UNC Playing Underdog Role Against Miami

Inside Carolina takes an in-depth look at Miami, as North Carolina will travel to South Florida looking for its third straight Coastal Division win against the Hurricanes on Saturday (12:30pm/ACCN).

Miami Intro
Much like UNC, this 2014 Miami team has had an inconsistent season thus far. The Hurricanes are 5-3 (2-2 ACC) and are averaging 37.8 points per game in those five victories. In those three losses, however, fifth-year head coach Al Golden’s squad has been handled by the likes of Louisville (31-13), Nebraska (41-31) and Georgia Tech (28-17). In recent weeks, though, it’s been the good Miami team that has shown up. The Hurricanes have won two games in a row, dominating Cincinnati (55-34) and then Virginia Tech(30-6) last Thursday night. Miami has played much better at home, compiling a perfect 4-0 record. UNC has dropped three of its last four against the Hurricanes.

Junior running back and 2013 All-ACC first-team selection Duke Johnson has been a workhorse for Golden, but the play of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has been the main reason for Miami’s offensive improvement. The true freshman took the reigns for the season opener and hasn’t looked back. This will be the second straight week that UNC will face a traditional pocket passer, but Kaaya possesses significantly more talent then either of the signal callers from the University of Virginia. The outstanding abilities of Johnson (1,058 yards, 7 TDs on 158 carries) at tailback have allowed the Miami coaching staff to bring along this young quarterback slowly. It also helps that Kaaya has veteran passing targets such as senior tight end Clive Walford (23 receptions, 306 yards, 4 TDs) and senior wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (18 receptions, 565 yards, 6 TDs). If Miami continues to ride Johnson, and its freshman quarterback can continue to improve, then this skilled and balanced offense will only continue to get better.

In his press conference on Monday, UNC head coach Larry Fedora pointed to a Miami defense that was comprised almost entirely of upperclassmen. The secondary has allowed the third-fewest passing yards per game of any team in the ACC (171.6 ypg). Overall, this defense ranks fourth in total defense in the ACC, having surrendered just 320.5 yards per game. The front seven is anchored by preseason All-ACC middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, who has been a rock in the center of this defense. Perryman leads the team in tackles with 42 and has also produced two forced fumbles, a sack, and an interception.

“I think they’ve done a good job with the quarterback in bringing him along. It helps when you have an offensive line and Duke Johnson that can run the football like that and take some of that pressure off of him so he doesn’t have to throw it all the time.” – Fedora

"It was the most complete game we've played this year. I thought Cincinnati we played really well in all three units for three quarters, and this one I thought we played really well.” – Golden on his team’s win over Virginia Tech

Notable Matchups

UNC in the Box vs. Miami’s Ground Game
The problem here for North Carolina is two-fold. First, UNC has to try and figure out how to contain arguably the best running back in the conference in Johnson. After missing the majority of last season due to injury, the junior has come back with a vengeance. Johnson ranks second in the ACC in rushing yards (1,036 yards) and leads the league in all-purpose yards (1,260 yards), averaging over 157.5 total yards of offense per game. Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 200 pounds, Johnson is a sure-fire pro prospect, a fact that Fedora confirmed on Monday. It also helps that Miami has three seniors along its offensive line, although junior left tackle Ereck Flowers will miss Satuday’s game with a knee injury. The Hurricanes’ rushing attack was particularly punishing last week in racking up over 360 rushing yards and three touchdowns against a Virginia Tech defense that stifled UNC’s ground game in Chapel Hill. UNC’s run defense has shown signs of growth recently – the Tar Heels held Virginia to 159 rushing yards on 43 carries – but will be tested in Miami Gardens.

UNC’s Ground Attack vs. Miami’s Run Defense
After a strong performance against a porous Georgia Tech defense, the UNC running game came back to earth last week with a middling 34-carry, 99-yard day against a solid Virginia defense. As good as Miami’s defense has been over the last few weeks, it has been susceptible to teams that have shown a commitment to running the football. The Hurricanes’ defense has surrendered an average of 148.9 yards per game on the ground. The defense has also surrendered an average of nearly 20 first downs per game (5th worst in the ACC). If UNC can recommit itself to the running game, and continue to find cohesion up front, then UNC could have some success running the football against the Hurricanes. Quarterback Marquise Williams has had little problem creating with his legs, but he took a beating last week. UNC”s running backs need to shoulder the load to protect their quarterback.

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