NORTH CAROLINA AT UM, 2:30 P.M. SATURDAY, ESPNU

Miami Hurricanes ready for potent Tar Heels: ‘We still control our own destiny in the ACC’

 

Despite coming off a demoralizing loss to Notre Dame, UM is battling for supremacy in the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

sdegnan@MiamiHerald.com

With all the hand-wringing and head-shaking of the past week, if you’re a Miami Hurricanes fan still suffering from the 41-3 non-conference nightmare against Notre Dame, it’s probably time to accentuate the positive.

When Miami meets North Carolina at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, a victory would give the Hurricanes their first 4-0 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference since joining the league in 2004.

Repeat this sentence: Miami is in first place in the ACC with a 3-0 league record.

More uplifting news: After starting the season with four of their first six games on the road, the Canes (4-2 overall) are at home for three consecutive games.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you it hasn’t been a tough six weeks,” UM coach Al Golden said, pointing to the challenge of playing now-No. 6 Kansas State and No. 7 Notre Dame away. “If I was in that meeting when the schedule was made, I probably wouldn’t have voted for that.”

The Tar Heels (4-2, 2-1), led by first-year coach Larry Fedora, are under NCAA sanctions and ineligible to win a conference title or go to a bowl game.

“That has no effect on us,” Golden said. “I’m sure [Larry Fedora] is still saying, ‘We’re going to go out and win the Coastal.’ ’’

Also undefeated in the ACC is Duke at 2-0, with an unlikely 5-1 record.

CANES IN GOOD POSITION

“Look at the Coastal,” ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit said Wednesday on WQAM, predicting a UNC victory. “Eliminate North Carolina because they cannot go to the postseason. Virginia Tech [3-3, 1-1] is not the same Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech [2-4, 1-3] just fired [defensive coordinator] Al Groh and is struggling. Virginia is a nonfactor.

“Miami… and Duke are battling it out to represent the Coastal to get to the ACC championship. You’ve got to forget about 41-3. Learn from it. Forget about it. Move on.”

Added Herbstreit: “Can you imagine Miami getting to the ACC championship game and playing Florida State?’’

That’s the last thing Golden wants his players to think about now, despite an FSU-at-UM matchup Oct. 20. The Tar Heels have won their past three games, with their previous losses by one point at Wake Forest and by five at Louisville.

The Heels, coming off a 48-34 win against Virginia Tech, are strong in every phase of the game. They average 44 points and 486.6 yards – not a good sign for the Canes’ defense, one of the worst statistically in the nation after allowing 1,670 yards of offense the past three weeks.

North Carolina is led by Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas alum Giovani Bernard, who rushed for a career-high 262 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries last weekend. Quarterback Bryn Renner is ranked 22nd in passing efficiency, and is fifth in the country with 15 touchdown passes within his hurry-up offense.

Defensively, the Tar Heels are holding teams to 17.8 points a game.

And on special teams, Casey Barth is tied for 21st in the nation in field goals. Casey is the younger brother of Connor, who brought the goal posts down in 2004 when his 42-yard field goal beat No. 4 UM on the final play of the game.

TAR HEELS ‘HOT RIGHT NOW’

“North Carolina is hot right now,” UM safety A.J. Highsmith said. “I think we’re mentally tough enough to put Notre Dame behind us and move forward. You never want to justify a loss, but it does help knowing that we still control our destiny in the ACC. We have a great opportunity ahead of us.”

Despite the hardships of the first half of the season, Golden admitted there also “were a lot of positives” in having that intense schedule.

The only way to learn how to handle big-time, pressure-packed environments is “to go through the experiences,” he said. “You have to take some value from learning. We already played four road games, so we only have two remaining. We’ll be home [until Nov. 1], which gives us a chance to get stronger and hopefully continue to work hard.”

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