By J.T. Wilcox | Staff Writer
Timing is important in football.
Being the slightest of a second too early or too late could lead to a game-altering result.
For a struggling University of Miami team that is coming off its second-worst loss of the season and has had illimitable issues stopping opponents from running the ball up and down the field, it couldn’t be a worse time to have to play Georgia Tech and its triple-option run attack.
The coaching staff is trying to prepare game plans and their resumes at the same time, the fan base is busy squabbling about who should be the next head coach, while the team is reeling as it plays out the strings of what has been a tumultuous season.
Still, UM could help its bowl game position if it was able to find a way to come up with a victory this Saturday at Sun Life Stadium when the 3-7 Yellow Jackets come to town for a game set to kickoff at 12:30 p.m.
In the past four games, Miami (6-4, 3-3 ACC) has given up 1,023 rushing yards to opponents. While the Canes are 2-2 in those games, giving up that amount of rushing yards is never a positive sign for the merit of your defense.
Defending the run-option play itself has also been a bane for the Canes defense.
Florida State used it to score a touchdown – a 72-yard charge by Dalvin Cook after receiving the option pitch from Everett Golson. Clemson sprinkled it into its game plan as did North Carolina and both of those teams rushed for more than 290 yards on Miami.
Despite its sub .500 record, Georgia Tech is averaging 256 rushing yards per game.
Hurricanes linebacker Jermaine Grace was honest about the defense’s struggles.
“We’ve had problems tackling, and with dual-threat quarterbacks and defending the option – I can say that,” Grace said.
“This week we have to buckle down and really prepare. We have to be real disciplined, have good eyes and be gap-sound and everyone has to do their job against Georgia Tech.”
Senior defensive back Tracy Howard has a more candid view about the triple option.
“That option football is different,” Howard began. “You don’t really have to have talent to run the option. It’s more about details, fundamentals and focus; it doesn’t have anything to do with talent.”
The Yellow Jackets, which some picked as an ACC favorite before the start of the season, has dropped its past two games following its improbable upset of Florida State on October 24th.
Georgia Tech amassed 261 yards on the ground against the Seminoles, but only totaled 161 and 144 yards against Virginia Tech and Virginia respectively in the past two weeks.
Miami interim head coach Larry Scott knows his team has struggled stopping the run-option, but feels it can and will perform better against the Georgia Tech’s triple-option.
“The option is such an assignment and alignment deal,” Scott said. “You get certain looks and if you’re not aware or know that the option is coming and you’re not prepared for it, you can easily – by formation – be out of alignment and not be able to play it the proper way.”
“However, when you know that the option is coming and you know that’s what you’re getting – then its alignment and assignment football. There aren’t four verticals that you have to cover as well. There’s not all the pass concepts or quarterback runs that you have to cover.”
“When you can center [the players’] focus on playing against the option – assignment, alignment and details – it changes the whole dynamic of the install,” Scott added.
“It changes the whole dynamic of the game plan. It changes the whole dynamic of the singular focus that the guys will have defending the option. Because of that, you’ll see different results.”
Georgia Tech, which defeated the Hurricanes 28-17 in 2014, has eight players who have totaled 100 rushing yards or more this season – led by freshman running back Marcus Marshall’s 535 yards – and 10 players have registered at least one rushing touchdown.
Quarterback Justin Thomas, who was the MVP of last year’s Capital One Orange Bowl game, is second on the team with 473 yards and is tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns this season. Thomas has also thrown for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“It’s a lot of film work this week,” said sophomore defensive lineman and linebacker Trent Harris. “Georgia Tech motions a lot so we have to point to our keys and alert each other whenever we see something. Our communication on the field is going to be key this week.”
Added Howard: “The [cornerbacks] have to show up in run support. We can’t fall asleep on the backside against the run or the pass. They’re going to pass. We have to stay focused and locked because they can run, run, run and then they catch you slipping and you give up a big one over the top.”
Saturday marks a special day for Miami’s seniors.
It’s the final game they’ll play as Hurricanes in Sun Life Stadium.
UM has eight true seniors and six redshirt seniors on the roster. The players in that group arrived on the campus either in 2011 or 2012 and played amidst NCAA investigations while going 28-22 in the past four seasons.
Howard came up with one word to describe his time at Miami.
“Interesting,” Howard said after a reflecting for a few brief moments.
“It’s been fun though. I got the opportunity to come to a great university and play football. I made relationships with a lot of people, made best friends that I’m going to talk to the rest of my life. And I’m from Miami, so I made a great decision to come here. Although we didn’t win a national championship, I think it still worked out in my favor coming here.”
Players like redshirt senior Rashawn Scott, who overcame injuries throughout his career to end up leading Miami in receiving this year, and senior safety Deon Bush – who also battled with injuries during his time in Coral Gables – should receive big ovations of appreciation from fans.
The senior are done for sure, but it could also be the final time some of Miami’s true and redshirt juniors play at home their collegiate careers.
Miami has 22 more players that could declare for the NFL Draft at the conclusion of the 2015 season – as they meet the NFL age rule of being three or more years removed from their high school graduation.
Wide receiver Stacy Coley, defensive backs Artie Burns and Jamal Carter and linebacker Jermaine Grace are among those in the group who could elect to forgo their senior year.
Grace wasn’t asked about his intentions after the season, but he did say that as a junior, he wanted to send the seniors out on a high note.
“It’s for the seniors. They’ve been through a lot.” Grace said. “This is there last home game. We want to send them out with a victory. We also want to do it for the coaches and Artie’s mom. We also want to do it to show everyone that even though we lost this season, we’re going to come back hard next year.”