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UNC Football vs. Miami: Game Preview

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The Tar Heels have a great opportunity in front of them Saturday night.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina
North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back Myles Wolfolk (11) intercepts a pass during the fourth quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bank of America Stadium.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After Labor Day on Tuesday, the UNC box office announced that the Miami game was sold out. The comeback victory motivated some fans to hop off the fence and join the North Carolina Tar Heels in their home and conference opener tomorrow.

The fans are excited. The players are excited. And head coach Mack Brown is excited:

However, in the weekly press conference on Monday, it was back to business for Brown. When asked about the excitement of their opening week victory over South Carolina:

We had a victory meal last night. We were really hard on them in the videos and showed them we won the game but here are all the things we did that could’ve kept us from winning the game as coaches and players. At the end of the victory meal, we told them to really enjoy South Carolina until you go to bed. And then when you get up tomorrow, you’re totally focused on Miami.

Here are few of Brown’s overall observations from the South Carolina game:

  • The defense stepped up. The 270 yards of offense allowed were the fewest by Carolina since 2013.
  • There were good adjustments at halftime on both sides of the ball, particularly with Sam Howell and allowing him to have more passing plays. Brown thinks Howell will be “so much better this week.”
  • The catch by Dyami Brown was one of the best Brown has ever seen.
  • Too many mistakes were made in the kicking game. The Tar Heels lost field position in several punting situations.
  • UNC committed too many penalties, and some were particularly bad due to being on third down.
  • Brown was very impressed with Chazz Surratt’s performance at linebacker and see even more potential with him at the position. He is pleased with the situation at the position now will be looking at how to rotate Dominique Ross and Jeremiah Gimmel in this week.
  • There is still work to do by the offensive line in certain situations, particularly third and long.
  • The running back group remains the top position group on the team. Brown praised running backs coach Robert Gillespie for keeping all three running backs in the game. He plans to continue using all three and will look to go with the hot hand.
  • Brown was “really proud” of the two safeties Myles Dorn and Myles Wolfolk.

Brown emphasized that Miami is very talented and the Hurricanes will be rested and prepared after two weeks of rest after their “Week 0” loss against rival Florida.

The lone ACC game this week has become a much more intriguing matchup since Carolina’s win Saturday. The only Coastal Division teams to win their first game were UNC and UVA.

Miami certainly had their chances to open with a win against No. 8 Florida. The two teams were nearly identical in total offense in the opener, and the Hurricanes held halftime and fourth quarter leads.

The ‘Canes owned the time of possession and turnover margin against the Gators. Miami had the ball for over 36 minutes of game time. DeeJay Dallas, a talented and key piece of the Hurricanes offense, ran for 94 yards including a 50-yard touchdown dash to give Miami their fourth quarter lead.

On the defensive front, Miami forced four turnovers while coughing up the ball only once. The Hurricanes had two fourth quarter picks and recovered two fumbles.

When the time was needed for a stop, however, Miami faltered. Florida converted all four of their fourth down attempts.

Even with those back-breaking plays, the Miami defense remains a dangerous force heading into tomorrow’s game. The Hurricanes return six starters from last year and is led by All-ACC preseason selection Shaquille Quarterman at linebacker. Brown described Miami’s linebacker group as “maybe the best set of linebackers in the country.”

Based on Howell’s second half performance against South Carolina, one can expect the freshman quarterback to not have the same cautious play calling from the start of the Miami game. This means Charlie Heck, ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week, and the rest of the o-line must provide protection for Howell. This will be a tough task considering the size and speed of Miami’s front seven.

On that same note, the Miami front seven versus the Carolina running backs will be a key matchup tomorrow. The Hurricanes held Florida’s senior running back Lamical Perine to just 42 yards on the ground on 10 carries with UF’s total rushing yards at 50.

Can UNC’s three-headed monster in the backfield build on their 232 yards of combined rushing against South Carolina? It will certainly be a tougher task against Miami. However, Brown will let the flow of the game and the “hot hand” guide who gets their number called. And if Carolina has a pair of fresh legs in the fourth quarter tomorrow, like Antonio Williams was against the Gamecocks, that will be an advantage for the Tar Heels.

Carolina’s defense will be tested versus Miami’s talent in their skilled positions. One of the most difficult matchups will be All-ACC preseason tight end Brevin Jordan. The big sophomore led the Hurricanes in receiving against Florida, bringing in five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

The biggest opportunity for the UNC defense will be lining up across from Miami’s offensive line. The Hurricanes linemen gave up 10 sacks and 16 tackles for loss against Florida. With a true freshman quarterback, the Carolina line and linebackers must take advantage of this glaring weakness on the Miami squad.

The oddsmakers have the Hurricanes as a six-point favorite. Can the Tar Heels pull off the upset? Carolina must execute throughout at the game and limit self-inflicted wounds. If the Heels are within striking distance in the fourth quarter Saturday night, there is a newfound belief that these players have the coaching and conditioning to finish. Combine that with a sellout crowd and renewed optimism in the fanbase, it could shape up to be a magical evening in Kenan.