TN: The news finally came from the NCAA last week that Miami would be receiving a penalty of three scholarships per year for the next three seasons, officially ending a train wreck of an investigation. What's the feeling like in Coral Gables now that the Nevin Shapiro saga has come to an end?
SOTU: The end of the NCAA saga is a relief. The uncertainty that accompanied that situation was really the biggest penalty of all. The negative recruiting that was used against us is well chronicled, but that's just one part of it. There wasn't a time over the last 3 years that anybody talked about Miami Football that the NCAA investigation wasn't mentioned. It was omnipresent and terrible.
Being free of the specter of impending NCAA doom is huge for our program. While I would contend that the 9 scholarship reduction over 3 years is more than we should have gotten, it's a very light penalty compared to what could have been given. Now, the focus shifts back to the games on the field, and the recruiting tactics that other schools had employed are now null and void. Yeah, relieved is a good word for how we feel now that this is over.
TN: Miami is an undefeated team entering November. I have to think that even most Miami fans wouldn't have bet on being able to say that in August. What are your expectations for the rest of the season, and just how good do you think this ‘Canes team is?
SOTU: Being undefeated to this point is a welcomed surprise. When you look at how bad we were on Defense last year, and how we found ways to lose close games, it's safe to say that this team is exceeding expectations.
As far as the rest of the season, the goal since summer has been the ACC Championship Game. Obviously, that's very much in play at this point. The offense needs to be more consistent, and protect the ball much better, but I fully expect to win the Coastal Division and play for the ACC Championship in Charlotte.
How good is this team? That remains to be seen. For the first time in years we have the talent to a point where competing for a conference title is not a stretch. Our players have matured mentally and physically, and are starting to bring us back to being THE U again. However, we're not there yet. Stephen Morris, for all the good he's done, still turns the ball over too much, and we've tried our hardest to lose the last 2 weeks. I think this game and next week's game vs Virginia Tech will go a long way toward letting us know who this team really is.
TN: The Hurricanes have been a bit banged up to this point in the season, with recent injuries suffered by Morris, Johnson, and Dorsett, among others. What does the injury report look like for key UM players against the ‘Noles?
SOTU: The injury bug has bitten us recently. Some (Duke's migraine vs. UNC) were a fluke, and others (Dorsett's torn MCL) will have a lasting impact. Everybody who is available for the game is as close to 100% as you can be. After 9 weeks and 7 games, nobody is FULLY healthy, but the health of our available players shouldn't factor into the game. There's been talk that QB Stephen Morris' ankle is still bothering him, but I don't buy it. I think that he's just been bad over the last 3 games, and the ankle is a red herring for his poor play.
The big injury for Miami is WR Philip Dorsett (Torn MCL), who is out for 4-6 weeks. As the fastest player on our team and singular deep passing threat, that is a big component of our offense that won't be on the field. The other players on the injury report aren't really a factor for this year's team.
TN: James Coley departed FSU to return to South Florida and take full control of the Miami offense. How do UM fans feel about Coley, and what sort of offensive identity has he brought to the ‘Canes?
SOTU: This question really hits on 3 things in my mind: 1. Coley as recruiter, 2. Coley as OC, 3. Coley as QB coach.
As a recruiter, Miami fans LOVE Coley. He came right in, and within 2 weeks of him taking the job he'd evaluated and offered current UM commit Brad Kaaya, who had previously held no offers. Kaaya has seen his recruiting profile skyrocket over the past 6 months, but Coley was the one to first look at him as a high caliber recruit. Add in the fact that Coley has aided in the recruitment of other commits in Miami's outstanding 2014 class, and it's easy to see why he is regarded as a top notch recruiter.
As an OC, I think Coley has been good, if unspectacular so far. Our execution has been uneven leaving many points on the field this year, but the potential to score has been there. Still, I would like to see a bit more creativity from our offense. We have gotten to be far too conservative/predictable recently.
As a QB coach, Coley has been poor. Obviously, I'm looking at Stephen Morris' performance as the main point of evaluation here. Morris has made a lot of throws off balance. He has missed his target by WIDE MARGINS on far too many occasions. For a player who was being talked about as a borderline 1st round pick after a strong summer, this is a major let down.
Overall, I think Miami fans are pleased with Coley to this point. He came in and hit the ground running, and seems to be growing more comfortable as a play caller. The decision to keep former OC Jedd Fisch's same verbiage made the transition a lot smoother for the players. Our offensive identity is run heavy, with passing plays being a mix of quick rhythm throws, and occasional vertical throws off of play action. The offense needs to find more consistency in executing the plays called, but that will hopefully come with time.
TN: Which match-ups do you think Coley and the Miami O will try to exploit against the Seminoles? Which concern you?
SOTU: Having seen BC's Andre Williams (28 carries, 149 yards) and NCSU's Shadrach Thornton (23 carries, 173yards, 2TDs) find success on the ground, I think that Miami will come out and try to run the ball against FSU. This is the part of Miami's offense that (outside of the UF game) has been the most consistent this year, and will be used heavily in this game. This will obviously require our offensive line to play their best football of the year.
Duke Johnson is a far superior player to Williams and Thornton, but he won't be able to work his magi unless he can get to the 2nd level of the defense with a full head of steam. If he needs to dance in the backfield/near the line of scrimmage just to find any space to run, that would probably mean a long day for our offense.
Also, regardless of if there's an advantage or not, we have to take a couple early shots deep in the passing game. This will probably be on play action (our bread and butter) after a positive run for big yardage or a first down. With Dorsett out, Coley will target either sophomore Herb Waters or freshman Stacy Coley (no relation) with this play. If it works, maybe we go back to it. If it's tightly covered and incomplete, or if it's intercepted, I can almost guaranteed that you won't see any more of that.
TN: The Miami defense appears to have made significant improvements after finishing 88th in the nation last season. What have been the causes of these improvements? Which UM defenders should FSU fans be keeping an eye on Saturday?
SOTU: The improvements on Defense can be linked to 3 things: physical maturation after another year of #UTough, mental maturation/understanding of the defense, and the roster starting to match the scheme that Coaches Golden and D'Onofrio would like to employ (3-4 as base defense).
Last year, there were multiple breakdowns at every level of the defense in nearly every game. Those blown coverages and missed tackles were a plague last year, but have been lessened this season. Also, last year we played a lot of guys who, frankly, had no business playing in the ACC.
TN: How do you expect the Hurricanes to defend Jameis Winston and the rolling Florida State offense?
SOTU: Defending Jameis Winston is going to take pressure from the front 4, and blitzes from the linebackers. Everyone has seen teams try to drop 7 in coverage and dare him to make the right reads and throws. It's safe to say he's proven he can do that. Miami will have to mix things up, but bringing blitzes from multiple places will have to occur.
The secondary will get their toughest test of the season between the rocket-armed Winston and his complement of speedy, athletic receivers. While the secondary has been solid overall, UNC and Wake Forest have had some success passing the ball. Florida might have too (we strategically let Gator receivers run free through the secondary), but their QBs are, well, terrible.
Players to watch for: LB Denzel Perryman. He's our best defender, and can be a disruptive force. He also knows how to form tackle, as a poor Wake Forest player learned last week.
CBs LaDarius Gunter and Tracy Howard will undoubtedly be in the spotlight on Saturday. They enter Saturday's game with 2 and 3 interceptions, respectively, and will have to play their best against FSU's passing attack to give Miami a shot to win.
TN: How have the Miami special teams fared to date? Will the ‘Canes be able to exploit what has so far been uninspiring special teams play from FSU?
SOTU: Our Special Teams has been a strong point so far this year. Kicker Matt Goudis is 6/9 on the year, which is decent but not spectacular. He's also missed a FG attempt in each of the last 2 games, and needs to be a bit more accurate.
Punter Pat O'Donnell is one of the leading players at his position in the country. He's averaging 45.7 yards per punt, and would be 5th nationally if he had enough punts to qualify for that distinction. He has also handled the kickoff duties, and has done a great job there as well. He's had 21 touchbacks in 46 kicks, and has been a great upgrade at this position.
As far as returners, Duke Johnson is the guy. He's averaging over 29 yards per return, and is a constant threat to score. Freshman WR Stacy Coley has also stepped in as the 2nd Kickoff returner (with Duke) and primary Punt Returner now that Philip Dorsett is injured. He has electric ability, but is still finding his sea legs at the college level.
Lastly, Everybody saw the blocked FG attempt that was returned for a TD against UNC. That play turned the tide of that game, and flashed the kind of athletic talent that our roster has now and was lacking in years past.
TN: Finally, how do you see this match-up playing out? Are you surprised that the spread currently sits at around three touchdowns?
SOTU: I'll answer this question backwards. No, I'm not surprised that the line started at 21, and now sits at 22. Florida State has been on a serious role, and their last 2 games (the Clemson beatdown and NCSU revenge shellacking) are fresh in everyone's brain. Jameis Winston is playing like a Heisman trophy candidate, and the defense is playing fast, strong, and angry.
Conversely, Miami has barely survived games against 2 teams (Carolina and Wake Forest) who the should have beaten soundly. The Canes have struggled with turnovers, missed assignments, and generally sloppy play. When compared to FSU (which is what a betting line does), yeah, we're the clear underdogs.
I think the game will be played at a high level. I think that the Canes will come out with our strongest effort of the year versus the best opponent we've seen, by far. However, I don't think that, right now, we're quite ready for prime time.
Final Score Prediction: Florida State 41 Miami 27. A bit of a high scoring affair, but I just don't think that our defense can consistently stop the multifaceted offensive attack the Seminoles will employ.
Big thanks to Cameron for his answers! You can find him on Twitter @UnderwoodSports and the site @TheStateOfTheU. Be sure to head to State of The U for all things 'Canes.