The Miami Hurricanes are ranked in the top ten for the first time since 2009 as they head into Chapel Hill to face North Carolina Thursday night.
The Hurricanes were ranked eighth in the country halfway through their schedule and things seemed to be looking up for the program. However, the following week Miami lost 40-37 to unranked Clemson at home in overtime. Three weeks later Miami lost to North Carolina 33-24 on the road to kill all hopes of a Coastal Division title. After that loss the program never recovered during the Randy Shannon era.
Now Miami returns to the top ten where things again appear to be looking up for the program under head coach Al Golden, a program that has struggled for the better part of the last decade to return to its spot among one of college football’s powerhouses.
But regardless of the coach or the players, Miami has always seemed to struggle against North Carolina for whatever reason. The Hurricanes have lost four of the last six against the Tar Heels, including an 18-14 loss at home last season. In fact, Miami is just 1-3 in Chapel Hill since joining the ACC in 2004 and North Carolina was unranked in each of those three losses. The lone win was a 30-24 victory in 2011.
In Miami’s 18-14 loss to North Carolina last season quarterback Stephen Morris struggled mightily, completing just 12 of 26 pass attempts for 155 yards while throwing two interceptions. To make matters worse he had to leave the game early after injuring his ankle early in the fourth quarter.
However, the Tar Heels are a much different team from a season ago, especially on the defensive side of the ball. North Carolina’s defense is allowing 436 yards per game, ranked dead last in the ACC. That’s good news for Miami’s offense, which is averaging 488.6 yards per game and a whopping 45.2 points a game, which is ninth best in the country.
Morris is still battling through an ankle injury that he suffered against Savannah State on Sept. 21 but he will start. Despite the injury Morris still completed 17 of his 22 pass attempts for 324 yards and three touchdowns to lead Miami back from a ten-point first half deficit to defeat Georgia Tech 45-30 on Oct. 5. Morris also has the ninth best passer rating in the country at 169.7. If Miami’s passing game wasn’t enough for North Carolina to worry it, the Tar Heels also have to contain running back Duke Johnson, who’s ranked fourth in the country with 190.8 all-purpose yards per game.
North Carolina has struggled all season and lost its third straight to fall to 1-4 after losing to Virginia Tech 27-17 on Oct. 5. Its lone win came against Middle Tennessee State back on Sept. 7 and the Tar Heels are 0-3 against schools from the “Big 5” conferences this season.
One piece of good news though for North Carolina is that quarterback Bryn Renner is expected to return at quarterback after missing last game with a left foot injury. He’ll be facing a very talented Miami defense that has multiple playmakers. 13 different players have recorded sacks for the Hurricanes this season for a total of 18, which is 12th most in the country. Miami’s defense has also forced 16 turnovers on the year and is surrendering just 16 points per contest. In last season’s matchup Renner completed 25 of 40 pass attempts for 214 yards but no touchdowns against the Hurricanes.
Miami looks heads and shoulders above North Carolina in every facet of this game but with its first top ten ranking in four years there is the possibility of a letdown by Miami’s players heading into an unranked contest against a reeling North Carolina team. The rest of the country is starting to take notice of the Hurricanes once again but Al Golden told the Sun-Sentinel that he’s making sure his players take it one game at a time and ignore the noise from the outside.
“At the end of the season, we’ll count ‘em up and see where we’re at,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “We’re 0-0 going into this game. All that matters right now is going to Chapel Hill, being a mature team, having poise, communicating, and executing. The rest of it doesn’t matter…We have to continue to have that bunker mentality for the rest of the year.”
A win Thursday night would give the Hurricanes their first 6-0 start since 2004 and I believe they’ll get it. It’ll be close early but Miami has too much offensive firepower for North Carolina to keep up and it’ll pull away in the second half.
PREDICTION: Miami 38, North Carolina 20