The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: ACC foes will collide in the Sunshine State this weekend as the 25th-ranked Miami-Florida Hurricanes host the North Carolina Tar Heels.
North Carolina has been in the news a great deal this season because of allegations that some of its top players accepted improper benefits from agents during the offseason. As a result, the Tar Heels have been forced to play short-handed and lost the first two games of this season. Give Butch Davis and his staff credit for turning things around, however, as UNC has won its last four games, including last weekend's 44-10 thrashing of Virginia.
"We've got good kids - this is a good group of football players," said coach Davis when asked about the team's ability to overcome off-field issues. "They've got a lot of character, a lot of integrity."
Like UNC, Miami owns a 4-2 record, and Randy Shannon's Hurricanes are coming off a 28-13 victory over Duke last weekend. Of the six remaining games on the schedule, including this weekend's tilt, four will take place at home, an obvious advantage for the 'Canes.
North Carolina owns an 8-5 series lead over Miami, which includes three straight wins over the Hurricanes.
North Carolina is scoring 28.7 ppg while gaining 376.8 total ypg. The Tar Heels struggle in the running game, as they are generating just 125.3 ypg at a clip of 3.6 yards per carry. Both Johnny White and Shaun Draughn have scored four rushing touchdowns to pace the squad. As for the passing attack, T.J. Yates has taken almost every snap for coach Davis and has completed 66.5 percent of his tosses for 1,495 yards and 11 touchdowns against only one interceptions. Zack Pianalto was leading the team in catches with 30, but he was lost for the season last week with a broken fibula.
Defensively, UNC has been able to limit opponents to 19.3 ppg and 332.0 total ypg despite missing many key components for much of this season. The best player for the defense, Marvin Austin, was at the center of the improper benefits scandal and has already been released from the team. Still, the Heels have excelled, especially against the pass, as they are permitting just 9.9 yards per completion with 11 interceptions and just six passing scores allowed.
In the romp over Virginia last week, UNC posted 479 yards while allowing only 335 total yards. While the Heels committed just one turnover, a lost fumble, they came up with five takeaways, all of which were interceptions. Yates completed 17-of-22 passes for 325 yards with three scores in that tilt, and Dwight Jones exploded for seven catches for 198 yards and two scores.
"I think that Dwight Jones had by far his finest game as a Tar Heel," said coach Davis. "I thought T.J. Yates' poise and calm with the football generated big, explosive plays."
Miami is generating 32.5 ppg and 370.5 total ypg, and with the exception of the team's loss to Florida State, the offense has been fairly solid in most outings. Quarterback Jacory Harris is counted on heavily in this offense, and he has completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 895 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The player to watch on the outside in Leonard Hankerson, as he has 23 catches for 388 yards and six scores. As for the ground attack, Damien Berry leads the charge with 327 rushing yards.
Moving the ball and scoring points against the Miami defense has proven to be difficult, as the team is limiting foes to 15.0 ppg and 266.8 total ypg. The Hurricanes are permitting just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt, far more impressive than the 12.4 yards per pass completion that they are surrendering. A total of 17 sacks is solid, and the 'Canes have come up with 10 takeaways as well. Sean Spence has recorded a team-high 38 tackles for Miami, including eight TFLs.
Miami got a strong performance from tailback Damien Berry against Duke last week, as he rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Harris was solid under center, throwing for 224 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The defense of the 'Canes limited Duke to 292 total yards and recorded a staggering total of seven takeaways, including five interceptions.
"This was a big win for us today, especially the way we came in and caused turnovers," said coach Shannon. "I thought that was huge."