, which is massive, but still falls well below the Ramblin’ Wreck’s average per game. (Georgia Tech ran for 604 yards weeks earlier against Kansas.)
Sitting at 2-3 there really is no “breaking down” this next opponent for Miami. As always, the job remains in front of this team and it comes down to a matter of execution. Depleted on the defensive side of the ball, the Canes can overcome that by getting its offense cranked up immediately. Too many times this season UM has gotten off to a slow start regarding putting points on the board.
Maryland jumped out to an early 10-0 lead that it held until halfway through the second quarter. Miami chipped away, ready to take a 14-13 halftime lead into the locker room before a Mike James fumble was returned for a touchdowns. Down 20-14 at the half, the Canes jumped back ahead early third quarter, but the rest of the contest was a back and forth battle. Down 26-24 on the final drive, Stephen Morris was intercepted and it was returned for a score in the 32-24 loss.
Twelve days later the exact opposite when Ohio State came calling. In a flash, Miami was up 14-0 and never looked back. The pace of the game eventually slowed, but the Canes remained in full control of the Buckeyes en route to a 24-6 victory.
The Kansas State and Virginia Tech losses were more a kin to the Maryland outing. The Wildcats took a 14-3 lead into the locker room weeks back, while the Hokies were up 21-7 over the Canes after two last weekend.
For a team that struggles on defense, it’s no mystery that the offense will need to carry this team and it starts with scoring first, scoring early and continuing to score down the stretch.
Miami’s offense woke up late against both Kansas State and Virginia Tech. The Canes outscored the Wildcats 21-14 in the second half, while bettering the Hokies, 28-17.
If games are going to come down to offenses matching each other score for score – which looks to be the case this season – the obvious answer is that Miami’s offense needs to set the tone each and every week. It cannot afford late starts, stupid penalties, turnovers, or to simply sit back and be reactive.
A recipe for a win at Kenan Stadium is a straightforward one. Limit mistakes by Harris, use James, Lamar Miller and Eduardo Clements as the true weapons they are and get on the board both early and often.
Jedd Fisch called a masterful second half at Virginia Tech last week, albeit in a loss. Miller got his 166 yards on the ground, Harris threw for 267 – with three touchdowns and no interceptions – and there were wrinkles that utilized Miami’s speed and tremendous athletes, be it a reverse to Travis Benjamin, a flea flicker or a touchdown pass from wide receiver Phillip Dorsett to Miller.
Fisch must stay aggressive offensively, yet balanced and not too gimmicky. This is a very winnable game for Miami if the Canes can score upwards of 27 to 30 points. Get it done offensively and hope that the defense can feed off the energy, a lead and the momentum that comes from simply being ahead most of the game, instead of behind.