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Turnovers the key in Miami-UNC game

Yes, there is a trend -- a reason behind Miami’s 0-3 record against its former coach, Butch Davis.

In the past three meetings with North Carolina, Miami has turned the ball over 10 times. North Carolina has turned it over once.

That’s a problem for Miami entering Saturday’s game, considering both teams are still following that pattern. North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates has thrown just one interception all season. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has thrown nine. As teams, though, they are comparable -- UNC and Miami rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the ACC, respectively, in turnover margin.

These games have been decided by an average of 6.3 points, so whoever makes the fewest mistakes is likely to win.

“Watching the last three years of playing North Carolina, the turnovers have been a big factor in the games,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “Every time we’ve played North Carolina at North Carolina, we’ve turned the ball over a lot, and also coming home we’ve turned the ball over a lot. I think those things play a big significance in this game. We have to make sure we don’t turn the ball over … that’s going to be a pivotal part of this game.”

UNC cornerback Kendric Burney, who last year finished with 170 interception return yards against Miami and set a single-game ACC record and a school record for an entire season, is still waiting to be cleared to play as a result of an ongoing NCAA investigation. Even without Burney, UNC has 11 interceptions this season.

“In all the games previously we’ve been very fortunate that some of the things that help you win games -- we haven’t turned the ball over much against them,” Davis said. “That part of it obviously helps you against any particular opponent, but especially against somebody that’s as talented as Miami. We’ve been the beneficiary of some turnovers. Those continue to help you.”

Harris threw a career-high four interceptions in last year’s 33-24 loss to the Tar Heels, and he did it again this season at Ohio State. He finally had an interception-free game in the win over Duke. Miami’s turnover margin was also helped this past weekend after the defense forced seven turnovers at Duke, accounting for five of their 12 interceptions this season.

“Anytime a secondary is having a huge amount of success, it probably starts up front,” Davis said. “You can take four superstar All-American secondary guys, but if the quarterback has all day long to throw the ball, those guys struggle. At Miami, they’ve got really good defensive linemen, guys who are putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”

Yates and Harris will both be forced to play smart and think quickly on Saturday. With Virginia Tech the only undefeated team remaining in league play in the Coastal Division, the margin for error has decreased significantly for both teams.

The loser of this game could commit its biggest turnover of the season -- a chance at winning the Coastal Division.