We’re very fortunate to have a network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week is rivalry week, so we’re having fun chatting with Kappa Cane, a former writer at a Hurricane Fan Blog. We took some time to talk about Manny Diaz’s job security, the ‘Canes’ new quarterback, and Miami’s approach to recruiting and the transfer portal.
TN: Going into the season, after getting King back it looked like Miami was poised for a run at an ACC title campaign. Instead, Miami opened the season by getting blasted by Alabama (as one does) and proceeded to lose three of their next five to fall to 2-4 on the year. It looked like the end of the road for Manny Diaz who by all accounts was a lame duck coach waiting to get fired. Since then, Miami has reeled off three wins in a row and have looked better than their 5-4 record. What happened? Why the rollercoaster?
Kappa: In my opinion, injuries hurt us significantly. Although King was highly touted coming back this season, I don’t think he was fully healthy and that showed on the field. Whether it be the play calling of the OC, or the decision making by King, you saw him holding the ball longer than normal and scrambling for his life often. I commend him for his effort because he returned from a serious injury (Knee) in a condensed timeframe and gave his all for this program. It’s disappointing to see him work so hard to return and then experience another season ending injury (Shoulder). Freshman Running Back Don Chaney came into the season with big expectations and also went down for the season early on with a Knee injury. Adding insult to injury, we lost our starting Running Back, Cam’Ron Harris, to a season ending Knee injury in the loss at North Carolina. Key injuries on the OL include our starting Center, Corey Gaynor, who injured his knee and required season ending surgery and Left Guard Jalen Rivers was lost for the season with a knee injury as well.
Similarly on the defensive side of the ball we lost our leading tackler, Bubba Bolden, who experienced a season ending injury, Tyrique Stevenson, our top corner this season, sustained an injury in the first half of the Virginia game and did not return so that hurt us in that game. Al Blades Jr experienced a season ending sports hernia, and the list goes on… it’s been rough.
As far as what’s gone right, you have to look at the Offensive Line first. The guys up front have done a much better job of consistently executing their assignments. Once that position group settled in you saw better running holes and passing lanes emerge. As the season has progressed the offense has seen multiple players step up and make plays and the unit as a whole has coalesced around Tyler Van Dyke. They’ve been very vocal in their support of Coach Manny Diaz, and what they’ve shown is they’re galvanized by their desire to play hard for him, and for each other.
TN: Miami started 1-2 in one-score games but is now 4-2, indicating they’ve been a little lucky, including winning the last three by just 8 total points. In your opinion, is it luck or is it the emergence of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke?
Kappa: They say its better to be lucky than good, but I’d say it’s been a combination of the two. The effort and execution of the offensive unit has improved week over week, and if you look at our 2 conference losses we lost those games by a combined 5 points, and both games came down to the final possession. We could easily be taking about a vastly different landscape if those games ended differently, but they didn’t. We lost, and we learned. Once you peel back the onion, you can see very encouraging signs from the team in those games. No let downs of effort being the biggest indicator of the trajectory of the program. We’re a very young team (experience wise) now so we’re learning how to win, and that’s going to be significant as the season progresses.
TN: It is my opinion that Van Dyke has likely saved Manny Diaz’s job. If that’s the case, are you happy about that? Or are Miami fans looking forward to the post-Diaz era?
Kappa: I’m happy that the Miami Hurricanes are winning again. I don’t care who the figure head is, but the players do and they’ve overwhelmingly supported Manny. I’d say there is a loud minority of fans that want Manny gone, but I don’t believe that’s a consensus amongst the fan base. I know they’re frustrated and looking for better results, but the program isn’t going to be a national contender over night. With two years left on his initial contract, I think Manny stays for that duration. From there, who knows?
TN: In Van Dyke’s early starts, he struggled quite a bit a didn’t look very impressive. However, he seemed to improve nearly every week and is playing very good football right now. What are your thoughts on his development and his strengths and weaknesses as a passer?
Kappa: The kid was a consensus four-star prospect across all of the ranking services, so we know he has the goods. He’s a freshman making his first collegiate starts this season and they came against conference rivals with veteran coaching staffs that threw a lot at him. He’s gained more confidence each play he’s been out there, and he’s performed well under pressure and put his teammates in a position to make plays. A major strength of his is his ability to zip the ball to his receivers in space and to go deep with both accuracy and touch. He’s got a solid 6’4’ 225lb frame, so he can absorb some hits and keep playing
TN: It appears that it’s not a priority for Diaz to dominate South Florida recruiting and he will instead likely resort to heavily hitting the transfer portal again. On the other hand, Diaz has had some success in the portal. Do you think that strategy is a mistake, or do you believe it can be successful enough to help the Canes compete for titles?
Kappa: Has he been successful with the portal, absolutely. Is that a recipe for national championships? No. There are no shortcuts to greatness. What Manny’s done with the portal is flip the roster at positions of need and brought in veteran leadership to coach up the other guys on the team and the talented athletes he’s recruited.
TN: Can you discuss the 2021 Canes defense? How have they dealt with the loss of Jaelan Phillips? What are this squad’s strengths and weaknesses?
Kappa: I’d rather not, LOL. We started out terribly on offense which left our defense on the field far too long early in the season. We’ve also struggled with getting off the field on third down this season, but have shown a bend but don’t break attitude and a strong sense of teamwork. Strengths would be the secondary, weaknesses have been the linebacker corps and our inability of the front 7 to get consistent tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
TN: Miami opened as about a three-point favorite over the Florida State Seminoles. Give us a score prediction. Does Miami make it four in a row this season and five in a row in the series?
Kappa: I think the game will be closer than last year, but still a double digit win for Miami. I’ll go 38-24 Miami, and 5 straight wins for the ‘Canes with 5 different starting quarterbacks. Miami is 4-1 against the spread (ATS) in our last five away games, and we’ve hit the over in four of our last six games, so take the over of 60.5 points.
A big thank you to Kappa for taking the time to chat with us! You can find him on Twitter here.