Head-to-Head: UNC-Miami

What are the key battles to watch in Saturday's game against Miami? Inside Carolina takes a closer look at the five head-to-head matchups that will determine the outcome ...

1. UNC's Offensive Line vs. Miami's Defensive Line

Reynolds, Darity
North Carolina welcomes the ACC's top-rated defense on Saturday, and it all starts up front for the Hurricanes. Preseason All-ACC defensive end Calais Campbell (25 tackles, seven tackles for loss and four sacks) anchors the line for first-year head coach Randy Shannon, but the entire front four is dangerous.

In Miami's 24-14 win versus Duke last weekend, each DL starter had at least 1.5 sacks. The Hurricanes are fourth nationally with an average of four sacks per game.

Those numbers present a definite concern for North Carolina's offensive line, led by junior right tackle Garrett Reynolds. After allowing only five sacks against their first three opponents, the Tar Heels have given up 10 in their last two contests.

"We have to do a better job of protecting T.J.," head coach Butch Davis said. "Early in the year, we were able to capitalize on some good, solid protection. By the same token, T.J. has to understand it's nice to hit home runs; it's nice to get the big, deep throws. Sometimes you may need to go to your check downs; you may need to go to the second level of receiver."

One aspect of North Carolina's offense that can also take some pressure off Yates is the ground game. The running back by committee approach has shown some flashes, but that unit needs to build on last week's season-high 124 rushing yards against Virginia Tech.

"It feels good to see guys out there being able to run the ball better," defensive tackle Marvin Austin said Monday. "If you can't run the ball, you can't win. You pass to sell tickets and you run to win."

Creating running lanes against Miami will not be an easy task, however. The Hurricanes rank No. 23 nationally in rush defense (97.0 rushing yards allowed per game) and have allowed only one touchdown on the ground.

2. UNC's Wide Receivers vs. Miami's Secondary

The Tar Heels receiver corps' pride took a hit in the highly-anticipated showdown with South Florida two weeks, as Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster only combined for 60 yards on six catches.

That triumvirate has a shot at redemption on Saturday, as Miami's secondary is only giving up 193.2 yards through the air – good for 36th nationally. Safety Randy Phillips expects the North Carolina receivers to arrive at Kenan Stadium with something to prove.

"When it's time to play Miami, everybody always brings their 'A' game. Everybody is going to come out and want to give you their best," Phillips said. "They're going to want to be on TV. They want to show up for the scouts. ... Everybody is going to hit you with their strongest punch."

R. Phillips
But while most of the defensive statistics favor the Hurricanes, it should be noted that Miami is ranked No. 98 nationally in pass efficiency defense (140.8 rating), which includes not only yards permitted but an opponent's pass completion percentage, interceptions, touchdowns allowed and other categories.

That statistic is apparently of no concern to the Miami secondary, however.

"We're 4-1 right now," Phillips said. "It's not like teams are putting up a bunch of points. We're stopping them. If they get that one touchdown pass a game, who cares? We're winning."

UNC's receivers were held without a touchdown for the second straight week in Blacksburg last Saturday, a trend that must stop if the Tar Heels hope to put enough points on the board to pull an upset this weekend.

3. UNC's Pass Defense vs. Miami's Kyle Wright

Kyle Wright entered collegiate football as arguably the top quarterback prospect in the 2003 class. Unfortunately, those high expectations have not panned out thus far in his career, as Wright did not even start the first two games of his fifth-year senior season.

But the Danville, Calif. native has responded since taking the reigns from Kirby Freeman, posting a 3-0 record while completing 70 percent of his passes for 794 yards, with six touchdowns and four interceptions.

A receiving corps led by Darnell Jenkins (250 yards on 15 catches) and Lance Leggett (174 yards on nine catches) provides plenty of options for the senior signal-caller.

"This will be the fastest group of wide receivers that we've played thus far, so it's going to put a lot of pressure and stress on our secondary," Davis said.

And to make things even more difficult for the Tar Heels on Saturday, the secondary will have to replace starting cornerback Kendric Williams, who was lost for the season following an ACL injury against Virginia Tech.

Red-shirt sophomore Jermaine Strong (18 tackles in 2006) has moved into Williams' position, and true freshman Charles Brown is also likely to see more significant snaps on defense.

"We trying to get as much speed on the field as possible," Davis said. "And certainly both of those guys have got some speed. Now, obviously with Kendric being gone, they're going to be pressed into more opportunities. Jermaine actually came in and we were encouraged – he did some very nice things during the course of the ball game."

Wright represents the first true pocket passer that the Tar Heels have faced this season, which should have senior defensive end Hilee Taylor (8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks) salivating.

4. UNC's Run Defense vs. Miami's Running Backs

North Carolina's run defense has become synonymous with swiss cheese this decade, allowing 4.47 yards per rush in 2006. But a new attacking scheme has helped to resolve some of the ground game issues through five games this season (3.56 ypc).

While the Tar Heels are still giving up too many yards on the ground (154 ypg), there were significant signs of improvement against Virginia Tech. Outside of Eddie Royal's 53-yard reverse on the Hokies' opening series, UNC held VT to 112 yards on a 3.2 ypc average.

Miami will bring a two-pronged rushing attack in Javarris James (322 yards on 77 carries) and Graig Cooper (341 yards on 60 carries) into Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

Shannon indicated this week that his young running backs must produce to balance out the offensive game plan.

"I always look at the team aspect of it," Shannon said. "If we can throw 500 yards but can't run the ball, we're in trouble. We gotta be able to run the football. If you can run it, it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback and your passing game. At one point around here, the offensive line was getting scrutinized. It just depends on who's playing good at that time."

The Tar Heels have been trying to find a way to force more turnovers, and the Hurricanes may provide UNC with the best method – fumbles. Miami put the ball on the ground nine times in the first four games of the season, losing five of them. Cooper is responsible for three of those, but he's not focusing on those concerns that may cost him the starting job.

"I am not worried about the starting job, I am going to let Coach deal with that – he is going to get everyone the ball, that is one thing I don't have to worry about," Cooper said. "Coach Nix says he is going to get everyone the ball thrown to them and the running backs are going to get their carries."

Kentwan Balmer and Marvin Austin have been effective in penetration, so the main key for the Tar Heels will be solid tackling in the backfield.

5. Butch Davis vs. The University of Miami

Davis has been saying all of the right things leading up to the Miami contest, but with his competitive nature, it's difficult not to think that the first-year UNC head coach would love to tack a loss onto his former program's season.

Shannon agrees: "He's a real big-time competitor. He never wants to lose in anything that he does, and he's always going to be a fiery type of guy… He wants the players to always have a frenzied attitude and that there's always a sense of urgency."

Davis posted a 51-20 record during his six years at Miami, winning three Big East titles along the way, but he insists that with 2000 being his last season in Coral Gables, the build-up for this conference matchup is just hype.

"The scenario that I've got is a little bit different than [N.C. State head coach] Tom O'Brien," Davis said. "Tom, when he had to play Boston College a couple of weeks ago, he walked on the field and virtually every single player on the team were kids that he had been in their homes and recruited. I've been gone from Miami now for six years, and so it's all new players."

Regardless, Davis is essentially a living legend in South Florida, and many in that region thought that he may return to Miami to replace former head coach Larry Coker. He has refused to speculate on that idea, opting instead to praise the administration for hiring Shannon.

"He (Randy Shannon) has a very talented football team, with a lot of talent and playmakers everywhere," Davis said. "We only coached together for one season but I've known him since he was an 18-year-old freshman (linebacker for UM)."

Whether Davis wants to admit it or not, his players know that this is one game that their head coach would love to win, and that added motivation may be just enough to get the Tar Heels back into the win column this Saturday.

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