The entire nation has its sights set on Saturday’s mega-battle of ACC unbeatens, Florida State and Clemson. However, the conference’s third undefeated squad is set to put its perfect season on the line as well – and also in front of a nationwide audience.
The resurgent Miami Hurricanes head out to Chapel Hill to take on the disappointing North Carolina Tar Heels in an ACC Thursday night special.
After losses to South Carolina, Georgia Tech, East Carolina and Virginia Tech, opening the year with a 1-4 mark, can coach Larry Fedora’s Heels turn things around with a signature win? If it is to happen, Fedora will need a yeoman’s effort from his senior leader at quarterback, Bryn Renner.
After finishing out the 2012 campaign with 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, Renner entered his final year on campus with hopes of a dark-horse run to the Heisman Trophy. Instead, his numbers have dipped: He has passed for 1,117 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He is only completing 59.9-percent of his passes and averaging a meager 7.3 yards per attempt.
However, at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, the size and ability to be great are all there. Can he put it together against a Hurricanes defense that is only giving up an average of 16 points per game?
He may not have much of a running game to lean upon. North Carolina has rushed for 500 yards total in its first five games while only managing to average 2.92 yards as a team. It’s leader in that category, senior A.J. Blue, only boasts 187 yards on the year. Those are scary numbers – unless you are a member of Miami’s loaded defensive front.
Linebackers Denzel Perryman, Jimmy Gaines and Tyriq McCord are ferocious in their pursuit of opposing skill position players. Senior defensive lineman Shayon Green is a 6-foot-3, 264-pound force excited to make life even more difficult than it already has been for Blue and UNC’s disappointing stable of running backs.
Of course, the same cannot be said for a Miami offense that currently boasts a 45.2 points per game average and one of the nation’s premiere backs in Duke Johnson. Just a sophomore, The Duke has already proven he can do it all. He tallied 947 rush yards, 221 reception yards, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and even threw for one more – all as a true freshman.
Through five games this year, his 572 rushing yards are already more than the entire North Carolina team, making his quarterback’s life far easier.
Where Renner has failed this year, Stephen Morris has exceeded expectations. He has only passed for 950 yards and nine touchdowns, but he has been sitting through the fourth quarters of a few blowout victories.
He has thrown four interceptions, however. Can the home, powder blue-clad crowd rattle him into turning the ball over once or twice? Senior corner Tre Boston has 10 career picks. As a Fort Myers, Fla. native, he presumably would love to show that he has a few more interceptions up his sleeve on Thursday night.
Will UNC LB Norkeithus Otis be able to build upon his 4.5 sacks, and possibly knock Morris out of rhythm? If that happens, perhaps Boston will be able to do what he does best against Miami receivers, such as senior Allen Hurns and rising junior Phillip Dorsett.
It’s far easier said than done. North Carolina enters the game, again, at just 1-4 on the year. The Heels’ game plan has not worked much this year, while the unblemished Hurricanes seem to be clicking on all cylinders.
But the Heels will have had 12 days to prepare for Morris, Duke, and the rest of coach Al Golden’s crew, and they will be at home.
Can they pull off the upset, or will Miami stomp them in front of millions watching across the country?