Miami, FL (WFOR)- In the first season of any coach’s tenure at a new school, there tends to be an ebb-and-flow nature to the team’s play. Players are learning a new system on both sides of the ball, getting used to a different set of expectations from the coaching staff, and figuring out where they fit on the field. The Hurricanes tried to avoid that transition period by hiring last year’s defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to be the new head man. However, the season has still been a transitional one for the ‘Canes.
The good news is, things are beginning to look up.
After opening the season with a pair of losses to Florida and UNC, the ‘Canes beat Bethune Cookman and Central Michigan before then dropping two of three ACC contests. Since then, the ‘Canes have gotten seemingly stronger each week, with a 16-12 win over Pitt, 27-10 over FSU and then this past weekend’s impressive 52-27 win over Louisville. The win over the Cardinals seriously impressed CBS Sports Network play-by-play man Rich Waltz, who will be on the call for the team’s game against Florida International on Saturday at Marlins Park.
“If you watch the Louisville game, which I did a few days ago in getting ready for this game, Miami looks like a top-10 team. Not a top-20 team, but a top-10 team. That was obviously their best game of the year,” said Waltz. “Jarren Williams threw six touchdowns without a pick. They were flying around on defense. They looked like Miami from 15 years ago to be honest with you.”
Williams’ break out is exactly what the ‘Canes were hoping for when they named the redshirt freshman the starter back in August. Though he has experienced his freshman jitters and injuries, he has thrown for a combined 566 yards and eight touchdowns in his last two starts. These are the signs of progress that seemed to be sorely missing from Diaz’s first season just three weeks ago.
In addition to Williams’ play, freshman running back Cam’ron Harris has shown flashes of improved play, carrying eight times for 78 yards against the Cards. The biggest question has been at offensive line, where the Hurricanes have allowed 36 sacks on the year, and average 3.6 per game, which is 125th on the year. But that unit has progressed as well, with the ‘Canes allowing a total of five sacks to Pitt, FSU and Louisville.
For Waltz, the Louisville win represented “a huge confirmation of we are moving in the right direction,” for both the program and Diaz. The bar has been set high at Miami, as Waltz notes, with not just conference championship, but national championship aspirations. The ‘Canes won’t get there this year, but their recent play is a positive step forward.
Now, heading into Saturday, they have to avoid a step back. FIU is just 5-5 on the season and coming off a 37-7 loss to rival FAU last week. But, the Golden Panthers have the 13th-ranked pass defense in the country, allowing opponents to throw for just 180 yards per game and 6.5 yards per attempt on the year. And Hurricanes fans will be familiar with their head coach, Butch Davis, who led Miami to the brink of a national title appearance in 2000. Davis coming home and the game being played in Marlins Park adds to the intrigue of the game for Waltz.
“The game is at Marlins Park, which is on the site of the Orange Bowl. They have those iconic Orange Bowl letters outside of the stadium,” said Waltz. “That will be a really cool component to Saturday night’s game.”
The game is expected to be a sellout with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS Sports Network.