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Schedule Preview: Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Has FSU’s similar use of the portal bridged the gap between the two programs?

Sun Sentinel

It wasn’t that long ago the Miami Hurricanes found themselves in a somewhat similar situation to where Florida State is now. To be fair they never dropped to a three-win season, but they did look like they were stuck in mediocrity. To jumpstart a resurgence, head coach Manny Diaz hit the transfer portal, snagging the biggest talent in Houston quarterback D’Eriq King as well as edge rushers like Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche.

The ‘Canes started 8-1 last season, including a 52-10 win over FSU, before dropping their last two games to finish 8-3. Miami went 3-1 in one-score games, which is pretty good luck that may see some regression to the mean this season.

Miami Offense - Long Live the King

The offense goes as D’Eriq King goes. He’s essentially a top 15 passer and perhaps the best rushing quarterback in college football right now as he enters his last season of collegiate eligibility. King is excellent at extending plays and knowing when to keep his eyes downfield for the pass and when to tuck the ball and run.

Having such an explosive weapon as King provides tremendous value in several ways. It changes the numbers advantage in favor of Miami meaning defenses have to play 11 on 11 instead of 11 on 10. King is capable of shredding man coverage with his legs, so it can make defenses somewhat more predictable by forcing more zone coverage. Whatever coverage they decide to play, teams are forced to account for King. However, King is likely more athletic than whoever is sent to spy on him. A linebacker isn’t enough, implying an extra defensive back. But then you have to be careful that you’re too light to stop the run.

Miami likes to make heavy use of their tight ends, and they lost star Brevin Jordan to the NFL Draft earlier this year. In his place will step the solid Will Mallory who was their fifth-leading receiver last year.

Fortunately for the ‘Canes, leading receiver Mike Harley returns for his last season in Coral Gables. Harley doesn’t have great size at 5’11” but he’s an all-around very good receiver who excels in space (and near the sideline) and Miami does a good job getting him the ball where he can make things happen. They love using him on slants, screens, curls, outs and corner routes.

With the loss of Jordan, Diaz hit the transfer portal again and secured the services of Charleston Rambo, who had a great 2019 season with the Oklahoma Sooners. If Rambo can return to his 2019 form for the ‘Canes, Miami should have the makings of a great passing attack. To round out that group they also return their third and fourth leading receivers from last season in Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins. The two combined for 114 yards on 8 catches against the Seminoles last season.

Miami has a very solid stable of running backs with Cam’ron Harris, Donald Chaney, and Jaylan Knighton. The weakness of their offense, if there is one, is their offensive line. The good news is they return all five starters from last year with a record 190 combined starts. The bad news is that group didn’t get a lot of push in the running game last year and their pass protection was below average, even with a QB like King. However, King did a great job getting the ball out quickly to help mitigate some of that. There’s also some good depth here, so does their OL take a step forward this season?

Miami Defense — Can You Replace That Much Talent?

What will Miami’s defensive line look like this season? Who will step up? Gone are talented edge rushers Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau who were both taken in the first round of April’s NFL Draft. Phillips led Miami with eight sacks last season while Rousseau sat out because of Covid-19. They also lost their second-leading sack artist in Quincy Roche, who was drafted in the sixth round.

There’s talent and depth along the defensive line, but no clear replacement for the departed trio. The best of the bunch is likely Nesta Jade Silvera. They also have Jonathan Ford, and at edge rusher transfer Deandre Johnson and converted linebacker Zach McCloud.

As for Miami’s secondary, they were below average last season. However, they had a bit of bad luck with injuries and attrition, but there’s no hiding that corners DJ Ivey and Te’Cory Couch struggled. There’s plenty of talent returning for what should be an improved unit, as long as the defensive line doesn’t hang them out to dry.

Just like Georgia defensive end transfer Jermaine Johnson instantly became FSU’s best pass rusher, Georgia defensive back transfer Tyrique Stevenson instantly becomes Miami’s best cornerback. Stevenson was a very highly rated recruit of the 2019 class. That leaves Ivey and a now-healthy Al Blades, Jr. to fight for the other cornerback spot.

Safeties Bubba Bolden and Amari Carter are solid, but they were counting on contributions from the best recruit of their 2020 class, safety Avantae Williams, before Williams was recently dismissed from the team. Bolden is likely Miami’s best defender and has a chance to develop into an elite player this season.

Miami vs. Florida State Final Thoughts

Going into the 2005 season Miami held a seemingly insurmountable nine-game all-time series lead over the Seminoles. After a 10-2 run from ‘05 to ‘16 FSU had closed the gap to 31-30. Another thing Miami fans have held over FSU fans was this close to slipping away. Unfortunately, Florida State has dropped the last four games as the bottom of their program fell out, including last season’s 52-10 annihilation.

It’s annoying.

FSU was losing last year 38-3 at halftime. Has FSU really closed that much of a gap in one year? If Manny Diaz could use the transfer portal to raise the floor and ceiling of his program, why can’t Mike Norvell do the same? FSU is just a couple seasons behind Miami in trying it, snagging their own QB in McKenzie Milton and edge rushers in Johnson and Marcus Cushnie. We already know it worked for the ‘Canes, more or less. We have yet to see the actual on-field results for FSU, though FSU’s starting talent looks better across most of the board while their depth remains painfully shallow in spots. Miami should be better in some positions than they were last year while worse in others.

Hopefully FSU and Miami meeting this year in November instead of September will fall in favor of the ’Noles as Norvell continues to rebuild this program. Still, it’s hard to pencil in a win for FSU at this time, though it’s reasonable to expect Norvell’s squad to be much more competitive. In a rivalry game like this, and where FSU’s team is currently at, that’s all you can ask for.