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UNC vs. Miami: Three Things to Watch

This game is either the break that the Heels needed, or the trap that they need to avoid.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, the North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the Miami Hurricanes in what should’ve been one of the biggest games of both teams’ season. These preseason top 25 teams have both went through a lot of pain, yet somehow the Hurricanes are the ones that are suffering the most from a personnel perspective. They lost their star quarterback D’Eriq King for the season, and now Tyler Van Dyke is trying to keep the team afloat.

As for the Tar Heels, they are coming off of a brutal loss to Florida State, and are hoping to avoid their first losing streak of the season. Let’s take at three ways they can do that, and hopefully salvage some of their turbulent season.

Shutting down the passing game

The UNC defense has to be exhaling a little bit this week, as they will face a quarterback that doesn’t exactly have a strong record of gaining large amounts of yards with his feet. So far this season, Tyler Van Dyke has ran for a measly six yards total in the three games that he saw action. This total is based on his 14 attempts, so it hasn’t been for a lack of trying, though by “trying” I really mean necessity. So far Miami has given up 16 sacks, which is still shy of the 23 sacks that Sam Howell has taken.

UNC’s game plan going into this game should be to hit VanDyke early and often. That’s of course easier said than done, but this will be one of the better opportunities for them to figure out how to land shots on a quarterback after not recording a single sack against Florida State. Bonus points if someone else can land a hit other than Myles Murphy.

Cleaning up penalties

Everyone can agree that UNC didn’t play their best game last week against the Seminoles, but truly the biggest issue that they had was the penalties. Way too often, the Heels found a way to commit penalties at the worst possible times. They committed 12 penalties for 110 yards, which is easily the most that they’ve had all season. The kicker? It was a home game. False starts and offensive side penalties shouldn’t be such a huge issue when you are playing at home, and yet the Heels seemed to lack the focus needed to play clean football. One penalty that can be forgiven, however, was Power Echol’s targeting penalty. It was not targeting. I will die on that hill.

I digress, there is no way that this team will beat Miami if they commit double-digit penalties again. Play clean football, and the window to beat a sub-.500 team stays wide open.

ABD (Anybody But Downs)

I love Josh Downs as much as the next guy, but Sam Howell has to find away to spread the ball around in this offense. The things that Downs is accomplishing this season are nothing short of spectacular, but it’s also worth noting that he is averaging a large amount of yards per catch (15.1). Is that a good thing? Sure, but take the game against Florida State: Howell got the ball to him nine times for 121 yards, and the only “receiver” that had more than one catch was DJ Jones with three. Watching Howell and Downs go to work can be really fun, but this isn’t sustainable.

I don’t know the answer to who needs to step up, but it just needs to be literally anybody but Downs. Kamari Morales has given us occasional hope of being a good target, but really Khafre Brown, Emery Simmons, or Antoine Green needs to find a way to get going. We like to talk about Dyami Brown a lot and how productive he was last year, but part of why he was so effective is that he had help. One of these days a team is going to figure out how to shut down...Downs...and it would be brutal if Miami was the team to figure out how to do it.