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Miami Hurricanes Matchup of the Week: North Carolina Tar Heels

Miami hopes to overwhelm a beleaguered North Carolina

North Carolina Tar Heels v Miami Hurricanes Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

The best revenge is massive success” — Frank Sinatra

There’s a special vibe that has engulfed Miami Hurricanes football. Late game heroics have become as standard as Mark Richt’s goatee. So while eyes and thoughts drift towards the possibility of something greater, Saturday’s contest against North Carolina represents another opportunity for retribution.

1 vs. 1 matchup of the week

North Carolina DE Malik Carney (six-foot-three, 235 pounds) vs. Miami OT KC McDermott (six-foot-seven, 300 pounds)

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at North Carolina
Having derailed Miami from a win last season, DE Malik Carney looks to knock the ’Canes off course this weekend.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It was a Malik Carney sack and forced fumble on QB Brad Kaaya that ended Miami’s drive to tie the game late in the 2016 matchup. Carney continues to be the premier pass-rushing specialist for the Tar Heels, leading the team with three and half sacks. Possessing a good initial burst, it’s Carney’s closing speed that has scouts at the next level enamored with his potential. That great takeoff when the ball is snapped is illustrated by Carney’s eight tackles for loss that leads the UNC. Even if he’s unable to get a hand on the quarterback, Carney does an excellent job of hurrying the QB into situations that benefit the defense.

It definitely feels like overcoming a gauntlet when you consider the great pass-rushers that dwell in the ACC. For KC McDermott, the challenges change from week-to-week. From having to fend off FSU’s pass rush, Duke’s blitz-heavy pressure and Georgia Tech’s swarming front-seven. This week, the matchup reverts more to a traditional “mano a mano” battle. Carney will assuredly test McDermott’s ability to kick back and anchor, holding his position against a player that is known for making a living in their opponents’ backfield. The ’Canes rank among the top 50 teams in giving up sacks at just 11, as well as being 16th in the NCAA in tackles for loss allowed with 30. Both those numbers speak to not just the offensive line doing their job efficiently, but also on QB Malik Rosier not holding onto the ball too long and Miami running backs not dancing behind the line of scrimmage to gain positive yards in the run game.

North Carolina CB M.J. Stewart (six-foot, 205 pounds) vs. Miami WR Ahmmon Richards (six-foot-one, 190 pounds)

The best cover corner for the Tar Heels has been M.J. Stewart. Moving from the nickel spot last season (third cornerback on a roster) to lining up against receivers on the outside hashes, Stewart does a good job of keeping leverage on the receiver, as well as keeping his eyes on the quarterback to make a play on the ball. It help explains how Stewart is among the better pass defenders for UNC with eight pass breakups. Stewart also possesses the versatility to rush the quarterback from his position, as he currently has two sacks and four tackles for loss on the season.

With the return of Ahmmon Richards, the Hurricanes; passing game looked for their elite target early and often. That shouldn’t change this week, assuming that Richards has overcome that pesky hamstring injury and tweak of his ankle against Syracuse. Held to two catches for 55 receiving yards in last meeting, Richards should eclipse those numbers with ease in a best-case scenario.

Positional matchup of the week

Miami Wide Receivers vs. North Carolina’s Secondary

Miami v Florida State
WR Ahmmon Richards and the rest of Miami’s wide receivers will look to keep the ball off the ground this week.
Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

This week’s positional matchup represents an opportunity for redemption from the week prior. The Hurricanes left plenty of balls on the grass of Hard Rock Stadium last week. WR Ahmmon Richards, WR Braxton Berrios, and WR Darrell Langham were not their usual reliable selves. Against a North Carolina defense that allows 227.8 passing yards per game, Miami should be able to find that rhythm in Chapel Hill.

It wasn’t that bad for the Tar Heels secondary against Virginia Tech last week. Yes, the Tar Heels gave up three passing touchdowns to VT quarterback Josh Jackson, yet they managed to show signs of life by defending sideline-to-sideline. Sophomore CB K.J. Sails is known for his celebrations after plays, but he’s been able to backup that bravado by making plays on the ball. Sails leads North Carolina with nine pass breakups. As soon as the clock strikes noon, safety J.K. Britt should see plenty of action because Miami will look to go to work in the third level on the Tar Heels defense.

Caneseye Players to Watch

Virginia v North Carolina
RB Michael Carter has flashed breakaway ability over the course of the season. Miami will look to keep the UNC back to minimal gains on Saturday.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

For the first time in a couple of weeks, the Caneseye Players to Watch do not feature a quarterback. Given North Carolina’s revolving door at the position, switching between QB Brandon Harris and QB Chazz Surratt, Saturday’s game should boil down to establishing the run and defending it for both teams.

RB Jordan Brown splits carries with our other player to watch for the week. Averaging 4.3 yards per carry and having rushed for 371 yards, Brown will be a factor in North Carolina’s attempt to establish a ground, along with whoever is in at quarterback.

RB Michael Carter has been a shining positive in the injury-plagued darkness for the Tar Heels. The freshman tailback has burst out in a few games this season. While UNC fans would like to see his big games come on a more consistent basis, there is little doubt that Carter’s six yards-per-carry average and seven touchdowns on the season are signs of promise, especially when the Tar Heels get back to a healthy form.

Syracuse v Miami
DT RJ McIntosh getting in the face of quarterbacks has become a familiar sight this season.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

DT RJ McInotsh shows up to the stadium each week and, from the first snap he takes, has been absolutely owning his matchup in the defensive interior. Swatting five passes down to the turf against Syracuse, McIntosh has taken a sizeable leap this season. With four and half tackles for loss and two sacks on the season, look for McIntosh to build off those numbers in a favorable matchup this week.

DE Chad Thomas has been tasked with the grunt work on the defensive line. Fighting off combo blocks from tight ends and offensive tackles. Attempting to avoid chop blocks aimed at his knees, Thomas is a shining example that being a defensive end is more than just getting sacks and tackles for loss. Setting the edge to keep runs by the opposing offense from breaking loose up the sideline, eating up blockers, and crashing on a stunt to allow a teammate to get the free pass rush are admirable qualities as well. Thomas could see a big payoff against the Tar Heels this weekend.


The Tar Heels rank last in the ACC when it comes to total defense, allowing an average of 451.1 yards per game. The Tar Heels have given up a conference-high 18 touchdowns through the air.

Is there a single area where UNC has the edge over Miami?

Well if you enjoy punting, you’re in for a real treat. North Carolina Punter Tom Sheldon leads the ACC in punting average with 46.8 yards per punt. Sheldon should approach his season average of six punts per game come Saturday.

This could be a spot where Miami can get some playing time for their reserve unit, especially with the grueling schedule that the Hurricanes were dealt.