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Gameday preview: UM-North Carolina

It's time to preview Saturday's 3:30 kickoff between 12th-ranked Canes (7-2) and North Carolina (6-3) at Kenan Memorial Stadum.

REWIND: The Tar Heels own a 7-5 all-time edge in the series and have won two in a row in the series. Last year, UNC rallied from 24-14 down to beat the Canes 28-24 at Land Shark. The last time Miami was in Chapel Hill, UNC jumped out to a huge lead then held on for a 33-27 win.

Jason Fox > UM wins because... It wins the battle up front the way it did against Oklahoma and quarterback Jacory Harris protects the football. North Carolina's front seven is one of the best in the country. UM coach Randy Shannon said the Tar Heels are even better than Oklahoma -- and the Sooners had  monster defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Ryan Beal. Carolina has ACC Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Robert Quinn (6-7, 250), He'll go head-to-head all afternoon with left tackle Jason Fox. In the middle, Orlando Franklin, AJ Trump, Joel Figueroa and Harland Gunn will have their hands full with Marvin Austin (6-3, 305) and Cam Thomas (6-4, 325). Neither of those match-ups are easy, but winnable. On top of that, Carolina has two studs at outside linebacker in Quan Strudivant (6-2, 235) and Bruce Carter (6-3, 230). It will be up to UM's running backs to beat those guys. Georgia Tech certainly did, piling up more than 300 yards on the ground. 

This game is ultimately to come down to can Miami win those individual, physical matchups up front, establish a running game and avoid going three-and-out on offense. Carolina wants to play ball control offense and keep Jacory and the offense off the field. If Miami moves the ball and scores points in some way shape or form -- even field goals -- the Canes should win this game because Carolina is too banged up on offense to outscore Miami.

> North Carolina wins because... Their defense dominates, creates turnovers and UNC's offense pounds the football down the Canes throats' with tailback Ryan Houston. Make no mistake, the loss of Shaun Draughn to a season-ending shoulder injury was a huge blow to the Carolina offense that was already lacking punch. Houston (6-2, 245) can be a load. But he was pretty sore after carrying the football 37 times last week in a 19-6 win versus Duke. He'll have to do the same this week for Carolina to move the ball and score points. When UNC won at Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels had three long scoring drives that chewed up clock. Most, if not all the yardage, came on the ground. Bottomline: Carolina can not keep up with the Canes' offense if this turns into a scoring fest. If the Tar Heels win this game, it's because they dominate defensively, create turnovers and control the clock with their running game.

> My pick: UM 22, UNC 15. Of the final three regular season games, this one is definitely the one I believe UM has the best shot at losing. But the fact Carolina is so inept offensively -- and one dimensional -- gives me the confidence can win this game even if it makes a few mistakes on offense. After all, in the games Miami has struggled this season, their opponents have had good, smart quarterbacks who knew how to pick apart the secondary. Wake Forest had Riley Skinner. Clemson had Kyle Parker and an excellent of receivers. And even Virginia Tech had Tyrod Taylor. TJ Yates is not that good. Susan Miller Degnan is going with the Canes 31-24.


> Offense: Javarris James. When UM beat the most physical team it faced this season, they turned to Baby J to provide the tough yards and set the tone. James is back this week and should have the most success of UM's three primary backs in this game.
> Defense: Darryl Sharpton. Houston is a big dude, the kind of back built for Sharpton (6-0, 235) to handle. Miami's defense can win this game if it can completely shut down UNC's one-dimensional offense. Sharpton could have a huge day plugging the middle.
> Special teams: Matt Bosher. North Carolina does a very good job shutting down punt returns and I don't think Thearon Collier or Graig Cooper will get many opportunities to make a came-changing play. In a game like this field goals and field position will be huge. Bosher is one of the best in the country at both. Advantage: Canes.