Renner's return boosts Tar Heel hopes tonight against No. 10 Miami
After losing as many times in its first five games this season as it did all of last year, North Carolina (1-4, 0-2 ACC) has been called the most disappointing team in the country by the Associated Press and the biggest disappointment in the ACC by almost everyone.
Now the Tar Heels have a chance to redeem themselves in front of a national audience when they host No. 10 Miami (5-0, 1-0) Thursday night at Kenan Stadium (7:45 p.m., ESPN).
“All eyes are on you,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “It should be a lot of fun. I think our guys are jacked up and excited about playing.”
It’s the second-ever ESPN Thursday night home game for UNC, following a 30-27 loss to Florida State in 2009.
Tonight’s game was supposed to be a matchup of two Coastal Division frontrunners. Miami has done its part, ranking ninth in the country in both scoring offense (45.2) and scoring defense (16.0) and making it into the AP top 10 for the first time since 2009.
But UNC has continued its defensive struggles from last season, while the offense hasn’t come close to last year’s school-record setting production.
The Tar Heels will have senior Bryn Renner back at quarterback after the senior missed the previous game at Virginia Tech with a left ankle injury. That will come in handy against the Hurricanes, who are first in the nation in passing yards allowed (141.4) and pass efficiency defense (83.08) and have only allowed two passing touchdowns.
Miami coach Al Golden said his team hasn’t faced an offense like UNC’s yet.
“These guys are at warp speed,” Golden said. “They’re really fast and they have a quarterback who is really bright, and who can see it. I’m sure he’s healthy now. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
Still, UNC has still struggled to replace the three offensive lineman that were taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.
“We’re making progress,” Fedora said. “We’re not where we want to be but I’m not sure we’re at where we want to be any position on the field right now. If we were we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in.”
The team is also still seeking to find an every-down running back to take the place of Giovani Bernard, who now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Tar Heels used four running backs against Virginia Tech — senior A.J. Blue, sophomore Romar Morris and true freshmen Khris Francis and T.J. Logan.
“Ideally I’d like one guy to step up and be really productive and stay on the field,” Fedora said. “If you’re hot, you’re producing, then you’re going to get the reps. We’re still waiting on somebody to do that.”
UNC is hoping its tempo and its ability to spread the field horizontally will negate Miami’s size advantage on defense.
“Getting them out on open grass is better for us than packing them in, so we’ll try to utilize the field as much as we can,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said.
On defense, UNC will be facing what associate coach Vic Koenning called “Deep Pass Central” — which could be problematic for a unit that has been known to give up big plays, including passes of 83 and 45 yards against Virginia Tech.
That loss all but ended UNC’s hopes for a division title. Still, the Tar Heels can start to make up for a disappointing start by knocking off a top 10 team for the first time since 2004, when the team beat No. 4 Miami at Kenan.
“We have a chance to still get into a bowl game, and that’s our goal,” Renner said. “We’re not going to be satisfied unless we finish our season with good character and play for pride. That’s all we have right now.”
NOTES — Miami is 15-3 on Thursday night ESPN games. UNC is 6-5, but 10 of those have been away from home, including this year’s season-opening loss to South Carolina. … Miami is 1-4 all-time at UNC, but the Hurricanes won the last meeting in Chapel Hill two years ago. … Backup tight end/linebacker Jack Tabb is suspended for the first half by NCAA rules because he was ejected in the second half against Virginia Tech for throwing a punch. … Because of injuries, UNC will turn to its third-string long snapper, junior Alex Marrs.