North Carolina Football: UNC keys to the game vs. Miami

North Carolina Football

Darius Lipford (23) and Tim Scott (7) missing the tackle on Shane Carden (5) during the East Carolina vs. North Carolina football game on September 28th, 2013 (Photo credit: Gerry Broome/AP)

After starting the year 1-4, the 2013 football season gets no easier for the North Carolina Tar Heels. In comes arguably the toughest test Carolina will face all year – the No. 10 Miami Hurricanes.

For the first time in the last four years, the Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0 ACC) are ranked in the top-10 and looked to have gained some swagger back from the glory days of the 1980’s and 90’s when they were simply known as, “The U”.

On the other side, the Tar Heels have not won a game since the first weekend in September against Middle Tennessee State almost six weeks ago. Nothing has seemed to click for Carolina after five games, as the defense is struggling to stop opponents from scoring, while the vaunted spread offense that head coach Larry Fedora installed in 2012 is just a mere shadow of itself so far in 2013.

However, with an easier second half of the schedule, if North Carolina can spring the upset over the Hurricanes it could easily jump-start their season and propel them to their first bowl game in the Fedora era. It will be a tough task, but if UNC does the following three things in front of their 65,000 fans at Kenan Stadium on Thursday night, they could beat a top-10 opponent for the first time since 2004 when they beat a Miami Hurricanes team ranked 3rd in the country.

1. Tackle, tackle, and tackle — Earlier this season, North Carolina coaches counted 21 missed tackles in a loss at Georgia Tech. In their very next game against East Carolina, the Tar Heels missed over 30 tackles in an embarrassing 55-31 loss at home to the Pirates. Add that to the fact that the Hurricanes average just over 45 points and 480 yards of total offense a game, and the Carolina defense is in for a very long night if they do not wrap up the Miami ball-carriers at first contact.

To put it simply, the UNC defense has not shown the ability to be able to mask the tackling issues they have had so far this season by making big plays such as turnovers and/or sacks of the quarterback. As a result, if North Carolina misses as many tackles as they have throughout the first five games of the season, Miami running back Duke Johnson, who averages over 6.8 yards per carry, could have a career day and ruin any hopes of a Carolina upset.

2. Run the ball…effectively — In 2012, the North Carolina offense had one of the best rushing attacks in the ACC behind Giovani Bernard, who led the conference in rushing yards with 1,228 and later went on to be the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL draft.

Coming into this season, Coach Fedora and staff knew it was going to be a challenge replacing Bernard’s production, but they also thought Carolina had the personnel to get the job done. So far, the UNC quartet of running backs A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, Khris Francis and T.J. Logan have yet to bring any real production to the running game. Some of the rushing issues could be blamed on the inexperienced offensive line, while other times it seems as if the running backs just are not making defenders miss or getting up the field in a timely fashion in order to keep the chains moving.

Nevertheless, there is too much talent on this offense to rank dead last in rushing in the ACC, a spot UNC currently holds. This is not an impossible task against a Miami defense that has let up close to 170 rushing yards per game in 2013. Not only will a good rushing attack help North Carolina stay balanced on offense and keep the Miami defense guessing, but it will also help keep the Hurricanes’ offense off the field – a recipe for success in order for the Tar Heels to cook up an upset.

3. Win the turnover battle — The biggest equalizer in all of football seems to be turnovers. No matter what the talent discrepancy is between two teams, turnovers can quickly level the playing field.

Carolina has not been successful at forcing turnovers so far this year, having only five takeaways this season – yet another ACC statistical category in which UNC ranks last. However, Miami has turned the ball over 10 times already this season, which would seem to be the chink in the armor of an offense that has otherwise been close to flawless this year.

Whether it be interceptions or forcing fumbles, the Tar Heels are going to have to force at least a couple of turnovers in this game to flip field position and give their offense a short field to make scoring touchdowns easier. On the flip side, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner and the rest of the offense is going to have to take care of the football – something Renner has been notoriously good at through his years at the helm of the Carolina offense.

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If North Carolina can limit their missed tackles on defense, while running the ball effectively and win the turnover battle, they have a great shot at pulling the upset over the undefeated Hurricanes. In what figures to be a great atmosphere at Kenan Stadium for the Tar Heels’ first home night game since 2009, this could have all the makings of a classic upset that would surely get the North Carolina football season headed in the right direction after a rough start.

PREDICTION: North Carolina will be able to move the ball effectively against Miami; however the defense will not be able to come up with a big stop when they need it most late in the game.
Final Score: Miami – 34 UNC – 28

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