Cameron Underwood from State of the U was kind enough to answer questions about Brad Kaaya, the Miami defense, and just when Duke Johnson is getting promoted to Emperor-God Johnson. Be sure to check out their UVa coverage as well!
STL: What's the mood in Coral Gables and environs following the loss to Florida State? Even as a (mostly) neutral outsider, it was painful to see Miami let that game slip away. Any chance of a hangover effect against the Hoos?
SotU: The mood is disappointed, but not destroyed. We obviously had a great chance to beat Florida State for the first time in 5 years, and we came up 1 or 2 plays short. That result, to a bitter rival no less, is a bitter pill to swallow.
In the wake of that, Coach Golden and players in their media availability all said we have to stay focused and move on to this week's game. While there's always a chance of a letdown after such an emotional game, I think this team has the right mindset to play a good game this week. The other thing working in our favor with this: the Canes have been playing their best football of the year recently. So, it's not like we have to make wholesale changes to what we've recently done. If we continue to play to the level that we have over the last 5 weeks, including the FSU game, the effort and performance should be positive.
STL: Freshmen QBs are almost always a question mark, and I think it's fair to say Brad Kaaya was as the year began. But the youngster has looked good as he's gotten more experience under center, going three straight games without an interception before last week-three games that, not coincidentally, the Canes won. What has been the biggest difference you've seen between Game 1 Brad Kaaya, and Game 11 Brad Kaaya?
SotU: The main thing that I've noticed as Kaaya has progressed: he's making more calls and adjustments at the line. He did this in the Louisville game, but now he's fully controlling the offense. He is much more adept at getting us into the right play, and the offense has thrived because of it.
STL: One guy who was never a question mark was Duke Johnson. The junior RB has averaged 134 yards and a touchdown per game. He's shown big-play ability with runs of 80 yards against Cincinnati and 90 yards against North Carolina. His 249 yards against VPISU made at least a few Virginia fans simultaneously giddy at the Hokie drubbing and fearful of the Duke's impending visit to Charlottesville. How does OC James Coley spring Johnson loose? How could Virginia slow him down?
SotU: Duke Johnson is awesome. It's really a pleasure to watch him work every week.
As for how OC Coley gets him the ball, it really comes down to 2 plays: inside zone and off-tackle. Duke has said in interviews before that inside zone is his favorite run. When run well, it gives both a play-side hole to run through, and also cutback lanes if the defense over pursues. And, with the great quickness and elite vision that Duke Johnson possesses, those holes are found and utilized with great success.
The off-tackle/outside run is really the secondary play foundation of the run game, but it is the primary foundation of the play action passing game. So, it not only gets Duke Johnson the ball on the edge (this is the play he took 90 yards for a TD vs UNC), it also opens up the field for the multiple receivers we play as well.
How can UVa stop the run game? You have to be physical at the point of attack against the OL, and sure tacklers at the 2nd level. You might benefit from bringing a Safety down into the box too, but be careful about that. Remember how I said Brad Kaaya will get us in a good play more often than not? If he sees an extra defender in the box, he'll check to a pass play. And, with TE Clive Walford (Mackey award Semifinalist) and WR Phillip Dorsett (and his nation-leading 28.8 yards per catch) at his disposal, Kaaya could make the Hoos' defense pay for overloading to stop Duke Johnson from running wild.
SIDE NOTE: Duke Johnson is only 122 yards away from setting the University of Miami's All-Time Rushing Yardage Record. If all goes well (for us), we'll see him attain that spot this week.
STL: Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings uses per-play efficiency ratings to rank all the teams in college football. Miami clocks in at 11th, only one spot below Florida State. Only one team in the top 15 has as many losses as Miami (LSU at 15), and no team has as few wins. That combination of facts tells me that the 2014 Miami Hurricanes have actually underperformed, at least in the win column. Do Miami fans see this season as one that's fallen short or missed opportunities?
SotU: Canes fans definitely look at this season as one with many missed opportunities. The advanced stats and analytics all say one thing: this Canes team is better than it's 6-4 record. WAY better, actually. Now, we can only look back on the losses that we've faced and shake our heads. 1 play here. A defensive tweak (or 7) there. And, poof, things are different.
I believe the saying "you are who your record says you are", but like many of my fellow Canes fans, I still think about what could have been, with a few select things breaking our way.
STL: What should we expect from the Miami defense? This unit has held high-octane Duke (god that feels weird to type) to 10 points and fast-paced UNCCH to 20 ... but also given up 41 to Nebraska. Has the defense turned a corner in recent weeks? Who are the guys to watch on Saturday?
SotU: Ah, the "Miami Defense" question. I knew we'd get here eventually.
The main thing with the defense this year is the fact that we don't give up big plays. Against Nebraska and Georgia Tech, option-run based teams, leaving 2 Safeties at 12 to 17 yards from the line of scrimmage was a death sentence. Those teams ran on use over, and over, and over, and over again, taking the yardage and points we were giving them. If you look at the UNC game, they really scored 7 points against our starting defense. FSU put up 30, but even they had to get some luck (that tipped ball turns into TD catch play, 2 other dropped INTs) to get to 30 points.
To say the defense has turned the corner is an understatement. We've gone from a defense that gave up 500 yards a week like it was our job last season, to a defense that held UNC to 7 points through 3 quarters vs the starters. The improvement has been remarkable, and a welcomed sight for all Canes fans.
As to who are players to watch, you have to start with MLB Denzel Perryman. A 3 year starter and Butkus Award nominee, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of our defense. You've probably seen a .gif of him hitting a punter, or a RB, or a receiver. Be on the lookout for #52.
Other players to watch: #5 LB Jermaine Grace, #17 DE/OLB Tyriq McCord, and #1 CB Artie Burns.
STL: Finally, bottom line: Who ya got?
SotU: This is the easy one. Miami 37, Virginia 20. This game will start slow, but I just think that the Canes have too much on offense, and are playing too well on defense, for the Hoos to hang around for long.