Dating back to Miami's induction into the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, this matchup is knotted up at five games apiece. Even so North Carolina still maintains the edge at 9-8 for the all-time series. The years' past played host to major upsets, nail biting finishes, and a rivalry driven atmosphere. Two programs who rode the wave of uncertainty over the last decade continue to duke it out as if they were long rivals.
Last Meeting: Crawford's resilience
An October night in Chapel Hill tabbed as ‘Zero Dark Thursday' was the setting as the Tar Heels ran onto the rain drenched grass donning a predominantly all-black attire. Miami, in contrast, took the field in their signature Stormtrooper uniforms. The Hurricanes entered the contest ranked 10th (5-0, 1-0) in the nation and riding a win streak the program hadn't seen since 2004. While North Carolina found themselves in the midst of a downward spiral sitting at 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the conference.
This game began as well as a Miami fan could hope for with the Canes defense forcing an early 3-and-out. Two sizable gains by Duke Johnson set the Hurricanes up near midfield for their first drive of the game. After back to back incomplete passes by Stephen Morris the Hurricanes faced a crucial third down try. Pressure met Morris in the pocket and caused an errant throw out of the reach of intended target Herb Waters and into the arms of a Tar Heel cornerback. This trend continued to plague Miami's offensive efforts for the entire game.
This wasn't the only setback the Canes were to overcome. Duke Johnson registered 83 yards on six carries, but then took a tough shot to the helmet causing Johnson to sit out the rest of the game. Later, Phillip Dorsett suffered a knee injury requiring him to miss the next five games. The Hurricanes' hopes became grim with the loss of these two major components. Eyes turned to the defense as the offense found themselves continuing to struggle throughout the first three quarters.
Although the defense set the stage for Eric Ebron's NFL Draft Day highlight video, their knack for forcing North Carolina into field goal attempts kept this game within reach. The fourth quarter started with the Hurricanes oppressed by a 10-point deficit. Miami's lone touchdown stemmed from a Ladarius Gunter (Artie Burns registered the block) blocked field goal return of 67 yards. The offense needed a way, any possible way to manufacture points.
That's when Dallas Crawford came rumbling onto the scene bursting through tackles and ripping himself from the outstretched arms of defenders. Crawford had the keys and was driving the Hurricanes up the field for the first time since the departure of Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett. Early on in the 4th, Crawford knifed his way into the end zone placing the Canes back in contention at 20-23. The pressure again turned to the Miami defense. After forcing a three-and-out the Canes defense faced another setback as Stephen Morris threw his fourth pick of the game on a third down scramble.
Eight minutes lingered on the clock and a weary Hurricane defense stood between the Tar Heels and victory. Despite relinquishing chunks of yards the defense found a way to get the offense the ball. Miami's final drive began on their own 10 yard line with the game clock reading 4: 11. Dallas Crawford, with help from Eduardo Clements, pounded the rock as time continued to trickle away. The rushing attack's presence allowed for a few quick passes from Morris as he hit their mark. The game winning score materialized as Crawford went catapulting over the goal line sealing North Carolina's fate with 16 seconds remaining.
What's changed? Goodbye Ebron, Hello Marquise Williams
Notable players departed:
QB - Bryn Renner
RB - A.J. Blue
TE - Eric Ebron
LT - James Hurst
C - Russell Bodine
DE - Kareem Martin
CB - Jabari Price
S - Tre Boston
Larry Fedora brought in a handful of new coaches for the upcoming 2014 campaign. In part to replace Fedora's longtime Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson as he left to become Head Coach at Arkansas State, as well as reaffirming the defensive ranks. Seth Littrell takes the reigns of UNC's offense after serving as co-Coordinator at Indiana and Arizona. During Littrell's past year with the Hoosiers he oversaw an offensive unit that ended the season ranked 9th in the country in total offense.
The Tar Heels return seven starters on both sides of the ball, while also fielding respectable recruiting classes (29th in 2013 and 43rd in 2012 per 247 composite ratings.) This has created depth at a number of positions and despite losses to the draft, talent still looms on the roster. Newcomers such as redshirt freshman Quarterback Mitch Trubisky are making an instant impact on the depth chart. Just one of many younger players vying for playing time, Trubisky comes in as a top prospect out of high school who's found himself in a competition for the starting job.
What's to be expected?
Marquise Williams' ability to scramble will keep Miami's attention and may offer passing lanes. An area of concern is the Hurricanes' linebacking unit as they are tasked with option plays entailing both pass and run. As for North Carolina's defense, an extra season under Larry Fedora and Defensive Coordinators Vic Koenning, Dan Disch and Ron West (first year co-Coordinator) should count for improvement. With the Tar Heels being placed above Miami in several early rankings this should make for another close contest.
Following a Thursday night in Blacksburg, Miami has an added day of recovery before UNC arrives at Sun Life Stadium. Both schools have played a majority of their Atlantic Coast Conference foes before this meeting. This creates a comfort of ACC play and knowledge of each teams' Conference Championship game aspirations. Depending on how the divisional race shakes out by November this could very well be a major influence on which member of the Coastal is heading to Charlotte.