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Three things to watch: UNC

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Can Miami keep up with one of the country’s top offenses?

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina
Miami Hurricanes tight end Brevin Jordan runs with the ball during Miami’s 28-25 loss to North Carolina in Chapel Hill in September 2019.
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

A revenge game that the Miami Hurricanes and their fans have been waiting on for roughly 15 months is finally here today.

Miami will host North Carolina today at 3:30 pm at Hard Rock Stadium. The Hurricanes were listed as a 3-point favorite by Bovada on Friday night.

The Hurricanes are looking to avenge a devastating 28-25 loss to UNC in Chapel Hill in September 2019 in what could be Miami’s final regular season game.

Here are three things to watch as the Hurricanes go for their sixth straight victory.

Miami’s young cornerbacks have to step up

It was announced this week that Al Blades Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a COVID-19 complication.

Since Christian Williams left the program earlier this season, that leaves Miami with four scholarship cornerbacks: DJ Ivey, TeCory Couch, Marcus Clarke, and Isaiah Dunson.

Clarke and Dunson are true freshmen who have played minimal defensive snaps this season. While neither will likely start, both players will likely see significant snaps against North Carolina’s potent offense (41.1 points per game).

The Tar Heels will likely be prepared to attack Clarke or Dunson when they are on the field because of their lack of experience. Ivey and Couch need to play as many snaps as possible and Hurricanes defensive coordinator Blake Baker may need to get creative with his scheme to cover up the lack of experience at cornerback.

All of Miami’s cornerbacks must hold up well in pass coverage or Sam Howell and the Tar Heels will have a field day throwing the ball. We will learn a lot about Clarke and Dunson this afternoon.

Miami’s defensive line gives it a huge advantage...again

North Carolina has a great passing attack (No.16 in the NCAA) and a great running game (No.19 in the NCAA) but its offense does have a weakness.

The Tar Heels struggle to protect the passer. That should be music to the ears of Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche.

UNC has allowed 29 sacks in 10 games this season. The 2.9 sacks allowed per game puts North Carolina 105th of 127 teams in the FBS this year. Notre Dame sacked Howell six times (over double its season average per game) in its 31-17 victory over the Tar Heels on November 27 and does not have the talent on its defensive line that Miami does.

Judging by the success that others have had against UNC’s offensive line this season, it is reasonable to expect Miami to be able to pressure Howell by simply rushing four defensive linemen today. If that holds true, that opens things up for Baker to get creative with blitz packages or have extra safety help to assist in coverage.

A conservative goal for Miami today is 4+ quarterback sacks and 8+ quarterback hurries.

One last game for D’Eriq King at Hard Rock Stadium?

Speculation from all corners of the internet has run rampant on D’Eriq King’s future with Miami. Will he go pro? Will he come back? Nobody really knows at this point. Maybe even D’Eriq.

What we do know is that with the Georgia Tech game being cancelled next week, this could be King’s final home game at Hard Rock Stadium.

If that’s the case, you have to think an elite athlete and leader like King will want to go out with a bang. North Carolina’s subpar defense (No. 63 in the NCAA in scoring defense) will provide him and his offensive teammates with the opportunity to do just that.

The Tar Heels have not been strong against the run or the pass this season. They struggled to stop Miami’s putrid 2019 offense as Jarren Williams and company racked up 488 yards of total offense in last season’s loss.

All signs point to Miami being able to move the ball pretty efficiently on the Tar Heels today.

If you aren’t confident in that, just take a look at King’s statistics since losing to Clemson. During Miami’s five-game winning streak, King is averaging just under 294 yards passing per game, just over 45 rushing yards per game, and has thrown 14 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions.

One last great performance from King in the 2020 regular season should be enough to earn Miami its ninth win and could be enough to push Miami into a New Year’s Six Bowl.