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What to watch for: North Carolina

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Miami’s first ACC Coastal opponent opens its season this afternoon

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Miami
Miami defensive end Jonathan Garvin sports the turnover chain during Miami’s 47-10 victory over North Carolina at Hard Rock Stadium in September 2018.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes are one week away from opening ACC Coastal play with a key road game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday, September 7 at 8pm.

North Carolina will open its season this afternoon at 3:30pm on ESPN with a neutral site game against rival South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The Tar Heels are currently a 12-point underdog according to Bovada.

Manny Diaz and the rest of Miami’s coaching staff will be watching to prepare the team for former boss Mack Brown’s North Carolina squad. Brown was hired to take over a Tar Heel program that went 5-18 over the past two seasons, including a 47-10 loss to Miami at Hard Rock Stadium last season.

What will they be watching for? Below is a breakdown of two big questions facing the Tar Heels early in the season and a bit of what Miami can expect next week.

Offense

Big Question: What will true freshman quarterback Sam Howell look like in his first start? Howell was a 4-star dual-threat quarterback recruit according to 247Sports in the Class of 2019. The Tar Heels flipped his verbal commitment from Florida State in December and Howell won the starting job in the offseason. It is impossible to predict what Howell will look like in his first start for North Carolina but South Carolina won’t have film to watch of the new Tar Heel offense so that will be a positive for the young signal-caller. The Gamecocks also ranked 84th in 2018 in total defense, only ahead of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in the SEC. Howell will be relying on running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams to establish the running game against South Carolina to help take the pressing off the passing game but shaky offensive line as projected might make that difficult.

The Impact on Miami: After watching Miami’s defensive force four turnovers against an offense full of veterans in Week 0, it is reasonable to think that the aggressive Hurricane defense will come out attacking Howell with pressure. While North Carolina won’t use its entire repertoire of offensive plays against South Carolina, Miami will at least have an idea of what the Tar Heels want to run and how to attack it after today’s game. In last year’s 47-10 victory, Romeo Finley, Jonathan Garvin and Joe Jackson all had defensive touchdowns for the Hurricanes. Miami forced a season-high six turnovers in that game and the outcome was never in doubt. Howell is more talented than Tar Heels quarterbacks of years past and Miami will need to find a way to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, a strength of the Hurricanes under Manny Diaz.

Defense

Big Question: Can the Tar Heels improve on the nation’s 105th-ranked defense that gave up 5.98 yards per play last season? UNC had the worst defense in the ACC Coastal last season and was particularly bad against the run. The Tar Heels have moved former quarterback Chazz Surratt to linebacker to try and help correct those issues but still have seven freshmen listed on their defensive depth chart that was released for the South Carolina game. Pre-season reports and the depth chart seem to indicate that defense will not be the Tar Heels’ strong suit yet again this season.

The Impact on Miami: Miami rushed for 229 yards on North Carolina last season and you have to figure the running game will be a huge portion of Dan Enos’ attack in 2019 as well. DeeJay Dallas is coming off of a great game against Florida and appears ready to lead the Miami rushing attack in 2019. Protecting Jarren Williams will be key but UNC will not have the pass rushing ability that Florida had. Miami’s offensive line will need to take a step forward collectively against a pass-rushing unit.