Schedule Preview: Miami

North Carolina will be on the road for the third time in four weeks when it collides with Miami on Nov. 1.

Overview: After living under the cloud of the Nevin Shapiro investigation, Miami is ready to move on in only one direction: forward. Given that the program has lived in a self-imposed purgatory, this will be the first chance to really get an accurate gauge on where fourth-year head coach Al Golden could take this program. The media is on board, voting Miami as the Coastal Division favorite in the preseason media poll earlier this week. In 2013, the Hurricanes got off to a perfect 7-0 start, before being humbled in three consecutive blowout losses to FSU, Virginia Tech and Duke. Over the last six games, the Canes limped to a 2-4 finish, and struggled in their two wins over Virginia and Pitt. On a positive note, Golden and his staff brought in three top-15 recruiting classes from 2012-2014, so this could be the year that all of that talent comes together.

The graduation of senior Stephen Morris and the injury to incumbent Ryan Williams (who will miss at least part of the season recovering from an ACL injury) leaves a rather large vacuum at the quarterback spot. Until Williams comes back, it appears that there is going to be a heated competition between red-shirt freshman Kevin Olson, Sophomore Gray Crow, incoming freshman Brad Kaaya and Kansas/BYU transfer Kevin Heaps. Whoever is under center could be under fire early and often. Normally, the offense line isn’t a major area of focus, but the fact that half of Miami’s offensive linemen with playing experience are no longer on the team. In 2013, the coaching staff tried numerous line combinations, and with even fewer veteran options in 2014, growing pains could play out on Saturdays.

If the quarterback can deliver the ball, and if the line can hold up, Miami is a team that has plenty of explosive pieces at the skill positions. As a freshman, highly-recruited running back Duke Johnson produced as advertised. The talented all-purpose back was the ACC’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, and has been a second team All-ACC selection in his first two seasons. Johnson’s season ended early because of an ankle injury he suffered against FSU, but with almost 10 months of time to heal, the conference’s most dangerous running back should be ready to pick up right where he left off. The Hurricanes also have four big-play targets in the passing game. Wide receivers Stacy Cole (11.3 yards per catch), Herb Waters (9.0 yards per catch) and Phillip Dorsett (11.3 yard per catch), along with tight end Clive Walford, make up a receiving corps that will provide whoever starts at quarterback a stable of burners.

With the uncertainty at quarterback, this is a team that can’t count on the same kind of offensive output as last season (they averaged 33.8 points per game). On average, this defense allowed 26.8 points per game in 2013. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that they allowed 243 points in their final six games (a not so pretty average of 40.5). For starters, the secondary was far too inconsistent. For every big play there were blown coverages that result in major pickups for opposing offenses. While the secondary is counting on the progression, the front seven is wide open for athletic players to come into a role. The Canes’ top four tacklers are all gone, so expect highly-touted freshman defensive tackle Anthony Moten and linebacker Darrion Owens, both four-star recruits, to come in and challenge for time right away.

Quotables
“When he left the game in Tallahassee, he was 193 pounds, and he's 209 pounds right now. He ran the fastest time that he's run as a Miami Hurricane last week, so he's going to be a stronger, more durable, and certainly a more mentally tough player.” – Golden on Duke Johnson

“We can't play them all in the same night, and we really have to have a one game mentality. Every game this year has got to be a one game mission, and it's really going to start in preseason camp. One day at a time, one play at a time, and let's just take care of our one every day, and then we'll go from there.” – Golden on Miami being picked to win the Coastal

Historical Overview: Miami is one of the most dominant programs in the history of college football, but it has had had a surprisingly difficult time with UNC. The “U” is under .500 (8-9) all-time versus the Heels and the two teams have split evenly (5-5) since the Canes joined the ACC in 2004.

Notable Matchups: We’re going to find out where this team stands out right from the opening weekend, when Miami travels to Louisville in the Cardinals’ first game as an ACC member. For once, Miami is going to be disappointed about not facing in-state rival Florida (they beat the Gators in 2013). As for its other in-state rival? Miami’s fans will be looking for payback will get to host Florida State, after the 41-14 thrashing the Canes endured in Tallahassee last season.

 

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