GAME NOTES: The 10th-ranked Miami Hurricanes continue their run through the ACC, as they invade Chapel Hill for a Thursday night clash with the struggling North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Al Golden's Hurricanes enjoyed a bye this past weekend in anticipation of this mid-week affair. Miami has opened the season red hot with six wins in as many outings. The team's flawless record has Miami residing in the top 10 for the first time since 2009. The 'Canes opened conference play two weeks ago and blew by Georgia Tech at home, 45-30.
Golden knows his team hasn't accomplished anything yet and wants to keep them focused on the task at hand.
"At the end of the season we'll count them up and see where we're at. We're 0-0 going into this game. All that matters right now is going to Chapel Hill, being a mature team, having poise, playing with poise, communicating, executing. The rest of it doesn't really matter. It's all about North Carolina right now, and we have to continue to have that bunker mentality for the rest of the year."
Larry Fedora's team had a bye last week as well, but while Miami's was well- earned, The Tar Heels was needed badly, as UNC is an ugly 1-4 on the season, coming into this tilt with a three-game losing streak in tow. The Tar Heels are already 0-2 in conference play and enter off a 27-17 road loss at Virginia on Oct. 5.
North Carolina clings to an 8-7 series advantage all-time and owns a 4-1 edge in games played in Chapel Hill.
Miami has thrived on both sides of the football this season, with both total offense (488.6 ypg) and total defense (307.0 ypg) ranking ninth nationally. The team has a potent one-two punch offensively in the form of quarterback Stephen Morris and tailback Duke Johnson.
A veteran leader under center, Morris has completed 61.7 percent of his throws this season, for 950 yards and nine touchdowns. Wideout Allen Hurns has been the top target in the passing game with 20 catches, for 383 yards and two TDs, but seven different players have caught a TD pass this season.
Of course, the passing attack gets room to work thanks to the rushing exploits of Johnson. The youngster has not fallen victim to a sophomore slump, instead he has flourished, averaging 114.4 yards per game on 6.8 yards per carry. Johnson leads the team with 572 yards on the ground.
All of Miami's success offensively can be attributed to one of the top offensive lines in all of college football. The unit is paving the way for 5.9 yards per carry and has yielded just four sacks over the first five games.
Defensively, Miami has been equally impressive, ranking sixth nationally in sacks (3.6 per game), amassing 18 quarterback takedowns thus far. The Hurricanes has also been opportunistic with 16 forced turnovers.
Denzel Perryman headlines the squad from his linebacker position, pacing Miami with 34 total tackles. Fellow LB Jimmy Gaines is a close second with 29 stops, with two fumble recoveries. A number of defenders have been disruptive upfield, including defensive ends Shayon Green (21 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Anthony Chickillo (18 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks).
The Tar Heels are fueled offensively by a strong passing attack that averages 292.8 yards per game. However, starting quarterback Bryn Renner did not play last time out due to a foot injury and is questionable for this week. Renner has played well under center, completing 60 percent of his passes, for 1,117 yards, with seven TDs and three INTs. Marquise Williams, who started against Virginia Tech, is more of a dual-threat that can move the ball with his arm or legs.
Regardless of who is throwing the football, the likely targets in the passing game are tight end Eric Ebron (23 catches, 333 yards, two TDs) and wide receiver Quinshad Davis (19 catches, 298 yards, four TDs).
A glaring weakness for UNC is the lack of a ground game. The Tar Heels were spoiled with All-American Giovani Bernard in the backfield. His early departure to the NFL has left a void in the rushing attack, that has yet to be filled.
Compounding the problem for North Carolina is a defense that has been gashed to the tune of 436 yards per game, resulting in a generous 31.4 points per game for the opposition. Stopping the run has been particularly difficult, with foes averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 197.2 yards per game. Big plays have been scarce as well, with just eight sacks and five forced turnovers on the year.
Sophomore safety Jeff Schoettmer leads the Tar Heels in tackles this season with 44 stops. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin is a distant second with 34 tackles. Junior linebackers Norkeithus Otis (24 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks) and Darius Lipford (25 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) provide some playmaking ability in the middle of the defense.
North Carolina's inability to stop opposing ground games has to have Golden and Johnson salivating over the possibilities. Morris will keep North Carolina honest, but a big game on the ground for Miami should keep the Tar Heels at arm's length all night long.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Miami-Florida 30, North Carolina 17