Handicapping Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels at Miami (FL) Hurricanes

No. 16 Miami (4-1) tries to shake off a bitter loss to in-state rival Florida State when it hosts North Carolina (4-2) in a critical ACC Coastal Division game Saturday. North Carolina vs Miami (FL) kick off tomorrow at 3:30 PM on ABC, ESP2 from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Neither team can afford a loss and still harbor realistic expectations of reaching the conference title game.

Humiliated at home by Virginia Tech last week, the Tar Heels get a boost from the return of running back Elijah Hood. North Carolina’s leading rusher missed the loss to the Hokies with a concussion.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky tossed his first two interceptions of the season (against 13 TDs) in sloppy conditions against the Hokies, but for the year he’s completing over 70 percent of his throws.

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya absorbed some huge hits from the Seminoles and has been limited in practice, but he’s expected to start Saturday.

The home team has covered four straight in this series, which bodes well for Miami, but the underdog is 8-3-1 ATS in the past 12 meetings.

Both teams usually respond well off losses. UNC is 6-1 ATS coming off a loss, while Miami is 4-0 ATS coming off a loss.

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SPORTS CHEETAH’S TAKE

I wrote a look-ahead article earlier in the week and mentioned my number for this game was -6.5 and that I would need -3 or better with the Hurricanes to jump on them or double digits with the Tar Heels to back their side.

Well, the game opened -6.5 or -7 depending on the shop, but we saw some early Miami money drive it up to -8.5 and even -9 in a few places. It has since fallen back to -7.5.

This is a massive game for both teams to stay in the hunt behind Virginia Tech for the ACC Coastal crown. The Hurricanes actually travel to face the Hokies the following Thursday on a short week, but it ultimately isn’t anything that has them overlooking the Tar Heels this Saturday.

North Carolina’s weakness is its defense, which ranks 79th in the nation against the run.

Miami’s offense has been fantastic, ranking 7th in the country with 6.9 yards per play. The ‘Canes are especially dangerous through the air, but QB Brad Kaaya is still healing from a shoulder injury and will be limited all week in practice.

I expect the Hurricanes to focus on the run game, especially against a defense that has struggled defending it. For this reason, I am somewhat surprised to see the total climb up to 64.5 from the 60 at open. I will be keeping an eye on the number as the week progresses and could be jumping in to play against the early move if it rises a couple more points.

LINE MOVEMENT

BookMaker.eu opened at Miami -7 and is back there after a roller-coaster ride.

“We’ve got respected players on both sides of this matchup,” odds consultant Scott Cooley told SportsLine. “Action during the first two days steadily came in on Miami, which pushed the number to -9. But on Wednesday midday, we saw a smart player grab the +9 and the public steam followed. We’re back to the opening line of -7, and the money handle favors North Carolina just barely at 53 percent.

“It’s anyone’s guess where this will end up Saturday, but it might not move again.”

LAST WEEK

The Tar Heels got embarrassed at home, losing 34-3 to Virginia Tech as 3-point dogs. UNC mustered 131 total yards in bad conditions left over from Hurricane Matthew. The Tar Heels are 3-3 ATS and their O/U mark is also 3-3.

A blocked PAT with 1:38 sent Miami to a crushing 20-19 home defeat by FSU. The Hurricanes allowed Dalvin Cook to rush for 150 yards as they failed to cover for the first time this season. Miami closed as a 1.5-point favorite. The Under cashed for the second time in five Miami games.

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