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OAYP: Miami at North Carolina Preview

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Breaking down the biggest keys to Miami at UNC through the lens of the OAYP advanced metric.

A couple of weeks ago, if someone told you one of Miami and UNC would be going into their week to clash 1-0 and the other 0-1, you probably would have guessed which one was which incorrectly. I would have.

Both played SEC foes. Miami fell to Florida 24-20, North Carolina beat South Carolina 24-20. Now, as conference play gets underway, it’s Mack Brown’s Tar Heels that are looking to continue to build off their week one momentum, while Manny Diaz’s Hurricanes are looking to find some of their own.

The two new head coaches were thought to be taking over programs in substantially different places, but perhaps that’s not the case. Come Sunday morning, whether or not that’s the case will be a lot more clear.

Below is the projected starting offense for Miami and defense for North Carolina, accompanied by their marginal OAYP scores. If you’re not yet acquainted with the new metric, the tl;dr of the individual player scores is best boiled down to something like WAR, in baseball. Both value and efficiency are taken into account, and while it doesn’t exactly correlate to wins or points, necessarily, it does display each player’s said value and efficiency relative to the positional mean. The basic rule of thumb we’ve been using is: below -1.0 is a red flag, between -1.0 and 0 is below average, between 0 and 0.5 is above average, between 0.5-1.0 is roughly ‘second tier’, greater than 1.0 is a bonafide superstar, and 2.0 or higher might as well be a superhero.

Let’s break down the single most important factor that will decide who wins that facet of the game, and then we’ll do the same for UNC’s offense versus Miami’s defense. OAYP’s projected margin of victory can also be found at the bottom.

Deciding Factor: The Line of Scrimmage

Miami’s offensive line was brutalized by Florida a couple of weeks ago, in Orlando. They gave up 10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, averaged fewer than 2.5 yards per attempt as a team, and had the lowest single game week one OAYP, as a group, of any offensive line in Southern Pigskin’s coverage area… and it wasn’t even close.

Now, UNC’s defensive front isn’t at Florida’s level, but appears to have taken some steps forward after tallying three sacks and seven tackles for loss against South Carolina. New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman’s aggressiveness and creativity were on full display, which, given how new he is to the program, certainly bodes well for the future of that defense. Still, the strength of the Heels is in the secondary.

Tomon Fox, Jason Strowbridge, and Aaron Crawford are all solid, though hardly elite, and probably underrated by OAYP, but will almost certainly struggle to wreak the sort of havoc that Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga did upon Miami’s offensive line.

Yet, even if it’s not quite as dominant, as long as UNC’s performance is adequate, they can still have some success, defensively. That sword does not cut both ways. Miami’s blocking, on the other hand, has to be markedly better.

All the other pieces appear to be in place. Jarren Williams wasn’t fantastic, but considering the opposition, was serviceable. In fairness, he didn’t do his O-Line many favors down the stretch, appearing to get gunshy in the fourth quarter, but he wasn’t bad. The pass catchers are dripping with talent, and running back Deejay Dallas looks like he should be the focal point of the offense going forward, after totaling 132 yards from scrimmage a score on just 16 touches.

But none of that matters if the blocking isn’t better. Just imagine what that offense, and Dallas in particular, could have done if it was against Florida. Over three quarters of his production came on three big plays. With his talent, all he needs is marginally better blocking to see his efficiency start to match that explosiveness.

Again contrary to what many would have thought going into the season, it’s Miami’s offensive line that has to prove itself against North Carolina’s front seven, not the other way around, this weekend.

Deciding Factor: The Run Game

Shout out to Phil Longo. I was really curious/nervous to see how he would adapt his pass-happy offense from Ole Miss to the personnel he inherited in Chapel Hill. Suffice it to say, he did it effectively.

While on the one hand he had a true freshman quarterback and a less-than-stellar, somewhat unproven receiving corps, he also had three solid to above average running backs and a solid offensive line. Logic would dictate that he run the ball, run it again, then do it some more, and boy, did he ever.

Against a talented South Carolina front seven, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined for 179 rushing yards on 34 rushes, and Antonio Williams added another 53 yards on four, two of which went for 20+ yards. All told, UNC went to the ground 52 times against the Gamecocks, which, in turn, helped the passing game to be more efficient. The raw totals didn’t look like some of Longo’s high flying passing attacks at his old school, but over 10 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and no picks always looks good, whether it’s on 54 attempts, or 24 attempts, like it was last week.

On the flipside, however, Miami’s run defense is a different animal.

With all qualifying starters in the front seven scored positively by OAYP, all three linebackers above the 1.0 mark, and edge defender Jonathan Garvin with an otherworldly 2.26 number, not to mention former Virginia Tech standout Trevon Hill as a rotational piece, trying to pinpoint a weakness is like looking for Waldo in a picture that he’s not in.

Florida, who averaged 5.27 yards per carry last year, good for 21st in the nation, managed a measly 50 yards on 28 runs against Miami, in the opener.

When you picture a prototypical inside linebacker in your mind, you picture Shaq Quarterman. From a size, speed, functional strength standpoint, his boasts the quintessential profile for the position. He’s started every game since he stepped on campus at Miami and earned freshman All-Amercian honors in 2016, and finished in the top two on the team in tackles all three years. If he simply mimics his production from last season, he’ll be just the fifth player in the country, since 2000, to post 330 career tackles and 45 tackles for loss. He’s also perfectly complemented by his partner in crime, Michael Pinckney, who finished in the top five among returnees in run stop percentage, while Garvin ranked in the national top 25 last year in tackles for loss, and the top five among returning players.

North Carolina has an upper echelon offensive line led by Charlie Heck, but they’ll need to play the game of their lives to establish the run against that group.

It’s necessary, though. If the run game isn’t working, that pass efficiency will take a corresponding step back. The talent is there in the backfield and along the line of scrimmage, but establishing themselves on the ground will still be much easier said than done.

PROJECTED MARGIN OF VICTORY: Miami by 11.26

OAYP remains higher on Miami, and maybe a little lower on UNC than Vegas is. The fact is, while that Florida game was sloppy, that was not a bad performance. Miami has a championship caliber defense, plenty of skill position talent, and a promising young signal caller.

If the O-Line gets straightened out and Jarren Williams continues to improve, they should probably win the Coastal. That being said, North Carolina does appear to be better than anyone previously believed. If they can get Michael Carter and company going, Phil Longo is good enough to make Miami’s defense uncomfortable. It’s just hard to believe, even after that week one showing, that they will, in fact, be able to establish that ground game against this defensive front.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP