Heels Prepping for Home Finale

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The North Carolina Tar Heels would like nothing more than to qualify for a postseason bowl berth in front of their fans on Saturday, but Miami may present the toughest challenge remaining on the schedule. Butch Davis touched on various topics with reporters during Wednesday's practice.

** There will be plenty of high-profile football recruits roaming North Carolina's sideline on Saturday afternoon, but what's surprising is that nearly 20 of those standouts hail from the 2011 class, including in-state talents such as Waxhaw's K.J. Brent and Raleigh's Nigel King. Sept. 1 marks the first day that college coaches can contact high school juniors, which leads to plenty of game invites throughout the fall schedule.

"We've always pretty much tried to get kids [to visit], not only for the current recruiting class, but for future years," Davis said. "The more times they come to games, the more times they get a chance to be around us and for us to be around them, which makes it a little easier to build relationships."

While official visitors receive the full treatment during their NCAA-allowed 48 hours, players traveling to Chapel Hill for unofficial visits have been able to acquaint themselves with the brand-new renovations at the Kenan Football Center. According to Davis, there is "no question" that the facility upgrades have accomplished their intended goals.

"It's beautiful, it's efficient and it's been impressive," Davis said of the football center. "Kids enjoy going through it, because everybody wants to know, ‘When I go to college, what's my world going to look like? Where am I going to live? What's my dormitory, what's the weight room, the coaches' offices [and] the meeting rooms like?' So that's certainly helped a great deal."

** Davis announced his intentions to red-shirt senior H-back Ryan Taylor during Monday's press conference, ending speculation that has slowly mounted over the past month. The school indicated back on Aug. 13 that the Winston-Salem, N.C. native had sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee during practice and was expected to be out of action for nearly a month.

The special teams captain has dealt with lingering pain in that knee during the past three months, and despite being cleared by the doctors to return to the field, the decision to preserve the senior's final of eligibility was made last week. Taylor is now working with the scout team and has provided some needed leadership to the young Tar Heels that have yet to crack the two-deep.

"He still has limitations in that he can't go full speed, but it's nice having him down there because he can help some of those freshmen," Davis said. "One of the hardest transitions for kids coming out of high school is that they're used to being the star. I got all of the attention, the coaches loved me and they hugged my neck, and now all of a sudden, I'm on the scout team.

"And the ones that generally go on and become really good players are the ones that don't look at that as a demotion or as a second-class contributor to the team. They look at it as, ‘Hey, I get a chance to go every day against the best players on our team. It's a way for me to improve, it's a way for me to get better.' So Ryan can help them understand that and also as they see Ryan doing it, it can become infectious."

** First-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has installed his own brand of X's and O's in South Florida this season, but his willingness to be aggressive down the field is what makes the Hurricanes' offense so effective. Quarterback Jacory Harris ( passing, 2,336 yards, 18 TD, 12 INT) has orchestrated "Whipple Ball" into a weekly production of 402.0 yards and 32.2 points per outing, including 15 touchdowns in two-minute-or-less drives.

That may provide the best definition of a quick-strike offense in the ACC.

"They set them up for the opportunities to make big plays and they give them chances," Davis said. "They push the ball down the field probably more than anybody that we've played."

North Carolina's defense utilized a Cover-1 scheme against Duke's West Coast offense that relies on shallow passing routes and bubble screens to move the ball down the field with an emphasis on yards after catch. The Tar Heel defensive backs were aggressive at the line of scrimmage, jamming and bumping the Blue Devil receivers to throw off their rhythm in the timing routes.

Florida State's Christian Ponder dissected UNC's secondary by effectively targeting his intermediate options, typically 5-to-15 yards down the field between the linebackers and safeties. Miami, on the other hand, takes advantage of its speedy wide receivers – such as Travis Benjamin (23 catches for 428 yards, 4 TD) and Leonard Hankerson (27 receptions for 517 yards, 4 TD) – and will be intent on testing cornerbacks Charles Brown and Kendric Burney on numerous occasions.

"With Miami, you're liable to get two or three shots every quarter where it's 15-to-35 yards down the field," Davis said. "They're going to put you in some island situations and try to [create] some big plays."


Inside Carolina Top Stories