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Miami Hurricanes vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Prediction

Marquise Williams

Marquise Williams

On Oct. 25, a day after a 58-0 whitewashing by Clemson, Miami fans finally got what they wanted. Al Golden was out. Since that time, the Hurricanes are 2-0, improving their record to 6-3. Miami won’t be going to a major bowl game, but with three games remaining, the Canes could compile a decent record that would be a building block for next year. Couple that with the hope that always comes with a regime change, and there could actually be some optimism in Coral Gables.

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The first step for Miami, though, is going to Chapel Hill and beating the red-hot Tar Heels. North Carolina has won eight straight after its 66-31 dismantling of the hated Duke Blue Devils. UNC has a one game lead over Pittsburgh in the ACC Coastal Division and owns the tie-breaker over the Panthers thanks to the 26-19 win on Oct. 29. The division will be theirs if the Heels beat Miami and Pittsburgh falls at Duke.

The Heels and the Canes have split the previous 18 meetings with Miami winning last year 47-20.

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Miami at North Carolina

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

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Spread: North Carolina -12.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Brad Kaaya vs. the North Carolina Pass Defense

Kaaya was knocked out of the Clemson game with a concussion and missed the following week’s crazy game against Duke. But he was cleared to play last week and completed 20-of-26 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-21 win over Virginia. When he is right, the sophomore quarterback is a special player. He'll be going against a special pass defense, though. The Gene Chizik-led Tar Heel defense is third in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 159 yards a game. With the exception of the Clemson game, Miami has done a decent job of protecting the quarterback and with the exception of the Pittsburgh game, UNC has not been a team with a big pass rush. That means that Kaaya should have time to throw. Then it depends on Miami receivers getting open and Kaaya feeding them the ball.

2. Joseph Yearby vs. the North Carolina Rush Defense

The sophomore from Miami has had a fairly consistent season so far, rushing for 724 yards. That is an average of 80 yards a contest and he has been right around that number in a majority of the games. While North Carolina’s pass defense may be stellar, its run defense is not. It ranks No. 116 in America and even in last week’s blowout, Duke averaged 7.4 yards a carry and racked up 327 yards on the ground. Miami would love to take some pressure off Kaaya by establishing Yearby — and freshman Mark Walton — on Saturday. A running game would also be helpful in keeping the high-powered UNC offense off the field.

3. Slowing Down That Carolina Offense

Here’s the problem for Miami. As stated, Duke ran for 327 yards. And North Carolina still scored 66 points. Whether Miami can run the ball or not, its defense is going to have to stop the Heels on occasion and that is easier said than done. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams is throwing and running at an elite level and Elijah Hood has 813 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. They are No. 17 in total offense and No. 12 in scoring offense, rankings that seem to go up each week. Miami’s defense has been pretty mediocre for much of the year and will have to play its best game of the season if the Hurricanes intend on pulling off the upset.

Final Analysis

On Friday night, the top-ranked North Carolina basketball team opens its season in Annapolis against Temple. This is always a great time of year to be a Tar Heel fan. But this season, Carolina supporters are able to double dip on supporting championship contenders. By the time they kick off at Kenan Stadium, fans will know if Duke has beaten Pittsburgh and if a UNC win means a Coastal title. Either way, if the Heels beat Miami, they will eventually win the division. And North Carolina will beat Miami. The Hurricanes have some offensive weapons that can team with Kaaya to cause some problems for the UNC defense. But stopping the boys in blue is an entirely different animal. The Tar Heels will roll and start to smell a meeting with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

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Prediction: North Carolina 38, Miami 21

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.