Hey, Canes fans! It's week 2 and after a tough loss two weeks ago against the Florida Gators, we dive right into conference play. Enter the newly revamped and confident North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC is coming into this week's game riding a high after upsetting their rival, South Carolina. Can the Canes sober up the Tar Heels?
Week 2 is finally here. It feels like the Canes haven’t played in 2 months and honestly, I was getting a bit anxious. The Miami Hurricanes get set to take on the Tar Heels on Saturday at 8 PM in front of a sold-out crowd at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC. Cane Maven caught up with Heels Maven publisher Brant Wilkerson-New this week to discuss the matchup between the Canes and Tar Heels. Check out what he had to say:
1. Coming off a big win against a rival, has Mack Brown injected new life into this program?
Brant Wilkerson-New: Oh yeah. Things couldn’t be more different than last season, where after a few games, it was pretty clear the Tar Heels would be headed for a coaching change.
It’s not just winning the first game that has changed the mood. Mack Brown and his staff built up trust with players by asking for their feedback about things they could improve, and during the offseason, they updated the player's lounge, renovated the locker and weight rooms and put in a new turf field. In addition, they investigated the source of the injuries that hit the program over the past few years and have adjusted the strength and conditioning program, and several times, players have referenced the staff “taking care” of them.
Guys are spending more time hanging out at the facility and it’s pretty obvious there’s more of a family feeling to the program. Saturday’s win just confirmed everything we’d heard over the past few months.
2. What type of offense have the Tar Heels implemented this year? Are things running smoothly? Who is standing out?
BWN: Offensive coordinator Phil Longo came over from Ole Miss, where he had quite a bit of success over the past few years, and before that at Sam Houston State, he led some of the most ridiculous attacks in the FCS ranks.
Since meeting Mike Leach in 1997, he’s been an Air Raid guy, but Longo has put his own variation on it with an emphasis on the power run game. How much of an emphasis, we didn’t realize until Saturday when Carolina ran the ball 52 times and really controlled the game with their trio of running backs, Javonte Williams, Michael Carter and Antonio Williams.
Running back is the best position group on the roster while receiver is a little more of a question. Dazz Newsome has elite speed and quickness, but behind him, no one has truly established themselves as a consistent threat, although Dyami Brown and Beau Corrales clearly had big plays on Saturday, while Toe Groves had a few chances to show his speed.
Howell, obviously, exceeded expectations in his first start despite some pretty conservative playcalling in the first half. The kid is confident and tough, and at times, maybe a little too much for his own good. He’ll need to do a better job of sliding and avoiding contact this week.
3. Aside from Sam Howell, who are some of the player's Canes fans need to be aware of?
BNW: Defense was the most dramatic improvement for Carolina on Saturday, and given the new 3-4 scheme, nose Aaron Crawford and lineman Jason Strowbridge have a huge impact. It’s hard to define their positions, because Bateman moves guys in his defense s much and, at one point, no one on the field had their hand in the dirt. Crawford and Strowbridge are both future NFL guys and can cause a ruckus up front.
The two Myles at safety are strong, as Wolfolk had two picks on Saturday and Dorn is the leader of the defense. Chazz Surratt was a big surprise, as the former QB led the Tar Heels with 12 tackles on Saturday in his first game at the position. He’s got the speed and athleticism to be a really good player, but is still learning the position.
4. Where do you believe UNC may have the edge over Miami? Whether it be matchup wise(DL vs. OL) or positionally (Williams > Howell at QB)?
BNW: The Tar Heels will have the edge at running back in every game and that will be the emphasis in every game, rotating all three players and riding the hot hand. The question, obviously, will be whether the offensive line is good enough to open up the same gaps against a good, athletic Miami front.
Howell might have an edge at QB, but otherwise, the Canes have more talent all over the field. Brown has said repeatedly that he believes Miami’s talent is the closest in the league to Clemson, and in some spots, comparable.
5. With the impending hurricane forecasted for a possible landfall in the Carolinas, how will that affect game time and location?
BNW: It seems we’ll be mostly out of the woods in this area. Having experienced a major hurricane last year, people seemed to take things seriously, get prepared and evacuate from coastal areas.
It’ll kick off as scheduled on Saturday night, and given the new turf field and a top-notch drainage system, there should be no effects on the game.
6. What is your prediction for Saturday?
BNW: 8 p.m. kickoffs have been a rarity in Chapel Hill, so that combined with Mack’s return, winning on Saturday and what’s should be a nice day for tailgating. It’s a sellout and should be among the best atmospheres for a game than we’ve seen in a long time around here.
On the field, I’m expecting a close game that will be decided by one score in either direction.
Miami has the talent advantage and what should be an aggressive, opportunistic defense. The game will come down to Howell’s handling of that pressure and minimizing his mistakes, and on defense, Carolina will need to find a way to generate some pressure so Williams doesn’t have time to pick apart the secondary. As good as the safeties are, there are some questions at cornerback, especially with Trey Morrison listed as questionable. Ending up with a true freshman covering Thomas, Harley or Osborn isn’t a recipe for success.
Game time is 8 PM on the ACC Network. If you don’t have the ACC Network, get it! Or go to a bar or something.
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