As the University of Miami prepares for its first road game of the 2016 season, the classic musical “Bringin’ Da Noise, Bringin’ Da Funk” comes to mind.
Appalachian State will bring the noise, and it’s up to the Canes to “bring da funk”.
The No. 25 Hurricanes (2-0) will walk into hostile conditions this weekend when they travel to Boone, North Carolina to face an Appalachian State (1-1) team that has become almost notorious for taking down big-name teams and will be looking to upend UM Saturday.
The Mountaineers, who almost upset Tennessee in the opening week of the season, and their fans have made no bones about the magnitude of Saturday’s game, which is set for a 12-noon kickoff and will be televised on ESPN.
Posts across social media have included the team encouraging fans to fill up Kidd Brewer Stadium and tweets showing a sports apparel store selling gold t-shirts that read: “It sucks to be” with the University of Miami “U” in black letters.
UM head coach Mark Richt said the team is preparing for deafening levels of crowd noise.
“Regardless of where you’re going, you gotta get ready,” Richt said. “It’s the first time using non-verbal cadence, first time dealing with crowd noise against us – that’s new. We practiced it a lot – all spring and all fall – but we hadn’t really had the reality of the noise. We’re going to pipe it in here tomorrow and make it as loud as we can and do our best to simulate the crowd noise that we’ll hear. The goal is to make it louder than we can hear, that’s going to be important.”
“Something happened today – I won’t say what – that made me say, ‘you know what, if it’s loud, we’ve got a problem’. We have to make sure we know exactly what to do in loud situations. That’s why we practice,” Richt added.
Appalachian State’s home stadium has a maximum capacity of 23,150, but all of those fans make it a point to be as raucous as possible. Opposing teams haven’t fared well in Boone, either. The Mountaineers have a 202-61-5 record all-time at Kidd Brewer Stadium, including wins in 48 of its last 51 home games.
Poise In The Noise
In order for Miami to come away with a victory Saturday, it’s going to need a better performance from junior quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Kaaya had arguably his worst game on the college level last week in the Hurricanes’ 38-10 win over FAU – missing on multiple throws and totaling just 191 yards and throwing a pair of first-half interceptions.
While the Canes’ running game has more than done its fair share of carrying the offensive workload through the first two games, Kaaya’s performance against Appalachian State – which is allowing just 147 rushing yards per contest this season – will largely be indicative of the final outcome.
“The noise affects one guy the most – that’s the quarterback,” Richt said. “Does he the poise to handle the noise? Does he have the poise to handle all the non-verbal communication? Does he have the poise to handle it when [the opposing fans] go ballistic the first time something good happens for their team? That’s the biggest key to playing on the road in my opinion.”
“Brad’s been through it. I’m not worried one bit about how Brad’s going to react to anything that might come up. He knows what to do, he knows that it’s more to it than just dropping back and slinging the ball. He manages the game and he gets us in the right situations,” Richt added.
While Kaaya’s been through it, there’s a handful of other young Canes – on both sides of the ball – that will be experiencing loud college road game for the first time.
Junior receiver Braxton Berrios said that the older players on the team have doled out words of advice to the underclassmen.
“You kind of have to tell them certain things in a situation like this,” Berrios began. “Because it’s a lot different than being at home. It’s weird being next to somebody on the field and not being able to hear them screaming at you.”
It’s not unusual for road teams to use non-verbal communication at the line of scrimmage – using a “silent” snap count and hand signals to give out instructions.
“You just have to be tuned into the game,” Berrios said. “You have to make sure you get the right signals and pass the signals along. Everyone has to be on the same page because it’s not like you can shout something and just nod your head.”
Defense Handling Adversity
Miami’s defense, which has received much praise for its aggressive performance through the first two weeks of the season, will also be tested Saturday as they go up against a run-heavy Appalachian State team.
Competition considered, the Hurricanes defense has allowed just 69 rushing yards in two games. An impressive number considering Miami’s had to deal with a laundry list of injuries across the defensive line and linebacker corps.
The Mountaineers use a “zone” blocking scheme across its offensive line, which is designed to test the discipline of a defensive front by creating cutback lanes for running backs.
Appalachian State’s offensive bell cow is senior running back Marcus Cox, who’s accounted for 290 total yards of offense and scored four touchdowns.
UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said he and his team are fully aware of what the Mountaineers try to do offensively.
“Their offensive linemen finish blocks and they try to grind you into the ground. They are a blue-collar, hard-nosed football team,” Diaz said. “In their game against Tennessee, their offensive linemen got a 15-yard penalty because they literally drove one of the defensive linemen into the wall of the stadium. They sent a message and showed what kind of mentality they have.”
“As the year unfolds, [Appalachian State] might be one of the better running attacks that we face all season.”
Miami’s defensive line got a boost with the debut of redshirt transfer defensive tackle Gerald Willis. Willis, who sat out his NCAA-mandated year after leaving the University of Florida and missed the first game of the season serving a one-game suspension, recorded two tackles for loss and a sack against FAU this past week.
It’s unclear whether junior defensive linemen Courtel Jenkins (knee) or Anthony Moten (shoulder) will be active for this Saturday’s game. Both missed the FAU game, but Jenkins, who was previously reported to miss multiple games, did practice Wednesday.
Still, Diaz knows this weekend’s game will be Miami’s toughest test thus far.
“We have to have the ability to take a punch,” Diaz said. “We still haven’t shown anything – offense, defense or football team – until we have proven that we can take a punch. Anybody can play when it’s 70-3. The Miami Hurricanes have not shown anything different…when things are good, we’re good. But that’s not what defines great teams.”
“Great teams are defined by ‘when things are bad, we’re still good’ and that’s the challenge that we’re trying to pose to our guys this week.”