Miami and North Carolina are very similar in the development of their respective seasons. The Tar Heels might be a step ahead mentally. They’ve already had the Florida State hangover and it wasn’t pretty. Now it’s up to the Canes to guard against a similar fate.
Whereas the Canes dropped a one-point heartbreaker to the Seminoles last week, North Carolina pulled off the upset of the Seminoles the week prior, a heart-pounding 37-35 victory. However, the Tar Heels came out flat in their follow-up game and were hammered by an upstart Virginia Tech team, 34-3, at home in a driving rain that shut down their passing game.
“Well, if those things would have happened to us in a normal situation, I’d be pretty depressed,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said in the ACC weekly teleconference.
“But it is what it is. You know, again, I’m not going to say that the weather caused the problems that we had. We just didn’t handle the elements very well, and we’ve put it behind us and we’re moving on, and hopefully we’ll play much better than we did.”
That’s the trap Miami must be careful of this week as the two ACC Coastal Division challengers tee it up at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Canes have everything in front of them. The next two weeks will be critical in determining whether or not they can earn a first-ever trip to the ACC Championship Game. After hosting North Carolina, the Canes visit Blacksburg for a Thursday night game with Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech (2-0).
Victories in those two games would go a long way toward an initial outright Coastal Division title. Head coach Mark Richt, in his first season at Miami, knows it. His suddenly anemic offense ranks 66th in passing and 43rd in rushing. He’s working overtime to solve problems after his offense started the season by putting up big numbers.
“We’ve got a script of plays that we’re going to run,” Richt said in the weekly teleconference. “We got to run them well. If we’re not, we’re going to repeat it till we get it right. I know the offensive side of the ball had to stick around after practice the last couple of days to get it right. It’s not the first time in the history of college football that’s happened.”
Still, Fedora said he has seen on film a much different Miami team under Richt than the one he saw firsthand last year. That team bowed meekly to the Tar Heels, 59-21, in Chapel Hill.
“Yeah, there’s a significant difference in last year’s team and this year’s team, and Mark has definitely stamped his imprint on this football team,” Fedora said.
Yes, despite the stinging loss to their archrivals last week, Saturday’s game is an even bigger one in relationship to what the Canes hope to accomplish by season’s end. They can’t afford to repeat North Carolina’s debacle if they intend to get back on track and remain a serious contender for the Coastal Division crown.