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UNC vs. Miami: X-Factor

Chazz Surratt will need to be at his best to contain Miami QB D’Eriq King

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

All of Carolina’s Orange Bowl hopes hang in the balance as the Tar Heels travel to the city where the heat is on, all night on the beach ‘til the break of dawn. Win, then keep our fingers crossed that Clemson beats Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game.

Miami’s offense has been inconsistent this season, failing to score as many points against weaker opponents (19 against Virginia, 25 against VaTech) as UNC did, albeit in wins. The Hurricanes do possess the key ingredient that has given Carolina fits all season though; a running quarterback.

D’Eriq King is dangerous. He is a capable runner who can also sling an accurate long ball. Duke was kind enough last weekend to put up absolutely no resistance against Miami’s offense en route to a 48-0 home loss. The highlights below do not make for pleasant viewing:

Sam Howell and the offense should put up points, as they do. Gaining yards through the air figures to be a bit easier with the unfortunate news that Miami cornerback Al Blades Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a myocarditis diagnosis.

This means that UNC’s defense won’t need to pitch a shut-out, or even be as stout as they were against Notre Dame. They just need to get enough stops to allow the offense to drag the team across the finish line like they did in the Wake Forest comeback.

Which brings us back to Chazz Surratt. This season introduced new impediments for the senior linebacker, playing his second season on defense. A lack of stout defensive line play in front of him has allowed offensive linemen to get their hands on him more at the second level. But Chazz is only tackling at about 1 less tackle per game as last season. He has more sacks (6.5) so far this season as he did last year with 12 games played (6).

The threat of D’Eriq King will require ultra-concentration and focus from the defense, and when he does break the pocket to run, Chazz must be mindful to take good pursuit angles. It’s better to not get a 5-yard sack and tackle him for a 3-yard gain than to miss the hit, letting King squirt out for a 20-yard gain.

If Carolina and Miami find themselves in a tennis match like the Wake Forest game, a well-timed interception or forced fumble to break serve could make all the difference. Right now, Chazz Surratt still seems the most likely defender to make such a play.