Big thanks to Cameron Underwood of State Of The U, SB Nation's Miami Hurricanes blog, for answering our questions. Swing over to SOTU to check out our answers to theirs, and to get your fill of Miami Hurricanes coverage.
STL: Gotta start with the obvious. The Return has been everywhere: I saw it on the Today Show in the hotel lobby this morning. What was your reaction as it was happening, and what was your favorite part of it? Walk me through a Canes' superfan's experience in that moment.
SOTU: My reaction was similar to many Canes fans that I saw or spoke to: at first, anger that blown calls (3 bogus PIs on the last drive including 1 to negate a game winning interception AND a questionable AT BEST ruling that Duke's QB reached the endzone on his touchdown) would snatch defeat from the hands of victory....then....ok ok ok, they're doing the whole "lateral the ball thing"...then OMG!!! Was he down? No???!?!? ok.....then....they're still throwing the ball around....then when Dallas Crawford threw that last lateral back to Corn Elder...(admittedly, I had a "final score" tweet ready to post with Duke winning the game that I quickly deleted AT THIS MOMENT), I was like...wait a minute....WAIT A MINUTE!!!!! HE HAS BLOCKERS!!!! Then.....Elder's running up the field with that convoy. HE HAS THE SIDELINE!!!! HE STAYED INBOUNDS!!!! HE CUT IT BACK!!! THERE'S NOBODY ELSE THERE!!!!!!!!!!! HE'S GONNA SCORE!!! WE'RE GONNA WIN!!!!!!!! OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!!!!! Then yelling and screaming and a euphoric feeling when Elder hit that last cutback, and I looked on the screen and there was no flag indicator on the screen, and nothing between Elder and the endzone but green grass and cold North Carolina air. It was AWESOME.
The next 9 minutes with reviews and replays and a flag out of nowhere which got waved off then re-reviewed then waved off AGAIN and the TD finally called good.....man....it was AWESOME.
The best parts for me were: 1. the last lateral from Crawford to Elder; 2. David Njoku's HUGE crackback block on the final return (look around the 22 yard line as Elder turns the ball upfield); 3. the final jump cutback around the 43 yard line; and 4. the celebration on the sideline as they realize Elder is going to score. I mean...there's SO MUCH to love in that play. But those are my top 4 things.
I know I have to answer the rest of your questions, but I'm gonna take a break and go watch The Return 15-20 times. I'll be back soon.
STL: Brad Kaaya's status is the biggest question mark as this game approaches. What does the offense lose with him out of the lineup? How would you assess Malik Rosier's play in his absence? Do they play significantly different styles or will the team be looking to take mostly the same approach regardless of who's under center?
SOTU: Potentially missing Brad Kaaya, our franchise QB, from the lineup for a 2nd consecutive game due to concussion protocol after a vicious hit he took in the Clemson game would be a big blow to the offense. However, it's not one that we cannot overcome, as evidenced by last week's victory.
If Kaaya is out, the offense is in the hands of Redshirt FR QB Malik Rosier. While Kaaya is a pure pocket passer with little to no running or escape ability, Rosier is a very athletic, dual-threat QB. With that, the read-option becomes a live part of the game plan. The rest of the offense, the zone run game, the quick and play-action passing games, remains the same. So, the main addition to the gameplan is the fact that Rosier can use his legs as a weapon from time to time.
Rosier's performance against a 22nd ranked Duke team on the road was exemplary. Sporting a stat line of 20/29 passing for 272 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, Rosier showed that he can effectively run the offense for Miami. Yes, there were mistakes. Yes, there were misses. But, to play to that level in his first start, in a primetime game, on the road, vs a ranked team, is a big deal for Rosier.
Like I said, the styles of Kaaya and Rosier couldn't be more different. But, in the system of the offense, the goals and aims remain the same. And, the way in which we try to accomplish those goals is the same, with the exception of Rosier having the ability to impact the game by running the ball.
STL: Interim coach Larry Scott's energy was readily apparent in his postgame interviews after the Duke game. What have you seen so far to indicate how the players are responding to the coaching situation? How is Miami a different team this year after Al Golden's departure?
SOTU: Larry Scott has been a breath of fresh air for this program. What have I seen from the players to indicate that they're responding after the coaching change? The entire Duke game. Yes, there were penalties (more than any ACC team has EVER had). Yes, there were mistakes. But, this team started to look and feel and sound like THE MIAMI HURRICANES again. And that's all the evidence I need to see.
The difference after Al Golden's departure is striking. Yes, it's only 1 game to this point, but that doesn't detract from the point. Al Golden is a good man. He's a fine person and I wish him well. What he wasn't, however, was a good coach FOR THIS PROGRAM. He took a CEO-style approach to things that got old. Quick. Larry Scott is more emotional, while still being the man in charge. He supports the players and works with them to get the best out of them in a way that Golden never did or could. And, again, that's not to deride Golden. They're just different people. But, to my eyes, in Scott's first game as Interim Coach this team played looser, faster, and with more aggression from whistle to whistle than I've seen from any Miami team in YEARS.
STL: Aside from Kaaya and/or Rosier, who are the offensive playmakers you think have the best chance for a big game against Virginia? Which two or three guys on the defensive side could give the Hoos headaches?
SOTU: On offense, Joseph Yearby leads the way at RB. He's a quick, shifty player who runs bigger than his 5'8" 202lb stature would indicate. At receiver, there are plenty of players who can impact the game. Among them are: Rashawn Scott, the team's leading receiver, Stacy Coley, the most physically gifted receiver, Herb Waters, a consistent player with good speed, David Njoku, a matchup nightmare, Christopher Herndon, Braxton Berrios, Lawrence Cager, Malcolm Lewis, and Standish Dobard are but some of the players who have caught passes this season.
On defense, S Deon Bush is the headliner. A surefire NFL player next year, he's the leader of the defense. LB Jermaine Grace has all the tools you look for at the position. He's coming off a career-high 17 tackles with a tackle for loss and forced fumble in last week's win over Duke. Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas are starting to find their own up front at the DE spots. CB Corn Elder, he of the game-winning kick return, has been very good at his full-time position in the secondary this season. And CB Artie Burns has had an outstanding year. He's tied for 5th nationally with 5 interceptions, and adds 15 tackles and good run support to boot.
STL: Virginia managed to eke out a win over a team coming off an emotional last-second victory last week, and gets round two of the same on Saturday. Do you think Miami could suffer any hangover effect? And bottom line: Who ya got?
SOTU: I think that this version of the Canes (and there have been many over the course of the first 8 games of the year) is the version closest to what we've been wanting to see. I think this team is finally moving forward in a positive way, and that performance should carry forward on Saturday.
"The Return" was not just a singular play. It was THE PLAY this program has been waiting for. It is the moment that will propel the Canes forward in a major way. I know last week was emotional, from firing Al Golden, to playing without Brad Kaaya, to Artie Burns' mother, Dana Smith, passing away from a heart attack at the age of 40, to a program and ACC record 23 penalties, to thinking we'd lost the game with 6 seconds left, to the ending, which was one of the greatest college football plays OF ALL TIME.
Through all of that, this team persevered. Through all of that, this team rallied around each other and finally found a way to win. Through all of that, this team got back to the basics of Miami Hurricanes Football. And, while there could be an emotional let down after all of those things that I just listed, I don't think that this team will let that happen on the heels of their biggest triumph in years. I have this game playing out as Miami 38 Virginia 24