North Carolina and Miami started the season as the favorites in their Atlantic Coast Conference division. That hype is long gone as they meet Saturday as two unranked teams with a combined 5-6 record.
The host Tar Heels (3-3, 2/3 ACC) have taken the biggest tumble. With the return of a quarterback Sam Howell, they were the Coastal Division favorite carrying their first top 10 preseason ranking in 24 years during Mack Brown’s first coaching stint in Chapel Hill.
Yet an experienced offensive line hasn’t protected Howell well while the Tar Heels have struggled replacing skill-position losses to the NFL. Brown said this year’s group hasn’t responded as well to adversity as the previous two seasons, most recently in last weekend’s home loss to a one-win Florida State team.
“We should have won more games than we have in my estimation,” Brown said. “So it’s on us (coaches), period. They’ve got to play better, but it’s our job to get them to play better.”
The Hurricanes (2-3, 0-1) opened at No. 14 and as the Tar Heels’ projected top Coastal challenger. They fell out of the poll after losses to Alabama and Michigan State in the first three games.
They’re trying to avoid their first 2-4 start since 1997, a season where they were on NCAA probation and dealing with severe scholarship limitations.
They also took a major hit this week when coach Manny Diaz announced this week that quarterback D’Eriq King would have season-ending shoulder surgery for an injury suffered against the Spartans.
Diaz said it’s now Tyler Van Dyke’s team, with Van Dyke starting the past two games for a team now missing two of its top three quarterbacks.
The good news for the Hurricanes, at least? They have only one league loss to remain in the division race.
“Honestly we have to get the job done,” Van Dyke said. “No matter who’s at quarterback, we have to win. Right now, it’s me. I just have to be consistent, go out there and trust my teammates … and we’ll be good.”
Starting with last season’s game against the Tar Heels, Miami has dropped five consecutive games against opponents from the five major conferences — the ACC, the SEC, the Pac-12, the Big Ten and the Big 12. It matches the longest such streak for the Hurricanes since a five-game slide against those schools from November 2007 through September 2008.
The last time Miami had a longer losing streak against what would be called Power 5 schools came when the “Power 5” term didn’t even exist; the Hurricanes lost seven in a row against them in the 1977 and 1978 seasons.
The Tar Heels’ protection troubles have been glaring for a team returning its entire offensive line. Injuries, particularly at center, haven’t helped but that doesn’t explain everything.
Virginia Tech sacked Howell six times in the opener while Georgia Tech topped that with eight sacks in a blowout home win to end September. The Tar Heels allowed just one sack in the FSU loss.
North Carolina receiver Josh Downs has offered a bright spot in taking over as the top target with the departures of Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. He ranks in the top six of the Bowl Subdivision ranks in receiving yards (123.5 per game), catches (8.2) and touchdowns (seven this season).
The Tar Heels turned in an incredible offensive display in last year’s 62-26 road win against the Hurricanes in December. They gained a school-record 778 yards in the game, with 554 on the ground, in the 62-26 win.
“That’s something that’s of course still in the back of my mind as the Mike linebacker of this defense,” linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. said of the rushing total.
UNC also marked its highest scoring output and its largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent.
“We haven’t even talked about last year’s game,” Howell said.
Miami is 15-8 when playing ACC road games in the state of North Carolina since joining the conference in 2004, with wins in five of its last seven games.
But five of those eight losses have come at Chapel Hill, including the 2019 game won by the Tar Heels on Howell’s touchdown throw with 61 seconds left.
Atlanta Braves look to clinch National League pennant, first World Series appearance since 1999 with victory over Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56, second in the NL West) vs. Atlanta Braves (88-73, first in the NL East)
Atlanta, Georgia; Saturday, 8:08 p.m. EDT
PITCHING PROBABLES: Dodgers: TBD Braves: Ian Anderson (1-0, 3.58 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 124 strikeouts this postseason)
NLCS: Atlanta leads the series 3-2
BOTTOM LINE: Atlanta will look to clinch a series win with a victory over Los Angeles in Game 6 of the NLCS.
The Braves were 42-38 on their home turf in 2021. Atlanta has a team batting average of .247 this postseason, Eddie Rosario has led them with an average of .471, including four extra base hits and eight RBI.
The Dodgers posted a record of 48-33 away from home in 2021. Los Angeles has a team slugging percentage of .404 this postseason, Chris Taylor leads them with a mark of .818, including seven extra base hits and 12 RBI.
The Dodgers won the last meeting 11-2. Evan Phillips earned his first victory this postseason and Chris Taylor went 4-for-5 with three home runs and six RBI for Los Angeles. Max Fried took his first loss of the postseason for Atlanta.
TOP PERFORMERS: Freddie Freeman leads the Braves with 179 hits and has 83 RBI.
Trea Turner leads the Dodgers with 65 extra base hits and is batting .328.
DURING THE PLAYOFFS: Braves: .247 batting average, 3.58 ERA, outscored opponents by five runs
Dodgers: .252 batting average, 3.06 ERA, outscored opponents by 11 runs
INJURIES: Braves: Josh Tomlin: (neck), Mike Soroka: (achilles), Grant Dayton: (shoulder), Tucker Davidson: (forearm), Marcell Ozuna: (hand), Ronald Acuna Jr.: (knee).
Dodgers: Jimmie Sherfy: (elbow), Jimmy Nelson: (elbow), Dustin May: (elbow), Clayton Kershaw: (forearm), Tommy Kahnle: (elbow), Cole Hamels: (arm), Caleb Ferguson: (elbow), Danny Duffy: (forearm), Garrett Cleavinger: (oblique), Scott Alexander: (shoulder), Edwin Rios: (shoulder), Sheldon Neuse: (undisclosed), Max Muncy: (elbow).
Miami QB Tyler Van Dyke’s words help fuel NC State, Canes confident Wolfpack ‘can’t hang’ with them
University of Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said this week without hesitation that he must get off to a faster start for the Hurricanes to win, his first opportunity coming at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at home against 18th-ranked NC State.
“It’s on me,’’ Van Dyke said. “I just have to get more comfortable in the beginning of the game. I’m capable of doing everything out there. I just gotta get the ball and let it rip.
Don’t think. Don’t aim. Just let it rip. …It’s totally on me.”
Read more from the Miami Herald.
García, Alvarez help Houston Astros oust Boston Red Sox, reach World Series
HOUSTON, Tex. — Rookie Luis García showed the poise of an October ace, MVP Yordan Alvarez stayed hot at the plate and the Houston Astros earned yet another trip to the World Series, beating the Boston Red Sox 5-0 Friday night in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
The Astros advanced to the World Series for the third time in five seasons. They won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal, before losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games in 2019.
Manager Dusty Baker’s team will open the World Series on Tuesday night, either at Dodger Stadium or home against Atlanta. The Braves lead Los Angeles 3-2 in the NL Championship Series going into Game 6 Saturday night.
“There’s four more wins on the board out there,” the 72-year-old Baker said. “There’s four more wins you’ve got to get.”
García pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning, leaving to a huge ovation with two outs after a triple by Kiké Hernández. It was an impressive bounce-back performance for the 24-year-old, who started Game 2 and gave up a grand slam in the first inning before leaving with no outs in the second because of discomfort in his right knee.
Alvarez continued his scorching streak, a year after watching at home after surgery to both knees as the Astros came one game shy of reaching the World Series. The slugging designated hitter had four hits, including a triple and two doubles. He led a Game 5 win with three hits and three RBIs.
Álvarez hit an ALCS-record .522 (12 for 23) with one homer, three doubles, the triple and six RBIs in Houston’s six-game victory. He got nine hits in his last 13 at-bats.
Catcher Martín Maldonado made the defensive play of the game on a strikeout-throwout double play to end the seventh with Houston ahead 2-0.
It will be Baker’s second trip to the Fall Classic as a manager and first since leading the San Francisco Giants to the NL pennant in 2002. As a player, he made three trips with the Dodgers, winning it all in 1981.
“Hey, I’m going back to the World Series!” Baker told a cheering crowd at Minute Maid Park.
For Houston, it was a team victory featuring all facets of the game it used in taking the AL West title. The Astros won, too, without a hit from stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa — Alex Bregman got two hits and scored a run.
Boston’s best shot to score came in the seventh. The wild-card Red Sox had runners at first and third with one out in after a single by Alex Verdugo. But Kendall Graveman struck out pinch-hitter Travis Shaw and Maldonado made a perfect throw to Correa, who was covering second, to beat Verdugo there and end the inning.
Maldonado beat his chest with glee as Graveman and Correa both pumped their fists in celebration to roars from the crowd of 42,718.
Kyle Tucker broke it open with a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth. Television cameras flashed to Houston’s Hall of Fame duo of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, who stood together and cheered as Tucker rounded the bases.
Ryan Pressly closed it out in the ninth. The Red Sox, who looked so formidable at the plate at the start of the season, were held to two hits in their final game.
Bregman singled with two outs in the first before the double by Alvarez put the Astros up 1-0. Hernández was in position to make the catch, but it hit off his arm below his glove and dropped in for the hit.
Consecutive romps by Boston and its bashers made it appear that the Red Sox were in complete control of the series after Game 3, but as the long fly by Alvarez proved, they didn’t have a firm grip on things.
The Astros, buoyed by their young pitchers and rediscovered offense, won the next two games by a combined 18-3 to return home a win away from a World Series.
Framber Valdez pitched the Astros to a Game 5 win at Fenway Park, then their 24-year-old rising stars, García and Alvarez, did the rest.
Houston had a chance to add to the lead in the fourth when Bregman singled and another double by Alvarez left him at third with no outs. But they came up empty after Nathan Eovaldi worked out of the jam.
Alvarez tripled with no outs in the sixth to chase Josh Taylor and Tanner Houck plunked Correa. Tucker then smacked a grounder right at first baseman Kyle Schwarber who tagged Correa for the unassisted double play as Alvarez slid safely into home to make it 2-0.
Eovaldi got the win in a solid Game 2 start but was charged with the loss in Game 4 after giving up the go-ahead runs after coming in with the game tied in the ninth.
On Friday, he permitted five hits and one run as the Red Sox lost a playoff game where he started for the first time after entering the game 5-0 in his starts.
García is the first pitcher to take a no-hitter into sixth of a potential playoff clincher since the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard got two outs in sixth against the Giants in 2016 NL wild-card game.
García allowed Schwarber to reach on a wild pitch after a strikeout to open the game and walked Verdugo with one out in the second. He settled in after that, sitting down the next 13 with five strikeouts, before Hernández got Boston’s first hit on a triple with two outs in the sixth. García finished with seven strikeouts.
Phil Maton took over and retired Rafael Devers to end the inning.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Boston manager Alex Cora has heard the speculation that the Astros are relaying signs from the bases and said the Red Sox protect themselves against that.
“It’s not about technology or other stuff,” Cora said. “There’s stuff that happens on the field that you have to be guarded. The same way that teams play defense against us, we play defense against other teams. Not only them we did it against the Yankees, we did it against the Rays. It’s the nature of the game. We’re prepared for that.”
Cora knows better than most about Houston’s sign-stealing history having been the team’s bench coach during the 2017 season when they were found to have violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs.
The Astros will make their fourth World Series appearance. They lost in their first try, swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.
Game 1 of the World Series is Tuesday night where the Astros will host if the Braves advance or Houston will travel to LA if the Dodgers win the NL pennant.