The Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0 ACC) head to Chapel Hill for their second Coastal Division contest of the season after a 45-30 victory over Georgia Tech in their last outing. Al Golden's third season in Coral Gables has been a success thus far with an unblemished record and a quality win over in-state rival Florida in Week 2. The Hurricanes were tabbed as the favorite in the Coastal Division race due in large part to the return of quarterback Stephen Morris (58-of-94 passing, 950 yards, 9 TD, 4 INT) and running back Duke Johnson along with a more experienced defense.
Miami's offense, led by Morris and Johnson, ranks ninth in scoring offense nationally (45.2 ppg). The big play potential in the passing game with wide receivers Allen Hurns (20 catches, 383 yards, 2 TD) and Phillip Dorsett (11 catches, 204 yards, 2 TD) paired with Johnson's production on the ground has created a balanced attack. The Hurricanes rank 28th in rushing offense (213.8 ypg) and 34th in passing offense (274.8 ypg).
Defensively, defensive end Anthony Chickillo (2.0 sacks) and linebacker Denzel Perryman (34 tackles) have spearheaded a unit that has posed problems for opposing offenses. The Hurricanes rank 13th or higher in seven statistical categories, including 12th in total defense (307.0 ypg). On special teams, Miami leads the nation in kickoff return yardage, averaging 33.1 yards per return, while also ranking 61st in punt return yardage (7.4 ypr).
"Big plays. They can throw the ball down the field. Their offensive line I think is tremendously improved. They've had success running the ball and being physical upfront but they're going to throw the ball down the field and they've got a couple of guys that can really go."- UNC head coach Larry Fedora on Miami's offense
"At the end of the season we'll count them up and see where we're at. We're 0-0 going into this game. All that matters right now is going to Chapel Hill, being a mature team, having poise, playing with poise, communicating, executing. The rest of it doesn't really matter."- Golden
"I think it'll be a big atmosphere. We've been through big games throughout our seasons here, we've got guys who are veterans and they understand what the situation is."- Morris
Player to Watch
Duke Johnson earned ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2012 and has responded with another impressive stint through the first half of his sophomore season. The Miami, Fla. native opened the year with 187 yards and a touchdown against Florida Atlantic and had one of his most dominant performances against the Yellow Jackets, amassing 184 yards on the ground. The 5-foot-9, 196-pounder also provides explosiveness on special teams with 305 kickoff return yards on the season.
In total, Johnson (572 rushing yards) leads the Hurricanes in all-purpose yards (954 yards) and has scored four touchdowns. He's also been dangerous receiving out of the backfield, with four catches resulting in 77 yards.
"He's got great speed," Fedora told reporters this week. "He can make you miss. He can run over you. He's a complete back. He can catch the football. They can do a lot of different things with him. He's pretty special."
Matchup to Watch: UNC Quarterbacks vs. Miami's Defense
Miami's defensive statistics are somewhat skewed through five games due to the rushing preferences of Florida and Georgia Tech, but the overall body of work can't be disputed. The Hurricanes rank ninth nationally in scoring defense (16.0 ppg) and fourth in first downs (84). While it's too early to know if Miami truly is the best team in country in passing defense (141.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (83.08), its 18 sacks (T-12th) and 35 tackles for loss (T-60th) serve as indication of how disruptive the Hurricanes can be up front.
UNC quarterback Bryn Renner (91-of-152 passing, 1,117 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT) will start on Thursday after sitting out the Tar Heels' loss at Virginia Tech due to a left foot injury. Backup quarterback Marquise Williams (23-of-35 passing, 277 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) was effective in his place, albeit in a different role. While Renner is a more traditional quarterback, Williams's mobility provides a better fit – at least, athletically - for Larry Fedora's offense.
The key for Renner having success is for UNC's quartet of running backs to provide some semblance of a ground attack that's been missing thus far in 2013. Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson indicated on Monday that Williams could see action every third or fourth series to bring a unique dynamic to UNC's ground game.