TN: First of all, give us an update on the cloud hanging over the Miami program. What are your current feelings on the looming NCAA sanctions and have there been any indications on their timing or severity?
SOTU: I keep hearing the same rumor, that the NCAA will come to a decision in March 2013. The other thing that's been whispered is that former players are not returning the NCAA's calls. The guys who have talked, have already been punished (Harris, Vernon, etc last season). With not much proof, cooperation, and holes in the Shaprio story (see DeQuan Jones and 10K $) I don't see Miami getting annihilated by the NCAA. That being said, there will still probably be a few scholarships lost and probation.
TN: I think it's fair to say that Al Golden walked into a unique situation in college football coaching. How are ‘Canes fans feeling about his performance so far in his career and this season in particular? What were the realistic expectations entering 2012 and do you think Miami is on the path to meeting them?
SOTU: Most Miami fans are thrilled with the performance of Golden. Defensive Coordinator Mark D'Onofrio is another story. More on that here.
I picked Miami to go 8-4 before the season, and admittedly that was optimistic considering their schedule. Bottom like, 20 true freshman have seen extended playing time. There is just no way you avoid peaks and valleys with that many young guys on the field. The talent is there, give Golden credit. The team has won a few games on pure heart. Golden also deserves credit for that.
TN: The obvious story so far this week has been the question at quarterback for the Hurricanes. Jimbo Fisher said that FSU will be preparing for both quarterbacks, but which do you think will play on Saturday? How do Morris and Williams compare and how does the offense change depending on who is under center?
SOTU: I'm thinking it will be Ryan Williams, as Stephen Morris appeared to sprain his ankle pretty bad. Williams is an accurate passer. He stands 6'6 and clearly has ability. But Miami has a much better chance with Morris under center. Let's not forget Morris set the all time ACC records with 566 yards passing just 3 weeks back. To use baseball terminology, Williams is more a singles hitter. Morris is a home run waiting to happen.
TN: Miami has had some big offensive games, yet has found itself around the middle of the pack in terms of offensive efficiency at 51st nationally (http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/fei) . To what can this inconsistency be attributed and how do you think that Jedd Fisch and the ‘Canes will look to attack the Seminole defense on Saturday night?
SOTU: The biggest problem offensively has been dropped passes. It really killed them against Notre Dame when they had multiple chances to take an early lead. And it reared its ugly head against UNC last weekend as well (I counted 4 1st half drops). The offensive line has been very solid all year. Bottom line if Miami catches passes, they usually score. There have also been a few INTs due to tipped passes. That is the product of the amount of screen passes OC Jedd Fisch calls. At the same time the screen has been a big weapon.
TN: The Hurricanes have struggled mightily on defense in 2012, currently sitting at 93rd in defensive efficiency. What have been the causes of Miami's defensive ineptitude?
SOTU: Where to start. Well for one they are young and undersized up front. They have been absolutely awful at stopping the run. The tackling has been bad. And they largely play conservative in coverage, giving up chunks of yardage to prevent bigger plays. Again a lot of this is covered more eloquently then I can here:
TN: Florida State has been a run first team for the most part this season, and the ‘Canes have struggled against the run, especially against mobile quarterbacks. How will Miami seek to limit the FSU run game and make EJ Manuel beat them with his arm? Does the depth on the defensive line concern you?
SOTU: DTs Olsen Pierre and Luther Robinson returned for the UNC game and the defense was slightly better. In all reality however, this is a very bad match-up for the 'Canes. FSU has three outstanding backs in Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr, and especially Chris Thompson. Manuel can also beat you with his legs, and Miami had tons of trouble with Colin Klein and K State. The best bet for the Hurricanes is to force turnovers, score A LOT, and try to hold Florida State to FGs. I wish I could say there was something strategic or personnel wise to point to, but in all honesty, this could be a long night for the 'Canes defense.
TN: Duke Johnson has been a stud during his breakout freshman campaign. Tell us about some other playmakers that ‘Noles fans should have their eyes on Saturday.
SOTU: #4 Phillip Dorsett has had a hard time holding on to the ball, but the kid is flat out explosive at WR. #80 Rayshawn Scott has been a pleasant surprise as both a deep threat and on intermediate routes. #1 Allen Hurns is UM's best run after the catch guy. For Miami to succeed however, I think the combination of RBs #6 Johnson and # 5 Mike James, need to get the ground game going. On defense true freshman #2 Deon Bush is a solid tackler and should be watched as well.
TN: How have the ‘Canes fared in the special teams department this season?
SOTU: They have had a quite a few nice long KO returns by Johnson and Dorsett. Miami's kick off coverage team has been stellar as well. Surprisingly they have given up some long punt returns, but have also made a few real nice plays downing balls inside the 20. The real headliner for the 'Canes is the sudden unsteadiness of kicker Jake Wieclaw. Wieclaw was terrific last season, but has missed 4 of his last 5 attempts.
TN: Finally, give us a prediction. What will Miami need to do to pull of the upset in South Florida against a ‘Noles team favored by around 17 points?
SOTU: Miami will need to put points on the board, and in my mind force at least 4 turnovers to win. Its very hard for me to pick against the 'Canes, so I say FSU goes fumble happy and Mike James score 3 TDs in a 34-31 OT win.
Thanks to Jerry and State of the U! Be sure to check out their content, including our answers to their questions here.