MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After a successful debut for Mark Richt and Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Hurricanes are ready for a much better challenge this week as they host the Florida Atlantic Owls in a Saturday early evening kickoff.
It’s the third meeting between Miami and FAU, with the Canes winning the previous two.
Last year, Miami earned a hard fought 44-20 victory in a game that was tight until midway through the 3rd quarter.
Miami gained 526 yards in that game, with running back Joe Yearby acquiring some savory stats. Yearby had 246 all-purpose yards – 146 of them coming on the ground.
FAU ran for 223 yards against Miami last year.
This will be a game that features many local players facing off against each other, which often creates an emotional environment.
“There is always emotion in the game. What I keep telling the players, sooner or later the emotion dies off and then what you have left are the habits you created in practice,” head coach Richt said. “We need to rely on the habits of doing things right and execute our plan for the entire game.”
A big key for the Canes’ attack will be the Miami offensive line which must take control of the line of scrimmage.
FAU has very physical in the front seven led by defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who recorded 13 and a half sacks last year and has 20 during his career.
“They have ability and they play hard on defense,” said Richt. “Linebacker Azeez-Al Shaair had 10 tackles last week and really runs well. They have a couple of young corners and we need to test them and find out how good they are. “
One of the big storylines will be FAU running an up-tempo offense. They run plays as fast as anyone in the country. The Canes need to get lined up quick and be ready to play ball.
The Owls ran 76 plays in their 38-30 win over Southern Illinois last week, though the Owls’ defense did allow Southern Illinois to rack up 530 yards.
Miami ran 57 plays in its victory over FAMU.
Communication will be important as defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have to get his calls and personnel in quickly.
“FAU presents a challenge because of their fast tempo,” Diaz said. “Fast-tempo offenses try to zap your effort. They try to zap your energy. They try to zap your toughness with their temp. They try to tire you out. That’ll be a major battle this week.”
The Hurricanes plan on continuing to rotate defensive linemen, including reserves like Ryan Fines and Joe Jackson, as well as the injured Trent Harris, who is playing with a fractured hand and a large padded soft cast.
Miami will also get a boost this weekend by the return of defensive tackle Gerald Willis.
He’s making his highly-anticipated Hurricanes debut after sitting out last season to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements and missing Saturday’s game because of a one-game suspension.
He has wreaked havoc in practice and now he gets to do it in a game.
“It will be neat for him to play in his first game,” Diaz said. “He has to play to the standard that everybody else did now. He has to make sure he is lined up and goes in the right direction. If he just plays really hard and tackles well, we will be pleased with him as well.”
The Canes are back in the top 25 – ranked 25th for the first time since November of 2013.
Canes Walk is at 4 p.m. and kickoff just after 6 p.m. Miami is more than a three touchdown favorite.