Miami Hurricanes defense, North Carolina Tar Heels offense expecting bounce-back games

FSU's Kermit Whitfield scoots into the end zone past Miami's Jamal Carter. (Getty Images)

FSU’s Kermit Whitfield scoots into the end zone past Miami’s Jamal Carter. (Getty Images)

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North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw almost as many interceptions last week (two) as his team had points (three).

Manny Diaz isn’t expecting a repeat.

“It’s an outlier. It’s an anomaly,” Miami’s defensive coordinator said. “At the end of the year they’ll have 11 games that look like one, and one that looks like something else.”

A swirling rain brought to Chapel Hill, N.C. by Hurricane Matthew contributed to the Tar Heels’ 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech last Saturday. Before that game, Trubisky completed a nation-best 76 percent of his passes with zero interceptions. He was one of three FBS starters who hadn’t thrown a pick. Based on his role in UNC’s 4-1 start, national writers and talking heads threw his name in the early Heisman discussion.

But the Trubisky of last week — 13-for-33 passing, 58 yards, zero touchdowns, two picks — was not the one Miami expects to see. The Hurricanes, who host the Tar Heels at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC/ESPN2) know UNC’s junior quarterback is a threat to go deep and doesn’t turn the ball over. They’re dismissing last week, when two of his throws against Virginia Tech went for longer than seven yards (none longer than 12), and both his interceptions came inside his own 20).

“If those things would have happened to us in a normal situation, I’d be pretty depressed,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “I’m not going to say that the weather caused the problems that we had. We just didn’t handle the elements very well, and we’ve put it behind us.”

During their run to last year’s ACC championship game, the Tar Heels routed Miami 59-21 at home. Trubisky is throwing to the same group of dangerous receivers former starter Marquise Williams used in that game: small, multipurpose threat Ryan Switzer (5-foot-9) and tall trees Bug Howard (6-5) and Mack Hollins (6-4). Diaz likened Trubisky to a basketball point guard: he always knows where the ball should go.

“He’s very, very accurate,” UM coach Mark Richt said. “He’s impressive.”

He’ll have another option this week. Running back Elijah Hood, who rushed for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, missed the Virginia Tech game because of an undisclosed injury. Fedora said Wednesday that Hood practiced without issue and expects he will return. When healthy, Hood is as a tough a man to tackle as FSU’s Dalvin Cook, though he doesn’t have Cook’s blinding speed.

Even after allowing a season-high 5.33 yards per play (405 total) against FSU last week, the Hurricanes rank fifth in yards allowed per play (3.95) and 10th in yards per game (283.6). While UNC will stress them in ways yet unseen, their defense faces a few internal challenges this week.

Standout defensive end Chad Thomas is playing with a broken right hand. Precocious true freshman middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman has a torn labrum in his shoulder, but will play. Gerald Willis, a valued contributor at defensive tackle, will sit out to rest a sprained knee (MCL).

Additionally, starting safety Jamal Carter cannot play the first half after committing a targeting infraction in the fourth quarter of the FSU game. Sophomore Jaquan Johnson, who has shifted between safety, dime back and coverage linebacker, will take Carter’s place.

“We could use a few more Jaquans,” Diaz said, referring to Johnson’s versatility and talent.

They only have one, and a depth chart that has absorbed multiple injuries and dismissals. How they respond to their first loss of the season, and another difficult opponent at Hard Rock Stadium, will go a long way in determining their fate.

UNC, the preseason ACC Coastal favorite, is 2-1 in league play (4-2 overall). The Tar Heels stand in the way of Miami (4-1, 1-1), but both programs are looking up at Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-0). After Saturday, the Hurricanes have a four-day respite before playing the Hokies in Blacksburg next Thursday.

“I’m not too worried about that,” Richt said. “I’m worried about their execution and their effort. That’s all I’m worried about. Making sure we’ve got a good plan, and making sure they’re executing it. Things that just don’t make sense, we’ll throw out. That’s what I’m focusing on. I think when people think about those other things, it distracts you from your job.”

 

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