We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week’s edition of our opponent Q&A series features a chat with our friend Cameron J. Underwood, Managing Editor at State of The U. We discuss a fast start, Malik Rosier, and what the Hurricanes will have to do to break the streak on Saturday in Doak.
TN: Miami has looked the part so far during its 3-0 start. What were your expectations for the Hurricanes coming into 2017? Have they changed at all after the fast start?
SOTU: My expectations were high, and I expected these wins. I had Miami down for a 10-2 season with things really coming down to 3 games: Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. So, even though the schedule has been moved around a bit, things have met my expectations to this point.
Honestly, nothing has changed in my mind. Miami is still in a good place, playing well, and can still have a 10-win regular season (albeit in 11 games, since we canceled the Arkansas State game). I think the schedule still comes down to the 3 games listed, and I think Miami is in position to compete and win those games.
TN: From a football standpoint, do you think it would have benefitted Miami to play Florida State when the game was originally scheduled? Or do you like the match-up more as it stands on October 7?
SOTU: I think maybe there would have been a benefit in the earlier game if only because James Blackman would have less game experience (1 game vs 2 games now) heading into the Miami game. While I think that changes things slightly, I think the difference is negligible. I think the matchup is the same, with 2 strong defenses, 2 questionable special teams groups, and Miami's offense having more consistent production that FSU's, although it should be noted that FSU still has *PLENTY* of talent on that side of the ball.
And, to me, regardless of when the game would have been played, Miami-FSU was and is going to be a war. It's just that FSU's QB has 1 more game of experience under his belt that has changed.
TN: Let's talk about Malik Rosier. I can't say that many UM fans I know were overly enthused about him winning the job in camp, but he looked really good in the first quarter of the Duke game before coming back to earth a bit. What does he bring to the table in the Hurricane offense and what will he need to do particularly well to have success against the Seminoles?
SOTU: I was among the group of Miami fans who were less than enthusiastic about the choice of Rosier as starting QB, but he's done everything he can to prove us wrong. A former baseball player, Rosier has a strong arm and is able to make all the throws you need on a football field. He's got good athleticism and mobility, something Miami has sorely lacked at the QB position, and opens up the offense in the zone-read and called QB run games. Rosier's number isn't called to run often, but he can definitely do it, and do it well.
To be successful against FSU, Rosier will need to make good reads in the zone-read and RPO games (he's been good at this, but has mised a couple reads in each game), run when he has the chance, and continue to take care of the ball. One of Rosier's biggest weaknesses in the past when he backed up Brad Kaaya would be playing loose with the ball, or trying to turn a broken play into a big play and things going horribly wrong. He simply can't do that on Saturday. Rosier has to continue to make the proper reads, be accurate, and use his legs to keep FSU honest on defense in order to find success on Saturday afternoon.
TN: The Hurricanes currently lead the country in rushing efficiency. Do you expect them to lean on the run game against FSU? Which match-ups are you optimistic about against the Seminole defense?
Mark Richt has made it known both by performance of his teams through his coaching career and in statements to media when asked that the foundation of his offense is the run game. With Mark Walton, the ACC's best RB and a top 10 RB nationally in my opinion, as the starting RB, that will continue to be the focus for Miami. The thing about leaning on the run game, especially vs FSU, is you have to be both consistent (stay with it even if it's not 100% working) and effective. No, I'm not saying turn into "3 yards and a cloud of dust", but the threat of the run has to be there. Going 1 dimensional on offense against any team is usually a bad thing, especially when the defense is as talented as FSU's.
As far as matchups, I'm going to go with Miami's OL vs FSU's DL. The Canes' offensive line has been better this year than previously, but there have still been breakdowns. That group is going to have to bring their absolute best to combat the FSU front of Sweat-Nnadi-Christmas-Burns.
The other matchup I'm watching is a 2 parter in the secondary: 1. Tarvarus McFadden vs Ahmmon Richards (that's gonna be a high quality WR-CB battle there), and accounting for where on the field is Derwin James? James is 2nd on FSU with 18 tackles, and lines up at every level of the defense, depending on the snap. Being aware of where he is is a key for Miami.
TN: How would you evaluate Many Diaz's defense so far in 2017?
SOTU: Overall, damn good. The Canes are tied for 2nd nationally averaging 9.0 TFL per game and are 22nd nationally giving up 4.6 yards per play. They've come out strong in all 3 games, and were *DOMINANT* on the road at Duke. The Defensive Line is one of the best units in America and they're playing like it. The sophomore trio of linebackers continues to excel. And, overall, players have been deployed to their strengths.
That's not to say that everything is perfect, however. Miami is still allowing far too many 3rd down conversions (44%, ranked 107th nationally in opponent 3rd down conversions), although that started trending in a good direction in the win at Duke. Miami has also stayed in base 4-3 vs 3-wide and spread looks, which may be a function of trusting an LB to make a tackle in zone after a completion more than whichever young defensive back they would bring in to play nickel. Also, the secondary has had some catastrophic coverage breakdowns, most notably against Toledo's high powered passing offense. Those weren't present in last week's game, but I've seen it happen this season, so I will continue to look and see if they happen again.
Even with the negatives I've listed, Miami's defense has played very well, and has been flat out dominant in the 2nd halves of games, limiting the opponents to 21 points after the break (and 0 in their last game out against Duke). This is a group that is finally playing Miami caliber defense, and Manny Diaz deserves credit for that. Sure, there have been oddly timed blitzes (the Duke game) or coverage busts (the Toledo game) but those have been few and far between, and Miami's defense looks very, very good so far this season.
TN: What do you expect the Hurricanes to do on defense to attack FSU's true freshman quarterback and an offensive line that struggled in pass protection last week? Are you confident Miami's defensive backs can hold up against the Seminole wideouts?
SOTU: This is a good question. I expect Miami to mix looks to both get pressure on Blackman and confuse him. As I previously said, Miami's DL is very good, and as I'm sure you've detailed on Tomahawk Nation this season, FSU's offensive line is not. Miami will look to get pressure with 4 and play coverage against Blackman, forcing him to read the field, which is something he hasn't proven he can do yet. Miami's DC Manny Diaz is also very good at dialing up blitzes (see Michael Pinckney's beaautiful 4th down sack on Duke's opening possession last week, and the myriad corner blitzes executed flawlessly by Corn Elder in the past) and I think he'll pick his spots to bring extra pressure on Blackman on Saturday.
The one FSU WR who is concerning to me is Auden Tate. He's developed into a very nice player, and his combination of size and athleticism is something that could exploit Miami's CBs, who are not the largest group in the country. Now, just because Tate is the only WR I named doesn't mean I'm comfortable leaving the CBs on an island all day vs the rest of the WRs for FSU. I think Miami has the talent to keep up and have good coverage, but the more 1v1 situations you give FSU, the more chances you give the WRs to break loose and make a play. I think, with a combination of pressure from the DL/blitz, and mixing man and zone coverage, Miami should be able to largely keep up with FSU's passing attack, so long as the starting/top 6 DBs are on the field, and Miami doesn't dig too deep on the depth chart, where talent is still not to the level it should be for the Canes.
TN: It's FSU-Miami, so we have to talk special teams. What should Seminole fans look for from UM's special teams unit?
SOTU: *Sigh* do we have to? Fine. Miami's kicker Michael Badgley is very good, with a strong leg and great accuracy. That only matters if the kicks aren't blocked, BUT I'M NOT GOING TO GO THERE. Freshman Punter Zach Feagles has a strong leg and has been very good this season, even with his -1 yard punt against Duke. Feagles has seemed to use a high drop point on his punts, to help him get more hang time so the coverage unit can run under the ball and cause fair catches by the returners. He can drive the ball down the field (he has 51 and 47 yard punts already to his credit), but he's been going for hang time recently. It will be interesting to see if Miami gets backed up and Feagles has to try to really kick one far.
As far as returns, Jeff Thomas has all the speed in the world as KR, but he's yet to break one. Saturday would be a nice time for him to channel Devin Hester and return one for a TD. Braxton Berrios is a good and steady PR for Miami. Some fans deride him for the number of fair catches he makes, but he's sure handed, and gets Miami the ball. He also can be explosive if given space, as I'm sure FSU fans remember from his 41 yard PR last year vs the Noles to set up Miami's last TD.
The thing that concerns me for Miami's special teams is kickoff coverage. It's simply not been good, and there have been several instances of long returns (across the 40 yard line). I don't know if the gunners are running down hesitantly. I don't know if it's a lack of effort. I don't know what it is, but I don't like it and I hope it get fixed ASAP because FSU has the kind of athletes who can exploit this deficiency and give FSU great field position, if not score outright.
TN: Finally, let's get a prediction. Will the Hurricanes finally snap the streak?
SOTU: This game scares the hell out of me. Not so much the team, I respect FSU but am not scared of them, but the streak having a life of its own, and the mental side of things affecting Miami and dragging the slide to yet another year.
In my mind, Miami is the better/more complete team now. Miami has all the momentum. Miami has everything you need to win this game. If you put blind resumes up for these teams, you’d pick the Miami-resume team by 3 TDs. But, this is Miami-Florida State, and it’s going to be a dogfight.
I think Miami will win, I need to see it happen before I feel 100% comfortable. Miami 27 Florida State 20
Big thanks to Cam for his time and insight! Be sure to head over to State of The U for all things Miami. Our answers to their questions will be up shortly.