Miami takes on UNC for homecoming in another crucial ACC matchup

Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya has thrown 17 touchdown passes this season.

Brett Davis/Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Homecoming brings another crucial Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division matchup this weekend.

Miami (5-3, 2-2 ACC), which has won two games in a row, hosts North Carolina (4-4, 2-2 ACC) Saturday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium. Both teams trail Duke (6-1, 2-1 ACC) and Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2 ACC), finding themselves in a four-way tie with Pittsburgh and Virginia in the standings.

Needless to say another loss in the conference would likely mean the end of Miami’s shot at claiming the Coastal and reaching the ACC title game for the first time. The Hurricanes, therefore, are approaching each week of the remaining schedule as an elimination game.

"We’re treating every game like that," head coach Al Golden said. "It’s just one game at a time. We’re not really worried about anything else. North Carolina is the most important game of the season because it’s the next one, because they’re playing really well right now, scoring a lot of points and just came off their best defensive effort. That’s it. That’s all of our focus. We can’t worry about anything else if we don’t take care of what we need to take care of."

North Carolina upset Virginia with a 28-27 comeback victory last Saturday. Backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw the 16-yard go-ahead touchdown, while the defense held the Cavaliers to a field goal in the second half.

The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 9-8. The Hurricanes hold a 6-4 record at home, but UNC has been victorious in two of the last three meetings. After dropping three in a row from 2007-09, Miami has won three of four. Last season, Stephen Morris and Dallas Crawford orchestrated a last-minute game-winning drive in Chapel Hill.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Miami’s left tackle vs. North Carolina’s rush

Junior left tackle Ereck Flowers sustaining a knee injury dealt another blow to an ever-thinning offensive line already without freshman Kc McDermott and sophomore Taylor Gadbois.

When asked to explain in laymen’s terms the difference between the left and right tackle, Golden made it simple: "Quarterback can see it coming from the right side. That’s the big difference. It still hurts either way."

'Canes set to honor Jim Kelly

Flowers, who had started 21 straight games, was responsible for protecting freshman Brad Kaaya’s blind side. Kaaya could stay calm in the pocket knowing Flowers had his back.

Senior Jon Feliciano would likely move from the right side of the line to Flowers’ spot. In Feliciano’s place at right tackle will be either freshman Trevor Darling, sophomore Alex Gall or redshirt freshman Sunny Odogwu.

At least one of those guys has appeared in each game of the season. None of them have started a game in college. Miami preaches a "next" mentality, especially with a 10-man rotation, so Saturday will be the perfect test.

Offensive coordinator James Coley believes Darling will be fine after what happened against Virginia Tech. As Coley heard "We need a tackle, we need a tackle" over the headset, he watched as Darling sprinted out onto the field and went in for four plays during the fourth quarter.

"He’s ready to go," Golden said. "He’s gotten a lot of work with the 1s and he’s gotten enough reps now where he’s ready to go for this opportunity. Obviously (Hunter) Wells, Gall, Sunny, Joe Brown have to continue to come on too. I feel badly for Ereck, but it’s a great opportunity for those guys to step up and answer the bell."

The Tar Heels pose an interesting challenge. Their perimeter guys come with untraditional blitzes, according to Coley. They have forced 18 turnovers, which ranks 12th in the nation. In six of seven games, they have intercepted at least one pass (11 total).

Over the past four games, the Hurricanes have permitted just four sacks. The line has paved the way for 699 rushing yards (1,077 total) in the last two contests. North Carolina has four multi-sack games (14 total sacks by eight players). Junior defensive end Jessie Rogers paces the unit with four. In the win over Virginia, the Tar Heels collected six tackles for a loss.

"They do a really good job of making things messy for you on an offensive perspective," Coley said. "They give you funky looks and things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be with a defense until the ball snaps. … We’ve had to adjust within drives and games some stuff we probably didn’t see in practice. I’m sure it’ll be the same thing this week."

TRENDING UP

North Carolina: The defense has picked off a pass in seven of eight games this season, returning three for touchdowns. The offense averages 37.4 points per game, good for first in the ACC and 19th in the nation. UNC has scored 30-or-more points in all but two and 40-plus in half of them. The Tar Heels have scored on 31 of 34 red-zone possessions with 26 touchdowns.

Miami: The Hurricanes are 12-1 in their last 13 home games at Sun Life Stadium. The defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown over the past two weeks. Junior running back Duke Johnson has rushed for 100-plus yards in four straight games.

'Canes defense

TRENDING DOWN

North Carolina: Defensively, the Tar Heels allow 80.8 plays per game (second-to-last nationally) and 41.3 points (four-worst). North Carolina is 1-3 on the road and in day games this season. In each of the team’s losses, the opponent scored 30-plus points.

Miami: The Hurricanes are 1-2 when trailing at halftime and 3-15 overall with Golden as coach. Miami is 0-2 this season and 1-8 since 2011 when scoring fewer than 20 points. In each of Miami’s losses in 2014, the team has collected fewer rushing — and total — yards than the opponent.

INJURY REPORT

North Carolina: Questionable — RB Elijah Hood (undisclosed) (according to sportsnetwork.com)

Miami: Out — OL Ereck Flowers (lower extremity), DL Corey King (upper extremity), WR Rashawn Scott (upper extremity); Surgery/Out for the season — OL Kc McDermott (lower extremity), OL Taylor Gadbois (lower extremity), FB Ronnie Regula (lower extremity), K Matt Goudis (lower extremity), DB Rayshawn Jenkins (lower extremity).

DID YOU KNOW?

— Jim Kelly is the honorary captain for Saturday’s homecoming game. It has been declared a "#KellyTough Green Out" to show support in the fight against cancer, which Kelly was able to beat earlier in the year.

Ereck Flowers out

— Miami will honor Jerome Brown and Russell Maryland as members of the ring of honor.

— Johnson is 51 yards away from moving past James Jackson for third in program history in rushing.

— North Carolina is tied for first in the country with three interception returns for touchdowns.

— Five players have thrown a touchdown for the Tar Heels, something no other program has done in 2014. All 12 of UNC’s opponents have records at or above .500.

QUOTE BOARD

"I’m happy he’s coming back. Him and my dad were roommates when they were here. My dad is excited to see him. I’m happy, and I haven’t seen him in a long time since I was a little kid. I’m happy to see him. Especially here at Miami the tradition is so prestigious and anytime we see a guy we haven’t seen in a while we welcome him back." — Senior defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo on Jim Kelly’s return for homecoming week

"Of course not. I don’t think I’ve played a perfect game yet. There’s always something I can do better. Like on the play when Brad threw the ball to me and it was low and I still dropped it. It’s still a negative because I touched it with both hands." — Junior running back Duke Johnson on whether he graded out at 100 against Virginia Tech

"It was great. We didn’t get off the field. That was the best part. But it was cold, so I just sat next to the heater the whole time." — Senior linebacker Denzel Perryman on the defense forcing three straight Hokies fumbles

"We play a big part in the run game. We go in and dig out safeties, corners, sometimes linebackers. We take that to heart. We love blocking. That’s something you’re going to have to do and it’s a good thing for your resume. We don’t have a problem. We’re not selfish receivers." — Senior receiver Phillip Dorsett on his unit helping the run game

"Whenever I get another opportunity or whenever I’ve got the ball in my hands I’ve got to try and make something happen." — Sophomore wideout Stacy Coley on how the Wildcat wrinkles could help him bounce back

LOOKING AHEAD

Miami gets its second off week of the season, this time to prep for No. 2 Florida State’s visit on Nov. 15.

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.