Quarterbacks Advantage: Miami
After a tough interception in the first quarter, Jacory Harris buckled down and gained another solid win for the Hurricanes after their game against Virginia. The sophomore finished the day with two touchdowns, and now has a total of 18 touchdown passes this year. T.J. Yates is assisting in the already disappointing start for Duke by having more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9) in the season.
Running Backs Advantage: Miami
Juniors Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston have provided the Tar Heels with much-needed offensive firepower so far this season. The tag team has worked together in gaining over 1,000 yards, and both are averaging over four yards per carry. Draughn, however, will miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. After a fantastic performance by Graig Cooper, who rushed for a career-high in yards against Virginia, and the ever-improving Damien Berry, who rushed for a touchdown in his fifth straight game, the Canes have the ground game to contend this weekend.
Wide Receiver/Tight End Advantage: Miami
When a quarterback succeeds, so do his wide receivers, and the Hurricanes’ wideouts have been the benefactor of Harris’ outstanding play. Junior Leonard Hankerson and senior Jimmy Graham tied for the team’s lead-in touchdown catches after each player reeled in an end-zone pass against Virginia. After multiple losses of players from the team due to graduation, the Carolina receiving corps has been stabilized by all-purpose junior back Greg Little, who leads the Tar Heels in receptions with 40.
Offensive Line: Advantage: Miami
The Hurricanes offensive line put together a fantastic display against the stout Virginia defense. The Canes averaged 5.5 yards a rush due to the holes created by the line, and the line was also able to successfully protect its quarterback. Even after a workmanlike effort from running back Ryan Houston (over 150 yards), the Tar Heels still managed less than four yards a carry against a less than stellar Duke Blue Devil defense.
Defensive Line: Advantage: North Carolina
Recovering from a mediocre performance against Wake Forest, the Hurricane defensive line managed to put pressure on the quarterback and also shut down the opposing Cavalier run game in the blowout victory. Even so, the Tar Heels have also been better against the run (holding opponents to less than three yards a carry on the season) and are led on the pass rush by stud sophomore Robert Quinn (10 sacks).
Linebackers: Advantage: Miami
Colin McCarthy had another solid game for the Canes against the Cavaliers (five tackles), and has been one of the most valuable players on defense thus far. On the flipside, the Heels are led by the junior menace Quan Sturdivant, who led the nation in unassisted tackles last season with 87.
Secondary: Advantage: North Carolina
Nowhere on defense do the Tar Heels dominate more than in the secondary, where the junior trio of Deunta Williams, Charles Brown and Kendric Burney have combined for over 100 tackles and seven interceptions. The Canes secondary, although holding Cavalier quarterback Marc Verica to less than 100 yards, failed to record an interception once again.
Special Teams: Advantage: North Carolina
After a rollercoaster ride against the Cavaliers, where the Canes had two of their own punts blocked, the home team enjoyed a punt return touchdown by Thearon Collier. It is safe to say that the Miami special teams are an unpredictable unit. Junior Da’Norris Searcy ranks second in punt return average with over 15 yards per return, while punter Grant Schallock and placekicker Casey Barth combined to form one of the best kicking duos in the ACC.
Coaching: Advantage: Even
Former Hurricanes Coach Butch Davis has helped save a sinking ship in Chapel Hill over a short time as head coach, taking the Tar Heels to their first bowl appearance in five years in 2008. Meanwhile, Randy Shannon has helped lead the Canes to an impressive 7-2 start in the 2009 season, and his coaching job against a UVa team, albeit not the strongest of opponents, helped re-instill some fan confidence in the Canes head coach.
Camron Ghorbi may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.