If you follow present and past Tar Heels like I do this is the time of the year where you see (and blog) the most. The National Football League is getting close to the half way point, the National Basketball Association has its pre season under way and basketball in Chapel Hill has begun with “Late Night with Roy”. But for head coach Larry Fedora and his UNC football squad it’s time to take center stage once again as North Carolina (4 & 2 ~ 1-1 in the ACC) heads to the sunshine state to play against Miami (Fl) (4 & 2 ~ 3-0 in the ACC) at Sun Life Stadium, with kick off being at 2:30 p.m. EST. For those of you that will not be at the stadium you can catch the game either on ESPNU, with Anish Shroff (play by play) and Dan Hawkins (color analyst), or on EX 191/Sirius 123, with Jones Angell (play by play), Rick Steinbacher (color analyst) & Lee Pace (sideline).
I have talked much about how the Tar Heels, who can not go to the post season or win its division, how motivation is going to be key during the season. One way a squad can motivate itself is to play spoiler, against Miami (Fl), who has never begun 4 and 0 in the ACC, North Carolina can do just that in this game. With the Heels, even if on the road where they are 0 and 2 on the year, being anywhere from 6.5 to 7.5 points favorite after the line opened at 3.5, it seems that the Vegas insiders see that North Carolina could actually come back home as winners.
While both the squads have the same record they come off two very different games. North Carolina showed that the spread offense does work, as they took down Virginia Tech 48 to 34 for their third win in a row. Miami (Fl) was blown away by a surprising undefeated Notre Dame by the final of 41 to 3. The series between these two teams is tied at 7 each, but the `Canes have had the advantage at home, winning six of nine.
There is no doubt that more and more non believers have begun to change their minds when it comes to Carolina as the Tar Heels keep winning of late. On the other hand, for those that are still not on board, coach Fedora’s squad has yet to win outside of Kenan Stadium. To be remembered however is that both losses on the road were without red shirt sophomore tail back Giovani Bernard, and the second part of the Louisville game was as good of thirty minutes of football that the team has played under the new regime. And while this game is going to be a road game for the team, it’s a home one for Bernard, who is from Miami.
Here are my keys to the game…
Stop the penalties. Sounds simple, but after what we saw last game this has to be the number one priority for coach Fedora’s team this weekend. It’s not like the crowd of a “home field advantage” should be a factor for the Hurricanes who play in a 74,000 seat stadium but are not getting 40K this season, but the Heels need to keep themselves poise and stop throwing away yards over penalties. There is no doubt in my mind that if UNC had lost last weekend against Va Tech one of the first things that both the so called analysts and the fan base would be speaking of 15 penalties for 126 yards. And those 126 yds do not include the ones that were taken back because of the penalties.
Let me put this in another perspective, Carolina had 75 plays from scrimmage, Virginia Tech 74, meaning that basically 1 out of 10 plays in the game the Tar Heels had a flag thrown at them.
Pressure. Whether in a loss or in a win the weak link to UNC’s D has been their defensive backs. If the front seven are not able to get to Miami’s quarterback Stephen Morris (306 yds per game) expect a long, long day when it comes to protecting the aerial attack of the Hurricanes. This does not mean that the Heels have to get sack after sack, it just means that whomever is rushing has to get the opposing QB to feel the pressure each time he drops back to pass. If Carolina can do this from the get go they could reap the benefits later on in the form of interceptions.
Go Gio Go. I think I have used this one almost every week, or at least every week that Bernard (9.1 yds per carry), who is in his own home coming playing in Miami, was able to play. But the way the tail back has played how can you not? North Carolina has one heck of a running back in Bernard and it would be just foolish not to ride him as much as possible. If the sophomore can set up the running game for the Heels it’s going to be a lot easier for quarterback Bryn Renner to then get his game going, adding to it, the play action would then be yet again another weapons in the offensive arsenal.
Whether it’s Bernard or Romar Morris or A.J. Blue, UNC football is playing against a team that is talented, as most teams in that state are, but right now is giving up 250 yards per match up, ranking them 116th (out of 124) in the country.
To be added, as I said previously, with the `Canes having a good passing game, another way to keep that in check is by keeping them off the field. Running the ball, eating the clock, can easily be the best way of doing that.
From the first to the last whistle. Even in the impressive win against VT last week, if not for the kickoff return for a touchdown by Sean Tapley, Carolina once again began way too slowly. Now the Heels will face a team that comes off a bad beat down on the road and is looking to bounce back at home. As I have spoken many times on this blog when it comes to UNC football… momentum is key. Just as key is keeping the opposition from getting any. Scoring early and stopping Miami (Fl) from doing the same is exactly what coach Fedora’s squad needs to do if they want to keep their winning streak going.
In the end this is going to be one of those games that if you like defense you should avoid at all cost. I see both teams finding the end zone plenty of times, both scoring at least four touchdowns. The Vegas odds makers have the over/under at this game at 69.5 points, meaning close to 10 touchdowns. I believe that in the end North Carolina will win the game, barely covering the spread, as they take down Miami (Fl) by the final of 38 to 28, thanks in great part to their powerful running game.
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