The University of Miami football team staved off virtual elimination from the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal race with its 27-21 win against Virginia on Saturday.
This week against No. 17 North Carolina — the word virtual can be removed from that sentence.
With North Carolina unbeaten in conference play, a loss in Chapel Hill at 3:30 p.m. Saturday would put the Hurricanes three games behind the Tar Heels with two remaining. Or, in other words — eliminated.
As players celebrated the homecoming victory over the Cavaliers last Saturday night, coaches got right to work on preparations for the Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0) hours after the win.
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“We definitely know that we have a big challenge ahead of us,” UM interim coach Larry Scott said in a Sunday night conference call with reporters. “Offensively, they’re explosive, and defensively, they’re a much-improved unit from a year ago.”
North Carolina ranks atop the ACC in both passing offense and passing defense. The 158.8 passing yards per game they allow rank second in the nation.
The Tar Heels average margin of victory is 21.5 points.
They also come in hot.
On Saturday against Duke — the same team the Canes needed a miracle eight-lateral kickoff return as time expired to defeat — the Tar Heels won 66-31 in a game in which quarterback Marquise Williams threw for a school-record 494 yards.
The Tar Heels run an up-tempo style of offense, and the Canes have struggled against other up-tempo teams, notably Clemson and Cincinnati.
“We’re going to do what we have to do to put our kids in position to be successful against their tempo,” Scott says. “Obviously, we’re going to look at it, examine it, put together a great plan — one that puts our players in the right situation to make the plays they need to make.”
While UNC stops what UM does best offensively — the passing attack — the Hurricanes may find holes in the ground game, like was seen in the concerted effort to run the football in the second half against Virginia. UNC is vulnerable against the run, giving up 218.6 yards per game.
Scott already has beaten a ranked team on the road (at Duke) — something Al Golden never did in 4 1/2 years at the helm. He’ll have to do it again to keep Miami’s ACC Championship aspirations afloat.
Left tackle Trevor Darling received treatment for soreness on the top of his foot that caused him to exit the Virginia game in the second half. He will undergo treatment again Monday as his status will be evaluated throughout the week.
“Right now, I don’t think anything will keep us from having Trevor this week,” Scott said.
Guard Joe Brown (concussion), who was out against the Cavaliers on Saturday, will continue to go through the concussion protocol this week.
Scott said outside linebacker Trent Harris (shoulder) is “doing really well.” Harris left momentarily in the first half on Saturday before returning for a team-high eight tackles (seven solo) and a sack.
Miami Columbus senior defensive end Josh Uche announced his decommitment from the Hurricanes’ 2016 recruiting class on Sunday evening, citing the firing of Al Golden two weeks.
“With the recent coaching change at the University of Miami and the uncertainty of the future, I would like to de-commit at this time,” Uche said on Twitter. “I would like to explore other options and when a new head coach at Miami is named, my family and I will reevaluate the situation.”
Uche, a three-star prospect on all major recruiting sites, holds other offers from Florida and Alabama. Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal, whose name has been thrown around to potentially fill UM’s coaching vacancy, has been his primary recruiter to the Crimson Tide.
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