Without question, the team that Miami has to focus on beating in 2021, if they want to win the Coastal division, is the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC embarrassed the Canes 62-26 last year, and Manny Diaz has yet to beat Mack Brown in his first two tries as head coach.
This is building up to be the most important game for both teams in 2021, and I wanted to take a closer look at these two programs, and how they match up against each other.
Usually, this would be enough to destroy an offense the following year— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) May 11, 2021
UNC still features a Heisman candidate QB, a top offensive line, Tennessee's former starting RB, and some stars ready to reload that WR room
Not to mention one of the top coordinators in the game Phil Longo
First, let’s take a look at both squads offensively.
Both teams head into 2021 with their starting QB’s back, with D’Eriq King for Miami and Sam Howell for the Tar Heels. Not only are they two of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, but you can make the argument these are two of the top-5 QB’s in all of college football.
In two meetings against Miami in his career, both wins, Howell has thrown for 497 yards, 3 touchdowns and has completed over 70% of his passes. He enters 2021 as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and of the top QB’s looking ahead for the 2022 NFL Draft.
King wasn’t as sharp as usual against UNC last season, completing 18-of-30 passes, for 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
This may be the closest matchup between the two teams offensively, though most would give the edge to Howell. Still, I feel very confident in King leading the Hurricanes offense in 2021, and if Miami wants to steal a victory in Chapel Hill when these teams meet, King will have to have a big game.
It pains me to say it, but in a close call, I’m giving the edge to Howell.
I hate to revisit this particular stat, but we all know what the UNC running game did against Miami last year. Thanks to Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, the Tar Heels ran the ball for 554 yards in the blowout win. Now, North Carolina is without both players, who have gone on to the NFL, though there's still talent at the position.
The likely starter at RB will be Ty Chandler, who transferred to UNC from Tennessee earlier this year. For the Vols, Chandler rushed for 456 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2020, and brings plenty of experience to Phil Longo’s offense. British Brooks, DJ Jones and Elijah Green are other RB’s to know.
#UNC's running back room for the 2021 season with the addition of Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler— Ross Martin (@RossMartin_IC) January 12, 2021
(as of Jan. 12)
Ty Chandler (Grad)
British Brooks (senior)
Josh Henderson (junior)
D.J. Jones (sophomore)
Elijah Green (RS freshman)
Caleb Hood (freshman)
Kamarro Edmonds (freshman)
One of the biggest strengths for the Hurricanes as a team is their running backs, with Cam’Ron Harris, Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney Jr. all returning.
With exceptional depth in the backfield for Miami, I'd have to give the edge to the Canes, though it’s close.
Just like the RB position, UNC lost two studs at wide receiver to the NFL Draft in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. The Tar Heels will look to Josh Downs to become the go-to-target for Howell, and build off his 2-touchdown performance in the Orange Bowl. According to coach Brown, Downs was the best receiver for the Tar Heels in spring practice. Besides him, UNC has Beau Corrales, Khafre Brown, Antoine Green, among others, players who have flashed at times, but haven’t put it together for a full-season of consistency.
Miami’s leading WR from 2020 is back in Mike Harley, who will be huge for King and the Canes passing attack. Charleston Rambo transferred from Oklahoma, and he’ll most likely be the number-two option at receiver. The big question mark for UM is finding a reliable third-option at WR, whether it’s Mark Pope, Keyshawn Smith or someone else.
1️⃣1️⃣ and 3️⃣ are going to be FUN to watch this fall.@CharlestonRambo brings Team Hurricane into the red zone, @MikeHarleyjr finishes it off.— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) April 17, 2021
Watch on @accnetwork: https://t.co/j8w6YrOgtr pic.twitter.com/j85Q0Hgsk9
For me, this matchup all depends on if Rambo can step up and be the guy Miami needs him to be. If he can replicate what he did for the Sooners in 2019, the edge will go to the Hurricanes.
Brevin Jordan is gone to the pros, but fear not, Will Mallory is here for the Hurricanes at tight end. Expected to have a big season and replace Jordan, Mallory has big-time potential. Last year, Mallory had 22 receptions, for 329 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Take a look at D’Eriq King’s back-shoulder pass to Will Mallory for a TD. pic.twitter.com/3kgDmyrk4f— Anthony Yero (@AnthonyYero1) September 20, 2020
The Tar Heels are still looking for their starter at tight end, but as of right now it’ll be between Garrett Walston and Kamari Morales. Watson has proven he can be effective at TE, and 2021 we’ll see how big of a target he can be for Howell.
6ème passe de TD pour QB Sam Howell !— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) November 14, 2020
TE Garrett Walston à la réception et les Tar Heels reviennent à hauteur des Demon Deacons.
31/42, 547 yards, 6 TD et 1 INT pour le quarterback de North Carolina !
North Carolina 45, Wake Forest 45 pic.twitter.com/TB9HztAygN
Though, I'm pretty confident in the Hurricanes when it comes to tight ends and having Mallory there. Edge goes to Miami.
North Carolina offensive line is being coached by former Miami OL coach Stacy Searles, who has done a great job at building that unit up, and they’ll return one of the top o-lines in college football for 2021. Between Brian Anderson, Marcus McKethan, Jordan Tucker, Asim Richards and Joshua Ezeudu, UNC returns all five starters on the offensive line.
RG Marcus McKethan uprooting the DE— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 25, 2021
Michael Carter and Javonte Williams got lots of love - but this UNC OL needs some buzz too!
RB Ty Chandler transferred to UNC from Tennessee - put me down his being a breakout star in 2021 pic.twitter.com/aNANFa3y3G
It’s a big group, it’s a very talented group, and it’s an experienced group, as the five lineman have a combined 99 career starts. The Hurricanes front-four on defense will have their hands full going up against these guys.
Miami also returns all of their offensive line in 2020, though the starting lineup is still uncertain at this point. The Canes OL is led by junior left tackle Zion Nelson, who has received lots of praise this off-season. They’ll also have center Corey Gaynor as well as a (now healthy) Navaughn Donaldson at guard.
Might as well watch a Hurricane while poolside in Miami.... (Dog sitting update: everyone is alive )— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) May 21, 2021
OT Zion Nelson - Miami #60
Hugeeeee hype from @McShay13 by mocking him 5th overall in his 2022 Early Mock - well let’s take a fresh look! pic.twitter.com/KCaQwGH6aO
While I love the Hurricanes depth at offensive line, I have to give the edge to the Tar Heels.
As you can see, the two teams are pretty evenly matched offensively. Both teams have very good quarterbacks, depth at RB and OL, and also question marks at wide receiver. This game will be hyped as a battle between D’Eriq King vs Sam Howell, as it should be. I expect to see a lot of points when these two teams square off.