Miami (CBS 4)- The Manny Diaz era officially kicks off this week when the Hurricanes face the in-state rival Florida Gators at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida to begin the college football season.
Diaz takes over for Mark Richt who decided to retire just two years after taking over as head coach of the ‘Canes. Following a brief whirlwind of a few days for Diaz as head coach of Temple, the 45-year-old returned to Coral Gables to take the reins.
He is very familiar with the assets that he has on the defensive side of the ball in returning linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, along with corner Trajan Brandy and defensive lineman Jonathan Garvin, having served as the defensive coordinator for the unit that finished 18th in the country in scoring defense allowing 19.5 points per game. The offense was the struggle spot last year and that is the key point that CBS Sports college football analyst Randy Cross is looking for as the season begins.
“A lot of excitement and energy about that defense. There certainly was last year and there is no reason to expect that it won’t be like that this year. It is all about the offense though and what is going to happen there,” said Cross via phone interview. “That offense with that kind of defense? I mean, come on. Do you have to be great? No. If you are just good, you are the perfect compliment to that defense.”
The offense took one step towards answering the many questions that analysts have heading into the season by naming red-shirt freshman Jarren Williams the starting quarterback last week. Williams was a consensus 4-star prospect coming out of Central Gwinnett High School in Georgia when he signed with the Hurricanes prior to last season. He saw action in the team’s opener against Savannah State, but then red-shirted after that in order to not burn a year of eligibility.
He brings a dual-threat style to the quarterback spot that could certainly open up some options for new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. As a senior in high school Williams threw for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 61-percent of his passes. That accuracy is a key characteristic that Cross thinks helped him earn the job.
“He is a dual-threat guy so he is going to bring a little bit of a threat with his feet. But, in the ACC you better be able to show some accuracy and timing in the passing game,” said Cross. “I think that is probably one of the main reasons, the way that he has acclimated himself, that they just like him. Especially with defensive coaches, if you know how to take care of the ball, you have a leg up.”
The ball security will be key as Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry combined to throw 14 interceptions last season against just 19 touchdowns. Williams will have help in the form of junior back DeeJay Dallas (109 carries 617 yards 6 TD) and receiver Jeff Thomas (35 receptions 563 yards 3 TD). The group also welcomes Buffalo grad-transfer K.J. Osborn (53 receptions 892 yards 7 TD) who should make an impact immediately as arguably Williams’ top target.
The talent is certainly there offensively, and if, as Cross said, the unit is merely good compared to last year, the ‘Canes should be in the hunt for the Coastal division title. The media agrees as the ‘Canes were picked to finish second in the Coastal behind Virginia in the preseason poll. The Hurricanes do get the Cavaliers at home this year (October 11) and they avoid Clemson out of the Atlantic. Their toughest test, outside of the opener against the Gators will come on November 2nd when they travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. The schedule, combined with Diaz’s mastery on the defensive side of the ball has Cross believing the team will make some noise in the conference sooner rather than later.
“I have a sneaking suspicion that Manny Diaz pretty quick here is going to make life pretty miserable in the ACC,” said Cross.
8/24 (neutral site) vs. Florida, 7:00 p.m. ET
9/7 @ North Carolina, 8:00 p.m. ET
9/14 vs. Bethune-Cookman, 4:00 p.m. ET
9/21 vs. Central Michigan, TBA
10/5 vs. Virginia Tech, TBA
10/11 (Friday) vs. Virginia, 8:00 p.m. ET
10/19 vs. Georgia Tech, TBA
10/26 @ Pittsburgh, TBA
11/2 @ Florida State, TBA
11/9 vs. Louisville, TBA
11/23 @ FIU, TBA
11/30 @ Duke, TBA