UNC RB Giovani Bernard, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, will be playing a college game in South Florida for the first time. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — After three consecutive home games – all impressive victories – North Carolina goes back on the road this weekend and will play at Miami on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. Even though the Heels are technically ineligible to win the ACC’s Coastal Division, this game still carries significant divisional implications.
The Hurricanes, at 3-0 in the league, lead the division. And, by the end of the season, UNC wants to finish atop it.
Without further delay, a look at UNC’s game at Miami:
UNC at Miami
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Three things to watch:
1. How the Tar Heels start on offense. UNC scripts its first 10 or so offensive plays, and I’m interested to see how coordinator Blake Anderson chooses to attack Miami, which has been awful against the run. Look for UNC to attempt to get Giovani Bernard going early.
2. Whether Stephen Morris and the Miami passing offense can get back on track. Morris threw for more than 400 yards in a victory at Georgia Tech, and then set an ACC record with 566 yards in a wild victory against N.C. State. Notre Dame contained him last week but Miami is going to win on Saturday, Morris again has to have a big day.
3. Bernard in his homecoming. Mentioned him earlier and Bernard is worth watching all the time. He’s averaging more than 13 yards per carry in his past two games. He’ll have added motivation on Saturday, playing in front of his father and his brother for the first time in college.
Key player from the opposition: QB, Stephen Morris. The Hurricanes rank 18th nationally in passing offense, and are averaging 307.2 passing yard per game. Morris has been outstanding at times this season. He set an ACC record with 566 passing yards in Miami’s 44-37 victory against N.C. State two weeks ago, and the week before that he threw for 436 yards in a 42-36 victory at Georgia Tech.
Like most of his teammates, Morris wasn’t at his best last week during the Hurricanes’ 41-3 loss against Notre Dame in Chicago. He completed 18 of his 35 attempts for a season-low 201 yards. Morris has thrown four interceptions this season, but he hasn’t thrown more than one interception in any game.
Key matchup: North Carolina CB Jabari Price vs. Miami WR Phillip Dorsett
The Hurricanes haven’t been able to run consistently well, and they’ve gained just 85 and 84 rushing yards in each of the past two weeks. But Miami has had plenty of success through the air, and Dorsett, a sophomore, has emerged as Morris’ favorite big-play threat.
During the Canes’ offensive barrage against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, Dorsett caught 16 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Notre Dame held him to just one catch for six yards, and Dorsett dropped two passes early that would have been touchdowns.
Price, a sophomore from Pompano Beach, Fla., will likely spend a lot of time defending Dorsett. Price has broken up eight passes and he leads UNC in tackles, with 40.
Key mismatch: UNC RB Giovani Bernard vs. the Miami run defense
Bernard ran for a career-high 262 yards during UNC’s 48-34 victory against Virginia Tech last week. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, allowed 376 yards rushing in that 41-3 defeat.
The Canes’ have allowed an average of 250.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 116th nationally. UNC ranks 32nd nationally and the Heels are averaging 200.3 rushing yards per game.
Bernard will have added motivation on Saturday, too, because the trip to South Florida represents a homecoming. He played at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, and grew up in Davie, not far from Sun Life Stadium. Bernard said he will have more than 20 family members and friends cheering him on from the stands.
In his past two games, Bernard has run for a combined 332 yards and has averaged 13.3 yards per carry.
Key number: 9.1 – That’s how many yards Bernard has averaged per carry this season. He would lead the nation in that statistical category if he had played in the NCAA-required 75 percent of his team’ games. Nonetheless, Bernard could improve on that number against a Miami run defense that has allowed at least 224 yards rushing in each of the past five weeks.
Pulse check: After three consecutive home games, the Tar Heels go on the road with the belief that they’re a different, more mature team than the one that lost its first two road games of the season. UNC followed an impressive season-opening victory against Elon with consecutive losses at Wake Forest and Louisville. Since, though, UNC has reeled off three dominant victories against East Carolina, Idaho and Virginia Tech. Though the Tar Heels can’t technically win the Coastal Division, they still want to finish atop it. A victory at Miami, which is 3-0 in the ACC, would go a long ways toward accomplishing that goal.
Quote of the week: “I wouldn’t say it’s what they’re doing wrong or what they’re doing right. We’ve got to go into [the game with] the same mentality that we had against V. Tech … we’ve got to continue to run the ball, continue to make holes up front. That’s where it all starts at. The o-line had a tremendous game last week.” –UNC RB Giovani Bernard on Miami’s struggling run defense and how the Tar Heels plan to attack it.
Loosely-related-to-the-game pregame haiku:
Sun Life Stadium
No crowd, life; no atmosphere
Long live the Orange Bowl
Prediction: North Carolina 43, Miami 33