Carolina welcomes Miami to town to close out the month of October. If you believe the preseason rankings hold any water, the Canes represent the toughest test of the Tar Heels’ 2017 season.
That checks out. Led by Mark Richt after a laundry list of dud coaches, the U will bring a fast, active defense and an offense which will likely have some kind of identity by this point in the season.
Miami had arguably its best season in over a decade last year, thanks in no small part to a defense that looked the part of Miami defenses of lore. Manny Diaz’s crew ranked 12th in scoring defense, 9th in yards per play, and spearheaded an ACC-best +10 turnover margin.
That defense returns largely intact.
The defensive line is led inside by Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh, both of whom hit double digits in tackles for loss. With seniors Chad Thomas and Trent Harris— and a ton of talent in the 2’s— this line is one of the five best in the country (though four of those likely reside in the ACC this year).
They started three true freshmen at linebacker last year and still managed the aforementioned numbers. Shaq Quarterman is the leader of the defense, Zach McCloud seems like a Zach Brown (of Carolina lore) clone, and Michael Pinckney is a havoc-producer. This group promises to be a nightmare for the Coastal at least through 2018.
The secondary suffered some losses. Gone are Rayshawn Jenkins and Corn Elder from a talented group, but they bring in two-time FCS All-American Dee Delaney from The Citadel and top-10 JUCO corner Jhavonte Dean.
Offensively, the Canes are probably a Brad Kaaya early NFL departure away from a top-10 preseason ranking. The quarterback battle is ongoing, as vets Malik Rosier and Evan Shireffs will try to hold off 4-star freshman N’Kosi Perry.
Whomever wins the QB job is going to step into a nice situation. Four of five starters return from last year’s offensive line, including tackle K.C. McDermott, whom Mark Richt says is the leader of the offense.
Skill talent? They’ve got it, even despite the loss of 1st-round TE David Njoku and early entry WR Stacy Coley. Mark Walton was second-team All-ACC as a sophomore, Ahmmon Richards pulled in 49 catches as a true freshman. TE Chris Herndon and WR’s Darrell Langham, Lawrence Cager, and Triangle native Braxton Berrios are expected to pick up some of the slack in the passing game.
Mark Richt is as good as it gets in quarterback development, and the offense will likely develop a rhythm by October 28. If the offense manages to click early, the Heels are looking at a 6-1 or 7-0 Top 10 opponent with playoff aspirations in Kenan. If it doesn’t...Miami’s defense is enough to make it a Coastal contender.
The key is the defense, which, boasting Norton and McIntosh, can revert back to the “Miami 4-3” of yesteryear. Depending on whom you trust, Howard Schnellenberger or Bobby Bowden was the pioneer of “moving the corners to safety, safety to linebacker, linebacker to end, end to tackle” philosophy of getting as much speed on the field as possible. This year’s Miami D should do that.
Barring a collapse, their D should be great, and an above average offense puts them on the periphery of the playoff discussion. Or, it all falls apart again, as many hyped Miami teams have been wont to do in recent memory.
The Heels are 3-2 in the last five vs. Miami, and 7-6 since the Canes joined the ACC. This meeting will be the 19th between the schools, and will determine who reached 10 wins first— they’ve split the first 18 matchups.
Carolina jumped out to a 20-3 lead in Miami last year and held on, 20-13. The year prior, the Heels jumped out to a 45-0 lead in one of the most beautiful performances of the Larry Fedora era.
With the exception of a lackluster (as the whole season was) performance in 2014 and the 2015 blowout, this has been a very close, perhaps even underrated, rivalry in ACC play.
Without knowing Carolina’s offensive identity, it’s hard to put a finger on how the Heels will attack the Canes. Ideally, Carolina will demonstrate enough of a run threat to force Miami to sell out on the ground game and allow Brandon Harris (or whomever) to attack the young secondary downfield. It’s hard to imagine Carolina winning offensively in the trenches.
The Canes’ offense will likely rely on a power run and underneath passing game, two facets the Heels have frankly yet to prove they can stop in the Gene Chizik/John Papuchis era. Projecting out this far is dangerous, but if they played Week 1... Miami 28, Carolina 16.