We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. Week Six of the 2016 season features a chat with Jerry Steinberg, one of the managers over at SBN’s State of the U. We discuss a hot start for the ‘Canes under a new staff and what FSU fans should be on the lookout for on Saturday night.
TN: Mark Richt’s first season has gone as well as could have been hoped, to date. What were your expectations for the 2016 ‘Canes entering the season, and have they changed after a 4-0 run to open the year?
SOTU: Before the year began, I predicted Miami would go 10-2 and win their first ACC Coastal Division Title. And honestly, that's exactly where I still see them. The 4-0 start and gaudy Top 10 ranking have opened some eyes, but heading into 2016 I saw this 'Canes team as top heavy one with a lot of front line talent, yet still lacking depth. This remains the case. The difference between Mark Richt and his staff and the previous regime is palpable. UM is no longer going to lose to teams on the schedule that they have no business losing to. But I think he still needs another few classes to get the kind of roster that can compete for a National Championship. In all fairness, their first 4 opponents are teams they had more talent than and should have beat. In the next two weeks with games against a wounded animal/arch rival in FSU, and reigning Coastal Champs UNC, we'll find out how good the Hurricanes really are.
TN: What have been the major changes in offensive philosophy that you’ve seen under Richt as opposed to that of Al Golden’s staff?
SOTU: For starters, they are using a lot more power sets (FB, 2 TE's) and that has really helped the running game. Former OC James Coley was spreading the field and putting QB Brad Kaaya in the shotgun for a majority of snaps the last few seasons, and Richt still employs that, just not nearly as often. Before the GT game they also used a lot of RPO's (run pass options), with Kaaya deciding whether to hand the ball off on a draw or take the quick pass on a bubble screen to one of many talented receivers at his disposal (Stacy Coley, Ahmmon Richards, or Dayall Harris mostly). If you watch the App State game, they ate up the Mountaineers with RPO's all game long. It's a very basic concept, but one UM didn't emply successfully under Golden/Coley. The biggest difference however is simply the attitude of the O. The big uglies still need to improve and be more consistent, but the offense as a whole is much, much more physical than in previous years. Richt has them wanting to whup the man across from them, and thus far they are responding.
TN: How do you expect the Miami offense to attack Florida State’s defense? Which match-ups do you like, and which worry you?
SOTU: I think the 'Canes try to punch the front 7 of FSU in the mouth with the run early, to set up play action passing later. RB's Mark Walton and Joe Yearby are both looking really good thus far between the tackles as well as on the outside, and UM can not be one dimensional offensively if they expect to win this game. I really also like either WR Stacy Coley or the freshman Ahmmon Richards against CB Tarvarus McFadden. The nightmare of a match-up for me is T's Trevor Darling, Sunny Odogwu, and Tyree St. Louis against Demarcus Walker. Walker looks like he is unblockable, and none of the 'Canes tackles have looked stellar through 4 games. I worry about the healthy of Kaaya, if Miami doesn't give whomever Walker is matching up with some help.
TN: At least right now, the even larger area of improvement for 2016 Miami has come on defense, as they currently rank 11th in the nation by S&P+. What has Manny Diaz brought that’s produced such a dramatic surge so far?
SOTU: Miami is no longer playing a vanilla, 3-4, bend but don't break scheme. Diaz has them attacking the line of scrimmage out of a 4-3 base, and that philosophy has allowed athletes like Demetrius Jackson, Chad Thomas, and Kendrick Norton to flourish. They are also blitzing a lot more now too, and that plays well with their athletic front. Whether it is coaching, conditioning, or both, they are also much improved as a unit in the tackling department. Overall the combination of scheme and better play on D has been a dramatic turnaround from the past few seasons, and the single biggest reason in my opinion the team is heading in the right direction.
TN: How have Miami’s three freshmen linebackers fared so far? Will Diaz attempt to protect or help them out against Dalvin Cook and the Florida State offense?
SOTU: Both Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman have been lights out so far. The two have combined for 40 tackles, 7.5 TFL's, and 3 sacks. Quarterman is manning the Mike spot, and looks mature beyond his years. He's also a thunderous hitter. Pinckney is playing the Will, and is making a lot of plays in both the pass and run game. He nearly had his first INT Vs GT this past weekend dropping back in coverage, further displaying his versatility. The third freshman LB Zach McCloud is more of a platoon player at this point of his career, but he too has flashed on a few plays. All three of these guys were early enrollees, and the fact they were around for the Spring is paying big dividends. I'm not sure what Diaz will do in terms of matching up with Cook, especially as a receiver out of the back field. I doubt any of these guys play him straight up. But the way Diaz likes to attack, they could very well be forced into a few 1 on 1's with Cook, and that will be interesting (and somewhat terrifying) to watch.
TN: It’s FSU-Miami, so we have to talk special teams. How have the ‘Canes fared in this phase of the game in 2016? Are there any unmentioned key players FSU fans should have their eyes on?
SOTU: Miami has been pretty solid on ST thus far. Justin Vogel is an excellent punter, and PK Michael Badgley has a huge leg. The coverage units haven't allowed any huge returns, and Braxton Berrios has a PR for a TD already. They don't have a Devin Hester type out there. But the Special Teams as a whole have been pretty sound through 4 games.
TN: Finally, give us a prediction. Will Miami snap the streak as a home favorite in primetime?
SOTU: I think the 'Canes pressure gets to Deondre Francois and creates a few early turnovers that Miami capitalizes on for an early lead. But FSU is in the habit of dramatic comebacks, so they don't go away easy. Cook loves to face his hometown team, so he'll make a few big plays close the gap or perhaps even put the 'Noles ahead. But in the marquee moment it is Kaaya who shines brightest. A late TD pass to David Njoku sends Hurricanes fans into ecstasy. UM wins 30-24.
Thanks to Jerry for his time and insight! Our answers to SOTU’s questions can be found here.