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Sunday July 25th

ACC preview: Miami relies on potential top pick Kaaya under Richt's rule

In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.

Coach:

Mark Richt (first year at Miami) 

Record last year:

8-5 (5-3 ACC) 

When do they play UNC?

Oct. 15 in Miami Gardens, Florida

Where are they projected?

Second in Coastal Division 

How do they play?

The Hurricanes will continue to stake their success in the arm of junior quarterback Brad Kaaya. 

Last season, Kaaya commanded a Miami passing attack — which ranked 29th in the nation in yards per game (277.4) — that featured Rashawn Scott, Herb Waters and Stacy Coley. But the Hurricanes' running game was virtually non-existent, finishing 117th in the country in rushing yards per game (119.1). Richt and new offensive coordinator Thomas Brown have had success developing running backs at Georgia, and the two will be tasked with reviving the Miami ground game this season.  

In 2015, Miami struggled to get off the field defensively. Despite a solid secondary, the Hurricanes' defensive line struggled at the point of attack — allowing 201.0 rushing yards per game, the second-worst mark in the ACC. 

New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz runs an aggressive scheme that brings a lot of pressure from the front seven. But Miami doesn’t have anyone currently on the roster with a history of exploding plays in the backfield, so someone will have to emerge for Diaz’s scheme to succeed. 

Who stands out?

Kaaya enters his junior season as a potential top-five pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The junior from Los Angeles has shown plenty of arm talent over the past two seasons, and while Kaaya isn't very mobile, he's smooth moving around the pocket and rarely makes poor decisions. If all goes well, this could be his final season in Coral Gables. 

With Artie Burns and Tracy Howard both gone, senior cornerback Corn Elder will now be responsible for covering the opponent’s top receiver. Elder led a talented Hurricane secondary with 11 pass breakups in 2015, but he'll have to build on last season’s success for Miami to improve as a defense. 

What’s their biggest weakness? 

The Miami defense will rely heavily on underclassmen this season. With key contributors in the secondary departed, this isn't a surprise — but unexpected attrition this summer has put Miami in a tough situation.

On Aug. 27, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace were dismissed from the team for violating NCAA rules. Another linebacker, Juwon Young, transferred from Miami after being suspended in the offseason. 

Muhammad led the team in sacks and tackles for loss in 2015, while Grace and Young finished first and second on the team in tackles. With so many young players on the field, the Hurricanes will surely have growing pains on the defensive side of the ball. 

Why they could win the ACC?

Miami has one of the most talented quarterbacks in the nation and plenty of athletes to feed the ball in open space. If junior Joseph Yearby proves to be an effective feature back, he could provide balance to one of the most potent offenses in the league. 

Defensively, Diaz’s aggressive new scheme could energize the Miami defense and fare much better against the run. And Richt won plenty of games in his career at Georgia, so he could reinvigorate a team that didn't reach its full potential during the Al Golden era. 

@david_adler94

sports@dailytarheel.com

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