The UNC football program looks to build on its most successful and all-around performance last weekend when it travels to Miami this week.
The Tar Heels sit at 4-1 and take on a struggling Miami (2-2) program that lost to Middle Tennessee State before its bye week.
Offensively, North Carolina seemingly can’t be stopped and continues to show new ways to get its playmakers involved. Quarterback Drake Maye continues to be one of the top players under center around the country and each week he gets better.
Miami enters this week with a defense that has struggled to contain the pass — a recipe for disaster going up against Maye.
Either way, the Tar Heels will face a hungry Miami squad looking to rebound from a tough start to the season.
Here are the keys to the game for the UNC offense.
Take advantage of the big play potential
Oct 1, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Antoine Green (3) catches a touchdown as Virginia Tech Hokies defensive back Brion Murray (8) defends in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
With the Tar Heels now fully healthy on offense in terms of their key playmakers, there is a clear part of the Miami defense to attack.
The Hurricanes are one of the worst ‘big play’ defenses in the country, giving up 10 passes of at least 30 yards this year — last in the ACC. Also, only two programs in the entire country have allowed more 60-yard plays than Miami. While UNC isn’t going to get a 60-yarder every play, Drake Maye averages 9.7 yards per pass attempt and has at least one 30+ yard completion in every game this year.
North Carolina has shown its wide receivers can beat most defensive backs in one-on-one coverage. With Miami playing largely in man-to-man defense, it could be another game where Maye rips the defense over the top, hitting guys like Josh Downs and Antoine Green down the field.
Win the 3rd down battle
Sep 24, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman Jahfari Harvey (12) tackles Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders running back Frank Peasant (36) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
While the Miami defense has struggled at times this year, one part of the unit that has been relatively consistent has been its play on third downs.
Currently ranked in the top-40 in the country in third down defense, they are allowing just a 33 percent completion rate so far this season.
The Tar Heels on the other hand, are ranked in the top-15 on third down conversions. Through five games, they are converting at a 50 percent rate.
The Carolina offense sees third down an average of 13.6 times per game, so it’s clear this could be a critical part of the matchup.
If Miami holds the UNC offense to a low percentage it could clearly impact the rhythm of the Tar Heels and give the Hurricanes some added confidence.
Utilize the pass to set up the run
Sep 24, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) prepares to hand the ball off to running back Caleb Hood (4) in the first half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
There haven’t been many shortcomings with the UNC offense this season but if you had to pick one, it would probably be the rushing attack.
While the Tar Heels have an average of 5.2 yards per rush, there hasn’t been a consistent use of the running backs throughout each game. While Omarion Hampton has a team-high 56 carries, it’s only four more than Drake Maye. The next leading rusher is the trio of Caleb Hood, DJ Jones and George Pettaway all with 19 carries. Despite the lack of consistent attempts from game-to-game for each runner, everyone has above a 4.6 yard per carry average.
When looking at Miami, the Hurricanes hold opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry this year. That is ranked No. 11 in the country. They have allowed just three touchdowns and a per game average of 87.5 yards.
The Tar Heels lean heavily on its passing attack and with a struggled secondary for Miami, look for that to be the main attack of North Carolina. But, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Phil Longo and Mack Brown try to utilize a strong passing attack to start to set up the running attack later in the game.
Either way, the Tar Heels will need to be able to utilize its running backs in this one and be able to show they can keep up their average against one of the nation’s top rushing defenses.
Solidify a clear No. 3 wide receiver
Sep 10, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Kobe Paysour (8) catches a touchdown pass past Georgia State Panthers linebacker Jacorey Crawford (10) in the first half at Center Parc Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
It’s clear who the top two wide receivers are for Drake Maye and North Carolina; Josh Downs and Antoine Green.
But, after that, it’s been a total group effort — which isn’t a bad thing, at all. Through five games, the Tar Heels have six players with at least 10 receptions and eight players with at least 100 yards receiving.
Out of those six players with 10 catches, two of them are tight ends including Bryson Nesbitt who is the leading pass catcher on the roster.
But, with the potential injury risk of both Downs and Green this season, North Carolina needs to solidify its clear-cut No. 3 true wide receiver. A guy who needs to continue to get involved for this offense is freshman Kobe Paysour. Paysour has the second-most receptions (16) on the team, but 13 of them came in two games. He’s had just one reception in the other three games each.
He’s 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds so he has played at a similar spot on the field as Downs and the coaching staff knows that it’s difficult to get Paysour involved consistently with Downs on the field. But, it’s needed.
“But we have some players who are proving they can win in some one-on-one scenarios. Kobe Paysour showed what he can do from that position that Josh Downs bases out of,” Longo said earlier this year. “Now we know we have more depth. We have more firepower at the receiver position.”
You can never have too many guys who can win one-on-one battles. With someone like Green who can beat defenders down the field as your vertical threat, having an additional wide receiver in a three wide-out set like Paysour who can play alongside Downs at times could be critical moving forward.