Momentum is a funny thing. One minute you think all hope is lost, then something good happens, then another. Then, all of the sudden, things aren't as bad anymore. That is how the season has gone for Miami. After the Georgia Tech game, things looked pretty bleak for the Canes. Now, with two wins in a row in convincing fashion, they look to keep that momentum going against a team with a somewhat similar map to their season. With North Carolina's improving offense and Miami's improving defense, we take a look at one two players that could make big plays for either team: North Carolina receiver Mack Hollins and Miami Corner Artie Burns.
Season to Date
Much like the teams they play for, Burns and Hollins have both had their ups and downs, but have picked up their play as of late. Burns, like the rest of the defense, struggled early in the season. Burns had trouble in coverage in some games and often looked out of position (spare me your coordinator comments, please). Lately though, Burns has been making plays all over the field. Burns has been solid in coverage, making tackles, and has even looked good rushing the passer when blitzing. Burns currently has 5 pass break ups and one sack on the year, according to hurricanesports.com.
Hollins has been having himself a very productive season. Before the season, the true Sophomore was not expected to be the focal point of the offense, as he was mostly used on special teams. He leads a pretty solid UNC offense in receiving yards and touchdowns and has at least one touchdown catch in each of his last three games. Hollins was especially explosive last week against Virginia. He only had 2 catches on the game, but those went for 120 yard and two touchdowns.
Both of these guys have ideal height and weight for their positions. Burns is every bit of 6'1, 200 pounds and Hollins is a big receiver at 6'3, 200. Burns, as I am sure many of you know, probably has the speed advantage here. Burns lives up to his last name with his sprinter speed, literally. He is the current ACC champion Indoor track champion for the 60 m hurdles and that really shows on the football field. Hollins isn't exactly a sloth himself, as he has shown the ability to stretch the defense and be a deep threat for the tar heels.
The physical attributes in this match-up should be especially interesting to watch. Holins does not usually see corners with burns' size and speed across from him, and wont be able to simply overpower or out run him.
Coverage Skills vs. Receiving Skills
If Burns has the physical advantage in this match-up, then Hollins may have the advantage in football skills. As I alluded to above, Burns is not always great dropping back into coverage and sticking to his man. His ball skills, especially, have been lackluster at the beginning of the season. Burns has shown improvement, however, and has played the best two games of his Miami career in as many weeks, in my opinion. Burns has been better at not only staying with his man, but recognizing when the pass will
Hollins looks like a really nice receiver, especially for someone that was busy tackling guys on punt coverage last season. He has made some very acrobatic catches this year in some pretty big spots, and runs some pretty solid routes to get open. He has enough speed to be able to run seam and go routes down the field, but is big enough to catch fades in the end zone. He was pretty solid hands as well, just ask Georgia Tech.
Barring continued improvement from Miami and/or UNC's defense, this game should be a shootout. Both defensive units have struggled this season, and believe it or not, UNC has been much worse than Miami's (they are ranked 112th in total FBS defense, there are 120 teams in the FBS). Miami's offense is going to put up some points, so they just need the defense to be good enough in this game to win. What does good enough mean? No big plays. Burns and the rest of the secondary cannot give up the explosive plays that Hollins and the UNC offense have been making all season. This is why I think we see this match-up in the secondary. Burns can afford to give up short and intermediate routes to Hollins, but his speed should be able to keep the long ball in check.
Momentum is a funny thing, man. Its hard to get, it's hard to keep. But, when you have it, it can do wonders for you. Miami has 2 weeks to prepare for it's biggest game of the season (and possibly the Golden era) after this game, and that is a long time to sit and thing about what you have to fix after a loss. If Burns can slow down Hollins, Miami might just be able to continue the roll it's on to the big home game on November 15th (like I said last week, I don't need to tell you who that is).
What do you think? Is there a more important match-up in this game? Follow me on twitter @Josh_Maser and let me know what you are looking for in this game.