Miami is coming off an unscheduled bye week, thanks to Hurricane Wilma, which knocked out power to 98 percent of south Florida. The threat of the impending hurricane forced last week’s scheduled game against Georgia Tech to be postponed until November 19 in the Orange Bowl. The Hurricanes haven’t played since they beat, Temple 34-3, in Philadelphia on October 15. In that game, Miami scored all 34 of its points in the first 18 minutes, then played substitutes the rest of the way.
This will be the ninth meeting ever between Miami and North Carolina, with the Tar Heels holding a 5-3 lead in the series. Last year’s meeting, the first between the two teams since 1963, is one Miami would like to forget. Connor Barth’s 42-yard field goal on the last play of the game capped a 31-28 upset and gave the previously undefeated and fourth-ranked Hurricanes their first loss of the season -- to an unranked opponent.
This season, the UM offense ranks 64th nationally in rushing, 41st in passing and 52nd overall. Still, it’s the defense that is leading the way for Miami this season, which ranks first overall in the country, first in pass defense, first in defensive passing efficiency and 16th in run defense. UM ranks second in scoring defense, allowing just 60 points in six games, with 10 of those points coming in overtime.
QUOTABLE – Larry Coker
“We’ve had a lot of distractions certainly from the storm, but our preparations have gone well. We’re anxious to play North Carolina. It’s bad from a standpoint there’s been a lot of destruction to homes. The positive part of it was there wasn’t a huge loss of life. But I think we’re getting somewhat back to normal as best as we can. South Florida needs a little diversion, and hopefully this contest will be that. I hope it is.
“(Last year’s loss to North Carolina) was a disappointment. Like with any loss, you try to analyze it, and the losses seem to stay with you. I’ve coached for a long time and been a part of some big victories and some big losses as well, and North Carolina was certainly one of them. We didn’t point to any games; we really can’t do that. I think a lot of teams point to us and that’s good for us because that’s the situation you want to be in. Our preparation for North Carolina will be much like it was for Florida State and any other team we’ve played. It really doesn’t change much. We try to be consistent each and every week. And we respect every team we play. We didn’t lose because we didn’t have respect for North Carolina. Coach [John] Bunting and his players did a great job. The best team won that game that day.”
As with any first-year quarterback, there were questions of how Kyle Wright (#3, 6-4, 220, So.) would handle the reins of the Miami offense. He has answered them with progressive improvement through the first half of the season, increasing the number of receivers he has utilized in each game. Wright has completed 92-of-160 passing attempt for 1,272 yards. He has 10 touchdown passes against just five interceptions, and has a 138.65 rating for passing efficiency. His backup is Kirby Freeman (#7, 6-3, 204, Fr.*), who gets a good deal of snaps for reserve quarterback. He’s thrown for 175 yards and two touchdowns and appeared in all but one game this year.
Tyrone Moss (#30, 5-9, 220, Jr.) got off to a quick start this season, rushing for 241 yards on 52 carries in his first two games. His two rushing touchdowns against Duke pushed his career total to 19 and moved him into sole possession of eighth place on Miami’s all-time rushing list. Moss needs just two more touchdowns to catch Clinton Portis in seventh place. He has 1,434 career rushing yards. He’s currently the ACC’s leading rusher, averaging 107.7 yards per game with eight touchdowns. Moss also leads the team in scoring with 48 points. Derron Thomas (#21, 5-9, 190, Fr.*) and Charlie Jones (#34, 5-10, 203, So.) each have over 100 yards rushing apiece. Fullback Quadtrine Hill (#23, 6-2, 228, Sr.) has caught 10 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Miami almost always has a deep and talented corps of receivers, and this season is no exception. Sinorice Moss (#83, 5-8, 185, Sr.) leads the team with 379 yards receiving and 63.3 yards per game. He has three touchdown catches. Ryan Moore (#85, 6-3, 215, Jr.) also has three touchdown catches. Lance Leggett (#9, 6-4, 184, So.) has 10 catches.
Greg Olsen (#82, 6-5, 252, So.) leads the ‘Canes with 21 catches and is tied for first with three touchdown receptions. He is averaging 14.9 yards every time he touches the ball, and has a 57-yard receptions to his credit this season. Backup Buck Ortega (#15, 6-4, 227, So.) has three receptions for 52 yards.
Left tackle Eric Winston (#74, 6-7, 312, Sr.) has fully recovered from a knee injury last season and is once again considered one of the nation’s top offensive linemen. His dominating presence on the line has helped him become one of the team’s most vocal leaders as well. Left guard Tyler McMeans (#68, 6-4, 329, Sr.), a 25-year-old former marine, was a ’04 junior college transfer who immediately moved into the starting role. Center Anthony Wollschlager (#78, 6-4, 281, Jr.) is an excellent run blocker, who has also battled injuries throughout his career. Right guard Tony Tella (#61, 6-4, 308, Sr.) is the only returning offensive lineman who started every game last season. Right tackle Rashad Butler (#64, 6-5, 287, Sr.) graduated in May 2005, but still has this year of eligibility.
Tackle Baraka Atkins (#98, 6-4, 264, Jr.) can play end as well. He is a potent pass rusher who had 10 sacks last season. But since moving to interior line this year, he only has 1.5. Beside him is Orien Harris (#92, 6-4, 302, Sr.), the team’s top tackler on the defensive line with 35 stops. End Thomas Carroll (#90, 6-4, 237, Sr.) is second on the team with nine quarterback pressures. On the other end is Eric Moncur (#94, 6-2, 253, Fr.*), who has a sack and two tackles for loss.
Strong side linebacker Rocky McIntosh (#50, 6-3, 231, Sr.) is second on the team with 46 tackles, and also has two sacks and three tackles for loss to his credit. In the middle is Romeo Davis (#51, 6-3, 221, So.), who started the final three games of 2004 as a true freshman. Weakside backer Jon Beason (#2, 6-0, 225, So.) switched to linebacker after starting his college career at fullback.
Miami’s secondary is holding opponents to a 45.6 completion percentage, but perhaps due to a less than challenging schedule over its last three games – holding South Florida (69), Duke (8), and Temple (96) to a combined 173 yards passing. Corner Kelly Jennings (#22, 5-11, 178, Sr.) has a team-high eight pass breakups.
His counterpart, Marcus Maxey (#24, 6-2, 195, Sr.), beat out the versatile Devin Hester (#4, 5-11, 186, Jr.) for the starting position vacated by Antrel Rolle, drafted in the first round by the Arizona Cardinals. Strong safety Brandon Meriweather (#19, 6-0, 188, Jr.) leads all Miami defenders with 62 tackles, 40 solos tackles and eight tackles for loss. He also has two interceptions, five pass breakups and has forced and recovered a fumble. Free safety Kenny Phillips (#1, 6-2, 200, Fr.) made a clutch game winning interception in the ‘Canes’ 36-30 overtime win over Clemson.
Kicker Jon Peattie (#13, 6-2, 206, Jr.) has converted 9-of-14 field goal attempts and is perfect inside 30 yards. Punter Brian Monroe (#39, 6-2, 208, Jr.) is averaging 39.1 yards per punt with a long of 52 yards. Twelve of his 30 punts have been downed inside the opponent’s 20. Hester, a punt returner, kick returner, cornerback and tailback, is one of college football’s most dangerous players. In 2004, Hester scored six touchdowns – three on punt returns, one on a kickoff return, one on an 11-yard run (vs. UNC) and one on a blocked field goal. He scored his first touchdown on a 48-yard punt return against Temple.