If there’s a more annoying combination of storylines (annual “The U is Back!” hit pieces) and alumni talking about their school (Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, etc., etc.), in college football than the University of Miami, please let me know what I’m missing.
In 2017, secondary coach Mike Rumph instituted the “Turnover Chain” and somehow made all things Miami all the more insufferable...despite being helmed by nice guy Mark Richt.
Note: as with all things ESPN, the trope had played itself out by the time they latched onto it— a non-scientific count on the uses of the phrase “t******* c****” in an ACC Championship drinking game I created was stopped when I was rendered drunk by the 10-minute mark of the first quarter. I’ll happily recreate this drinking game for all to enjoy the week of this football game.
The platonic ideal of Miami from the Jimmy Johnson/Butch Davis eras is probably dead in modern college football, but still an undoubtedly exciting prospect— those teams were physical, fast, and devastatingly entertaining to watch, devastating to play against. In their 10-0 start to last season, we saw glimpses. The 41-8 shellacking of Notre Dame, fresh off an equally-impressive 28-10 win against Virginia Tech, was their high-water mark, and one really started to wonder if Richt was on the way to capturing the magic that made them “The U” in the first place.
Pitt, Clemson, and Wisconsin poured cold water on that notion in the last three games of the season, but for the first time since oh, about 2004, I feel the need to qualify the “death of the U as we knew it” with the word “probably.”
Well, we more or less covered that, didn’t we?
The Canes were kinda a fluky 10-0— a late fourth-quarter comeback win at Florida State prompted the initial “the U is BACK” sentiment, despite the fact that Miami would have lost that game 77% of the time, based on the stats (as always, courtesy Bill Connolly’s S&P+).
The Canes went from 4-0 to 7-0 over the next three weeks— but those next three weeks included a 25-24 squeaker against Georgia Tech on a last minute field goal, a 27-19 win over Syracuse made closer by garbage time, and a 5-point win at UNC— the latter buoyed by four second-half turnovers by the Heels.
Weeks 8 and 9, the Virginia Tech and Notre Dame wins, were excellent football, and a peek into what the team could be, but an uninspiring win over Virginia (win expectancy: 38%) followed by the collapse down the stretch stifled the narrative...for the time being.
A nice 4-3 mark for UNC in ancient history, and a tidy 7-7 record for the Coastal Division rivals since Miami joined the ACC.
Few will forget the 31-28 upset over a still-undefeated Miami team in 2004, the “Connor Barth game”. I recall it for many reasons, but as a cynic mostly as the “we blew our chance to fire John Bunting and hire Steve Spurrier” game.
Butch Davis went 3-1 against his former (well, MORE former) school in his four years, only losing a 33-10 decision under the lights in Miami in 2010 with an NCAA-depleted roster.
2011-13 were three close games tilting 2-1 in Miami’s favor, 2014 and 15 were a split decision of mollywoppings, and 2016 was another “validation” win for Carolina before THEIR late-season collapse.
Last year’s game— look, it shouldn’t have been nearly as close as the 24-19 score would indicate, yet, Carolina blew SO MANY opportunities to win that game. When paired with losses to Cal, Duke, and Virginia as winnable games that the Heels failed to win, it certainly ires me the most.
UNC Offense vs. Miami Defense
Under Larry Fedora, the Heels have been consistently able to get yardage between the 20’s against Miami...then fail to score. 2012 and 2016 are Carolina’s TWO wins under Fedora when failing to eclipse 20 points.
Miami loses Chad Thomas, R.J. McIntosh, and Kendrick Norton from a stout defensive line— but returns plenty, including bookend ends Joe Jackson (#99) of 11.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks a year ago, and Jonathan Garvin (#97) who created havoc in limited snaps as a freshman backup. On the interior, it seems like they’re leaning heavily on Florida transfer and potential headcase (sat out last year after transferring for personal reasons) Gerald Willis, and...we’ll see. Even if Willis isn’t a go, the Canes will have big, fast, talented guys to man the interior.
Their linebackers are, given Alabama and Georgia’s losses, the best in the country. Shaq Quarterman (#55), Michael Pinckney (#56), and Zach McCloud (#53) are all juniors, and all almost certainly NFL-bound after this season.
The secondary boasts three seniors from a defense that tied for third in turnovers forced, with 31. Jaquan Johnson (#4), Sheldrick Redwine (#22, all-ACC name team), and Michael Jackson (#28) combined for 10 interceptions, and welcome rising star Trajan Bandy (#2) to the corner spot opposite Jackson.
For Carolina, the strategy is to keep doing what has worked in the past— isolate aggressive ends on outside zone, spread the linebackers out wide and attack between the tackles, and (man, look, I don’t have answers for this passing game until we know who’s behind center) find mismatches outside.
As with Miami games in the recent past, score 24-31 points and avoid turnovers and you give yourself a chance to win.
Carolina D vs. Miami O
Well, this all depends on how you feel either about Malik Rosier, the quarterback, or Mark Richt, the developer of quarterbacks.
Rosier (#12) was quite good for most of the season, leading an efficient (if not explosive) passing attack through the 10 wins. In the last three games, however, he went 15/36, 14/29, and 11/26. If Rosier isn’t the answer, redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry might be. Rosier ran for 468 yards and 5 TD out of a pro-style attack— Perry’s speed would make him a threat for 1,000.
Helping Rosier’s cause is the healthy return of badass WR Ahhmon Richards (#82), who had almost 1,000 yards as a freshman, and missed five full games (and parts of others) last year. Jeff Thomas (#4) went for 22 yards a catch as a freshman, and Lawrence Cager (#18) was also strong. Gone are Braxton Berrios (freaking finally) and TE Christopher Herndon.
The Canes lost Mark Walton for the season against FSU, and Travis Homer was a good fill-in. Over the next 6 weeks, Homer ran for at least 95 yards in each game, except for an anomalous 40 against...North Carolina.
Whatever worked for John Papuchis and company last year needs to be the gameplan against the Canes this year. Rosier hit on big plays, but was overall inefficient. The Hurricanes’ rushing effort was both their worst and Carolina’s best all season. So...
- Stuff the run
- Don’t get beat deep
This is a hard one to project. Miami gets two snoozers after an opening-week tilt with LSU, and hosts Florida State the week after this Thursday night affair. Carolina has had success in two tries against Mark Richt’s Miami offense, and has at least been above-average against their defense.
This one is WAY too early to project, but for now I’ll call it:
Miami 27, Carolina 22