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Wednesday December 7th

Preview: UNC football must build on solid play to secure fourth-straight win over Miami

UNC first-year quarterback Drake Maye (10) is escorted off the field with head coach Mack Brown after a tough hurdle jump during a home football game at Kenan Stadium against Virginia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. UNC won 41-10.
Buy Photos UNC first-year quarterback Drake Maye (10) is escorted off the field with head coach Mack Brown after a tough hurdle jump during a home football game at Kenan Stadium against Virginia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. UNC won 41-10.

North Carolina needed to respond after a brutal 45-32 loss to Notre Dame in Kenan Stadium, and the Tar Heels did just that with a critical 41-10 win over Virginia Tech last Saturday to open ACC play.

Now, they head to Miami to play a Hurricanes team looking for a bounce-back game of its own under first-year head coach Mario Cristobal. 

UNC has won all three matchups against Miami under head coach Mack Brown, including a 45-42 thriller last year and a 62-26 thrashing of the then-tenth ranked Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium in 2020.

Here are three keys to another UNC victory over Miami.

Limit explosive plays

After allowing at least four plays of 20-plus yards in each of their last three games, the Tar Heels limited Virginia Tech to only two such plays, resulting in just two scoring drives for the Hokies. 

"It was the first time we’ve probably put together four quarters where we could say we were consistent in the execution,” assistant head coach for defense Gene Chizik said in Monday's press conference.

Preventing the big plays that have plagued the team will be critical against the Hurricanes, especially considering the success of Miami’s quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. 

Van Dyke threw for 264 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against UNC last year, but his play in the second half nearly brought Miami back from an 18-point deficit. In his final six starts in 2021, Van Dyke threw for 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions while the Hurricanes ended the year with five wins in those six games. 

This year, though, Van Dyke has struggled under Cristobal and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, throwing just four touchdowns compared to three interceptions. His yards per attempt (6.9) and completion percentage (59.3) have decreased, yet Chizik described him as a quarterback who “sees the field very well” and can “make every throw.” Despite the regression, it's clear that Van Dyke’s physical attributes and confidence will give the Tar Heel defense a lot to worry about. 

Avoid negative early down plays

Redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye and the UNC offense have been successful so far in 2022, but one thing that still bothers Brown is the team's inconsistency in gaining positive yardage on early downs. 

Brown said there have been “way too many third-and-longs” over the course of the season, and described the situation as the one aspect that UNC’s offense needs to improve on. 

While Miami’s defense has been susceptible to giving up long touchdowns in recent games  — including three 60-plus yard touchdowns allowed in a loss to Middle Tennessee State  — those largely came down to mistakes in execution, said UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Being successful on early downs and not having to rely on blown Miami coverages should make third down situations easier for the unit.

Take what the defense gives you 

UNC has put together a balanced approach to the offense this year, with Maye leading the nation with 19 passing touchdowns alongside a running back committee that has been productive on the ground.

“This is very similar to kind of the 2020 year, where we ran the ball for 550 yards against Miami and then threw for 550 (yards) vs. Wake Forest,” Longo said. 

According to Longo, the Hokies gave the Tar Heels a "stacked box", meaning more opportunities for downfield passing and less favorable run looks. The Hurricanes have been one of the top run defenses nationally, only allowing opponents to run for 85 yards per game, but with the big play ability for the Tar Heels so far this year, it might be a situation where the Hurricanes utilize lighter boxes and more shell-like coverages.

Regardless, Longo and the offense will need to be able to adapt to whatever the Hurricanes show defensively in order to keep up in what could end up being a shootout.

@emorylyda41

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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