This game provides a variety of storylines, none bigger than the Tar Heels hosting a team that Davis lifted out of the depths of NCAA probation to the No. 2 spot in the Associated Press’ final 2000 rankings.
But the first-year head coach refuses to put any added significance on this matchup. When asked earlier this week if he had any special emotions for this weekend’s contest, Davis replied, “To be honest with you, not particularly."
Miami head coach Randy Shannon played and coached under Davis for the Hurricanes (4-1, 1-0 ACC), but he has consistently echoed his former boss’ mentality when asked about Saturday’s game at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2).
"[It’s not] me against Butch or the University of Miami against Butch," Shannon said. "This is a whole different team than when Coach Davis was here. I know Coach Davis [and] six other guys on that staff. We're friends. But when it's a football game, it's just a regular football game."
Due to an ACC expansion scheduling quirk, these Coastal Division rivals have played the last two seasons in Coral Gables, with Miami winning 34-16 in 2005 and 27-7 in 2006. But most UNC fans remember the Tar Heels’ signature win in 2004, as then-freshman Connor Barth nailed a 42-yard field goal as time expired to upset the fifth-ranked Hurricanes.
Ironically, Barth can set a school record this weekend for most consecutive field goals made (16) if he connects on his next attempt.
While former head coach John Bunting was unable to build on that victory, Miami has faired no better in overcoming that difficult loss. The Hurricanes are just 12-10 in ACC games since that cool October night three falls ago.
In order for the Tar Heels to repeat that feat on Saturday, the ground game is going to have to continue its emergence following the season-high 124 yards that UNC tallied in last weekend’s 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech.
After a mediocre first three quarters, Anthony Elzy exploded for 74 yards in the fourth period, nearly bringing his team back from a 14-point deficit.
Elzy, Johnny White and Ryan Houston have all shown potential in different ball games, and the running back by committee approach has led some fans to worry if the backs will see enough snaps to develop a rhythm.
Davis witnessed enough last Saturday to put aside those concerns.
"I think our offense for the first time generated some running attack, we generated some time of possession," Davis said. "And I think if you're going to have the opportunity - for the first time I think we had 75 offensive snaps - there's plenty enough opportunities for two guys certainly to continue to play and to carry."
Regardless, North Carolina will be severely challenged on the ground and through the air on Saturday – Miami enters the weekend as the top-rated defense in the ACC, only allowing 290.2 total yards.
“Miami’s a good team – a fast team that flies around,” sophomore wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. “[They have] the No. 1 defense in the ACC. We just have to get after it. I feel like we fought Virginia Tech pretty hard [and] they have a strong defense, so I don’t see why we couldn’t come out and do the same thing against Miami.”
The Tar Heels have been competitive in all but one of their losses this season, but Davis said on Monday that his squad doesn’t believe in moral victories. If North Carolina wants to revive its fading postseason hopes, this contest against the head coach’s former program would be a good place to start.