A short week and a fast turnaround for the Miami Hurricanes—fresh off a 31-17 takedown of crosstown rival Florida International, and preparing for the start of ACC play on Thursday night when North Carolina treks south to HardRock.

The Tar Heels roll in 1-2 on the season, but somewhat rejuvenated after winning their home opener over Pittsburgh. 38-35 last Saturday in Chapel Hill. Quarterback Nathan Elliott is expected to get the nod again, despite Chazz Surratt back from suspension and available to play. Elliott struggled in earlier losses to Cal and East Carolina, but rebounded with a 313-yard, two-touchdown performance in the win over the Panthers—the Tar Heels with a 17-point third quarter after trailing, 28-21 at the half.

Miami is coming off a 31-17 win over crosstown rival Florida International last weekend; a game not as close as the final score as the Hurricanes led 31-0 early in the fourth quarter, before Mark Richt rested his defensive starters (due to the short week) and UM’s back-ups gave up some plays to the Golden Panthers.

The Canes also bring a little drama into Thursday night’s showdown as the quarterback situation remains the topic de jour. Everyone’s favorite back-up N’Kosi Perry is coming off of 3.5 quarters of play against FIU last week as Richt made the premeditated quarterback swap after two drives from Malik Rosier, as planned.

The good news; Perry delivered—albeit against the lowly Golden Panthers. The bad? The bonus playing time has only poured gasoline on what some fans already consider to be a quarterback “controversy”—expecting Perry to take over as starter, despite the fact that his only playing time has come against garbage opponents, while Miami preps for ACC play and a home showdown against Florida State in less than two weeks.

Perry got the majority of the first string reps during practice on Monday, but come Tuesday—for whatever reason—Richt kept Rosier listed atop the depth chart, causing expected over-the-top panic one would expect in today’s social media-drive, armchair quarterback fan culture.

Lost in all the critique; the fact that a veteran like Richt—a former collegiate quarterback who’s coached-up his share of greats in both Tallahassee and Athens—might have a rhyme or reason to what he’s doing, as well as a better understanding of his player personnel than outsiders who are basing it on their own opinions and a limited vantage point.

Regardless of who gets the start for Miami come Thursday, fact remains both Hurricanes signal callers will most-likely see action and UM still has the decided advantage at quarterback over North Carolina.

THE LAST TIME THESE TWO MET…

No. 8 Miami took a 6-0 record into Chapel Hill for what looked like a cakewalk as the 1-7 Tar Heels were riding a five-game losing streak, coming off a 59-7 beatdown in Blacksburg at the hands of No. 14 Virginia Tech. Instead, the Hurricanes got all they could bargain for—down 6-0 early and barely up at the half, 7-6.

Miami punted on three of its first four drives; mixing in a missed field goal, for good measure. A 78-yard touchdown pass from Rosier to Jeff Thomas got things rolling on the first play of the third quarter—and the Canes soon netted a field goal—but the offensive struggles continued by way of a few punts, a turnover on downs and a mid-fourth quarter interception, putting the Tar Heels in position to make some noise, trailing 24-13 with 7:45 raining.

The Canes’ defense continued to clamp down, until Elliott led a nine-play. 57-yard touchdown drive—pulling the Heels to within five, after failing on the two-point conversion. Upon the recovery of an onside kick, Travis Homer fumbled for the Canes—putting North Carolina in position for a game-winning drive, before Joe Jackson forced a first-down fumble from the UM 37-yard line, allowing Miami to run out the clock—escaping with the victory.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS FOR MIAMI

N’Kosi Perry -or- Malik Rosier — As conference play gets underway; the “scrimmages” in the rear-view and Florida State on deck, quarterback play is more important than ever for Miami. Rosier had his struggles last year, but no back-ups were capable of properly challenging for the starting job—which certainly didn’t help Rosier psychologically as competition can be the ultimate motivator.

Richt continues saying he’ll play the guy he feels gives Miami the best chance to win—and also stated he wasn’t going to tip his hand, in effort to offer a little misdirection towards North Carolina in their game planning.

Based on the decision to go Perry early and the r-freshman delivering—starting against the Tar Heels seems like the next logical step in the progression. Different story if this was already Florida State week. It’s not. It’s a sub-par North Carolina squad in Miami’ house, prime time on a Thursday night. Would think Perry gets the nod for the Canes, with Rosier one bad possession away from seeing the field.

All that to say, Miami’s quarterbacking situation needs to work itself out before the Seminoles come to town—so whoever is under center needs to deliver.

Travis Homer — The junior running back had cooled off a bit, dating back to Miami’s losing streak to end last season. In three games prior to FIU this season, 36 carries for a mere 162 yards and no touchdowns. Against the Golden Panthers, a mini-breakthrough as Homer rushed 13 times for 114 yards—including a 35-yard touchdown.

Lorenzo Lingard is the future for Miami’s ground attack, while DeeJay Dallas is a solid, current contributor. The Canes also have a pretty good one in Cam’Ron Davis—but with coaches content on Homer topping the depth chart, he needs to keep playing bigger than himself and improving his game.

Zach Feagles — Until Miami’s kicking game improves, Feagles’ importance continues to get highlighted as the struggling punter has proven to be a huge weak link for the Canes this year. A position that can somewhat get taken for granted, until it’s a proven detriment—Feagles has to get it together immediately with conference play now here. No more excuses for the sophomore.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS FOR NORTH CAROLINA

Nathan Elliott — Larry Fedora is sticking with his three-game guy under center, opposed to giving the job back to Surratt, so Elliott needs to perform for the Heels. If not, would expect to see Surratt in the game, getting broken-in against a defense like North Carolina hasn’t seen yet this year. Either option seems to favor the Canes more than the Tar Heels, unless Elliott (or Surratt) can find a way to stand and deliver.

UNC has a tall enough order taking on UM at home on a Thursday night. For their sake, best hope there’s no quarterback drama—allowing them to stick with the week’s game plan—and that one of these two options can make some noise for them.

Antonio Williams -or- Michael Carter— No better way to help out the passing game than a commitment to run the football—and having success.

The Canes’ run defense clamped down on the Golden Panthers last week, limiting FIU running backs to 29 yards on 21 carries. Again Toledo, the Rockets’ leading rusher was their quarterback, while three running backs totaled 65 yards on the day. LSU’s Nick Brosette gashed UM for 125 yards on 22 carries in the opener; including a 50-yard touchdown.

Williams is coming off a 16-carry, 114-yard, two touchdown performance against Pittsburgh. He’ll need a day like that against Miami if North Carolina is going to pull off the upset.

Dazz Newsome -or- Anthony Ratliff-Williams — Keeping the focus on UNC’s offense. Newsome hauled in six receptions for 110 yards, while Ratliff-Williams had four grabs for 84 yards; including a duck from Elliott that was a would-be interception-turned-reception.

Both guys will have to help out their quarterback, while looking to take advantage of match-ups against Miami backs ups if / when guys like Trajan Bandy or Jaquan Johnson are out of the game. (LSU getting in their licks against Bandy’s back-up, Jhovonte Dean, while Johnson’s absence in the second half at Toledo allowed Dionte Johnson to make some noise.)

THE PREDiCTION : HOW IT SHOULD ALL SHAKE OUT

Quarterback quandary aside, this is an ideal scenario for Miami to work out whatever it needs to work out—a primetime, home night game at HardRock; the first since Notre Dame last fall. Prior to smacking around the Irish in an electric setting, the Canes dismantled the Hokies in a similar raucous environment the weekend before. Blackout uniforms are also on deck—so expecting a solid 12th Man effort from UM’s fan base; something that hasn’t been the case in the past.

Emotions aside, this is a game the Hurricanes must take seriously. The Tar Heels are a step up from the likes of an FIU or Toledo—but aren’t quite FSU caliber and the challenge UM will face next week when a battered and bruised rival heads to town looking for a season-saving upset.

Fedora’s struggles the past few years with his Heels have been documented, but the head coach has had success against the Canes. In his inaugural season, on the right side of an 18-12 slugfest in South Florida. In 2015, a 59-21 rout of Miami, en route to a Coastal Division title. A year later—Richt’s first season at UM—Fedora’s squad held out for a 20-13 win, capitalizing on a slow start from the Canes. Last year—as mentioned above—a dismal UNC squad gave UM all it could handle at Kenan Memorial.

The Tar Heels gave up 35 points and 402 total yards in the win over Pittsburgh last weekend, while East Carolina went for 41 points and 510 yards in a rout two weeks back—290 yards through the air and 220 on the ground, while owning time of possession.

Knowing North Carolina’s defensive issues, Miami would be wise to pound on the ground and to take the pressure off of whoever is under center—most-likely Perry, based on RIcht’s timing last week, as it’d be strange to start Rosier this week progress-wise.

On Perry’s first touchdown drive—nine plays, going 87 yards—against Florida International; balance was key. Homer and Dallas combined for four carries and 28 yards, while Perry ran twice and passed twice (both throws to his go-to Brevin Jordan), before Homer tore off a 35-yard run towards the end zone.

The notion that either quarterback has to put this team on his back and carry it over the finish line—not the case. Play smart, distribute the ball well and get it in the hands of playmakers for those necessary yards-after-catch—while relying on capable running backs to impose their will.

Where the past three games were glorified scrimmages, this one feels more like a dress rehearsal regarding what’s coming down the pike—Florida State at home, followed by back-to-back road games at Virginia and Boston College; two notoriously tough places for Miami at times over the years.

Defensively, it also feels like the Canes need to tighten things a bit. Statistically things were fine against Florida International, but UM hasn’t been the turnover-forcing machine this season that it was last year; while there’s also been a bit too much arm tackling, guys out of position or plays simply not being made.

FIU’s late-game run was mostly against UM back-ups, but fact remains the Golden Panthers racked up 139 yards and 17 points in eight minutes of play—while Toledo trailed 21-0 late second quarter, but made it much more respectable, down 28-21 halfway through the third quarter before Miami again pulled away.

In short; for all the focus on the quarterback situation, fact is the Hurricanes’ offense fed off of defensive turnovers and energy last year—which hasn’t really been the case so far four games it. Time for Miami’s D to step up and become the game-changers they were last season.

Home field advantage, night game crowd and better talent will all be difference-makers in this Thursday night showdown. Should Perry get the start, HardRock will be a little bit more electrified than if Richt trots Rosier out there, to a chorus of boos. Regardless, both require a fast start as the Canes need the early momentum. Nothing good will come from letting the Tar Heels stick around; as closer, low-scoring games have gone their favor a few times in this rivalry.

The short week and immediately jump into Tar Heels planning—it should help guard against any letdown, or FSU look-ahead. Miami should be ready—and should feed off the home crowd, night energy that proved such a difference-maker last year.

Canes roll convincingly, quarterback play looks good, ground attack effective, a few big plays expected—and calling for at least two or three Turnover Chain appearances, as it’s long overdue.

Miami 48, North Carolina 19


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