The Central Michigan Chippewas are traveling to the Magic City to take on the Miami (FL) Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon to partake in a lovely game of football in the sticky, oceanside heat of Miami.
The Chips are coming off a convincing win against Akron in their first conference game in Week 3, while the Canes are coming off a 63-0 drumming of the Bethune-Cookman WIldcats.
We recently sat down with Cam Underwood, editor-in-chief of our SB Nation sister site State of the U, to get a feel on what to expect from the Hurricanes roster in all facets.
Without further ado: it’s time to spill the tea.
The Miami Hurricanes finally got on the good foot and earned their first win of the season last weekend, destroying an overmatched Bethune-Cookman squad by a 63-0 score. It started slow, but once Miami got rolling, it was curtains for the Wildcats. The main items from the game for me were 1) Jarren Williams looked comfortable, but can still improve, 2) the defense, Miami’s best unit for the last 3 years, finally imposed their will on an opponent, and 3) we’re getting close to the time of seriously considering whether or not to make a change at FG kicker. But we can discuss all those things later.
What to expect on offense
Overall, Miami’s offense is a pro-multiple scheme, one that can be equally successful running the ball from heavy sets as it is passing the ball from spread formations. As has been the case since, well, forever, Miami has a ton of skill position talent, and can align those players in a multitude of ways to create mismatches against he defense and find room to operate all over the field. New OC Dan Enos -- y’all know him! He used to coach at Central -- is bringing Miami’s formerly pedestrian offense into the 21st Century, and things are looking promising. Sure, there are improvements still to be done, but things are looking good for the present and future of the Canes’ offense.
At Quarterback, Redshirt Freshman Jarren Williams has stepped up into the starting job, and is showing why he was one of the most highly rated players at his position in the 2018 recruiting class. Williams has everything you want in a QB: Size, intellect, accuracy, arm strength. And he’s using those traits to great success so far this season. With 777 yards, 6 TDs and 0 INTs on 71% completions, Williams has been very good so far. Sure, he had his struggles in the opener vs UF, but that was more a factor of the OL not having a snowball’s chance in hell of blocking UF’s defensive front. And, while Williams has a good arm, it’s not the strongest in the world. He underthrew a play-action deep ball last week to Mark Pope that resulted in a 54 yard play that should have been a touchdown. Against Bethune Cookman, that’s workable. But against better teams, like the forthcoming ACC slate, we won’t be able to leave those plays on the field. Still, Williams looks the part of the QB that Miami has been searching for to take the program back to being a perennial championship contender.
Miami’s running game is led by DeeJay Dallas and Cam’Ron Harris. Dallas is the starter, and has eclipsed 100 yards in every game this year, so I expect that to continue this week. He’s elite in short area quickness, and has shown improved straight line speed this season. In the past, he’d get caught on long runs. Instead, he’s scored from 50+ multiple times this year, including against Florida, a team with PLENTY of speed on their defense. Harris is arguably the strongest player on the roster pound-for-pound, and can be explosive as a 1-cut runner. He has, unfortunately, had 106 yards of runs taken off the board by holding penalties -- a 54 yarder against UF and a 52 yarder against UNC -- but eventually, those plays will be clean and he’ll have the statistical impact that his play suggests. When you add in former 5-star RB Lorenzo Lingard (still working his way back from a knee injury sustained in practice last year) and Robert Burns, a former blue-chip HS recruit who once set the SPARQ athletic rating record score but has been injured for the majority of the past 4+ years, and there is PLENTY of talent in the backfield. Of those 4 backs, Dallas is the best receiver of the group, so if there’s anyone used in the screen game, or even flexed out as a slot receiver, it would be him.
The unit everybody is watching on every play is the offensive line, and for good reason. After giving up 14 TFLs and 10 sacks to Florida in the opener -- inflated numbers because Jarren Williams held the ball too long on a few occasions -- the lineup was changed. And, I mean.....regardless of whether those numbers were inflated or not, you can’t have that and expect to win. Now, the starting OL is Zion Nelson, Navaughn Donaldson, Corey Gaynor, Jakai Clark, and DJ Scaife from left to right. Clark, a true freshman, was inserted into the lineup after the opener, and Scaife kicked out from RG to RT, and the former RT, John Campbell, was benched. A career Center, Clark was brought to Miami as the OC of the future, but he’s been stellar at Guard so far, and he’s helped shore up the OL. Fellow True Freshman Zion Nelson is one of the craziest stories you’ll ever see: a former 240lb 2-star recruit committed to Appalachian State, Miami got Nelson to flip late in the process, enroll early, gain 55lbs, and become the starting LT for a Canes team with big (10 win) aspirations this year. I’ve never seen anything like it, and he can get better, but Nelson has held his own so far, and looks to be a building block of the present and future. Donaldson was a freshman All-American in 2017, and is arguably the most talented OL on the roster. Moving him back to Guard (he played some Tackle last year but that’s not the best spot for him) and putting him next to Nelson was a wise move. And, most of the big runs this year have come to the offense’s left side -- behind Nelson and Donaldson. So there’s plenty of evidence that this lineup is the one Miami should, and will, stick with.
I talked about Jarren Williams already, but he’s not completing passes to himself. Miami has a stable of receivers for him to connect with. At WR, Jeff Thomas is the game-breaker. He’s struggled to get deep so far this year, but that will come in time. Thomas was WIDEEEE open several times against UF, but the line precluded Williams from finding him. KJ Osborn is the leading receiver so far this year, and using his year as a grad-transfer at Miami to great success. He’s the elder statesman of the group, and very good to boot. I swear half his catches have been on square-ins so look for that this week as well. Mike Harley, Dee Wiggins, Jeremiah Payton, and Brian Hightower are other WRs who figure to get playing time this week. Mark Pope, fresh off a breakout game against Bethune Cookman, is a game-time decision with a foot injury. With Miami’s more important games in the future, I’d expect Pope to be held out of the game this weekend.
Miami is Tight End U, and the next generation at that position are holding up that legacy. Brevin Jordan is the best TE in America and he’s only a sophomore. Backup Will Mallory, another sophomore, has incredible potential and athleticism. Michael Irvin II -- you may have heard of his father -- is a solid piece in the rotation. And freshman Larry Hodges has stepped into the role as starting Fullback (when Miami uses one), and can be a weapon as a point-of-attack blocker or receiver out of the backfield or from the wings of the formation.
What to expect on defense
Ever since now Head Coach Manny Diaz came to Miami as defensive coordinator 3 years ago, the Canes’ defense has been among the best in the country. And, while the names making the plays have changed, that has largely remained true. Sure, there’s been a step back statistically this year, especially in terms of passing defense in a secondary with 3 new starters, but this is still a good unit even with the early-season struggles, which many teams suffer.
Up front, DE Jonathan Garvin is a beast. He is being targeted in opponent’s gameplans now, so his numbers aren’t as eye-popping as they were last year, but the talent is still there. Fellow DE Scott Patchan has been solid early in the season, but some fans are displeased because they’d like to see other guys get more reps instead. Those guys, players like grad transfer Trevon Hill (from VT) and redshirt freshman Gregory Rousseau, have been working in with the starters, but both are pushing for more playing time. At DT, Miami’s rotation of Jon Ford, Patrick Bethel, Chigozie Nnoruka, and Jordan Miller has been solid so far. Former 4-star recruit Nesta Jade Silvera is working his way back from preseason foot surgery, and his return will help bolster an already good DT group. Freshmen Jason Blissett and Jared Harrison-Hunte, both NYC natives, have the look of future starters for the Canes as well.
Everybody in America knows Miami’s linebackers at this point. Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are joined by STRIKER Romeo Finley to form one of the best groups at the 2nd level of any defense in the country. Fellow senior Zach McCloud has moved from starter to multi-purpose backup now that Miami uses a STRIKER (hybrid OLB/S) instead of a 3rd LB in base formation, but he starts on all of the special teams units, and would be the instant replacement if either Quarterman or Pinckney were to be injured. Behind those 4, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But, freshman Sam Brooks looks like he’s going to be a good one down the line, and redshirt freshman Patrick Joyner Jr. should be coming back soon from an injury to add to the depth as well.
In the secondary, Miami is looking to find their footing after losing 3 starters to graduation last year. CB Trajan Bandy is the lone returning starter, and he’s been decent, but got picked on for a TD on a double move against UNC so that didn’t look good. Sophomores Al Blades Jr. and DJ Ivey work opposite Bandy, and in nickel alignment, those 2 are the outside CBs with Bandy moving inside to Nickel (likely his path to a roster spot in the NFL in the future). Freshmen Te’Cory Couch and Christian Williams also take some snaps (in that order) and that’s necessary because Miami only has 5 scholarship CB’s. All of those guys were 4-star recruits coming out of HS, so there’s talent at the position, but the depth is lacking, and teams have exploited that so far this year.
At Safety, Miami is replacing both Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine, guys who had started in the secondary for multiple years. Gurvan Hall and Amari Carter were the early starters, but Robert Knowles played his way into a start last week. Those 3 have been pretty good so far this year, though Hall and Carter have had missed tackle and coverage issues at separate times this year. And, it’s surprising to see Knowles playing this well, because he was the weak link in Miami’s secondary for the past 2 years. He’s really taken a step forward as a 5th year senior, and that’s to be commended. USC transfer Bubba Bolden is another top-end talent at Safety, but he won’t be eligible until October (Stupid NCAA) so you won’t see him on the field this week. I fully expect, however, that Bolden will be in the rotation at Safety as soon as he’s eligible (he’s already been practicing so it’s just a matter of the NCAA not being stupid anymore and letting the kid play).
Miami’s punter is Louis Hedley, a 26 year old Australian with tattoos everywhere (he owned a tattoo parlor in Bali for a while) who used to do scaffolding in the Australian desert and play Australian Rules football. He’s also huge...6’4” 245lb huge. And, he’s improved Miami’s previously-poor punting situation instantaneously this year. Hopefully we don’t see much of him on Saturday, but if we do, I’m sure he’ll do what he’s been doing: kicking the hell out of the ball.
Miami’s kicker, on the other hand, has been, literally, hit or miss. Bubba Baxa has a strong leg -- he hit from 50 vs UNC -- but his accuracy needs VAST improvement. He’s 4/8 on the year, and just 1/4 inside 30 yards. Baxa is a monster on kickoffs and good on XPs (when the line is demolished so the kick gets blocked before it’s barely off the ground like what happened against UNC BUT I DIGRESS) so I don’t see him getting full-on benched, but if he can’t improve the success we’re seeing on FGs, then it’s time to consider a change there.
Miami has plenty of guys who can return kicks. Jeff Thomas. KJ Osborn. DeeJay Dallas. And probably others. Give them space and it’ll be bad for CMU. So, you guys should try that. I think it would be great!
How do you feel going into the game?
It’s cool for me, a native Michigander (I’m from Detroit....WHATUP DOE?!?), to see a directional school come down to Hard Rock Stadium to play the Canes. But, apart from that, there isn’t really much else to say. Miami is by far the better and more talented team, they enter Saturday’s game as a near 5 TOUCHDOWN favorite, and are looking to get to 2-2 on the year, get some payback for CMU doing Dan Enos dirty by not supporting the program when he coached the Chippewas, and just generally get to the bye week on a positive note. Central may hang around for a quarter or a half at most, but this one will end with the Canes pulling away for a pretty sizable victory.
Many thanks to Cam Underwood of State of the U for talking to us about the upcoming CMU vs. Miami (FL) game! The blog can be followed at @StateOfTheU, while Cam can be followed at @UnderwoodSports.