The University of Miami, young and eager to prove last year’s 6-7 season was a fluke, takes the field against UAB on Sept. 10 at Hard Rock Stadium for its season opener. The Hurricanes addressed a host of major needs during a busy offseason, collecting an impressive array of talent, but we still don’t know this team’s identity or how it’ll win games.
So how is UM going to defeat Alabama-Birmingham, and how might it win one or two of these rugged games – at Louisville (Sept. 19), vs. Florida State (Sept. 26), at Clemson (Oct. 10) -- early in the season?
We know Miami should be strong at quarterback with D’Eriq King, the senior transfer from Houston. We also know Miami should be strong at tight end with junior Brevin Jordan, regarded among the nation’s best, and junior Will Mallory, who showed his skills last season. And we know the running game, led by junior Cam’Ron Harris and supported by a pair of freshmen, has promise, just as the pass rush, led by senior transfer Quincy Roche, has promise.
On the other hand, the offensive line remains a question mark, the cornerbacks, although experienced between Al Blades Jr., and D.J. Ivey, aren’t elite, and the same goes for veteran defensive tackles Nesta Silvera and Jon Ford, and veteran wide receivers Mike Harley and Mark Pope.
Using that knowledge, here are Three Keys for UM to Win Its Early Games.
Strong QB Play
There’s no doubt King (36 passing touchdowns, six interceptions in 2018) will have to carry this offense early. First-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who comes from SMU, where he averaged 41.9 points per game, is installing an up-tempo system that will have a steep learning curve when it comes to basics such as getting to line of scrimmage quickly, line-of-scrimmage recognition, and rapidly getting personnel on and off the field.
King will tap Jordan (35 receptions, 495 yards, two touchdowns in 2019) and Mallory (16 receptions, 293 yards, two touchdowns) to be big pieces of the offense but that trio must overcome the expected offensive line struggles and the challenges of not having All-ACC-type wide receivers.
The key for King will be resisting the urge to do to much. He must allow his teammates to blossom, and they must show King they can do the job.
Respectable Running Game
Harris (114 carries, 594 yards, five touchdowns) was productive last season but he isn’t a workhorse. And he’s backed up by freshmen Donald Chaney Jr., and Jaylan Knighton, who are promising but unproven. This is a big proving opportunity for both the running backs and the offensive line. Miami ranked near the bottom of the ACC last year in rushing yards (1,535), attempts (407) and yards per game (118.1). If defenses don’t respect the Hurricanes’ running game the offense is in big trouble.
Relentless Pass Rush
Miami is halfway there on this one with Roche, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year last season with 13.0 sacks for Temple. But Miami needs junior Jaelan Phillips, the UCLA transfer and former national No. 1 recruit, to have a big year. If the Canes produce quality bookend pass rushers the entire defense improves. This is essential. Miami had 46 sacks last season but 15.5 are gone because defensive end Gregory Rousseau is sitting out the season due to COVID-19 concerns. On top of that, UM must find quality depth among backups such as freshmen Jafhari Harvey, Chantz Williams and Cam Williams. Miami faces mostly veteran quarterbacks early in the season. The Canes, led by Roche and Phillips, must make them uncomfortable.