Current Date: Sun, 09 Mar 2014 00:06:17 -0500
The saying has been “smart, fast and physical.” Those are the pillars — the foundation of Larry Fedora’s football coaching philosophy.
But this week, as North Carolina prepares to host No. 10 Miami under the Thursday night lights of Kenan Stadium, the rallying cry has been noticeably distilled: “1-0.”
The Tar Heels (1-4, 0-2 ACC) are playing their first ranked opponent since the season opener at South Carolina, they’re debuting black alternate uniforms and playing a rare Thursday night game in a “Zero Dark Thursday” event.
But it all comes down to that one simple phrase.
“The only goal we’re focused on right now is being 1-0,” Fedora said. “That’s it. Just 1-0.”
It sounds simple, but then again, nothing has been that easy for UNC this season. It isn’t getting any easier with Miami (5-0, 1-0 ACC) on deck.
The Hurricanes pack one of the most potent offenses in the conference, led by quarterback Stephen Morris and explosive sophomore running back Duke Johnson, who leads the ACC in all-purpose yards per game. They’ve put up 45.2 points per game — second only to Florida State in the ACC — and they’ve done so by capitalizing on what has been the UNC defense’s greatest weakness.
“Big plays,” Fedora said. “They can throw the ball down the field. Their offensive line I think is tremendously improved. They’ve had success running the ball and being physical up front.”
None of that matches up well with UNC’s defense, which ranks last in the ACC with 31.4 points and 436 yards allowed per contest. By most accounts, the Tar Heels showed improvement against Virginia Tech, holding the Hokies to 48 yards on the ground, but they’ll have their hands full with a Miami squad that is drawing sizable draft interest.
“They’ve got good players, and from what I understand, there’s four (general managers) and 37 scouts coming,” Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning said. “It’ll be a great test for our guys to see what they’ve got.”
The good news for UNC is the projected return of quarterback Bryn Renner, who missed the Virginia Tech game with a left foot injury.
Renner said the onus will be on the offense — which hasn’t been as explosive as it was a season ago — to produce in order to take pressure off of the UNC defense.
“We have to play every possession and just keep moving the chains,” Renner said. “I think if we do that, our defense is going to take care of their job as well.”
Again, it’s easier said than done, but it all goes back to UNC’s main objective.
“Right now, we’re just worried about being 1-0,” Marquise Williams said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere, first time wearing all black, it’s going to be awesome.
“But we need a win.”