UNC football prepares for strong Miami defense

Hurricanes excel in pass rushing

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Quarterback T.J. Yates will rely heavily on his offensive line to protect him Saturday from a Miami defense that averages 3.3 sacks a game.

North Carolina football coach Butch Davis has been so thorough in his praise of UNC’s last two opponents that even former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz would blush.

One week after calling Clemson the best football team UNC had played so far — and not undefeated No. 6 LSU — Davis was at it again, showering praise on No. 25 Miami.

“By no stretch of the imagination at all, this is clearly the most physically gifted football team we’ve played,” Davis said. “They are playing extremely well right now.”

Holtz was famous for always making his team’s next opponent sound like a juggernaut.

That said, even cynics would admit Miami’s pass rush is fearsome.

Miami (4-2, 2-1 ACC) comes into Saturday’s matchup with the Tar Heels ranked fourth in the country in sacks, notching 3.3 per contest.

“They have some big guys up front on the interior, and they’re always a fast defense,” UNC offensive lineman Alan Pelc said. “They fly off the ball, and they’re just a really talented team. They’ll get after you.”

The prolific pass rush is a main reason why Miami also ranks fourth nationally in pass defense.

“They have an awful lot of talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball,” Davis said.

Pelc will be one of the five members of the offensive line who is in charge of keeping them at bay. But no man will have as much on his plate as true freshman James Hurst.

He will match up against Olivier Vernon, who has tallied four sacks this year.

“He’s just a great player,” Hurst said. “He’s always getting after it. Effort is a big key for him. He’s always going to extend the play, and if the offensive lineman across from me doesn’t, he’s going to make that sack.”

Pelc and his offensive linemates feel that Hurst is up to the challenge.

“He’s come along really well, and he looks really good as a freshman,” Pelc said. “He looks like a veteran, so he’s really come along and we’re proud of him.”

Along with Vernon, the Miami defense features six players with more than one sack.

North Carolina’s offensive line is more ready for the challenge than they had been in previous years.

“Physically we’ve always had the ability, but mentally, we’ve come along so much,” Pelc said. “We’ve become more of an intelligent offensive line.”

The offensive line has given quarterback T.J. Yates room to throw. Yates has responded by throwing for more than 200 yards in four of UNC’s six games.

“We’ve connected pretty well on the offensive line,” Hurst said. “We communicate pretty well, and we play together well. That’s just something that’s going to happen with time and will get better as the season progresses.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@unc.edu.

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