Coming off a disappointing 41-3 loss in Chicago to the No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, there is one silver lining that Canes fans can turn to.
It didn’t come against an ACC team.
The Hurricanes are back in Coral Gables as they prepare for the first of a three-game homestand. Saturday, Miami will face North Carolina at Sun Life Stadium.
The Canes (4-2, 3-0) are looking to keep their undefeated streak in the conference intact while the Tar Heels (4-2, 1-1) are riding a three-game win streak that included a 48-34 win over ACC rival Virginia Tech on Saturday.
“We’re getting ready for our fourth ACC game and obviously an opponent that is playing with a lot of confidence right now, and coming into our game really hot, in North Carolina,” coach Al Golden said. “It’s really the most complete team I’ve seen on film so far, in all three phases.”
Before the weekend’s matchup against the Fighting Irish, this Hurricanes team was gaining steam after coming off back-to-back dramatic wins against conference foes Georgia Tech and N.C. State. In both games the offense was clicking on all cylinders and junior quarterback Stephen Morris enjoyed the best two-week stretch of his career.
That momentum was one reason the loss to Notre Dame hurt as much as it did, but Golden is hoping his team is able to move on from that and focus on UNC.
“The hardest thing is that they invested in Notre Dame, so it’s not like they weren’t prepared. They invested a lot, so that hurt,” he said. “They’re all looking at themselves and what they could have done better, as are the coaches. That means they’ve put a lot into it. We didn’t play well. I don’t want to go backwards.”
As it stands, Miami is one of three unbeaten teams in ACC play. The Canes, 3-0 in conference games, are tied atop the ACC Coastal with the Duke Blue Devils, who have won both of their ACC games and are 5-1 on the season.
For a team that was projected before the season to finish fifth in the division, it’s a good start. But Golden is emphasizing that the team can’t lose sight of the goal at hand.
“I think we’re all on the same page. We have to focus on North Carolina, but we’ve made this a significant game, because we’re off to a 3-0 start,” he said. “Here we are, playing what amounts to be the most complete team I’ve seen. This is a really good football team. I hope our guys understand the opportunity they’ve created by winning the first three.”
North Carolina, which sits in third place in the Coastal Division with a 1-1 record, isn’t eligible for postseason play due to violations for academic fraud and failure to monitor the football program. But the Tar Heels, led by running back Giovani Bernard, aren’t letting that alter their game plan. They average 44 points per game and rank 31st and 32nd in passing yards and rushing yards, respectively.
“He’s doing a really good job of cutting the ball back,” Golden said of Bernard. “But certainly we have the scheme to stop him. We have to make sure as we do that, we don’t compromise the explosive plays on the back end. That’s why they’re scoring so many points – they get you in some compromising positions and we have to diffuse some of those.”
The Miami defense, which ranks 103rd in the nation in points allowed with 34.7 a game, will have its work cut out for it. Although fans have been frustrated at times, Golden believes this is a unit that will only get better with time.
“The guys that we’re playing with right now are fighting every day. They’re learning, but they’re learning under fire,” he said. “I think you go to Parris Island before you go to war. They’re learning on the battlefield. Just stay positive and keep moving forward. We’ll get there. I promise you we’ll get there.”