Coming off a game where it was a touchdown shy of matching the school record for points scored, Miami can’t bathe in its press clippings – the Canes have a tougher test ahead.
When the No. 25 (AP) ranked Hurricanes (1-0) welcome Florida Atlantic University to Hard Rock Stadium Saturday evening, UM won’t only be tested because it’s lining up against another FBS program – it’ll be lining up against a team that’s going to test their defensive endurance.
The Owls (1-0) run an uptempo, no-huddle offense that is designed to zap the energy of opposing defenses while also creating potential mismatches; not only because of the number of plays but also because it limits the opportunities for post-play substitutions.
During its week one win over Southern Illinois, FAU ran 76 offensive plays in only 29 minutes of possessing the ball and produced 38 points and 452 yards of total offense.
Canes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz knows that his defense won’t have the veritable walk in the park it had against Florida A&M this past Saturday.
“The team this week will push the envelope with their tempo…fast-tempo offenses, they try to zap your effort and your toughness…their goal is to get you tired out,” Diaz said. “So it’s imperative to not be defeated before the snap. How the game is played after the snap is much more difficult if you’re not in a winning position prior to the ball being snapped and that’s one of the major points for this game.”
“[FAU] will probably be one of the fastest teams we play all year,” Diaz commented.
Though it makes Miami fans sick to their stomachs – remember, Miami was tied at 20 with the Owls through the third quarter of last season’s matchup in Boca Raton before the Hurricanes were able to pull away for a 44-20 victory.
Miami’s a much different team this season, though – or it very well appears to be. The Canes should fare far better this time around, just based on Diaz’s attacking style of defense.
But the key will be making sure that the Hurricanes keep as many fresh bodies – especially on the defensive front – rotating in the game as possible.
Something that can be tough when a team wastes almost no time lining up for the next play.
“You’ve [got to] sub in a different manner, you have to play them in a different manner,” Diaz said. “We have seen tempo from our offense – which is good – to help us. But it’s still hard to recreate until you get into the game and you see it.”
UM’s defensive depth will also be tested against FAU’s up-tempo offense. Suspended players notwithstanding, the Canes lost linebacker Jamie Gordinier for the season with a knee injury sustained during the FAMU game and they will likely be down at least two defensive linemen this weekend.
Diaz, who confirmed that sophomore safety Jaquan Johnson has worked with the linebackers some in practice this week, said that he plans on using all the available players.
“We have to have a bunch of guys play. We have to have guys share snaps in order for us to succeed,” Diaz said. “We’ll play as many guys as possible so guys can empty the tank, come on the sideline, refuel it, and go out and empty it again.”
“We have what we have and we have to keep coming at teams in waves. Everyone’s got a role to play and everyone’s gotta play it,” Diaz added.
Offense Not Slowing Down
One way Miami could help its defense is by manufacturing and sustaining lengthy drives with multiple first downs, allowing their own defense to rest on the sideline.
The Canes run game was quite impressive last week; having three different ball carriers total over 100 yards for the first time in nearly 30 years and scoring five rushing touchdowns.
While that’s what head coach Mark Richt wanted to see and wants to continue to see as a point of offensive emphasis, he’s not going into Saturday’s game looking to slow the pace.
“We’re going to just try to execute offensively. We love running the ball period. We’ll run the ball,” Richt began. But as of right now, we don’t plan on trying to slow the game down in any way. We’re gonna try to use our tempo as well and see which team can execute the best.”
“If there’s ever a time that the defense is struggling, I can change gears. But that’s not the plan,” Richt confirmed.
Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya found success against the Owls last season – throwing for 287 yards – and he’s completely capable of carrying the team if called upon, but Miami wants to establish the run game first and foremost.
Redshirt junior running back Gus Edwards, who recorded a career-long 74-yard rushing score last week, echoed coach Richt’s statement.
“The goal is to run the ball,” Edwards said. “We have the personnel to do that and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
“We can’t sleep on [FAU]. Last week is behind us and we have to move forward. I think guys have really done that this week and everyone is focused on being totally prepared for this week.”
Willis Active; Jenkins & Moten ‘Questionable’
On a week where the Hurricanes’ defensive depth could be tested, “here comes the calvary” in the form of redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Gerald Willis.
A former five-star recruit, Willis sat out this past season after transferring from Florida. He also sat out the first game of the 2016 season, serving a one-game suspension from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Now the 6-foot-4, 285-pound interior lineman will be available and rotate in with starters R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton as well as redshirt freshman Ryan Fines.
McIntosh gave a quick scouting report on Willis.
“He going to add a lot of speed and quickness,” McIntosh said. “He’s very fast off the ball. He moves very well and he’s quick with his feet.”
Coach Diaz had a more tempered response to Willis seeing his first action as a Cane.
“It’ll be neat for him to play. But he’s got to play to the standard that everyone else did. Make sure he’s lined up and goes the right direction. If he just plays really hard and tackles well, we’ll be pleased with him as well,” Diaz said.
Willis will see a lot of action as junior defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins sustained a knee injury during the game against FAMU and will likely be unavailable to the Canes this week.
Also, junior defensive tackle Anthony Moten is still nursing a shoulder injury that he sustained during practice last week and will probably miss his second straight game.
“I’d say both are questionable at this point,” Richt said Wednesday.