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Miami Hurricanes Matchup Preview: North Carolina

Canes look to step on the Tar Heels in primetime Thursday night.

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Nothing appears to be going right. The coach is on the hot seat and the fans are starting to revolt. No, this is not a preview for next week’s rivalry game… even though there are plenty of parallels. First of all, our hearts go out to the fine folks of both North and South Carolina for enduring Hurricane Florence a couple of weeks ago. We wish you the best in the aftermath of such a devastating event.

Moving to the football perspective, The University of North Carolina’s team is in a state of disarray. The Tar Heels have played three games this season after cancelling a home game against UCF because of Florence. It’s been ugly for the Tar Heels, who have a hideous third down conversion percentage of 33.3, are unable to find any consistency on offense and whose defense has suffered mind-numbing lapses at different points in the first month of the season.

Head coach Larry Fedora does have some talented personnel on the roster, even though they haven’t flourished out of the gates. Who knows what could happen in a Thursday primetime matchup with the Hurricanes.

Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs. One)

WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams vs. CB Michael Jackson

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina
CB Michael Jackson was all smiles after getting an interception, helping the Canes emerge victorious from Kenan Memorial Stadium in 2017.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Canes went up against the Tar Heels’ number one receiving option, the Canes limited the 6’1”, 205 pound star to two catches and 25 receiving yards. Given UNC Nathan Elliott’s penchant to try and fit balls into tight windows in coverage, the expectation is for No. 17 to receive a decent amount of targets in primetime.

Through three games, Ratliff-Williams has been the lone bright spot in an otherwise bleak passing game for UNC head coach Larry Fedora’s offense. A possession receiver, Ratliff-Williams is a tad slower than the coverage assignments the Canes have gotten in the past couple of weeks. With an acute awareness of the ball and the position of the defender, the junior receiver is able to make catches with contact from the DB on a regular basis. Remember, the receiver completed not one, but two passses against the Canes’ defense for 51 passing yards and a touchdown.

CB Michael Jackson came into the season already considered one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, if not the entire nation. In recent weeks, offense have made a point to go directly at UM’s star corner. Having a zero in the interception column is not all troubling given that the two-gloved version of M. Jackson has not given up a big play or TD. With Ratliff-Williams posing as an intriguing physical matchup, the 6’1”, 205 pound cornerback should be capable of negating the receiver’s impact, thus resuscitating the conversation of being a shutdown corner.

Position Matchup of the Week

UNC’s Running Backs vs. Miami’s Linebackers

It’s been a good start to 2018 for the Hurricanes’ linebackers. However, the level of expectation among Miami’s terrific trio at the position is great. Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud have combined stats of 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, and two sacks . From a numbers standpoint, the unit has stood up well. They’re attacking the line of scrimmage, pursuing after the play and have made some improvements in pass coverage. For a unit that was outlined as the strength of the defense and the team as well, this group as a whole can play better. They’ll need to as the team embarks on a quest to repeat as coastal division champions.

Pittsburgh v North Carolina
The focus of the Tar Heels offense isn’ttheir QB. Instead RB Antonio Williams has been carrying the UNC through through the first four weeks of the season.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

At best, the passing game for the Tar Heels has been scattershot. Their only saving grace has been the running game. The team added Ohio State transfer RB Antonio Williams this season, who leads the Heels with 257 rushing yards, three touchdowns and a yards-per-carry average of 6.5. Ranked tenth in the ACC with a 4.83 yards-per-carry average, UNC posses a two-headed rushing attack with Williams and fellow junior junior tailback Jordan Brown. Averaging an impressive 4.39 yards-per-carry, Brown’s 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns make him a viable threat to securing a Canes’ win Thursday night.

Caneseye Players to Watch

RB DeeJay Dallas

There’s no question that DeeJay Dallas has at times been the best running back in the first quarter of the season for Miami’s run game. That dedication and work from the off-season has led to Dallas breaking free past the line of scrimmage and separating himself from the rest of the Canes’ runners. The Tar Heels have been vulnerable to run, giving up at least 150 rushing yards in each game in September. We expect co-offensive coordinator Thomas Brown to pound the rock with one of his most versatile weapons on the ground.

LB Dominique Ross

UNC lost two of its three starting linebackers from the 2017 team. The only returning starter from the group is senior LB Cole Holcomb. Because of injuries among the starters, junior LB Dominique Ross earned crucial playing time towards the tail end of the season. After earning his first start against rivals NC State, Ross soon became the incumbent for departed LBs Cayson Collins and Andre Smith. Ross is among the top three tacklers of the Heels and is a decent pass rushing option at the second level.

QB N’Kosi Perry

After last week’s performance the talk has centered around whether or not N’Kosi Perry will get his first start of the season. After a 17 for 25, 224 passing yard, three TD and INT performance against FIU, Perry fever has become an epidemic. Assuming reports and presumptions true, if Perry starts the game under the center, it will be the first true test for the QB and offensive line since the LSU game. Giving N’Kosi the starting nod, at home, with a fan base that is genuinely rooting for his success, the ceiling is too high for the Hurricanes to put the cap back on the bottle. Against a defense talented defensive unit for UNC, it’s time to see whether Perry can flourish or falter as Hurricanes starting QB.

DE Malik Carney

The unquestioned leader along the defensive line is senior defensive end Malik Carney. A true edge-bender, this pass-rushing specialist needs to be accounted for on every passing down. Carney will occasionally drop back into coverage, acting as a ‘robber’ in some instances. Last year at Chapel Hill, Carney was a disruptive force. He recorded eight tackles, two tackles-for-loss, a sack, and two pass breakups. Miami did provide help with TE Christopher Herndon staying in to block. Yet, in one-on-one situations, Carney got the best of both Hurricane tackles for most of the day. Let’s hope that was more of an outlier than a projection for Thursday night.

S Sheldrick Redwine

Florida International v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

After dragging his toes for an interception last week against FIU, the senior at safety will once again be counted on to provide leadership in the backend of the Hurricanes defense. With fellow running mate S Jaquan Johnson expected to miss his second consecutive game. Against a UNC offense that will attempt to establish the run, look for No. 22 to rally into the box to stifle the Heels running game. Leading all Hurricanes with two interceptions after four games, lets hope that we get another whiteboard message from the safety in primetime.

One Last Thing

After outscoring Pitt 38-35 less than a week ago, the Hurricanes are set to host a Tar Heel team that will look vastly different from last week’s version. Seven players served the final game of a three game suspension for selling team issued Jordan 3’s for personal gain. After UNC was forced to cancel their third game of the season against Central Florida because of Hurricane Florence, the suspensions were moved to last week’s game.

Some of the playmakers that will return to the lineup are DE Malik Carney, QB Chazz Surratt, WR Beau Corrales, DE Tyronne Hopper and OL Brian Anderson. Surratt got the start against the Canes last season, before HC Larry Fedora made a QB change to go with Nathan Elliott. It’s unclear if Surratt will be a factor, but is the most mobile option for UNC. Elliott has started each game following his performance against Miami last year. With a completion percentage of 56.7 passing for 669 yards with three TDs and four interceptions, Elliott has a tendency to force throws into coverage. Which means that ESPN should be able to breakdown more Turnover Chain related topics in primetime.

Plenty has been made of the Hurricanes tackles for loss and ability to force turnovers. However, the Hurricanes have excelled in their effort when it comes to run defense. Ranked first in the ACC entering conference play, Miami is holding opponents to 2.14 yards per carry and just 78.7 rushing yards a game. UNC represents the best rushing game the Hurricanes have seen since the season opener against LSU. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Heels are the worst ranked run defense in the conference, allowing 4.5 yards-per-carry and an average of 202.6 rushing yards a game. Miami should look to leave their own carbon footprint on the Carolina blue and white of the their competition Thursday night.

NOTE*: According to ESPN’s Phil Steele, Miami sports a healthy all-time win/loss record of 18-5 on ESPN Thursday Night Football. The Canes are 7-4 on the road, but a stiflilng 11-1 at home.