With its last-second thrills and newfound heroes, Miami’s season is starting to look like a Disney movie.
Meanwhile, North Carolina is trapped in a horror flick.
Saturday’s show in Chapel Hill (noon, ESPN2) won’t have a dramatic Hollywood ending. It won’t be anything like 2004, when the unranked Tar Heels stunned the fourth-ranked Hurricanes on a last-second field goal. Frankly, it won’t be very competitive — unless the eighth-ranked Hurricanes (6-0, 4-0 ACC) are interested in keeping it closer than the three-touchdown spread suggests they will.
UNC (1-7, 0-5) just doesn’t have much this year. No less than 21 players are unavailable this week due to injury, 17 of them ruled out for the season. Coach Larry Fedora, who lost quarterback Mitch Trubisky (the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft) and a host of offensive talent last offseason, expected a rebuilding year, but nothing like this.
Miami, which has won 11 games in a row and is the ACC’s only remaining unbeaten team, could finally score a comfortable win before the first College Football Playoff rankings come out Tuesday. UNC, which has lost its last 10 games to Power 5 teams, just hopes it won’t lose more players.
The matchups, and a prediction:
When Miami passes
Coach Mark Richt and players said this week that defensive coordinator John Papuchis’ unit has played better than the statistics show. UNC has been frisky in stretches — like a 20-14 loss to Virginia two weeks ago — but ranks among the bottom 30 teams nationally in most categories, including points allowed (34.6), yards per carry against (4.79) and opponent passer rating (140.27). The Heels allow 5.87 yards per play, second-worst among ACC teams.
Quarterback Malik Rosier faces a pass rush that is 61st (of 130 FBS teams) in sacks per game and 64th in tackles for loss, but UM’s protection has been solid and may get a boost with the return of true freshman right guard Navaughn Donaldson, who missed the last two games with an ankle sprain. He was not listed on UM’s injury report. Receiver Ahmmon Richards (hamstring, ankle) says he’s healthy, but Miami won’t need him.
As long as Rosier avoids cornerback M.J. Stewart, a senior NFL draft prospect, he should have success. Edge: Miami
When Miami runs
This could be an active day for UM running backs not named Travis Homer. No one besides Homer and Rosier carried the ball in last week’s 27-19 win over Syracuse, and if Trayone Gray and DeeJay Dallas are going to help Miami in its tougher upcoming games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, the Canes should get their feet wet Saturday.
UNC’s rush D has been respectable in the last two games, holding Virginia and Virginia Tech to a combined 3.62 yards per carry. Both opponents carried nearly 50 times, content to put the ball on the ground and get away with a win. Miami might follow a similar blueprint, though given its personnel it may use short passes to the same effect. Edge: Miami
When North Carolina passes
Fedora is rotating turnover-prone quarterbacks Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris, but his offensive line may be a greater worry. The Tar Heels had more false starts (eight) than points (seven) in last week’s 59-7 loss at Virginia Tech.
UN ranks among the bottom 30 teams nationally in sacks and tackles for loss allowed, and three FBS teams have been worse on third down (27.68 percent). Miami has one of the best front sevens in college football, and its pass-rush is elite. Edge: Miami
When North Carolina runs
The Heels got more bad news this week regarding — of course — an injury to top freshman tailback Michael Carter, who will miss the game with an undisclosed ailment. He was eighth in the ACC in yards per carry (6.01), and had 403 yards and seven touchdowns on 67 carries. Jordon Brown, a sophomore, will take the bulk of carries this week.
UM’s performance on third downs is a concern (40.37 percent conversions allowed), and the run defense is part of the problem. Stopping the run will be critical to Miami’s chances of beating Notre Dame in two weeks; the Irish’s playoff hopes rest on its outstanding rushing attack. This should be a tuneup for a unit that has been too pliable for its coaches’ liking. Edge: Miami
Five teams nationally have punted more than UNC, and it could be punting more if its quarterbacks weren’t throwing so many interceptions (11, sixth-most in the country). The Heels are the only team in the nation to have allowed both a kickoff return and a punt return of 90-plus yards. Miami has explosive speed in Raleigh, N.C. native Braxton Berrios (punts) and freshman Jeff Thomas (kicks). UM’s Michael Badgley (11-for-12) has been more successful than UNC’s Freeman Jones (4-for-8), though if the Canes have their way, he’ll be kicking for single points Saturday. Edge: Miami
Tough to be too critical of Fedora, who is headed toward the worst finish of his 10-year coaching career. He knew his offense would take a step back with the loss of Trubisky, draft defector Elijah Hood and several seniors. Then defensive coordinator Gene Chizik stepped down after signing day, throwing that side of the ball into arrears. Richt has Miami headed toward the ranks of the elite, and though his team may lack the depth of a typical title contender, it hasn’t lost in nearly a calendar year (last Oct. 29 at Notre Dame). Edge: Miami
In the last 40 years, the Tar Heels are 4-30 against top-10 teams, with one win against a top-five team. That was in 2004 against Miami, after which fans tore down the goalposts in Chapel Hill. UNC sold $150 chunks of the felled pipes as souvenirs. In order to keep themselves hungry, this current group of Canes can recall the 59-21 shellacking they took in their last visit to Kenan Stadium, in 2015. That UNC team was headed toward the league championship game. This UM team could be on the same path. Miami 45, UNC 7
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