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Heel Tough Blog: Miami Preview

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

The Tar Heels will head into Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday afternoon looking for their fourth straight win against the Miami Hurricanes. More importantly, they have the chance to go to 2-0 in conference play and pick up a key ACC Coastal victory against the preseason favorite to win the division.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

This Tar Heel squad should enter this game with the most confidence they have had this season after their most complete performance of the year. Quarterback Drake Maye continues to pace one of the country's top offenses behind his 22 total touchdowns, tied for the second most in the history of the ACC through the first five games. He continues to spread the football around at a high level with a group of pass catchers that may be the best overall group since offensive coordinator Phil Longo arrived in Chapel Hill. Both Josh Downs and Antoine Green have picked up right where they left off since they returned to the lineup and the depth at receiver has stepped up in a big way when needed, The tight ends' development in the passing game has also been a big part of the overall success of this offense this season. Bryson Nesbit currently leads the team in receiving, while Kamari Morales and John Copenhaver have also been nice contributors to this passing game to begin the season. The offensive showed last week in a bit of a prove it game that this is a unit that vastly improved from a year ago. The team has taken major steps in pass protection so far this season, but there is still a bit of a consistency issue with the run blocking. The unit has to start getting better push up front on early downs for this team to be able to run the ball the way they want to. The running back unit has to find that steady force that can shoulder the load week in and week out. True freshman Omarion Hampton looked like he would be that guy in the first three games of the season, but has struggled to produce in each of the last two games. Someone between him and Caleb Hood, who seem to be the top two backs right now, has to emerge as the guy back there.

The win over the Hokies has to be a huge boost for this Tar Heel defense that had just been torn apart in the first four games of the season. The question is, can they build upon it or is this going to be similar to what we saw in 2021 after the beatdown of Duke. The secondary played their best game of the season on Saturday against the Hokies, finally eliminating the big plays. That is something that this unit is capable of doing, especially if guys like Tony Grimes and Lejond Cavazos can play the way they did in that one moving forward. The linebacking corps still remains the strength of this defense with Cedric Gray and Power Echols patrolling the middle of the field, but the depth at linebacker took a hit this week after the update that Sebastian Cheeks will miss the rest of the season and RaRa Dillworth will be questionable for this weekend. The defensive front still has a lot of work to do, but the unit did have better control of the line of scrimmage against Virginia Tech and a big part of it is that they have started rotating more. We need to see more rotation and penetration from this unit this weekend against an improving, but still flawed Miami offense lime.

Special teams-wise, this team is still in a really good position. Ben Kiernan continues to be a huge weapon for this team with the season he is having, while Noah Burnette was able to build off of his performance in the App State. Both of the coverage units have been good so far and the return games have shown some flashes, especially Downs and Cam’Ron Kelly when returning.


The Hurricanes enter this one off of a bye week following a deflating out-of-conference loss to Middle Tennessee State that saw their quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, one of the preseason favorites for the Heisman, get benched. Van Dyke will be back in there leading an offense that will likely lean heavily on their running game with all the issues that they have in the passing game. The search for consistent pass-catching threats has been a thing the entire season for the Hurricanes, especially after the injury to Xavier Restrepo, who lit it up in the first two games of the season. Key'Shawn Smith is now the go-to receiver, but the Tar Heels will also have to be mindful of the veteran tight end Will Mallory. While this Hurricanes passing attack may not present one of the Tar Heels’ toughest challenges of the season, the running game will. Henry Parrish Jr. has quietly been one of the best running backs in the ACC and they counter him nicely with their power back Thaddius Franklin Jr., who has already found the endzone five times this season. The offensive line has made major strides in pass protection this season, especially at tackle, where DJ Scaife and John Campbell Jr. have been solid. The interior of the unit has still had issues, though, in pass protection and is a group that the team will need to be able to attack in this one.

The Hurricanes' defense feels a lot like the one that the Tar Heels played a week ago in that the numbers don’t really seem to represent exactly what this defense is. They are allowing just 87.5 rushing yards per game, but that is in large part because of how much the team has struggled in pass defense. The secondary was picked apart by Middle Tennessee State a couple of weeks ago and the two outside corners, Tyrique Stevenson and DJ Ivey are allowing an average of 25.5 yards per reception or more so far this season. This has been exposed more than in years past because of the lack of a dominant pass rush. Only two Hurricanes have more than five pressures so far this season and Jahfari Harvey and Akheem Mesidor are not the dominant forces that the team’s past standouts on the defensive line. The linebacking corps has also had their ups-and-downs, mainly at the spot opposite Corey Flagg Jr.. Waynmon Steed Jr. and Keondra Smith have been incredibly inconsistent, leading to them splitting the reps for the majority of the season.

The Hurricanes' special teams unit is in good shape. Punter Lou Hedley is one of the best in the conference right now and Key'Shawn Smith might be the most dangerous kick return man in the country this season. Andres Borregales has had a solid start to the season and Tyrique Stevenson has done some positive so far this season.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 45.4 (T-6th)

Off. PYPG: 319.6 (12th)

Off. RYPG: 187.6 (38th)

Off. TYPG: 507.2 (7th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 50.0% (T-15th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 29.0 (T-84th)

Sacks Allowed: 9.0 (T-65th)

Def. PPG: 33.6 (T-112th)

Def. PYPG: 257.8 (102nd)

Def. RYPG: 193.0 (112th)

Def. TYPG: 450.8 (120th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 42.8% (97th)

Tackles for A Loss: 21.0 (T-111th)

Sacks: 9.0 (T-76th)

Interceptions: 3 (T-79th)

Turnover Margin: 0 (T-60th)

Penalties Per Game: 6.8 (T-78th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 62.8 (T-83rd)


Off. PPG: 35.0 (T-38th)

Off. PYPG: 268.3 (44th)

Off. RYPG: 179.3 (45th)

Off. TYPG: 447.5 (37th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 47.4% (26th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 21.0 (T-31st)

Sacks Allowed: 8.0 (T-50th)

Def. PPG: 20.5 (33rd)

Def. PYPG: 251.0 (95th)

Def. RYPG: 85.0 (10th)

Def. TYPG: 336.0 (38th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 33.3% (T-40th)

Tackles for A Loss: 24.0 (T-90th)

Sacks: 10.0 (T-63rd)

Interceptions: 5 (T-40th)

Turnover Margin: +1 (T-51st)

Penalties Per Game: 6.0 (T-46th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 45.0 (31st)

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- British Brooks (lower leg), Sebastian Cheeks (upper body), Ja’Qurious Conley (knee), Jahlil Taylor (lower body)

QUEST- RaRa Dillworth (upper body)


OUT- Donald Chaney Jr. (hip), Jacolby George (thumb)

DOUBT- Xavier Restrepo (foot)

QUEST- Elijah Arroyo (undisclosed), Zion Nelson (knee)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB#10 Drake Maye, RFr.

RB#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

TE#88 Kamari Morales, Jr. OR #18 Bryson Nesbit, So. OR #81 John Copenhaver, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Sr.

C#65 Corey Gaynor, Sr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Sr.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Sr. Defense

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Sr. OR #98 Kevin Hester Jr., Jr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Jr.

END#10 Des Evans, Sr. OR #25 Kaimon Rucker, Jr.

JACK# 7 Noah Taylor, Sr.

MIKE#23 Power Echols, So.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, Jr.

CB# 1 Tony Girmes, Jr.

BS#27 Giovanni Biggers, S

FS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

CB# 3 Storm Duck, Jr.

STAR#16 DeAndre Boykins, So. Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, So.

KOS#98 Noah Burnette, So.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Sr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

KR#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

Miami Offense

QB# 9 Tyler Van Dyke, So.

RB#21 Henry Parrish Jr., So.

WR-X# 5 Key’Shawn Smith, So.

WR-Z#83 Michael Redding III, RFr.

WR-F#12 Brashard Smith, So.

TE#85 Will Mallory, Sr.

LT#74 John Campbell Jr., Jr.

LG#64 Jalen Rivers, RFr.

C#53 Jakai Clark, Jr

RG#70 Justice Oluwaseun, Sr.

RT#51 DJ Scaife Jr., Sr. Defense

DE#90 Ahkeem Mesidor, Jr.

DT#81 Jarod Harrison-Hunte, So.

DT# 6 Darrell Jackson Jr., So.

DE#12 Jahfari Harvey, So.

WLB#11 Corey Flagg Jr., So.

MLB#17 Waynmon Steed Jr., Sr. OR # 4 Keontra Smith, Jr.

STAR#23 Te’Cory Couch, Jr.

CB# 8 DJ Ivey, Sr.

S#24 Kamren Kitchens, So.

S# 0 James Williams, So.

CB# 2 Tyrique Stevenson, Jr. Special Teams

PK#30 Andres Borregales, So.

KO#30 Andres Borregales, So.

P#94 Lou Hedley, Sr.

LS#58 Clay James, Jr.

H#94 Lou Hedley, Sr.

KR# 5 Key’Shawn Smith, So.

PR# 2 Tyrique Stevenson, Sr.

Game Information

Location: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL

Time: 4:00 PM


Radio: Tar Heel Sports Network (check local affiliates)


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