#16 Miami hosts North Carolina on Thursday night to open up ACC play.

The Miami Hurricanes are set to kick-off their ACC schedule Thursday night when the North Carolina Tar Heels roll into town for a nationally televised showdown. The atmosphere is going to be electric. Miami is bringing out their “Miami Nights” jerseys for the first time this season and the crowd is expected to be decked out in black to match the theme of the night.

The Tar Heels were off to a rocky start, losing their first two games of the season to Cal and ECU. It is likely that they would have lost their third consecutive game when the self-proclaimed national champion UCF Knights came to town, but Hurricane Florence had other plans. The game was cancelled and the Heels had an extra week to prepare for the Pittsburgh Panthers.

The Tar Heels wound up winning a shootout and earned their first win of the season 38-35. It was their fourth consecutive victory over the Panthers. Pitt did some damage by putting up 228 rushing yards while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. ECU had similar success in a 41-19 blowout victory over the Heels in week two in which they ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns. If UNC comes to Miami with that soft rushing defense, Miami could have their way with them. And if Pitt and ECU can torch them on the ground, I have to assume that Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas can too.

North Carolina’s Offense

Under center for the Tar Heels is Nathan Elliot. Elliot has been the starting quarterback for North Carolina through three games and has thrown for 669 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions. However, former North Carolina Mr. Football, Chazz Surratt, is back from his suspension for selling team issued Air Jordan’s. Surratt is just one of 13 North Carolina players that were suspended for at least one game. Surratt struggled as a true freshman last year, winning just one of just eight games that he either started or played significant minutes in. North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora named Elliot as the starter but left the option open of Surratt getting some playing time. In last years’ 24-19 loss to Miami, Elliot went just 16/39 and threw three interceptions and Surratt went 1/3 for 23 yards. Whoever is playing will have some weapons on the outside that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams may be one of the most dynamic playmakers in the entire ACC. Against Pitt, Ratliff-Williams was virtually unstoppable. If Elliot needs to make a play it is safe to assume that he is targeting number 17. Opposite of him is Dazz Newsome, a 5’11 sophomore that has 11 catches for 132 yards and averages 12 yards per catch. Newsome is the guy that Fedora wants to get into open space so he could use his electric speed to crate yards after the catch. Miami is allowing just 145 passing yards per game through four games, which is sixth best in the nation.

Antonio Williams and Jordan Brown have been the workhorses in the backfield. Williams leads the two in carries (39), yards (257) and yards per carry (6.6). The junior back also leads the team in touchdowns with three. Brown, the complimentary back, is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has two touchdowns of his own. However, the Tar Heels leading rusher from a year ago, Michael Carter, worked his way back into the rotation after missing the first two games due to injury. Carter’s 97 carries for 558 yards and 8 touchdowns last year lead the Heels. Expect to see his workload increase on Thursday.

North Carolina wants to run the ball. They have 103 rushing attempts compared to 62 passing attempts. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, Miami is fielding the fifth ranked defense against the run, allowing just 78.8 yards per game. The goal for this Hurricanes defense has to be to get Elliot to throw the ball by stuffing the run and let him make his own mistakes.

The most concerning matchup for North Carolina has to be their offensive line, which has given up seven tackles for loss in two consecutive games, going up against Miami’s front seven, which leads the nation in tackles for loss.

North Carolina’s Defense

The Tar Heels are giving up 33.3 points per game which ranks tied for 103rdnationally with New Mexico. Miami, on the other hand, is ranked 18thnationally in scoring offense with 43.5 points per game.

Miami will likely be ushering redshirt freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry for his first career start. Perry is completing 66.7% of his passes for 317 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. If Malik Rosier does in fact get the nod, then the Hurricanes will be led by a redshirt senior with a lot of in-game experience and knowledge of the offense. Rosier has thrown for five touchdowns and has run for five more.

Whoever is under center should be able to sling it all over the field. In their loss to ECU, North Carolina allowed seven players to average over ten yards per catch and three had over 20 yards per catch. The Tar Heels rank 99thnationally with 11.03 yards allowed per reception. Jeff Thomas averaging 26.3 yards per catch, which leads the nation, and Lawrence Cager averaging 19.3 should only dig North Carolina into a deeper hole in that category.

Cole Holcumb, the Tar Heels starting middle linebacker, had a great day in their win against Pitt. He finished the game with 12 total tackles including two big tackles for loss and a sack. Star defensive end Malik Carney is still out due to suspension. Carney had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in the opener against Cal.

Prediction

On paper, this matchup does not favor North Carolina in any way, shape or form. But games aren’t won on paper. Miami must go out and simply do what they have been doing. I would not expect the Hurricanes to hold UNC to zero yards for three quarters as they did against FIU, but I could see Miami dominating this game and keeping their foot on the gas. The Heels have struggled against average competition and they now face Miami, who is far and away the most physically talented team that Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels have played thus far. They are easy to run on, their defensive backs aren’t playing very well and they rank in the bottom third in virtually every important defensive stat.

They are 122ndin turnover margin, tied for dead last nationally in turnovers gained with one and 109thin 3rddown defense. I don’t see how this team is going to keep the Hurricanes offense in check. If they played elite offenses I would understand, but they have played Cal, ECU and Pitt.

I think Miami makes a statement in this matchup after allowing UNC to hang around last year in a 24-19 win in Chapel Hill. N’Kosi Perry gets his first official win as a starter and Miami rolls for their fourth consecutive win.

Miami – 45

North Carolina – 17

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