Miami vs. North Carolina Preview

#10 Miami (FL) (5-0, 1-0 ACC) at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2 ACC)

Miami and North Carolina have had very different fortunes thus far in 2013. Miami knocked off its early season, top ten ranked SEC opponent, beating Florida. North Carolina lost its similar early season game against South Carolina. The Tar Heels are also coming off three straight losses to Georgia Tech, East Carolina and Virginia Tech while having their senior quarterback Bryn Renner miss a game to injury. The Hurricanes have climbed their way into the top ten of the AP Top 25, overcoming an injury to their own senior quarterback, Stephen Morris.

At a glance, North Carolina doesn’t match up well against this confident and deep Miami squad. But they’ll get them at home on national television and coming off a much needed bye week. Ultimately, they’ll need to take advantage of Miami’s penchant for giveaways and prevent Miami’s vintage big plays if they want to compete effectively. And finally, Miami’s pass defense could finally be tested.

Key Players

QB Bryn Renner 6’3” 225, Sr.

Renner is a smooth and accurate signal caller with a quick release and very good arm strength. He shows an excellent grasp of his offense, consistently reading defenses and going through his progressions across the field. He has smooth mechanics, consistently stepping into his passes even though he sometimes seems to push to ball in his throwing motion.

Unfortunately, Renner is stuck with only adequate height and overall size, elevating the level of difficulty he faces in tough situations. He’s a tough leader and has underrated effectiveness. Thursday would make a nice national stage for him to showcase his skills against what has been an untested Miami defense.

TE Eric Ebron 6’4” 245, Jr.

North Carolina’s most dangerous weapon, Ebron is an excellent, well-put-together athlete very long arms. Explosive, he has the speed to stretch the field and the running skills to break tackles. He will drop some balls. But he flashes the soft hands to make the tough grab, even if he is not as consistent doing it in traffic. Only an adequate blocker, Ebron is a match-up nightmare split out as a big receiver.

DE Norkeithus Otis 6’1” 240, Jr.

Despite the fact that his counterpart, senior defensive end Kareem Martin is projected as a high round draft pick in 2014 and possesses a much more imposing physical build, Otis has been the dominant defensive playmaker for the Tar Heels. In five games, the junior has broken out and has already racked up 4.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles as a superior and versatile edge athlete.

When Miami has the ball

On paper, North Carolina should struggle to defend Miami’s offense. They have been a woeful 98th in yards per pass attempt against, even after facing the likes of Middle Tennessee and Georgia Tech’s poor pass offenses. Meanwhile, Miami is ranked 5th in yards per pass attempt offensively.

The Tar Heels, however, are not devoid of talent. They simply lack depth, probable somewhat due to NCAA sanctions. Defensive ends Kareem Martin and Norkeithus Otis are a talented pair of disruptive edge players. The defense also boasts two senior starting defensive backs in the physical cornerback Jabari Price and ball-hawking NFL safety prospect Tre Boston.

Nonetheless, the defense plays a lot of zone coverage and the safeties have been caught taking bad angles, giving up several big plays. North Carolina also likes to utilize a versatile safety-linebacker hybrid, called the ram position, leaving an already relatively light front seven somewhat vulnerable to running games. Two young walk-ons, leading tackler sophomore linebacker Jeff Schoettmer (44 tackles) and freshman safety Dominique Green, have had to play significant roles. Both lack ideal measurables.

The Hurricane offense has been as explosive and effective as any offense in the country, racking up a ton of big plays through the air and on the ground, week after week. Even with a hobbled Stephen Morris, who has only completed a full game once in the past month, the Miami offense hasn’t missed a beat. Now, their senior leader is coming off an extra week of rest.

North Carolina will need to prevent sizable chunk plays while forcing a few turnovers. Free safety Tre Boston (two interceptions) has the playmaking ability and will be at the center of whether the defense can succeed this week.

When North Carolina has the ball

Head coach Larry Fedora and his Tar Heel offense has struggled mightily to put points on the board, hurt by an under performing offensive line and one of the few worst rushing attacks in the country. Even with a decent passing attack led by a good senior quarterback (Bryn Renner), an NFL tight end (Eric Ebron), a deep set of receivers and one of the best left tackles in the nation (James Hurst), North Carolina’s shotgun pass-happy offense has been thoroughly inconsistent.

The one area where Miami’s defense is vulnerable is its run defense. Unfortunately for North Carolina, they’ve struggled to prevent penetration. Both the guards and the right tackle have had a tough time sustaining blocks. Even heralded junior center Russell Bodine was inconsistent in their last game against Virginia Tech interior linemen.

The Tar Heels’ best chance for offensive success lies in their passing game. Renner has a full set of weapons led by sophomore 6’4” receiver Quinshad Davis, junior 6’1” Sean Tapley, sophomore 6’0” T.J. Thorpe and first round tight end Eric Ebron. They should be able to test a zone-heavy Miami defense that has not faced a very effective passing game, replete with legitimate pass catchers yet.

But outside of left tackle James Hurst, the UNC offensive line could be vulnerable to Miami’s deep pass rush. Especially critical will be how and if sophomore right guard Landon Turner and redshirt freshman right tackle Jon Heck handle Miami’s edge rushers in predictable passing situations.

Keys to the Game

Miami Big Plays

Bryn Renner and the North Carolina Passing Game