University of Miami

Hokies & Irish are lurking, but Canes must beat UNC to own Coastal

Miami defensive end Trent Harris (33) tackles former North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams in 2015, though Williams still got the touchdown at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The Canes return to Chapel Hill on Saturday hoping for a victory.
Miami defensive end Trent Harris (33) tackles former North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams in 2015, though Williams still got the touchdown at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The Canes return to Chapel Hill on Saturday hoping for a victory. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Which of the following is true?

A. The University of North Carolina is 1-7 and having its worst season since 2006.

B. The Tar Heels are coming off a 59-7 defeat to Virginia Tech.

C. The Heels have 16 players out for the season with injuries.

D. UNC is 10-9 all-time against Miami, including victories the past two years.

The answer, if you haven’t gotten the idea by now: D – for defeated, down and likely depressed, despite having the edge.

But the No. 8 Hurricanes (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who face the Tar Heels (1-7, 0-5) at noon Saturday, have several reasons to take UNC seriously, starting with the most important: to keep their season rolling toward the Coastal Division title, which would put them in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on Dec. 2.

The Canes joined the league in 2004 and have never played in the ACC title game. With No. 13 Virginia Tech (6-1, 2-1) coming to Hard Rock Stadium next week, UM needs this victory to avoid becoming one of multiple one-loss Coastal Division teams in a free-for-all.

So, for receiver Ahmmon Richards, intent on cleaning up the case of the dropsies he had last Saturday against Syracuse, “It’s a business trip.’’

Richards, like the other Hurricanes, seemed convinced that UNC will give them a battle.

“They’re fighting each game,’’ Richards said. “It’s kind of weird. Their defense is doing pretty good, despite the points they’re giving up. They’re actually a pretty good defense. It’s a challenge. They’re not a cakewalk at all.’’

Said quarterback Malik Rosier: “UNC is a very good team. If you watch the first half of the last game they played against Virginia Tech, which has a very good offense, [UNC] actually held them to seven points. The other 21 points came off a fumble by the offense, a pick-six and a punt-return.

UM quarterback Malik Rosier discusses UNC on Oct. 25, 2017.

“I know they have had points scored on them, but their defense is solid.’’

UM coach Mark Richt is certainly not one to think his Hurricanes are good enough to look ahead to future games. He was asked if he had “to caution’’ his players about that.

“If we were rolling everybody, we’re whipping everybody by three touchdowns, no drama, getting your second- and third-stringers in – well, we get our second- and third-stringers in anyway… But if we were having that kind of a roll, maybe.

“We’re just finding ways to win at the end of games. We’re not foolish enough to think that we’ve arrived yet. I don’t think they believe that. They know we have to earn it.’’

UNC has beaten the Canes two years in a row, including the 59-21, 2015 rout in Chapel Hill that clinched the Coastal Division for the Heels.

Last year at Hard Rock, the Canes played the first half as if their minds were still on that one-point loss to Florida State the previous game. They trailed by 17 points at halftime and eventually fell 20-13. The loss effectively took them out of the running for the Coastal.

“We owe them from last year,’’ defensive end Demetrius Jackson said. “They beat us on our home field. That game right there was the difference from us going to the ACC Championship and being in the Orange Bowl.

“You know what? We’re real. We’re serious,’’ Jackson added, noting that people still do not consider UM a contender.

The Hurricanes, led by first-year starting quarterback Malik Rosier, have exceeded expectations offensively, though the dangerous habit of either trailing at halftime or keeping it close could eventually hurt them if or when those fourth-quarter heroics fail to materialize. With the Hokies on tap and No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1) heading to Hard Rock Nov. 11, UM needs to start faster and convert third downs, at which they struggle mightily, with only 32 percent of those situations successful (111th of 129 teams).

As for the Tar Heels, they are pretty much struggling everywhere.

UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is pleased with the progress of his defense and discussed it on Oct. 25, 2017.

In short, they rank 107 in scoring offense (21.6 points a game) and 106 in scoring defense (34.6 points allowed). And only four teams have amassed more penalty yards.

“We’re looking forward to the top-10 team coming into our stadium,’’ UNC coach Larry Fedora said this week of UM, though it’s hard to believe he means it.

“I wish we were winning football games,’’ Fedora told the media this week, as reported by the Raleigh News & Observer. “Nobody wants it more than these players and these coaches, I assure you.’’

Kickoff: 12 p.m.; Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill.

TV/radio: ESPN2; 560 WQAM; 990 ESPN Deportes.

Favorite: Miami by 20 1/2.

Records: Miami 6-0 (4-0 ACC); UNC 1-7 (0-5 ACC).

Series: UNC leads 10-9.

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