No. 10 UM at UNC| Thursday, 7:45 p.m. ESPN

Miami Hurricanes wary of host Tar Heels despite their record

 

The last time Miami was ranked in the top 10 and played at North Carolina, the Tar Heels pulled the biggest upset in school history. UM, which is 1-4 at UNC, hopes to not repeat that nightmare.

 
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris rushes 5 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter as the University of Miami Hurricanes competes against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012.
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris rushes 5 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter as the University of Miami Hurricanes competes against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012.
Al Diaz / STAFF PHOTO

sdegnan@MiamiHerald.com

The 2013 Miami Hurricanes, unlike some of their predecessors, do not seem to particularly crave attention.

But Thursday night, just past sunset in the cool, rolling hills of an area known as The Research Triangle, that’s exactly what they’ll get.

Lots of it.

The No. 10 Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will put their perfect record on the line against — at least until now — an underperforming North Carolina team (1-4, 0-2) in front of a national television audience and slew of NFL scouts at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

It’s the only college game that night, and Kenan has been a place of nightmares before for the Canes, who watched the goalposts get torn down by jubilant Tar Heel fans after UNC shocked the 6-0 and then-No. 4 Canes on a last-second field goal in 2004.

Miami is still the highest-ranked team Carolina has ever beaten and the Heels’ only win over a program ranked in the AP top five.

“That is again what we’re trying to establish,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said, calling the matchup a “tremendous opportunity for us to showcase not only the Tar Heels but our stadium, our game-day atmosphere, Chapel Hill, the community, everyone involved. I mean, Thursday nights have become huge in college football because everyone is watching.”

UNC spokesman Kevin Best said nearly 40 credentials were requested by NFL scouts, the most he has distributed for a game.

Miami, 1-4 at UNC all time, is 15-3 (.833) on Thursday night ESPN broadcasts, with the highest winning percentage of any current ACC school. North Carolina is 6-5 on Thursdays, including its 27-10 opening-night loss this season at South Carolina.

Big challenge

UM coach Al Golden was asked how dangerous a team the Tar Heels might be, despite their record, trying to regain respect at home in a high-profile setting with their starting quarterback returning from an ankle injury.

“You’re exactly right,” Golden said. “For all those reasons we are going to be facing a great challenge… As I said to the guys all along, records don’t matter because records are talking about the past, and we know what type of team we’re going to see Thursday.”

A victory against the Tar Heels would qualify the Hurricanes for a bowl and put them at 6-0 for the first time since going into the game at UNC in ’04.

The Tar Heels’ great defense of the recent past is no more, their best players having moved on to the NFL. Their losses this season include ones to formidable opponents South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, but they also gave up 603 yards at home to East Carolina in a 55-31 drubbing on Sept. 28.

The Heels are ranked 94th nationally in total defense, 103rd in team passing efficiency defense and 95th in scoring defense.

Miami, conversely, is ranked 21st in total offense, sixth in team passing efficiency and ninth in scoring.

It’s not a pretty combination for UNC, which, like Miami, is coming off a bye week.

Offensively, the Tar Heels should have back senior Bryn Renner under center, giving UM’s top-ranked pass defense by far its best competition to date. Renner has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in each of the last two seasons and according to UNC game notes, “is on the verge of setting nearly every career passing mark’’ there.

This season, he has completed 91 of 152 attempts for 1,117 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions — his top target being tight end Eric Ebron, third nationally among tight ends with 66.6 receiving yards per game.

The Tar Heels run a fast, no-huddle offense.

“We’re not up tempo like these guys,’’ Golden said. “These guys are warp speed.’’

A big stage

Last season, UM quarterback Stephen Morris hurt his left ankle and was knocked out of the UNC game with 8:26 left. Ryan Williams entered the game and drove the Canes from the UNC 48-yard line to the 24 before UNC took over and sealed the 18-14 victory.

Morris sustained an injury to his right ankle Sept. 21 against Savannah State and played in pain as recently as Oct. 5 against Georgia Tech. He said “it’s feeling a lot better’’ now, but also said the ankle is still “iffy’’ and day-to-day.

Morris believes the “big atmosphere’’ shouldn’t affect the team.

“Maybe a couple years ago it might have,’’ Morris said. “The stage might have been big for a couple people, myself included. Now we have a lot more guys who understand the situation.

“We’re a smarter team.’’

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