Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:02 AM

North Carolina at Miami

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This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes from the ACC in a matchup many figured would be a key game in the ACC Coastal standings. Neither team has the record they hoped for heading into the final week of September, but both teams remain without a loss in conference play, with the winner of this game remaining a threat in the quest to reach the ACC Championship.

Match-up: North Carolina Tar Heels at Miami Hurricanes
Venue: At Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida
Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 27, 8:00 PM ET ESPN
Line: Miami -18, Over/Under 55
Last Meeting: 2017, Miami (-21) 24, at North Carolina 19

After winning 10 games in a row to start last season and reaching #2 in the polls, the Hurricanes closed last season with three straight defeats and Mark Richt’s squad lost in the 2018 opener despite being considered a top 10 caliber team in the opening polls. The Hurricanes weren’t overly competitive in that 33-17 defeat against LSU in Arlington but have since rallied to reach 3-1 ahead of this week’s ACC opener.

The big storyline is the quarterback decision Richt faces this week. Senior Malik Rosier led the team to great success last season with a 3,000-yard passing season while also rushing for nearly 500 yards. He had 26 touchdowns last season but also 14 interceptions and completed only 54 percent of his passes. Rosier had two interceptions in the opening loss to LSU, but had played well the previous two games with wins over FCS Savannah State and Toledo. Last week, Rosier was benched after Miami failed to score on the first two possessions hosting Florida International, even though he attempted only three passes.

Taking over was freshman N’Kosi Perry, a taller and quicker Ocala product that played well in mop-up action against Savannah State. Perry was sharp with 68 percent completions in relief against FIU, leading an eventual 31-17 win in a game Miami controlled with a 31-0 edge before allowing late scoring. Perry does have two interceptions in his 39 pass attempts but also six touchdown passes with a much higher completion rate than Rosier has featured. He didn’t take meaningful snaps in either of Miami’s road games and it will be a quick turnaround with the Thursday game and less practice time with the first team if Perry is indeed starting against North Carolina as most expect.

Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas have provided a strong rushing presence for the Hurricanes as although each has just one rushing touchdown, they have combined for 500 yards with productive averages. Jeff Thomas has been the big play threat in the passing game with a whopping 315 receiving yards on only 12 catches as Miami’s offense can remain capable with either quarterback.

Miami became a national phenomenon last season with the turnover chain and this season the Hurricanes have been formidable on pass defense with four interceptions while holding opposing quarterbacks to just a 49 percent completion rate. Miami has been among the elite rush defenses in the nation with just 2.1 yards per rush allowed in four games with run defense a consistent area of strength since Richt took over. Miami has an even turnover margin on the season and the only defensive touchdown of the season came on a blocked punt and it was also in the fourth quarter of a FCS game that was 56-0 at the time.

North Carolina was in the summer headlines for the wrong reasons with a shoe selling scandal with 13 players ultimately suspended for various lengths staggered over the start of the season. Last season’s passing leader sophomore Chazz Surratt was among those with a four-game suspension, effectively handing the quarterback competition win to junior Nathan Elliott after they split time last season.

The suspension for Surratt is now over even through just three games as the cancelled game with UCF did count. Elliott has been named the starter this week coming off a fine performance in a win over Pittsburgh last weekend. He threw for 313 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns leading North Carolina’s first win 38-35. That performance was needed after a four interception season debut at California while also struggling in the loss to East Carolina.

The 0-2 start was a surprise for a Tar Heels team that many expected to compete in the Coastal race. The Tar Heels were a disappointment at 3-9 last season but the team played well in the season’s final month and now with the roster more completely intact this is a team that is a threat to make noise in the division race. North Carolina has leaned on Antonio Williams in the ground game with 6.6 yards per carry, so far unseating Jordon Brown who was the team’s top rusher last season.

Run defense has been an area of concern with 4.8 yards per carry surrendered, but the Tar Heels have been fairly tough on opposing quarterbacks with four interceptions for the defense along with only three passing touchdowns allowed. After being -4 in turnovers in the opener, the Tar Heels are even since but the defense has allowed over 900 yards in the past two games after holding California to fewer than 300 yards in the opener.

These teams were on opposite ends of the standings in a late October game in Chapel Hill last season with Miami ranked #8 nationally and undefeated playing as a road favorite vs. a then 1-7 North Carolina team that was 0-5 in ACC play. The Tar Heels competed well with a 7-6 game at the half before Miami went for 78 yards on its first offensive snap in the third quarter. North Carolina still only trailed by four heading into the fourth quarter and had the ball back down five in the final minutes before losing a fumble in Miami territory. The production numbers were similar with North Carolina actually featuring a slight yardage edge but also four turnovers.

This spread suggests the gap between these programs has closed a bit since last season and this is potentially a dangerous date on the schedule for Miami with the Florida State game up next weekend. All eyes will be on Perry in his most significant test with Richt putting himself open to criticism as Rosier has won a lot of games for the Hurricanes. Perry might provide the best hope for an ACC title shot however with this game a big step in the season goals for both teams.

Historical Trends:

-- North Carolina has covered in nine of the last 14 meetings including in each of the past three seasons, winning S/U in 2015 and 2016 before a five-point loss last season.

-- Miami is just 3-8 ATS as a favorite in this series since 2004, but most of the failures in this series have been in Chapel Hill where Miami has covered once in seven tries.

-- Since 2002 Miami is just 31-48 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more points, including going 22-36 ATS in Miami and going 3-6 ATS since the start of last season in that role.

-- North Carolina is 13-8-1 ATS in road games since 2014 while going 10-8 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2007.

-- Only twice since 2007 has North Carolina been an underdog of 17 or more points and both instances came in the span of week last season with contrasting results with a 59-7 loss at Virginia Tech and the five-point loss hosting Miami.

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