|No. 8 Miami can't take struggling North Carolina lightly|
Though its fans may be looking ahead to home games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame to start November, No. 8 Miami must first tend to business against unranked and struggling North Carolina in an Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division matchup Saturday at Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Hurricanes (6-0, 4-0 ACC) will be looking to stretch their winning streak to 12 games, their longest since a string of 34 consecutive wins spanning the 2000-2002 seasons. The Tar Heels (1-7, 0-5) will be going for their first victory since a 53-35 win over Old Dominion on Sept. 16. They are coming off a 59-7 pounding by Virginia Tech.
In other words, the Heels are a team that could easily be overlooked, but Miami coach Mark Richt said he doesn't think that will be the case. Though one of only eight undefeated FBS teams, the Hurricanes have won their last three games by a total of 13 points.
"If we were rolling everybody, whipping everybody by three touchdowns, no drama, getting your second- and third-stringers in -- well, we get our second- and third-stringers in anyway -- but if we were having that kind of a roll, maybe," Richt said. "We're just finding ways to win at the end of games.
"We're not foolish enough to think that we've arrived yet. I don't think they believe that. They know we have to earn it."
The Hurricanes needed to convert late drives for 24-20 and 25-24 victories over Florida State and Georgia Tech, respectively. They got a late stop to help secure last week's 27-19 victory over Syracuse.
Some incentive: The Hurricanes are 4-0 in ACC play for the first time since joining the conference in 2004.
And more: They are going into the game with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder because of the "disrespect" they say the Tar Heels displayed toward them last year.
"They disrespected us last year when they beat us," junior defensive end Demetrius Jackson said. "We know what it is. They beat us last year, and they beat us the year before, so we've just got to go out there and do what we need to do."
Injuries have had a huge role in the Tar Heels' woes. They have lost 16 players to injuries, including starters or potential starters such as wide receiver Austin Proehl, defensive tackle Tyler Powell and linebacker Andre Smith.
The situation is so bleak that Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora could only shrug when he was asked about using younger players to give them experience for 2018.
"First of all, those guys are playing," Fedora said. "We don't have a lot of choice in that matter. And I would prefer not bringing anybody out of a redshirt that right now is still in a redshirt.
"We're going to focus on this game and the goal will be to win this football game and to do whatever we need to do to be successful. That's it. That's what it will be every week. That doesn't change."
Though the defense has been shaky at times, giving up 705 yards in total offense in a loss to Louisville and 403 and 341 on the ground to Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, respectively, in back-to-back weeks, the Tar Heels' woes have been magnified on offense.
The Tar Heels rush for only 133 yards per game and pass for 201, figures that are inflated by the 252 they ran for against Old Dominion. Of their 1,607 yards passing, 1,123 came in the first four games. They haven't passed for more than 179 yards in any of their last four.
Fedora, however, isn't pushing the panic button. In fact, he isn't pushing any buttons at all but instead is staying the course in his approach.
"I'm not shaky about my philosophy," he said. "I'm not questioning whether I can coach. I'm not questioning whether our coaches can coach. I'm not questioning those kind of things.
"I know what we're doing and the way we're doing things is proven. You've got to put your nose down and your head down and keep grinding, keep doing it and keep doing it and eventually good things are going to happen."