I didn't make the trip this week to North Carolina, but I'll still be here to watch the game with you on ESPN2 from my living room and talk about the game as it goes on. Plus, I'm sure I'll talk to our Susan Miller Degnan throughout the game with other important updates.
I'll start by sharing my keys to the game and a prediction. As always, feel free to chime in with your thoughts. I think what I'd like to do every week is get you guys to start giving me your predicitons on Canes games, your keys to the game, etc. I'd love to keep count of who gets closest to the final score each week and whose keys turn out to be right on.
Here are my five keys to the game:
- Take the crowd out of the game early: The only time Miami went on the road earlier this year in Oklahoma, the Canes found themselves in trouble quickly after giving up a few big plays early against the Sooners. The Sooner fans were at a high pitch. As safety Randy Phillips told me earlier this week, "We got to make it real quiet so all you hear is that little patch of green and orange in the end zone."
- Win on third down: Nothing helps an underdog and an opposing crowd gain confidence more than when their team is converting first downs on third down and stopping the other team on third and long. Last week against Duke, the Blue Devils managed to stay in the game because they were extremely successful on first and second down and moving close to the third down marker. I didn't keep count, but I know the Blue Devils had a bunch of third down and 1 or third down and 2 situations. It helped them convert much easier. In all Duke was 8 of 15 on third down and UM was 3 of 9. The Canes can't play as poorly this week in Carolina and expect to pull off the win.
- Keep Kyle hot: Miami has won its last two games because quarterback Kyle Wright and the pass offense has been pretty successful. The pass offense, which was once dead last in the ACC, has climbed up to 8th overall and is now averaging 182.4 yards a game. Wright has been deadly accurate in his last two games despite the two interceptions against Duke. The reason? Pass protection and quick decision making. He's only been sacked five times since taking over the starting duties. That's not bad for Kyle. Miami's pass offense cannot revert to what it was doing early this year -- nothing. Carolina's pass defense isn't that bad. They actually are surrendering only 193.8 yards a game through the air than the Canes. Miami's defense is averaging 193.2. Look for a lot of underneath stuff from the Canes in the long run, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Canes try several long passes down field to stretch Carolina's defense.
- Do not give up the big play through the air: Miami's secondary got torched against Oklahoma, giving up 6 touchdown passes. It's marred their season stats, giving them 10 this season. The pass defense is honestly not that bad. But one thing Miami's pass defense has done each of the last three weeks is have a breakdown in coverage. Twice, against FIU and Duke, a fullback was able to come out of the backfield and score on a short pass play that does the distance. Players this week admitted part of that has occured because they lose focus and get bored. Carolina's three receivers Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster and Hakeem Nicks are averaging 16.3 yards per catch and combined for 14 pass plays that have gone for more than 20 yards this season. They can stretch the field.
- Don't get caught up in a battle of egos: Randy Shannon has tried to downplay all week how this game has nothing to do with him and former Canes coach Butch Davis. But knowing both men and their competitive egos, you know they want to win this one bad. Shannon can't let the pressure of being on the road in the hostile environment cause him to make any stupid decisions -- like going for it on fourth down in a bad situation, etc. Davis' team is 1-4, but pretty solid. Still, they simply are not as talented the Canes. Miami should win this game and doesn't need to take any unneccessary risks to do so.
My prediction: UM 27, North Carolina 19. Miami's pass rush should once again have a huge day getting to the quarterback after racking up 9 sacks last week. Line coach Clint Hurtt told me this week he expects his line to get between 8 to 10 sacks. Carolina has given up 15 sacks this season and Miami's pass rush should get to Carolina redshirt freshman quarterback T.J. Yates plenty. It's been awhile, but I think today the Canes defense will score a touchdown. I like Eric Moncur picking up a fumble and rumbling his way into the end zone. Still, I expect a close game. Kyle Wright will throw two touchdown passes -- and Javarris James and Graig Cooper will keep moving the chains.