No. 12 Hurricanes travel to face Tar Heels
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)T.J. Yates doesn't want to think about the fact that North Carolina is a win from bowl eligibility.
"We know we've got to win some ballgames and the situation will take care of itself," the quarterback said.
He might as well be speaking for both his Tar Heels and 12th-ranked Miami heading into Saturday's game. North Carolina seemingly has regrouped from a midseason funk to get back into the bowl picture. The Hurricanes still have a chance to win their division in the Atlantic Coast Conference - though Miami would need help.
That's why both teams have to just focus on the game they're playing, if for no other reason than to not worry about all the other possible scenarios.
The Hurricanes (7-2, 4-2 ACC) need No. 7 Georgia Tech to lose at Duke, which would give them the chance to claim the division by winning out thanks to their head-to-head win against the Yellow Jackets in September. But coach Randy Shannon said his team can't afford to worry about that game, saying Miami's focus needs to be on a North Carolina team that has beaten Virginia Tech and improved Duke the past two weeks.
"Watching North Carolina on tape, their record does not indicate what kind of team this is," Shannon said. "That team beat Virginia Tech, so they are clearly capable of doing great things."
Besides, Miami shouldn't need reminders of what North Carolina (6-3, 2-3) can do. The Tar Heels have beaten the Hurricanes the past two seasons, which coincided with Butch Davis' arrival in Chapel Hill. Davis spent six seasons at Miami in the late 1990s and rebuilt the program into a national power before leaving for the NFL.
In addition, Miami has lost all three games its played in Chapel Hill. In 2004, North Carolina upset Miami on a last-second field goal for what still ranks as the Tar Heels' only win against a top-five opponent. Two seasons ago, North Carolina led 27-0 at halftime and held on for a 33-27 victory in Davis' first season.
Last year in Miami, North Carolina scored the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute and ended the game with an end zone interception for a 28-24 victory.
"Coach Shannon has been talking about it a lot this week and telling us how we're 0-3 up there," quarterback Jacory Harris said. "We haven't beaten them down here either in a couple of years. It's going to be a tough trip going up there playing against a good defense and good offense and overall good team."
That might be true, but North Carolina has yet to prove that it's a consistently good team. The Tar Heels own the nation's fifth-ranked total defense that shut down the Blue Devils' passing attack and held Duke to 125 total yards, but the offense has been an up-and-down unit that has been at its worst in the team's losses.
The Tar Heels are trying to use their rushing attack to take the pressure off Yates, who has been criticized often was even hit by a coin or a pin thrown at him in his own stadium after the loss to Florida State. They lost starting tailback Shaun Draughn to a season-ending shoulder injury on his first carry last week, but Ryan Houston - typically the goal-line and short-yardage back - responded with career highs of 37 carries and 164 yards.
This is North Carolina's final home game, with trips to Boston College and rival North Carolina State to close the regular season. While the Tar Heels need one win to become bowl eligible, they also know that a strong finish could give them a more desirable postseason location.
Then again, the motivation might be as simple as keeping their modest win streak alive.
"I'm just looking for the next win," defensive end Robert Quinn said. "I'm just looking for the next win and keep it going from there."