Miami faces big test at North Carolina

Miami goes into its Thursday night game at North Carolina with a top-10 ranking, momentum and an edge just about everywhere on the field.

But perhaps coach Al Golden has given his players a little history lesson this week.

Miami last went into Chapel Hill as a top-10 team in 2004 and was a heavy favorite to win. Like this season, North Carolina had a losing record going into the contest. The Canes were supposed to cruise. Instead, Connor Barth made a 42-yard field goal as time expired to beat No. 4 Miami 31-28.

Fans stormed the field. Then-Miami coach Larry Coker called his defense’s inability to stop North Carolina from getting into field goal range “mind-boggling.”

That was the last time North Carolina beat a team in the top 10. And that Miami squad is the highest-ranked team Carolina has ever beaten.

So you can bet the Hurricanes will be taking the Tar Heels seriously in a game North Carolina has billed as “Zero Dark Thursday.”

“As I said to the guys all along, records really don’t matter,” Golden told reporters in Miami earlier this week. “Records are talking about the past. We know what type of team we’re going to see Thursday."

Miami will see a team that has not gotten anything going on offense or defense this season. Quarterback Bryn Renner is expected back in the starting lineup, but he has been the least of the problems. The biggest issues that have plagued the Tar Heels? Their young offensive line and an inability to run the football.

Defensively, the Tar Heels have given up way too many yards and way too many big plays, not exactly what you want going against the multi-talented Hurricanes offense. North Carolina has given up 22 plays that have gone 20 or more yards -- 15 on passing plays. Miami, meanwhile, has 23 plays that have gone for 25 or more yards this season.

“You’ve got to stop the run, that’s where it starts, or they’re going to crush you with the run the entire game, and then they’ll take their chances and hit you over the top,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “That’s what they make their living with, making the big plays. We have to make sure we keep the ball in front of us, but you have to have safeties involved in the box to stop the run. We’re going to have to play flawless.”

Senior receiver Allen Hurns has five plays of at least 25 yards, more than any other Miami player. He also owns the top two -- an 80-yard touchdown reception against Savannah State and a 69-yard touchdown reception against Georgia Tech.

Hurns said Miami spent the time leading up to this game working on ball security and getting timing down with quarterback Stephen Morris.

“We want to make sure everybody is on the same page, communicating,” Hurns said. “Then after practice, we watch film together to see things we could possibly see on the field.”

Hurns grew up a big Miami fan, watching the Hurricanes post big victories and go to big bowl games. When he arrived on campus, he dreamed that one day he would be able to do the same. Now, he can proudly say he is on a top-10 team.

But Miami is not looking ahead. At least that is what Golden has preached to his players, to try to keep them focused as they play as favorites rather than underdogs.

“I’ve been through it all with the ups and downs,” Hurns said. “Right now, it feels good because we’re winning each game, but the main thing is that we stay humble and stay focused. We can’t look at everyone’s expectations. We just have to focus on what we have to accomplish and just take it one week at a time.”