Miami is one of eight undefeated FBS teams — and the only perfect one in the ACC — but the Hurricanes are living dangerously, surviving three straight nail-biting victories, including last week’s 27-19 triumph over Syracuse. But despite the win, Miami’s 11th straight dating back to last season, Mark Richt’s Hurricanes head into Saturday’s matchup at downtrodden North Carolina down one spot in the USA Today Coaches Poll to No. 8.
For Miami, the biggest key may be not overlooking a one-win North Carolina team coming off a 59-7 thrashing at Virginia Tech — the Tar Heels’ worst defeat since 2002 — especially with home games against 13th-ranked Virginia Tech and 10th-ranked Notre Dame looming in the coming weeks. But these Hurricanes have had too many close calls, with their last three wins by a combined total of 13 points, and they are quick to remember last year’s 20-13 loss to the Tar Heels, when Miami came in ranked 17th and ready to challenge for their first ACC Coastal title. “We owe them from last year,” defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson told reporters. “They beat us on our home field last year. That game was a difference for us going to the ACC Championship and going to the Orange Bowl. We’re just preparing and knowing that we owe them.” Still, with 16 starters and key reserves out for the year with injuries, Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels hardly look like the team that went bowling the last four years and earned a trip to the ACC championship game just two seasons ago.
TV: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2. LINE: Miami -20
ABOUT MIAMI (6-0, 4-0 ACC): Malik Rosier engineered yet another clutch drive down the stretch Saturday and he finished with a personal-best 344 yards passing and two touchdowns, becoming the first Hurricane starting quarterback to open his career with a 7-0 record since Brock Berlin (2003). Christopher Herndon IV, who leads the team in receptions (28 for 271 yards), has emerged as yet another star tight end for the Hurricanes and was named the ACC Receiver of the Week after a career outing against Syracuse in which he hauled in 10 catches for 96 yards with a touchdown. The ground attack continues to flourish with Travis Homer filling in for an injured Mark Walton and the Tar Heels’ struggling run defense may not have the answers as it is ranked 112th in the country, giving up an average of 223.4 yards per game.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (1-7, 0-5): The Tar Heels have been forced to go with youth due to all their injuries, resulting in the once-potent offense managing just 38 points total in the last four games, but Fedora still believes in his team and the players’ effort. “You’ve got to put your nose down and your head down and keep grinding, keep doing it and keep doing it and eventually good things are going to happen,” Fedora said. A good start would be cutting down on mistakes as quarterbacks Brandon Harris (eight) and Chazz Surratt (three) have thrown a total of 11 interceptions this season and they are facing a ball-hawking Miami defense that picked off Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey four times in the first half Saturday.
1. The Tar Heels own a 10-9 series advantage over the Hurricanes, who have lost two in a row to North Carolina.
2. The Hurricanes are 4-0 in ACC play for the first time since joining the conference in 2004.
3. The Hurricanes have outscored opponents 359-164 in the second half in 19 games under Richt, and have held an opponent to 10 points or fewer in the second half in 14 of 19 games.
PREDICTION: Miami 40, North Carolina 13