Surely by now you've seen it. Miami's 8-lateral kickoff return TD to beat Duke. Let's put aside whether it was called correctly or not. Let's also put aside the countless other missed calls throughout the game. Miami came away with a big road win and now sit just 1 win away from a bowl game and they even have a shot to win the Coastal Division.
The Hoos are also coming off a big win, needing a final defensive stop to beat the Yellow Jackets at Scott Stadium. The Hoos haven't won a road game in just over 3 years and have won just 4 road games during the Mike London era. One of those games, of course, came against Miami in 2011. That year, the Hoos won 4 out of 5 to close out the season and reach the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The Hoos are going to have to recreate that magic this year, by winning 3 out of the remaining 4 games if they are to go bowling and perhaps save Mike London's job.
Speaking of coach's jobs, Miami has already canned their head coach, former UVA assistant coach Al Golden. His staff stayed on, although surely they'll be canned after this season ends. That staff led Miami to their upset win over Duke. The question is, can they pull that off two weeks in a row? Will the team be able to focus on this week's game after such a crazy ending to last week's? Or will they suffer a similar letdown to what Georgia Tech had after their crazy blocked-FG return win over FSU?
Miami QB Brad Kaaya missed the first game of his career last week against Duke, following a concussion the previous week against Clemson. He is questionable for this game. Kaaya was arguably the best QB in the ACC last year as a true freshman. He led the league in QB efficiency and TDs and was 2nd in passing yards. If he doesn't play, the Canes will go with Malik Rosier, a redshirt freshman.
While Rosier is more athletic than Kaaya, the offense will not change appreciably based on which QB plays. Kaaya has thrown for over 1800 yards this year, with 10 TDs and 2 INTs. Last week, Rosier completed 20/29 for 272 yards and 2 TDs, plus an INT. He had some garbage time numbers prior to that, but consider that his season line.
With Rosier in the game, the Canes will show some read-option looks, even though he's not really a big running threat. Those looks are not really there with Kaaya at the helm. With Rosier at the helm, the Canes are more of a running team, with the read-option looks and perhaps less trust in Rosier's passing. Last week, the Canes ran the ball 39 times versus only 29 throws. Prior to that, with Kaaya at QB, the Canes had thrown 258 passes versus 222 rushes.
With Rosier in the game, the biggest Miami threat is sophomore RB Joe Yearby. Yearby is built like Kevin Parks, but with a bit more speed. He's 5'9" and 200 pounds and he's thick. He's good at sort-of hiding behind his blockers and then exploding through the seam as soon as it's open. He's got good burst, but isn't really a speed guy. He also has more lateral movement than Parks did, so he's better in the open field. He's got 641 yards on the season and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. However, over the past 4 games he's averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. He's a big play running back, but lacked those big plays in October. The Hoos defense, as we've seen, is prone to giving up big plays. So that will be something to watch. A long TD run from Joe Yearby could completely change this game.
Not surprisingly for a team that recruits in the state of FL, Miami has a ton of speed and athleticism at the WR position. The starters are a pair of seniors, Herb Waters and Rashawn Scott. Scott had a big year in 2012, finishing as the team's 2nd leading receiver. But he was in and out of the lineup in 2013 and missed all of last year due to injury. He's got 37 receptions for 502 yards this year. Waters is the big play guy, with 27 catches for 473 yards, 17.5 yards per reception. A year ago, the Canes leading receiver was TE Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett, the top WR, was 3rd. This year, the top 3 receivers are all WRs, and TE David Njoku is 5th. (Njoku is actually on the depth chart as an H-back, which is also where Walford was also listed.) The Canes actually list 13 positions on their offensive depth chart. This includes a TE, a FB, an H-back and a slot WR.
Most likely, if Kaaya starts, Miami will be in a 3 WR set for much of the game, with junior Stacy Coley in the slot. Coley is 3rd on the team with 26 receptions and may actually be the most talented of the Hurricane WRs.
For perhaps the first time this year, the Hoos opponent isn't sporting a dominating OL. Though none of the players really stand out, this is a very big unit and is led by 325- lb junior RG Daniel Isadora. Sophomore LT KC McDermott only didn't enter the starting lineup until the 6th game, but he might be the most talented of the unit. The 6'6" 310 pound sophomore is almost definitely the best NFL prospect on the line.
The Hoos had better be hoping that Kaaya doesn't play. Even though the defense has improved over the past few weeks, they are still regularly getting burned by deep passes. There are few passers in the nation who are better at hitting big plays than Kaaya. He could put up numbers similar to what Josh Rosen and Brett Rypien had against the Hoos.
If Rosier plays, the Hoos defense will be in better shape. Though running QBs have given the Hoos fits, he's not as good a runner as Marquis Williams or Justin Thomas and he won't run the ball as often as Eric Dungey. And since he's not as gifted a passer as Kaaya, the Hoos should have better success in pass coverage as well.
Either way, Jon Tenuta will try to get pressure on the Miami QB. Because, that's what he does. He blitzes. If the Hoos are able to get pressure, they'll be successful. If, as we've seen many times this year, the Hoos blitz unsuccessfully, Miami will burn the Hoos for big plays all game long.
Player to Watch
#2 RB Joe Yearby - Whether Kaaya plays or not, Yearby is the guy who's getting the ball in his hands the most. He's a dangerous RB who can turn a simple dive play into a big run. He's struggled the past few weeks, but he's dangerous.
Yearby isn't the fastest of RBs, and he's certainly not the biggest. But he's a downhill runner, who can also make people miss. And though his top speed isn't elite, he gets up to speed very quickly and stays at top speed. He's tough to bring down with an arm tackle and he can get lost behind the OL.
The Hoos primary goal, especially if Kaaya is out, will be to stop Yearby. Do that, and you've done a pretty good job of slowing down Miami's offense.
The Canes defense is kind of a mirror image of the offense. The run defense is terrible, ranking 100th in the nation (and keep in mind they have not played Georgia Tech yet), while the pass defense is solid. They rank 51st in the nation in pass yards allowed and 52nd in pass efficiency defense. They also rank 70th in scoring defense, which is surprising considering they are tied for 19th in the nation with 17 turnovers forced.
Miami's red zone defense is poor, ranking 90th in the nation. However, that is misreading. The Hoos rank 15th in the nation in red zone offense, but we know that the Hoos are often settling for FGs rather than TDs. In truth, though Miami has been scored upon on 26 out of 30 red zone drives, they've only given up 126 out of possible 180 total points on those red zone chances. That 70% rate is much better than the 87% score rate. Also, in Miami's contest against FSU, they were able to hang with the Seminoles by giving up only 9 out of a possible 24 red zone points. Conversely, Clemson scored 33 out of a possible 36 red zone points, and the 3 missing points came at 45-0.
Although Al Golden was a defensive coach, his firing did not change the defensive mindset, as defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio is still in place. D'Onofrio, like Golden, coached for the Hoos under Al Groh and favors the same 3-4 defense that Groh had in place with the Hoos.
As you probably know, the 3-4 defenses are built around the LBs. Miami had a very good one in senior Raphael Kirby, who was the Canes leading tackler by a wide margin. Prior to being knocked out for the season with a knee injury. The other ILB is junior Jermaine Grace, who is undersized for a 3-4 ILB, but runs very well and can make plays all over the field. He had 17 tackles against Duke this past week to take over the team lead in tackles. The Canes also lost their starting WLB, sophomore Darrion Owens, who was lost in the season opener. Tyriq McCord, a senior who started much of last year, replaced him initially, but he's also played inside. The last few weeks, Al-Quadin Muhammad, a sophomore DL, has been the starter at OLB. The other OLB is Trent Harris, probably the best playmaker on the team. The sophomore leads the team with 2.5 sacks, and 4 TFLs. Most of his production came early in the season, although he did have a strong game against Duke. Muhammad has been the most production player on Miami's defense over the past month.
As Wahoo fans learned during Al Groh's regime, the 3-4 defense is at its best when there is at least 1 DL who can make plays on his own. A player like Chris Long. Miami doesn't have that player this year, and they've shuffled around the DL a few times in an effort to find that. Like Al Groh's units (especially later in his tenure), Miami runs a lot of nickel defense. This makes a lot of sense for a team with a very strong secondary, as the Canes have.
The starting CBs are senior Tracy Howard and junior Artie Burns. Both were among the top recruits at the position when they came out of HS (Howard was the #1 CB in 2012). Both are very fast and great cover guys. Neither are really strong coming up against the run game. Senior safety Deon Bush is very strong in that area. The other safety spot is manned by either Rashawn Jenkins or Dallas Crawford. Jenkins is a better cover guy, and leads the team with 3 INTs, while Crawford is a bit better coming up against the run. Figure to see more of Jenkins, who has the ability to stay with Smoke Mizzell out of the backfield. The Hoos will also see a lot of nickel back Corn Elder, who is also the team's top punt and kick returner and has returned one of each for TDs this year.
The Hoos have had a lot more success in the running game the past few weeks. A lot of that has come by attacking the perimeter of the OL and even outside of that. The runs up the middle have still not been productive. This strategy should continue to be successful, as Miami's DBs generally do not tackle very well (other than Deon Bush). The key player for the Canes will be Jermaine Grace, who's speed and tackling ability will be the biggest threat to the Hoos' running game. If they can consistently get blockers on Grace, they should be able to run the ball off-tackle and with the jet sweeps that they've used.
In the passing game, the Hoos are less likely to be successful. Miami, like the past couple of opponents, isn't going to blitz much. Yes, they bring LBs. But in a 3-4 defense, that isn't really blitzing. Even when in nickel, Miami isn't likely to send more than 4 pass rushers very often. This will help negate the screen passes that Steve Fairchild loves.
Miami's defense is a bend-but-don't-break unit, just like the Hoos' defenses were when Groh was around. This means that big plays aren't going to come, but short and intermediate passes should be available. Duke threw the ball 52 times against Miami, but for just 258 yards (under 5 yards per attempt). The Hoos should not throw the ball nearly as often, but they should have success with the same short passes that Duke was successful with. Evan Butts and Charlie Hopkins could be important over the middle of the field.
Assuming the Hoos continue to have success running the ball, they should be able to score some points on Miami's defense. Of course, turnovers will be key. The Hoos have struggled with turnovers this season, especially on the road. If Matt Johns doesn't make mistakes, the offense will be successful. But Miami has been very good at forcing turnovers (or perhaps more accurately, turning opposition mistakes into turnovers), so the Hoos need tom be careful with the ball. Turnovers are the best way Miami will have to shut down the Hoos offense.
Player to Watch
#5 ILB Jermaine Grace - With Kirby out, Grace becomes the best playmaker on the defense. He's the top tackler, he's good in zone coverage and he can also rush the passer.
He's second in TFLs, tied for 2nd in passes defended and has a sack as well. He's very fast, not surprising for a Miami LB, though he is undersized. The main goal for the Hoos running game is going to be get a hat on him. Do that, and the running play should be successful. If the Hoos can't slow down Grace, he'll often stop the play before it gets started.
Crazy KO returns aside, Miami's special teams are solid. Both teams have had good PR units and struggled with KR and coverage teams. Both teams have good punters and placekickers. If there is an advantage in special teams, it'll be Miami's edge with their better athletes.
For whatever reason, Miami is the one team that Mike London has had success against. Other than the Clemson game, Miami has been pretty solid this year. They beat Nebraska, hung with FSU and just won @Duke last week. The Hoos, as we know, are playing better, but are still not a very good team.
Can the Hoos go on the road and pull off the upset? It may well depend on the health of Brad Kaaya.
Prediction if Kaaya plays: Hurricanes 35, Hoos 20
Prediction if Kaaya does not play: Hurricanes 24, Hoos 20