The Hurricanes will travel to Chapel Hill to take on the division leading, No. 23 North Carolina Tar Heels in what is perhaps the biggest game of the season for both teams. The Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0) have won eight straight games since losing to South Carolina in the season opener and find themselves in sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division. The Canes (6-3, 3-2) are riding a two-game winning streak of their own, but they need to win this matchup to stay alive in the Coastal race. North Carolina will be the fourth ranked opponent Miami has faced this season and the second under Interim Head Coach Larry Scott.
Here are three keys for the Canes to emerge victorious against the Tar Heels.
Put pressure on Marquise Williams
Senior quarterback Marquise Williams does it all for North Carolina. Much like Deshaun Watson of Clemson, Williams is a dual-threat quarterback who can give opposing defenses nightmares. Williams has years of experience under his belt and possesses a strong, accurate arm. In nine games, he’s accounted for 21 total touchdowns and 2,705 total yards, both good for second in the conference (behind Watson). Miami’s defensive line will have to win the battle against North Carolina’s offensive line to generate pressure and to force Williams to make quick and risky decisions. If they’re unable to do so, refer back to the Clemson game to see what happens.
Finish the game aggressively on offense
Second-half offense has often been a point of trouble for the Canes, as they’ve blown first-half leads against Nebraska, Cincinnati, Duke and Virginia. Part of the blame falls on the defense, but the offense grew conservative in every one of those games. That can’t be the case on Saturday. Miami will have to keep the Tar Heels’ athletic defense on its toes for the whole game to come out with a win. To their credit, the Canes’ offense put forth an impressive fourth-quarter drive to seal the deal against the Cavaliers last week, another sign of how much the team has matured under Scott. With the talented backfield the Hurricanes have, they can hang with the best offenses around so long as they’re clicking.
A great formula to win any football game is to win the turnover battle. Offensively, however, the Canes have thrown two interceptions, fumbled the ball and given up two safeties in the past two weeks. The Canes will have to improve their ball security on offense, something that they excelled at early on this season. On the other hand, Miami has been great at forcing turnovers all season long. The team has forced a turnover in every single game but one this season (against Florida State) and will certainly be looking for more on Saturday.