Is there a new challenger in the ACC Coastal Division?
While most experts expected Miami and Virginia to duke it out for the division crown, no one thought of North Carolina as a threat to win the Coastal. But last Saturday, Mack Brown’s Tar Heels overcame an 11-point deficit entering the fourth quarter and rallied to beat South Carolina from the mighty SEC by the score of 24-20.
Of course, it’s too early to know if the Heels are for real, but we will get another indication this week when Miami comes to Chapel Hill. The Hurricanes fell to Florida in week zero by that same 24-20 score, but they are still considered a contender in the Coastal, and this game will give both teams a chance to join Virginia at 1-0 in the league.
Miami and UNC are 11-11 all-time in the series with Miami riding a two-game winning streak.
Miami at North Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Miami -4
When Miami Has the Ball
The most important aspect of the game offensively for Miami — as it will be every week for the Canes — is the play of the offensive line. They were abysmal in the loss to Florida, allowing 10 sacks to the Gators. While Florida does have a very good pass rush, the line shouldn’t have been that porous. North Carolina put good pressure on Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley last Saturday, and coordinator Jay Bateman will bring the heat again against the young Miami front.
When given time to throw, Hurricanes quarterback Jarren Williams looked pretty good, though Dan Enos, his offensive coordinator, told the media that he didn’t think Williams did enough to win the game. Granted, some of the sacks may have been the fault of the redshirt freshman holding the ball too long, but he was 19-of-29 for 214 yards and a score.
At times, the Hurricanes’ rushing attack was very effective. DeeJay Dallas ran for 95 yards on just 12 carries with 50 coming on a go-ahead TD run in the fourth quarter. But no one else provided any help, and the sack yardage lost made the rushing numbers seem paltry. North Carolina held South Carolina to just 128 yards on the ground, which is a huge improvement on what they had been surrendering in recent years, especially considering that 55 of those yards came on two carries. Despite UNC's improvement in rush defense, Miami should give Dallas more chances, which will slow down that Heels' pass rush.
When North Carolina Has the Ball
Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo had a conservative game plan for the first three quarters, relying on his talented running backs and making sure his freshman quarterback was not overwhelmed. But in the fourth quarter, all that changed as UNC found itself down 20-9. Sam Howell was asked to do more, and he responded in his first collegiate start.
Howell was aided by some great wide receiver play from Dazz Newsome, Beau Corrales and Dyami Brown, whose touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty. A running game that pounded its way to 238 yards was also a big reason that Howell was able to have success. Miami has to account for this balance, especially as Howell gets more comfortable as he takes more snaps.
The freshman will face a big challenge from that Hurricanes defense, which is a rugged bunch that gave Florida all kinds of problems. The Canes front seven that held the Gators to just 52 rushing yards and forced four turnovers will attempt to put pressure on the Heels’ young signal-caller, while running backs Michael Carter, Javonte Williams and Antonio Williams will have narrower running lanes this week.
It’s not difficult to get sky-high for a new coach in Week 1, but how will North Carolina respond in Week 2? There are some things working in the Heels' favor — the game is at Kenan Stadium, and the opponent is a Miami team that is licking its wounds after going down to defeat, although the Canes had a week off to watch and prepare for the Heels. I think Miami is going to lean on DeeJay Dallas a bit more, and he will get his yardage. The Hurricanes defense will mix things up and confuse Howell just enough to get him out of rhythm. In what should be another tight game, Miami wins by a score that both teams know well.
Prediction: Miami 24, North Carolina 20
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of @TarHeelFootball)