We're very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. Joining us for a rivalry edition of our Opponent Q&A series is Jerry Steinberg of State of The U, SBN's Miami site. We appropriately discuss the state of The U, match-ups, and predictions.
*Jerry is not actually Cane Shades
TN: The Canes were off to a solid start to the 2015 campaign, and then last Thursday happened. What were your expectations for the team entering the season, and have they changed?
SOTU: Well first of all, solid start is a bit debatable. They played one good half against FAU, and another against Nebraska. You could see the handwriting on the wall that if that trend continued it would come back to bite them. I did not expect of course, the team to do it to be a Cincinnati squad that was nothing special. As far as my expectations, I was thinking 8, maybe 9 wins entering the season. While it is still doable, they now need to beat someone I thought they would lose to, since I had the Cincy game as a W. More importantly though, they will need consistency to win that many and compete for their division, despite the ACC Coastal being exceptionally mediocre. Penalties, third down/red zone ineptness, and tons of mental errors have been their undoing thus far. It's going to be a long, long season if the staff can't get them to clean things up despite the fact they have a marquee QB in Brad Kaaya, a very good all-around RB in Joe Yearby, and well above average talent on defense. It's hard to expect the best going forward, given what we've seen from this staff/program the past couple of years.
TN: What's your assessment of the current state of Miami's program? Just how hot is Al Golden's seat, and what would it take for the Hurricanes to make a coaching change after this season?
SOTU: Al Golden's seat is hotter than Death Valley on the third week of summer. It's hard to imagine that all the banners calling for his job being flown over every game (home or away) hasn't become something of an embarrassment to the University. By all indication, new President Julio Frenk will let AD Blake James make the call on releasing or retaining Golden. And James said before the season started something akin to the staff knows they need to win. I have to imagine at this point, anything short of an ACC Coastal Division Championship and a trip to the ACCCG costs AG his job. Especially given the scare Vs Nebraska and the debacle against the Bearcats.
TN: Miami's offensive line has appeared to be the weak link on that side of the ball so far. How would you evaluate their performance to date, and how do you expect them to fare against a Florida State defensive line that has played well to start the season?
SOTU: The Hurricanes O line has a few very good players in Nick Linder and Trevor Darling. Darling has been a bit inconsistent and drawn a few penalties, but you can see his talent on display from his LT spot, especially on running plays. But G Alex Gall and RT Sunny Odogwu look over matched. Odogwu has tremendous physical traits, but commits atrocious and unnecessary penalties and has lapses in protection. Gall is just limited athletically. If UM continues to rotate in/start Odogwu and Gall it is hard to imagine the ceiling of this unit being much higher. Kc McDermott needs the majority of snaps in place of Odogwu, and Joe Brown would appear a better option than Gall. Given what Miami got from Gall and Odogwu last week Vs Cincy, the young FSU front 7 featuring talents like Demarcus Walker and Terrance Smith could be in for a big day.
TN: How do you expect James Coley's offense to attack the Florida State defense and which match-ups will determine how successful they'll be?
SOTU: Well despite what was discussed above, I would much rather Coley and UM attack that front running the ball behind Joe Yearby and Mark Walton, than line up in shotgun and try to attack the ridiculously good Seminoles back 4 all day. If they can get some semblance of a running game going it means they can go play action with Brad Kaaya. And Kaaya loves finding Rashawn Scott among others over the middle of the field. And no matter what they call, they need to identify and account for Jalen Ramsey on every snap. He destroyed the UM offense with timely coverage plays and edge blitzes in the second half of last season's game. In my opinion, Ramsey is one of the best players this series has seen over the past 10 years. He's a total game changer. Coley and Kaaya need to play a lot of attention to where he lines up.
TN: Where have the Hurricanes struggled on defense, and what are their strengths?
SOTU: Well the 'Canes are second Nationally in turnover margin. A lot of that is due to the fact they have a very good ball hawking secondary. Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush make a ton of plays from the S spots, and Corn Elder and Artie Burns have turned into arguably the best or at worst second best CB duo in the ACC. Raphael Kirby is very active from his MLB spot, and occasionally they get a decent pass rush from Trent Harris, But beyond that, there are a plethora of problems. Inexplicably Dallas Crawford gets a ton of burn at S, and he is having a season that is nothing short of awful. Most of the time they struggle to generate heat on the opposing signal caller, even when they blitz. The tackling has been sub par, and this unit much like the team a a whole just seems prone to mental errors.
TN: Which match-ups do you like for the Canes on defense against the FSU offense, and which concern you?
SOTU: Despite the skills of Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph, I think Burns and Elder match up well on the outside against them. FSU's offensive line certainly isn't dominant, so I would hope the likes of DT Courtel Jenkins and DEs Al-Quadin Muhammad/Chad Thomas could get some TFLs and pressure Everett Golson. Given the struggles in tackling, Dalvin Cook terrified me (should he go). I also fear Golson creating something out of nothing and converting third and longs with his legs.
TN: We FSU fans are always wary of special teams play in this series, as you'd expect. How has Miami fared on special teams so far this season?
SOTU: It's been a mixed bag. Elder has been electric as a punt returner with 3 TD punt returns already this year, albeit 2 were called back by penalty. P Justin Vogel has a huge leg, and PK Michael Badgley has great range. But kick off specialist Jon Semerene kicks the ball out of bounds at least once a game. And poor angles/missed tackles have hampered the coverage units as well. Much like everything else in the UM program, ST are maddeningly inconsistent.
TN: Finally, give us a prediction. How do you see this one unfolding in prime time at Doak on Saturday?
SOTU; I like the Noles by a score of 27-14. It's just hard to imagine Miami coming into Doak fresh off last week's loss, and playing the inspired and efficient football they need to get the win. If Cook plays and is 100% the score could be a lot worse than this. Player for player, UM should be able to hang in. But Jimbo Fisher and his staff always seem to outfox Coach Golden and his staff and make the adjustments needed to get the win. Perhaps Kaaya and Yearby go off and the 'Canes get the upset. It seems like a long shot at this point though.
Big thanks to Jerry for his insight! Our questions to his answers are here. Be sure to head to State of The U for all things 'Canes.