Heel Tough Blog: Miami Preview


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3-3 was far from where most people believed that this team would be at this point in the 2021 season, but as Mack Brown talked about this week, the team must refocus and recollect themselves to a push down the stretch of the season which presents a much tougher test than the start did. The good news for the Tar Heels is that the opponent coming is the Miami Hurricanes, a team that, like them, is having an extremely disappointing season and actually in some turmoil unlike the Tar Heels. This is one that the Tar Heels have to have if they are hoping to make any sort of push late in the season to build some momentum for what will be an extremely important 2022 season in Chapel Hill.


Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

If this team is wanting to turn things around, they need to find more consistency in just about every area. Offensively, that starts with getting some help outside of Sam Howell and Josh Downs, who have dominated the production that the unit has had this season. That starts in the passing game, where no one outside of Downs has been able to provide anything consistent this season. Tight end Kamari Morales is the one who has shown the most flashes, but this is an offense that simply doesn’t utilize the tight end all that much. The Tar Heels need someone at the outside receiver spots to step up, but right now there isn’t even a lead candidate to do that. All three running backs who have taken significant snaps have shown flashes especially when they have had the blocking, but they also need to be a little bit more decisive going forward this season to help this offense gain a consistent running game outside of Howell. The offensive line still remains the key to success here, though. They played their best game since the Virginia game last weekend but were still far from great. The good news is that Quiron Johnson has seemed to take a hold of the starting role at center, a position that has been in flux all season long and has been a big reason for the overall struggle of the unit. The group as a whole, though, still needs to be better in all areas than they were in the first half of the season to take another step forward this season.

The defense inconsistencies also start up front where the team has failed to consistently win so far this season. The front line was pushed around this past weekend by one of the country's weakest units against the Seminoles, but they need to steady themselves and find ways to take some steps in the coming weeks despite facing much competition moving forward. They have the talent to do it with guys like Myles Murphy and Kaimon Rucker having shown some very positive flashes so far this season, but they need those flashes to become every week occurrences and they need some of the veteran guys in the position group to step up in the second half of the season. The linebacking corps might be the bright spot of this unit, but they have had their ups and downs, as well. Jeremiah Gemmel and Cedric Gray have been solid together in the middle, but they have to be able to shed more tackles in space, especially when facing mobile quarterbacks. The secondary hasn’t been immune to the inconsities either and the communication issues seem to have hit their height this past week. This unit has to communicate better than they have so far this season with quarterbacks like Sam Hartman and Kenny Pickett still on the schedule and the group also needs to see someone step up at the safety spot besides Ja’Quirous Conley week in and week out.

The Tar Heels special teams unit has probably been the most consistent group of the three this season and that is telling. Punter Ben Kiernan is coming off of arguably his worst game of the season that he’ll hope to bounce back from and the team still lack an identity at kick return where they have ran through a number of different options so far this season. Kickoff specialist Jonathan Kim hasn’t been nearly as consistent on touchbacks so far this season, but he is having a solid year and Josh Downs has shown some nice moments as the punt returner this year. The good news is that kicker Grayson Atkins is settling into a bit of a groove now after a roller coaster start and is even showing off a bit of range. The coverage units are a bit of a concern, though, lately, as they have had a lapse in each of the last two games in kick coverage and need to get that corrected moving forward.

Miami

The Hurricanes are a team that is in dire straights right now. Manny Navarro, who covers the team for The Athletic reported earlier in the week that the team had sit downs with it’s players that basically asked them if they were in and out and the result was that a group of older guys told the staff that they were planning to enter the portal. Pile that on top of the fact that starting quarterback D’Eriq King was announced as being out for the season on Monday and there is a reason why there are many around the program wondering if Manny Diaz can survive after this season. Redshirt freshman Tyler Van Dyke takes over for King at quarterback to try to lead this offense and will make his first career road start in this game against the Tar Heels. That means that he will likely lean on running back Cam’Ron Harris, who will be looking for his third straight 100 yard rushing game of the season this weekend. Van Dyke will have a solid receiving duo to lean on, as well, in Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley, the super senior who the Tar Heels are very familiar with. The Miami offensive line is far from a great unit, but this is a veteran unit and is better than the Florida State group that the Tar Heels faced a week ago.

Defensively, the Hurricanes have been rather lackluster and it is in large part because of the fact that the defensive front isn’t nearly the unit that it has been in the past. Jahfari Harvey has shown some promise off the edge for the team, Zach McCloud has looked better since his move to defensive end and Nesta Jade Silvera is a solid man in the middle for the group, which might be enough to cause some problems for this struggling Tar Heel offensive line. At linebacker, has finally moved on from the dynamic trio that ruled the group for the past few seasons and they are transitioning a bit, but redshirt freshman Corey Flagg Jr. is a name to keep an eye on on Saturday. The secondary has some talent, but they have been picked apart a bit at times this season. Bubba Bolden is the clear leader of the group out of the secondary and both Tyrique Stevenson and Te’cory Couch are nice pieces on the outside at corner, but this group is still giving up over 250 yards per game through the air.

The special teams unit for the Hurricanes is a solid but not spectacular one. Punter Lou Headley is one of the best in the conference this season and Tyrique Stevneson has shown some promise as a punt returner. True freshman kicker Andres Borregales is coming off a last second miss against Virginia and has two other misses on the season, but this is a player who has an extremely strong leg. The kick return game is the most inconsistent part of this unit for the Hurricanes, as they have had five different players return a kick this season and seem to have no real answer there. The kick coverage unit has been a susceptible one this season so far, as well, allowing the 12th most yards per return to opposing teams, but they have been the 12th best in punt return yards allowed at just 2.14 per return.


Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 35.5 (28th)

Off. PYPG: 291.8 (23rd)

Off. RYPG: 194.2 (37th)

Off. TYPG: 486.0 (15th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 49.3 (14th)

Def. PPG: 26.7 (76th)

Def. PYPG: 212.3 (49th)

Def. RYPG: 158.7 (81st)

Def. TYPG: 371.0 (64th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 38.8% (T-73rd)

Sacks: 11.0 (T-82nd)

Interceptions: 4 (T-61st)

Turnover Margin: -2 (T-89th)

Miami

Off. PPG: 30.4 (T-58th)

Off. PYPG: 277.4 (31st)

Off. RYPG: 161.0 (72nd)

Off. TYPG: 438.4 (45th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 40.9% (60th)

Def. PPG: 27.0 (77th)

Def. PYPG: 250.2 (94th)

Def. RYPG: 135.4 (56th)

Def. TYPG: 385.6 (74th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 43.9% (107th)

Sacks: 11.0 (T-82nd)

Interceptions: 3 (T-88th)

Turnover Margin: -3 (T-101st)

Keys To The Game

Communicate Better Defensively

This has been an issue for the Tar Heels across the board as a team this season, but it was very obvious on Saturday and led to multiple missed assignments and big plays. The Tar Heels need to find a way to start eliminating these communication lapses to help this defense become a more reliable unit in the second half of the season. That has to start with this game against one of the easiest offenses you face the rest of the way.

Get Some Help for Sam and Josh

The Tar Heels offense has basically been two guys all season long and Saturday has to be the start of a collective effort going forward. The running back group definitely has the potential to provide some help here if they can get the blocking in front of them, but it is paramount that another receiving option emerges somewhere for this team beginning on Saturday.

Put the First Half of The Season Behind You

This may be a key that you would expect to see for the Notre Dame game coming off the bye, but with the completion of the game last Saturday, we are officially at the halfway point of the season and the Tar Heels can not afford a loss to this Miami team. The first half of the 2021 season was far from what anyone around the program or even nationally was expecting, but this team has to put that all behind them and look at this as a chance to start fresh. The hope is that they can maybe put together a run similar to the one that they had back in 2013 where they went 5-1 to close out the regular season and won their bowl game after an unexpectedly poor start.


Injury Report

Tar Heels

DOUBT- Beau Corrales (sports hernia)

QUEST- Storm Duck (lower body), Caleb Hood (upper body)

PROB- Brian Anderson (