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UNC football vs Miami: Game preview

It cannot get any worse, right?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday, your North Carolina Tar heels host the Hurricanes from Miami. After last week’s demoralizing loss to Virginia Tech, the program is looking for any kind of momentum to salvage its season. Miami, currently ranked 8th in the AP poll, is probably not the opponent that UNC needs to face right now. The football gods don’t care.

With 17 players out for the season and another four out for this game (including freshman RB Michael Carter), the Heels are going to need something of a miracle to pull off the upset. If you’re looking for some good news, it’s worth mentioning that the the Hurricanes have lost two of the last three times they have entered Chapel Hill while ranked in the Top 25. In the words of Kevin Garnett, anything is possible.

North Carolina Offense vs. Miami Defense

It is no secret the Heels have, to put it lightly, struggled to score points. This has been Larry Fedora’s worst offensive season as a head coach by an overwhelming margin. Want an interesting stat? Austin Proehl is fourth on the team with 16 receptions. The team leader is running back Jordan Brown...with 20. Nine of those were in the first game against California. Proehl is also second on the team in receiving yards with 270.

The problem? Austin Proehl has not played since Week 4. We are entering Week 9.

It’s difficult to analyze anything the Heels will try to do on offense. They have not had an identity, consistency, or success. Any noticeable growth and development appeared to have plateaued, just as the schedule entered it’s toughest stretch by playing top-15 ranked Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and now Miami within a four week period. That has resulted in UNC being 108th in scoring offense, 100th in rushing offense, and 89th in passing offense.

Miami’s defense, buoyed by a young linebacking corps, is ranked 23rd in scoring defense, 86th in rushing defense, and 27th in passing defense. Sophomore LB Michael Pinckney is 3rd on the team in tackles with 33, first on the team in tackles for loss with 6.5, and has recorded three sacks. For what it’s worth, as a team, Miami is ranked 20th nationally in total sacks. North Carolina is 109th in the country with 21 sacks allowed, including six last week.

At this point, the Heels need to hope Jordan Brown has the game of his life and exploits the one weakness Miami’s defense has shown in struggling to stop the run. And prayers. Many prayers.

North Carolina Defense vs. Miami Offense

It’s probably unfair to expect much more out of UNC’s defense. With the exception of last week, North Carolina has remained competitive into the third or fourth quarter of every game. Most of the deficiencies are due to a ridiculous amount of time they spend on the field. UNC is 124th in time of possession, leaving their defense on the field for over 34 minutes a game. Even last week, the defense was not responsible for the initial onslaught that befell the Heels.

In fact, the defense is averaging more sacks per game (2.13) and tackles for loss per game (6.0) than last season. They already have more interceptions (5) and quarterback hurries (33) than all of last year. Surprisingly, they even have a better defensive 3rd down conversion rate than previous years, holding opponents to under 40%.

These are not nationally-dominant numbers, but compared to past struggles, it continues the slow steady climb out of the pit of despair that was 2014. With any semblance of an offense, this team would be trying to clinch a bowl bid this weekend. So what does it mean against Miami?

There is a glimmer of hope. The ‘Canes aren’t dominant on offense. Ranking 46th in rushing offense, 26th in passing offense, and 40th in scoring offense is nothing to sneeze at, but they are vulnerable.

The passing game, led by Malik Rosier has been consistent but not prolific. With 14 touchdowns to only three interceptions, Miami’s offense has been aided more by good decision making than physically imposing athleticism. Their past three games have seen them score 24, 25, and 27 points against Duke (struggling), Florida State (decimated by injuries), and Syracuse (not ready to take them seriously).

Their once dominant two-headed threat in the backfield is now down to just RB Travis Homer (78.67 ypg) after Mark Walton (107 ypg) had season ending surgery a few weeks ago. That has helped contribute to an inability to convert on third down, where they rank 112th in the nation with a 32.39% success rate.

Plus, Miami has not played a single team that is currently ranked. Only two of their opponents have winning records - Toledo and Georgia Tech.

North Carolina, counting this weekend, will have played six teams with winning records, three of whom are ranked.

We’re all disappointed and frustrated at the way this season has gone. It will take perfect execution, discipline, and a little bit of luck to pull of the upset. But, that’s how we all felt in 2006 when Connor Barth did this:

Never give up. Never surrender.

Go Heels.