As stated in the previous article, the matchup between the Hurricanes and the Tar Heels is one of the biggest in the ACC in 2021, and very well could decide the Coastal division.
We’ve already looked at how each teams fares offensively, so now let’s look at Miami and UNC on defense.
First things first, the Hurricanes defense will have revenge on their minds when they travel to Chapel Hill. In 2020, UNC torched Miami’s defense for 62 points and 554 yards rushing, in one of the worst losses in program history.
While they entered 2020 with depth issues on the d-line, UNC is now in a position where their front-four is one of the more improved groups on the entire team. Defensive tackle Raymond Vohasek was named 2nd-team All-ACC in Athlon Sports preseason ranking. Vohasek was an All-ACC honorable mention in 2020.
Beside Vohasek, you also have Myles Murphy and Kevin Hester, as well as Jahvaree Ritzie, Jahlil Taylor and Kristian Varner, giving the Tar Heels plenty of talent to work with up front.
Myles Murphy, Kevin Hester, Jahvaree Ritzie and Kaimon Rucker are going to cause problems for offensive lines— Gregory Hall (@gregoryhall_) April 10, 2021
Most impressive player and play I’ve seen so far is that Jahvaree Ritzie tackle for loss.— UNC Humor (@UNC_Humor) April 24, 2021
Ritzie looks massive. His role next year - come in for 25-30 snaps and cause havoc. Can’t wait to watch him next fall
Miami lost both Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, so they’ll be looking for someone to step up at DE, though they have options in players like Jahfari Harvey, Deandre Johnson, Chantz Williams and Cam Williams. Nesta Silvera is the man in the middle and leader of the d-line, along with fellow DT’s like Jon Ford, Jordan Miller and Jared Harrison-Hunte.
Deandre Johnson is another defensive bright spot. The positive is that the Tennessee transfer is clearly Miami’s best DE— CaneSport Miami Hurricanes (@CaneSport) April 17, 2021
With the Hurricanes looking to replace both starting defensive ends, I'm going to give the edge to the Tar Heels on the d-line.
While Chazz Surratt has moved on to the NFL, UNC still boasts talented players at the linebacker position. Tomon Fox, who’s listed as a linebacker but is primarily used a pass-rusher, is a deadly weapon on defense, with 21 career sacks. Also on the outside, Tyrone Hopper brings even more experience with him to the Tar Heels linebacker group, with 10 starts in 2020.
This is the 2nd sack by UNC LB Tomon Fox on this drive, late in the team's win over NCSU. Not an elite pass rusher, but can win with speed and determination. Athletic enough to catch mobile QBs as well as cover RB/TE, also willing to stop a pulling OG in the hole. #SnapScout21 pic.twitter.com/peieSuMDKa— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) November 21, 2020
At middle LB, Jeremiah Gemmel had 78 tackles in 2020, and Eugene Asante showed he can be a key player on defense, with a strong showing in the Orange Bowl. Another name to know at LB for UNC is Des Evans, who Tar Heels fans are very excited about.
One player I can’t wait to watch in 2021? Jeremiah Gemmel at UNC.— Saturday Gameday (@SaturdayGameday) March 24, 2021
I expect big things from the linebacker as the Tar Heels try to fill the void left by Surratt’s departure.
One of the biggest question marks for the Hurricanes is at linebacker. Corey Flagg Jr. will look to become the full-time starter at MLB, and at weak-side, Miami has Avery Huff, Waynmon Steed, Sam Brooks Jr. and Keontra Smith, who will try and find some consistency at the position.
The one bright spot here for Miami is at striker, where Gilbert Frierson returns after establishing himself as perhaps the best player on the Canes defense.
Gilbert Frierson continued to play well against the #1 team in the country.— Art M (@CaneFilms) October 12, 2020
2nd on the team in tackles with 7 on the night, 1 PBU & a fumble recovery.
He continues to take great angles and is always around the ball. The coaches definitely trust him on defense. pic.twitter.com/RBD9OnO7x3
Even with the play of Frierson, this is a pretty easy one for me, given Miami’s struggles at middle and weak-side linebacker, edge goes to UNC.
The Tar Heels are in a good position back there at safety, with Trey Morrison, Don Chapman and Cam Kellyleading the way. Giovanni Biggers is another name to watch for at safety. Though, it’s been reported that Chapman switched to nickelback during spring practice. Still, there’s experience and tons of talent in the Tar Heels safety room.
Miami returns both Bubba Bolden and Gurvan Hall at safety, and Avantae Williams has been cleared to play, with many expecting him to breakout in 2021. Bolden is viewed as one of the top returning safeties in the ACC, and Hall will look to return to his 2019 self. The Canes also hope true freshmen James Williams and Kamren Kinchens can contribute as 2021 rolls along.
Best Safety in the country ‼️— Art M (@CaneFilms) October 16, 2020
1 Forced Fumble
1 interception, 1 Sack
2 Blocked Kicks pic.twitter.com/rOvC52AvaM
I think this is a pretty close matchup when it comes to safeties, but because of the playmaking ability of Bolden and the spring emergence of Avantae Williams, I'm giving a slight edge to the Canes.
UNC brings back a very talented trio at corner in Kyler McMichael, Storm Duck and Tony Grimes. The Tar Heels will count on Ja’Qurious Conley to take a big step at nickel, as he’s been getting some preseason recognition. With this stacked group, there’s no wonder why UNC fans are so excited about the secondary.
The biggest move for Miami at cornerback was the addition of Tyrique Stevenson, who transferred from Georgia. A CB with big time talent and plenty of room to grow, the Canes are hoping Stevenson is the answer when it comes to consistency at the position. Besides him, the Hurricanes return DJ Ivey and Te’cory Couch, and they also expect Al Blades Jr. to return to full strength.
While I love the addition of Stevenson, and think Couch is a very good cover-corner, the Tar Heels just have too much proven talent at CB. Edge goes to North Carolina.
Tony Grimes showed up HUGE for #UNC during his true freshman season.— Saturday Gameday (@SaturdayGameday) February 21, 2021
I look for Grimes to be an All-ACC caliber player next year and a potential All-American at some point in his college career.
Not bad for a guy who skipped his senior of high school and enrolled early. pic.twitter.com/05tt5ovyae
While the two programs are pretty evenly matched offensively, I think it’s pretty safe to say UNC is the better team on defense. Miami has questions marks at DE and linebacker, it’ll be interesting to see how good the Hurricanes defense is playing under Manny Diaz when UM travels to Chapel Hill. With an offense led by Sam Howell, Miami’s defense is going to have come up with some turnovers and limit big plays, if they want to leave North Carolina with a win.