North Carolina's first-half of the season schedule has listed some of the nation's toughest defenses, but in facing Miami Thursday night, UNC's defense will have the task of stopping what is arguably the most seasoned and powerful offense it has seen yet this season.
"Obviously the year of experience has really helped their whole offense in every position," defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. "You can see the fact that they've improved a lot. Probably the place that's as improved as any is the offensive line, they really are playing aggressive. They've got guys that are big and they can really move, they get out on screen passes and stuff. Just has a whole group, they've improved immensely."
Coach Larry Fedora said that he remembers beating a young but talented Miami team last season, one that has notably developed itself in the past year.
"You can see the experience that they got last year has really paid off for them with those young guys because they're playing really well together," he said.
Two of Miami's biggest threats are in quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson, but Koenning believes that although the pair are the most discussed names, it's the swiftness of both that is signature to the entire team that has helped the Hurricanes beat every team they've played this year.
"Obviously they're faster than everybody that they're going to play, at back and at wide receiver, and they're doing a lot more with the two tight end set this year, and less with the full back, although they still do it," he said.
That speed has allowed Miami to make changes throughout the season in each game that makes them both quick and hard to predict.
"They're able to change their formations around where they can kind of out number you on the run and then with their ability to stretch the field, it opens up lanes underneath for passing off play action. So they're smart to do what they're doing," Koenning said.
"They're pro-style a offense that has the ability. That running back (Johnson)'s good enough at any one play just to run his own play and run for however many yards. We're going to have to do our best just to stay in front of him and cut off the angles and we got kind of get him before he gets going too much because if he ever gets into our secondary, it's going to be a reach for anybody who can catch him at about four positions on the defense."
Koenning added that Johnson isn't the only ground-game threat, Dallas Crawford is a player that he said sees guys after him and "just runs by 'em."
Miami has made schematic changes that will make it more difficult for the Tar Heels to be as effective on pass rush but for UNC to stop Miami, the defense needs to "just play fanatical and fly around," using the same energy that the team had in last year's victory.
"They're throwing the ball deep but they're still combining the tight ends and passing game and the tight ends and the run game and then they've got those two backs that are really special," Koenning said.
Last year, North Carolina used defenders 25 yards deep to effectively stop some of Miami's deep pass strategies, Koenning said, but this year the focus is on having a well-executing defense, no matter where they are.
"When they do the play-action pass game, they've got six or seven in the block," he said. ""If you go five, you're running into issues with coverage and if you go into six, you're really running into issues with coverage. So we've got to find a way to get pressure with four. It's that age-old thing, you've got to win one on one. It doesn't matter if you're playing three deep, when that receiver runs down on top of you, it's one on one, so we've just got to make plays."
If UNC's does not make the necessary plays, Koenning knows that Miami is an offense that can and does capitalize on its space.
"It's scary to watch, that's why they're averaging 500 yards a game and they're tenth in the country," he said. "They've got good players and from what I understand, there's four GM's and thirty-something scouts coming. It'll be a great test for our guys, we know we have to play as hard as we can and limit our mistakes and missed tackles because those are the things that get you beat."