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UNC football players discuss upcoming Miami game at Tuesday press conference

UNC sophomore running back Caleb Hood (4) runs past a tackle during a home football game at Kenan Stadium against Virginia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. UNC won 41-10.

Sophomore defensive back DeAndre Boykins said that following UNC's 41-10 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, the atmosphere upon returning to the locker room was electric.

"Everybody was excited, cheering, dancing," he said.

It was a massive shift from the week before. 

The decisive victory over the Hokies followed a 45-32 loss to Notre Dame, after which Boykins said everybody was down on themselves because they knew they could have won.

Still, the players aren’t feeling either these highs or these lows going into their game against Miami. Despite the Hurricanes' recent upset loss to Middle Tennessee State, UNC is still expecting a competitive matchup.

“It’s every Saturday, college football," Boykins said. "Anybody can win.”

The team’s players-only meetings have been crucial to the players staying on top of their game throughout the week. Junior defensive lineman Desmond Evans said this week’s meeting was a success because it allowed everyone to get on the same page and bring their opinions to the group. 

This kind of camaraderie exists on the UNC team despite a starting lineup that varies each week. 

One area of adjustment is in the running back room. Junior D.J. Jones was initially tapped as UNC's No. 1 running back following British Brooks' season-ending injury. He was quickly overtaken by first-year Omarion Hampton, who burst onto the scene with 101 yards and two touchdowns in his collegiate debut at Georgia State. On Saturday against Virginia Tech, though, sophomore Caleb Hood earned the first start of his career.

Hood said the constant rotation doesn’t affect his relationship with his fellow running backs. Instead, the sophomore said it allows him to learn from the others, especially Jones and Hampton, and vice versa.

“There’s definitely competition, but it’s all fun though," Hood said. "We’re all cool.” 

Hood had seven carries for 32 yards in the game against Virginia Tech, following a career-high 87 yards a few weeks ago against Appalachian State. 

Graduate offensive lineman Ed Montilus said he isn't surprised Hood earned the start last week.

“Caleb’s a guy who works very hard in practice, we know that," Montilus said. "Coaches can put him in at any time (and) he’s gonna run hard."

Despite a constantly evolving lineup, there’s one player who’s guaranteed to be on the field for this weekend's game — starting quarterback Drake Maye. 

Montilus said he likes blocking for Maye because of his quick decision-making and improvisation. Both Montilus and Hood complimented the redshirt first-year on his ability to cover for any mistakes in the offensive line or run game, which is critical for a team that relies on its aggressive 'air raid'-style offense. 

“Once he sees it, he goes for it," Hood said, "and most of the time, he’s right.” 

UNC’s defense has weathered criticism in previous games, and according to Evans, the win against Virginia Tech is just the start for them. He described their mentality off the field as “standards over feelings," and said the team shows up to practice every day just looking to see where it can improve rather than harping on mistakes.

Many of the Tar Heels’ steps towards improvement come from ‘accountability Sundays,' where they discuss issues from previous games. Assistant head coach for the defense Gene Chizik’s main point for this week was “execute the play call” — something that will be important against a Miami offensive line that Evans said is strong. 

Aside from earning the win in Miami Gardens on Saturday, the Tar Heels are looking for more success than just making it into the end zone. 

“My role is to be the greatest teammate I can," Evans said. "If I do that, everything will come together."

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