Miami Hurricanes vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Complete Game Preview

Chris Bello@christianrbelloContributor IOctober 15, 2013

Miami Hurricanes vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Complete Game Preview

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    The Miami Hurricanes are gearing up for another ESPN College Football Thursday Primetime event. This marks the eighth-straight season "The U" has earned a slot in the fan favorite, late-week, evening matchup.

    Since 2000, the Hurricanes are 11-2 in the big Thursday night showdown, most recently taking down Virginia Tech last November at Sun Life Stadium.

    Miami enters this week ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, 5-0 with respectable wins over Florida and Georgia Tech. North Carolina sits at 1-4, having dropped three straight—including conference losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels' lone win came at home against Middle Tennessee.

    North Carolina topped Miami, 18-14 in South Florida last season and both teams finished 5-3 in the ACC, tying for first in the Coastal Division. The Hurricanes self-imposed a second-straight postseason ban, while the Tar Heels were banned from from the postseason, leaving Georgia Tech as the Coastal representative in the conference title game against eventual champ, Florida State. 

    Miami is 4-5 against North Carolina since joining the ACC and 1-3 at Kenan Stadium, the Hurricanes' lone win coming in 2011.

    Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

    Place: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC

    TV: ESPN / WatchESPN

    Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami) - WBT 1100 (North Carolina)

    Spread: DSOpen has Miami a 9.5 favorite. 


Miami vs. North Carolina: Time Capsule 2012

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    Reliving losses is never any fun, but Miami's slugfest with North Carolina last October was a stepping-stone moment for the program, which head coach Al Golden highlights in this CanesAllAccess piece from 2012. 

    Coming off a tough loss against Notre Dame, the Hurricanes fell to the Tar Heels, 18-14 and slipped to 4-2 on the season.

    Down four, Miami looked to take the lead early fourth quarter, but lost Stephen Morris to an ankle injury. Ryan Williams stepped in and completed a few passes, but a 4th-and-6 attempt from the UNC 26-yard line fell incomplete.

    The Hurricanes defense stepped up on the ensuing drive and Miami had one more chance. Williams found Rashawn Scott for a few big pick-ups, while Mike James got it done on the ground. The Hurricanes moved the ball 54 yards on seven plays, but a second down sack set up a 3rd-and-forever.

    A fourth down completion to tight end Clive Walford was short and North Carolina ran out the clock and escaped with the win.

    Around the 6:20 mark of the clip, Golden emphatically explains to his young team that it got better in so many ways. The second-year coach let his kids know that they weren't good enough, but that they were getting better and Miami was in the process of building something special.

    A year later, the Hurricanes are 5-0, ready to take on the Tar Heels and while it won't be verbalized pre-game this week, arguably looking for some revenge after last year's letdown. 


Miami's Keys to Victory

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    Show Up Prepared for a Hostile Crowd and Deliver 

    Kenan Stadium will be loud early on game night. Anyone who has lived in a college town knows that Thursday is the first night of the weekend and this will be no exception. 

    Tar Heel coeds will be rowdy and in full force. Miami is a marquee name and hated foe and at 1-4 on the season, an upset would put North Carolina on a path to redemption in 2013.

    The Hurricanes simply need to weather the early storm. Get some big stops, make some big plays offensively, get on the board and quiet the masses.

    Don't let a wounded team gain early momentum and eliminate the "12th Man" as soon as possible.


    Establish the Run Early On

    Wear down and demoralize a depleted North Carolina defense with a steady dose of Duke Johnson and Dallas Crawford early. Pound the ball, pick up big chunks of yardage and it will set up a monster passing play, a la Stephen Morris to Phillip Dorsett for the early 52-yard score against Florida.

    Down as the Tar Heels may be, this is still a well-disciplined football team that boasts some talent. Miami must establish the run against a team like North Carolina, earning the mental edge and putting the host on its heels.


    Get After the Quarterback(s)

    Bryn Renner has been the stable starter, but after suffering an injury against East Carolina, yielded to Marquise Williams for the Virginia Tech game. Renner has been named this week's starter, but if the senior struggles, expect to see the sophomore in the game as Williams completed 66 percent of his passes and had 277 yards in his first collegiate start. 

    Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora loves strange extra point formations and going for two, so playing both quarterbacks and looking for an edge at 1-4 seems a gimmie. 

    Whoever North Carolina rolls out under center, Miami's front seven need to create some chaos. Don't let either quarterback get hot. This team should unravel should it wind up in a big hole. 

North Carolina's Keys to Victory

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    Throw the Records out the Window

    The Tar Heels can't think, act or react like a 1-4 football team. Treat this matchup like its the first game of the season, soak up the home crowd atmosphere, suit up and play. 

    During the Decade of Dominance, Miami made a living winning football games before the ball was kicked off simply by having the mental edge and demoralizing an opponent. 

    In this case, demoralization comes in the form of ultimate success versus a lack of any. Miami will take the field confident and prepared, so North Carolina has to match that. A season can be saved with an upset and after Miami, the toughest games are all in the rear view—South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

    Boston College, North Carolina State, Virginia, Pitt, Old Dominion and Duke are all beatable, but that has to start with a big time upset of the Hurricanes this week. 


    Protect the Football

    Whether it's Bryn Renner or Marquese Williams at quarterback, North Carolina can't afford to turn the football over. Miami's upset of No. 12 Florida was the result of six forced turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions and a huge fourth down red-zone stop). Against Georgia Tech, a few late interceptions put the game away for the Hurricanes. 

    North Carolina coughed it up three times against Virginia Tech, with no takeaways. A very winnable home game was lost due to turnovers—none bigger than a Williams interception at the VT 13-yard line when looking to pull within four early in the fourth. 

    Win the turnover battle and North Carolina can keep it close, setting up the potential upset. 


    Show Miami Some New Looks

    With two weeks to prepare, North Carolina better have some wrinkles, a la South Florida and Georgia Tech when taking on Miami weeks back. 

    The Bulls had an opening drive touchdown against the Hurricanes, tying the game while the Yellow Jackets brought a "diamond" formation and new dimensions of the triple option that Miami wasn't familiar with.

    Whether it's a special package for Williams or some things the Hurricanes aren't expecting to see defensively, North Carolina only has so much time to keep Miami off-balance before halftime adjustments come into play.

Players to Watch for Miami

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    Duke Johnson

    The running back is due for a monster game and something about Thursday Night Lights and the national audience seems like the perfect set-up. Johnson and the Hurricanes had a recent visit and pep talk from legendary UM running back Clinton Portis earlier in the week and the theme to players: "make this your moment".

    Johnson got his 186 yards against Florida Atlantic in the opener and racked up 184 yards against Georgia Tech last week. Outside of that, minimal play against lesser foes like Savannah State and South Florida, while unable to break off anything big against Florida's highly touted defense.

    "The Duke of Coral Gables" has been resting for almost two weeks and should be ready to wreak some havoc against what has been a very spotty North Carolina defense thus far. 


    Seantrel Henderson

    The senior offensive lineman returns from another suspension and was forced to face the music this week. Head coach Al Golden gave Henderson a grow-up moment, leaving him to explain his punishment to the media.

    Henderson was a 5-star, can't-miss prospect, yet has fallen short of expectations because of mind, not mass. Henderson stands 6'8" and weighs in at 320 pounds. He has seven regular season games left in his Miami career and Thursday night is a chance to show the nation what he's capable of.

    Henderson is listed as back-up right tackle, but will get his snaps. With a few weeks to think about his mistakes, here's a vote of confidence that No. 77 will relish the opportunity and bring his A-game this week.


    Justin Renfrow

    The complete opposite of Henderson, defensive lineman Justin Renfrow transferred in from Virginia this season. Renfrow graduated from UVA, has one year of eligibility and came to Miami as he was recruited by Golden when the head coach was at Temple.

    Renfrow is listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle this week after a career-high, six-tackle performance against Georgia Tech.

    Here's another chance for Renfrow to seize a big time moment: national television against a conference foe he didn't get many cracks at as a back-up with Virginia. Something says he'll be ready.  

Players to Watch for North Carolina

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    Bryn Renner

    Not to add any extra pressure on the senior, but the Tar Heels quarterback needs to show up big this Thursday night. Renner has been effective for North Carolina this season—even in losses—and while he'll need help from his teammates, still needs to deliver a huge performance against Miami.

    Renner threw for 194 yards and a score in the loss to South Carolina and 218 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the loss to Georgia Tech. Against East Carolina, a 366-yard, three-touchdown performance was all for naught as the Purple Pirates scored 55 points.

    Renner is an experienced player and helped guide North Carolina to last year's win over Miami. Can he do it again in his final crack at the Hurricanes?


    A.J. Blue

    Another season that has experienced better days in Chapel Hill, Blue will get a chance to do to Miami what starting running back Gio Bernard did last season. To date, the running game has been stagnant regarding Blue and sophomore Romar Morris, who have split carries.

    Blue and Morris combined for 13 yards on eight carries against Virginia Tech. If the backs can't find a way to run more effectively against Miami, it's going to be a long night.


    Travis Hughes

    The junior linebacker came to Chapel Hill as one of the top linebackers in the nation and needs to step up in the middle on Thursday night.

    North Carolina's defense has been disastrous, as depth issues and youth have taken their toll on this squad. Hughes is one of few bright spots on this defense and needs to do his best to lead his unit in a potentially season-saving game. 


What They're Saying

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    Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden knows that his team has its work cut out for it as seven games remain. While there have been a few big wins this season—Florida and Georgia Tech—a rough road remains and it starts with a road trip to a hostile North Carolina environment this Thursday night.

    While Hurricanes fans are feeling good regarding the current No. 10 ranking in the AP, Golden has a different opinion. "I don't think we've achieved anything yet," said Golden on his weekly ACC Conference call, as reported by Susan Miller Degnan and the Miami Herald. Golden elaborated: 

    You know, we were 4-0 in the out-of-conference [games]. We locked that up, put that in a chest and threw it away. Then, obviously in our first ACC contest last week, Georgia Tech played really well. We turned the ball over, had some penalties that we had to get cleaned up. We were fortunate to win. So we’re 1-0 in the conference and now we’re playing North Carolina. The rest of it we don’t worry about very much. It all shakes out on the field… Hopefully we can continue to keep that bunker mentality and not worry about the external and just stay focused first this week on taking care of our academics and improving in our fundamentals.

    North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora talked Miami during the bye week and was complimentary of the undefeated Hurricanes:

    Well, they've obviously got great talent offensively. I would say the biggest improvement in my opinion has come on that offensive line and what they've done on the offensive line. Those guys have grown up and are playing really well. They've had the great speed. They had it last year at running back and at the wide receivers, and the Morris kid can throw the ball down the field. He's very accurate getting it down the field. Defensively it's a lot of the same kids as last year. They're just growing up. They played when they were young, and they're all growing up, and they're becoming they're maturing into the players that I'm sure Al thought they were going to be, and so they're playing really well together.

    Miami also had a special visit from former UM running back great Clinton Portis this week, where he coached up the current squad and explained his mindset as a player, as well as how important it is to make the most of opportunities.

    The four-minute video is full of some Miami Hurricanes swagger, former player pearls of wisdom and even features current running back Duke Johnson handing Portis a UM hat and t-shirt in a cool young lion/old lion type of moment.


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    Thursday night games have the potential to be quirky. A few years back No. 2 South Florida fell to unranked Rutgers and a few decades ago, a colossal upset with Virginia topped No. 1 Florida State on the road, complete with an epic goal-line stop on the game's final play.

    Miami has had its share of Thursday night nail-biters, as well. A 22-20 comeback win over West Virginia in 2003, when ranked No. 2 and looking ahead to Florida State. A year later, No. 3 Miami needed a rally for the ages against No. 17 Louisville, pulling out the 41-38 win after trailing 24-7 at the half.

    Last year a prepared Miami squad hosted Virginia Tech and got the big Thursday night win. A year prior, Virginia came to play and pulled off the upset against a lackluster Hurricanes' bunch.

    Miami is far and away the better football team this week. The offense is finding a groove, the defense has been a nice surprise and adversity has been dealt with. Miami was ready for everything Florida brought in early September and weeks back overcame a 17-7 first quarter deficit in a 45-30 win over Georgia Tech.

    Al Golden said it last season after the loss to North Carolina—this team is growing up, learning how to win and doing the things it was too green to do last season.

    Next up, the challenge of adversity in the face of success. Can Miami handle prosperity and stay on an undefeated path with Florida State on deck in a few weeks?

    Last week's bye might've been the most-important of the season for Miami. Stephen Morris' bum ankle got 12 days of rest and the Hurricanes got to play the role of spectator on a huge Upset Saturday in college football.

    Stanford. Oklahoma. Georgia. Three highly-ranked teams that didn't bring their best and paid a huge price. Miami watched it unfold and have no doubt that Golden drove the message home all week—the Tar Heels are not to be overlooked.

    North Carolina will come to play, feeding off their packed house, black uniforms and "Zero Dark Thursday" theme, but the smoke will clear and Miami will put this thing away in the second half.

    Prediction: Miami 34, North Carolina 20