Bernard Eager for Homecoming

Bernard Eager for Homecoming

MIAMI - North Carolina's Giovani Bernard comes home this weekend. It's up to Miami to decide if he enjoys the trip.

Bernard's first scholarship offer came from the Hurricanes, who lost out in that race because the running back wanted to get a little farther away from South Florida - where he grew up, playing for famed high school program St. Thomas Aquinas - to experience college life.

And now he's starring for the Tar Heels, who visit Miami on Saturday for what shapes up as a massive game in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division race. The Hurricanes (4-2, 3-0) have the best league record so far, while North Carolina (4-2, 1-1) is coming off two offensive explosions and just dealt perennial division favorite Virginia Tech its second loss in its last 21 ACC games.

"I mean, it's a good feeling going down there," Bernard said. "It's the first time my dad actually gets to see me play live (in college). My brother's going to be down there. A little bit of significance, but it's another game, another opportunity to get better, an opportunity to win. That's what we want."

In simplest terms, North Carolina's offense - fueled by Bernard - is rolling.

Miami's defense is not.

In the past two weeks, North Carolina has scored 114 points and gained more than 1,100 yards. Meanwhile, Miami has yielded 78 points and more than 1,250 yards during that span, and coming off last week's 41-3 loss against Notre Dame, the Hurricanes now face another team that looks like an offensive juggernaut in the Tar Heels.

"ACC, Coastal game coming up, great opportunity at home, back in our own stadium," Miami defensive back Brandon McGee said. "So that's the focus."

It didn't take Miami long to try to put Notre Dame in the rear-view mirror and start thinking about North Carolina. About 20 minutes, to be precise.

As the Hurricanes were loading up for the bus ride from Soldier Field to the airport in Chicago last Saturday night, Miami coach Al Golden started looking at North Carolina film. He and his staff kept studying on the flight home, then went right into the office upon landing Sunday morning - roughly 5:30 a.m. - and stayed in their offices for the next 13 hours.

That's roughly a day and a half without sleep. That's the havoc North Carolina's offense can wreak upon opposing coaches.

"The hottest team in our conference," said Golden, describing the Tar Heels.

It's the start of what shapes up as a make-or-break stretch of three home games for the Hurricanes, who play host to rival Florida State next weekend, then wrap up their longest homestand of the season against Virginia Tech on Nov. 1. The loss to Notre Dame was a clear blow, but the Hurricanes insisted this week that they could move on - even wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who dropped two surefire touchdown passes on the first drive of that game, said he had no doubt that a bounceback effort was coming.

"It's a learning stage for a lot of people here," Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. "I think the biggest thing for us to do is learn from what happened, learn from the mistakes we made and make sure they don't happen again."

That all being said, offense may not be the bigger concern for the Hurricanes this weekend.

Miami's young defense has been porous, against everyone. But North Carolina insists that it's bracing for a challenge.

"We're excited about getting on the road and going down to Miami and playing a good, young Miami football team that right now is undefeated in conference play," Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said. "We know that we'll have our work cut out for us, and we'll have to play a complete game."

The Hurricanes are on pace to smash school records for points and yards allowed, and now have to face one of the league's most complete offensive threats in Bernard - who has eight touchdowns, second-best in the ACC and is particularly well-respected by Miami players, especially offensive lineman Brandon Linder, one of his closest friends.

"We have to continue to run the ball," Bernard said. "We've got to continue to make holes up front. That's where it all starts at. That O-line had a tremendous game last week and they've done a great job all year. Our O-line versus their D-line is what it's going to come down to, and for me, I'm sure we're going to win it."

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