Al Golden could have never anticipated the situation that he would walk into when he took the Miami job after five seasons at Temple. During the middle of training camp, Yahoo! Sports unleashed its in-depth investigative piece linking former booster Nevin Shapiro to 73 Miami athletes, including 12 current players. Making matters worse is that the university failed to share news that it was aware of Shapiro's claims prior to the offseason hires of Golden and athletic director Shawn Eichorst. Golden lashed out at the administration for not informing him of the information, but also stressed the importance of moving forward. That has proven difficult at times in his first season in Coral Gables.
Eight of the 12 players who accepted extra benefits from Shapiro – all expected starters – missed at least one game, including quarterback Jacory Harris (one game), defensive end Olivier Vernon (six games) and safety Ray Ray Armstrong (four games). All but Vernon will be eligible to play against North Carolina on Saturday, but the injury bug crept in as the suspensions were being served. Five defensive players sat out Saturday's loss at Virginia Tech.
Miami sits at 2-3 on the season, losing games to Maryland (32-24), Kansas State (28-24) and Virginia Tech (38-35) while defeating Ohio State (24-6) and Bethune-Cookman (45-14). The Hurricanes' national rankings reflect those mixed results as they rank 60th in total offense (399.0 ypg), 82nd in total defense (402.0 ypg) and T-84th in turnover margin (minus-.40).
"That's one of the biggest things coaching at Miami. We have a lot of guys that look for external affirmation. They're looking for, ‘Hey, am I on the highlight reel?' or ‘Am I on the blogs?' or ‘Hey, am I a preseason this or that?' And we've got to get away from that. We've got to get to being a team that executes every day and is process driven and let the outcome take care of itself." – Golden
"I'm responsible for coaching the team and getting them ready to play. You have to play them home or away. We have to develop a no excuse mentality around here. That's one of the issues. We have to get to the point where we're not making excuses no matter where we are or who we play or what time we play." – Golden on his team opening the ACC slate with three straight road games
Matchups to Watch
Miami's Lamar Miller vs. UNC's Run Defense
Quite possibly the only ACC running back having a better season than UNC's Gio Bernard is the Hurricanes' Lamar Miller. The red-shirt sophomore has totaled 677 yards and five touchdowns on 94 carries this season, good for a 7.2 yards-per-carry average.
Miller has surpassed the century mark in all five games this season, including an impressive 166-yard outing at Virginia Tech last Saturday. The 5-foot-11, 212-pounder churned out 124 of those yards in the fourth quarter as Miami overcame a 10-point deficit before ultimately falling short.
But Golden refused to refer to Miller's success against the Hokies as being in the proverbial zone.
"The last two weeks he wasn't running like he was running [on Saturday] when he was running like he was running against Ohio State," Golden said. "Clearly, he's healthier now than he had been the previous two weeks. In fairness to the kid and appreciation for what the kid really worked through, he was really struggling with that shoulder for a couple weeks there. And he fought through it."
North Carolina ranks 39th nationally against the run in giving up 119.2 yards per game, but the Tar Heels have allowed their last four opponents to grind out 4.3 yards per rush. Louisville used its ground game last weekend to soak up more than 22 minutes off the first-half clock against UNC. Second-half adjustments shut down the Cardinals' rushing attack and cut their time of possession nearly in half.
"We've got to get off the field on defense," UNC head coach Everett Withers told reporters on Monday.
That will start on Saturday by limiting Miller's effectiveness and putting the ball in the hands of Jacory Harris (62-of-92 passing, 837 yards, 9 TD, 3 INT) – complete with his 42 career interceptions – on third down.
UNC's Offense vs. Miami's Defense
North Carolina's offensive production, or lack thereof, is difficult to accurately detail. The Tar Heels rank 72nd nationally in total offense (386.5 ypg), 66th in passing offense (223.5 ypg), 59th in scoring offense (28.5 ppg) and 52nd in rushing offense (163.0 ypg) despite a running back that ranks top-20 nationally in rushing yards (Gio Bernard, 109.5 ypg, 19th), a quarterback that stands fourth nationally in passing efficiency (Bryn Renner, 177.61) and a wide receiver that is top-35 nationally in both receptions and receiving yards (Dwight Jones, 6.2 catches, 100.8 yards).
To add even more confusion into that equation is the fact that UNC's 6.82-yards-per-play average is second best in the ACC, trailing only Georgia Tech's 8.04 yards per play mark.
The reason for the discrepancy in the offensive numbers? The Tar Heels are running just 56.7 plays per game (340 total), which represents the lowest average nationally for FBS programs that have played at least six games.
There are 48 FBS schools that have only played five games to date that have run more plays than UNC.
While a portion of that blame falls on the Tar Heel defense – its last four opponents are averaging 5.9 yards per play on roughly 74 plays per game – the offense has also struggled to sustain drives. Over UNC's last three games, 25 of its drives have lasted less than three minutes, not including end of half kneel downs.
The Tar Heels may have its best chance in recent weeks to reverse that trend against an injury-plagued Miami defense that ranks 97th in rushing defense (196.2 ypg), 89th in pass efficiency defense (137.4) and 82nd in total defense (402.0 ypg).
Linebacker Ramon Buchanan is out for the season with a knee injury, but the defensive line is where the injuries have mounted up. Tackles Curtis Porter (hand) and Marcus Forston (knee) are out for the season while tackle Luther Robinson and end Jalen Grimble missed Saturday's game against Virginia Tech. Tackle Adewale Ojomo sat out the second half in Blacksburg, but Golden is hopefully that Ojomo and Grimble will be available on Saturday.
The backup plan includes moving offensive tackle Jermaine Johnson to the defensive line and pulling the red-shirt off freshman Corey King.
"Clearly, we have issues on the defensive line and we've had a lot of different combinations on the defense," Golden said, "…"It's hard to get any kind of continuity. We need some of the younger guys to come along. We just have to keep going."