Miami, North Carolina look to shake off ACC losses
With both teams coming off Atlanta Coast Conference losses, No. 16 Miami and North Carolina will be playing essentially an elimination game in the Coastal Division race when they clash at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday (ABC/ESPN2) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
A second conference loss at this early stage of the race doesn't necessarily eliminate either team, but it does put the loser in a position of needing help, particularly North Carolina (4-2, 2-1 ACC).
That is because the Tar Heels lost to Virginia Tech, and in the case of a two-way tie with Tech, which is 2-0 in conference play, the Hokies would hold the tiebreaker.
A second league loss, this one to Miami, also would give the Tar Heels defeats to both of their chief rivals in the Coastal Division. Few scenarios would work out in their favor in that case.
The Hurricanes (4-1, 1-1 ACC) could withstand the impact of a second ACC loss a bit better because they still have Virginia Tech yet to play. But they still would need some help in the form of a second defeat for the Hokies in ACC play if they lose to the Tar Heels to have tiebreaker scenarios start to work in their favor.
The Hurricanes are scheduled to play at Virginia Tech just five days after their game against the Heels in a Thursday night encounter in Blacksburg.
Unlike the Tar Heels, however, the Hurricanes control their own destiny in the Coastal race. Win out, and they earn their first berth in the ACC championship game.
"The Coastal is wide open right now," Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya said after the Hurricanes lost last week 20-19 when the Seminoles blocked an extra-point try after a late touchdown. "I think just about everyone has a loss.
"We just have to keep going, keep fighting and plan on winning it. That's what I plan on doing. I know that's what the rest of the team plans on doing. We can't let this loss define us."
Miami coach Mark Richt also noted how wide open the race is at this early point.
"Everybody has a lot to play for, and we're one of them," he said. "We have North Carolina coming up and a few more Coastal opponents pretty quick. We'll find out how we fare on that side.
"Hopefully, we can get back in the race. I think we will."
It should be pointed out that although all conference games figure in a team's conference record, the second tiebreaker after head-to-head competition is a team's record within the division. That adds a little extra to this week's game as well.
Kaaya will go into the matchup after throwing for 214 yards and two touchdowns against the Seminoles. He threw one interception, however, and that was a costly mistake. His pass into the end zone came on a second-down play early in the third quarter and denied the Hurricanes an opportunity to build on a 13-3 lead.
The Seminoles then cashed in on the miscue to drive 80 yards for their first touchdown.
Kaaya said there was a miscommunication on the play between him and freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards, who dropped a pass on the previous play.
"I kind of threw it underneath," Kaaya said, "and the corner turned around and made a play."
The Tar Heels certainly can point to more than one play as being costly in the 34-3 beating they took from Virginia Tech that dropped them out of this week's Top 25 rankings. They rushed for 73 yards and passed for only 58 more on a windy, rainy afternoon.
"I honestly don't know if I've been a part of a worse performance offensively," Heels coach Larry Fedora said. "Defensively, I thought that for a large part of the game we hung in there pretty well."
However, the offense kept putting the defense in untenable situations, losing four turnovers on quarterback Mitch Trubisky's first two interceptions of the season and two fumbles.
Before last week, when he completed only 13 of 33 pass attempts, Trubisky had completed 76 percent of his passes. He has a deep stable of receivers to throw to led by senior Ryan Switzer, who has 49 catches for 589 yards for the season, though Switzer had only two receptions for 2 yards against the Hokies.