Prediction: Miami 38, UNC 28
QB Advantage: Miami (FL)
If you’re still on the “Hate Jacory” bandwagon you really need to jump off it. In four games this season, Jacory Harris is completing 67 percent of his passes and has thrown three times as many touchdowns as interceptions—nine to three. We just witnessed him throw three touchdowns without an interception in Lane Stadium, which is about as hostile of an environment as you’ll see in the ACC, in a game where the Canes trailed by as many as 14. His most impressive pass, which really displayed the strides of improvement he’s made under the tutelage of Jedd Fisch, came when he looked off defenders, went to his second option, found Travis Benjamin open deep down the sideline and fired the ball to him before the safety arrived. Benjamin broke a tackle and scored on the play.
On the other side, sophomore and first-year starter Bryn Renner has put up some impressive numbers with 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing nearly three-quarters of his passes. This Miami secondary is vulnerable to getting picked apart by Renner, but Renner is also liable to turn the ball over. Coach D’Onofrio will have to dial up some blitzes and get away from these vanilla zone coverages to force Renner into some bad decisions.
RB Advantage: Miami (FL)
Lamar Miller has been absolutely amazing in the backfield for the Canes. Last Saturday he extended his streak of 100-yard rushing games to five when it didn’t appear he’d be able to after his first half. He gets better as the game goes on, and when opposing defenses get winded in the fourth he’s still moving at 100 percent. The passing game played a major role in opening up the middle for Miller. Look for Fisch to utilize a similar blend of run and pass to keep the defense on their heels and keep them from stacking the box. Mike James is coming off his best game of the season complementing Miller. The Miami defense will have to look out for the big but speedy freshman in Carolina blue, Giovani Bernard. Trying to match Miller, he has a comparable streak of four straight 100-yard rushing games. He can make a defender miss or run them over. Bernard’s the feature back, and he gets spelled by the hefty converted linebacker, Ryan Houston, who UNC likes to pound the middle with.
WR/TE Advantage: Even
The best receiver on the field this Saturday will be UNC senior Dwight Jones. At 6’4” and 225 lbs., it’s no secret why the big target has emerged as Renner’s favorite option. He consistently makes an impact week in and week out and is on pace to shred the marks he set last year with over 600 receiving yards and seven touchdowns halfway through the year. While Carolina might have the top receiver Saturday, Miami probably has the next three. Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns, and Travis Benjamin give Harris a variety options who will consistently get open and make plays for him. It was also nice to see a tight end make an impact against Virginia Tech. Clive Walford is emerging as the team’s top playmaker at the position.
OL Advantage: Even
Art Kehoe’s crew is getting better. A great deal of it probably has to do with Seantrel Henderson coming back and rotating in at tackle. He’s still not starting with Brandon Washington and Jonathan Feliciano holding on to the left and right tackle spots respectively but him moving in and out keeps everyone on the line fresh. The one knock on the front line from last week came on the first drive when they didn’t get an adequate push on second or third down to pick up the one yard they needed. It then led to a fake field goal on fourth down where the Canes once again got stuffed. Penalties are also a bit of a concern. On the team’s drive to take the lead in the fourth, penalties set them to a 1st and goal on the 30. Luckily, they made up for it creating a gaping hole for Lamar Miller to run through and score. UNC’s group of guys up front is one of the strengths of the team that Al Golden alluded to on Monday. They make key contributions to Bernard’s success running the ball. They have, however, given up five more sacks than Miami.
DL Advantage: UNC
Miami is really ailing with injuries on the defensive front, especially at defensive tackle where Marcus Forston and Curtis Porter are out for the season. The enormous junior college transfer, Darius Smith is now inserted into the starting lineup alongside Micanor Regis and giving them breathers are Adewale Ojomo and Olsen Pierre, whose bodies are better suited to play end. With any more injuries the team may have to play converted offensive tackle Jermaine Johnson in on defense. The Tar Heels are stacked with experience and tenacity on their front four. Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss provide a fierce pass rush on the outside. Although they’ve been slowed down a bit this year, the two combined for 17 sacks in 2010. They’re going to get it going sooner or later. Defensive tackles Tydreke Powell and Sylvester Williams are monsters in the middle against the run.
LB/DB Advantage: UNC
The Miami secondary has been getting shredded all year. There’s no excuse for allowing VT’s Logan Thomas to have a 300-yard passing game. Brandon McGee, said to be the fastest player on the team with sub-4.3 speed, has now been beat deep twice on the year. Poor tackling and other Shannon-era tendencies still gloom over this defense and Coach Golden’s staff has still been unable to rid themselves of it. A starting middle linebacker should have more than 11 solo tackles, like Jimmy Gaines has, halfway through the season. It’s safe to say this team has holes at ten of the 11 positions on defense, with weakside linebacker being the lone exception. They have to do a better job of staying in their lanes and having 11 hats swarm to the ball. UNC’s linebackers, headlined by Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick, are a much bigger group than the Canes. Senior safety Matt Merletti is always around the ball, but the Tar Heels are rather inexperienced at corner.
Special Teams Advantage: Miami (FL)
For Carolina, freshman kicker Thomas Moore has taken over kicking duties with senior Casey Barth out recovering from leg and groin injuries. Moore is 0 for 1 on field goal attempts. Jake Wieclaw is still perfect for the Canes. Miami also has a better return game with Travis Benjamin handling those duties. The Canes have been stellar with the kick/punt coverage unit as well as the punting game with freshman Dalton Botts averaging over 40 yards a punt. The one area that frustrated me was the failed attempt to fake a kick to pick up a first down on the team’s first drive against Virginia Tech. Holder Spencer Whipple identified Virginia Tech to be in a 7-4 on their kick block unit, which is usually a green light to run a fake when given the option to audible to it. Whipple made the call but all the blockers didn’t get the signal due to the noise factor at Lane Stadium, according to Al Golden. The play halted an early Miami drive and the team ended up losing by three with that play proving to be pivotal. Execution has to improve.
Coaching Advantage: Miami (FL)
Both teams have had to put up with a lot in the offseason with NCAA violations. Everett Withers is the Interim Head Coach for the Tar Heels in place of Butch Davis, and while he has his team at 5-1, they have yet to face as much competition as the Canes have thus far. The one loss came against the best team they faced, Georgia Tech. Last week they barely squeaked out an ugly victory against Louisville (who lost to FIU earlier in the year). Golden has been dealt a tough hand in the early-going and his team will get things turned around sooner than later, and it starts Saturday against North Carolina.