The North Carolina Tar Heels and Miami Hurricanes faced off last season in an epic clash on Thursday night in front of a black-out crowd at Kenan Stadium. This year, the teams will play on November 1st down in Coral Gables. To learn more about the 2014 Miami Football team, we enlisted the help of Harry Kroll of Canes Warning. The questions are in bold and his answers are below.
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the 2014 Miami Hurricanes?
A: The Hurricanes feature a polarizing squad in 2014, with an offense that has a chance to be the second-best in the ACC behind Jameis and Co. if things fall right and a well-chronicled aversion to stopping anybody defensively. Let’s start with the good: despite what’s being made of the quarterback situation (which we’ll get to in a bit), this offense should be really good. Miami is deep at running back, with Top 5 national back Duke Johnson starting and a pair of talented backups to spell him in sophomore Gus Edwards and hugely-hyped true freshman Joe Yearby. The receiving corps is just as scary, despite the loss of 2013’s leading receiver Allen Hurns. Sophomore Stacy Coley is a legitimate superstar and a healthy Malcolm Lewis and Phillip Dorsett gives this unit depth and a deep threat, respectively, that it lacked for much of last year. The offensive line returns its LT, LG and C from a tremendous 2013 unit and even replacement-level production from the newcomers on the right side would keep the line humming.
Unfortunately, the outlook on the defense is not so rosy. While I’m tentatively ready to say the defensive backfield won’t be a complete tire fire, an already suspect linebacker unit outside of All-ACC talent Denzel Perryman took a major hit it couldn’t afford when projected starter Alex Figueroa was rightfully booted off the team and into prison. Because much of the pass rush in a 3-4 scheme that Miami further transitions to this season needs to come from the linebackers, this spells major trouble. The defensive line is also unproven outside of WDE Anthony Chickillo, who we know is a guy that won’t set the world on fire, but will play his position at an above-average level consistently. The defense as a whole should be—better be, really—improved, but it’s still far more of a liability than an asset.
Q: Which NFL running back does Duke Johnson remind you most of?
A: That’s a tough question because running backs of relatively small stature like Duke don’t typically make a huge mark in the NFL. Duke is primarily a speed back with excellent vision who can hit the hole instantly and juke past defenders in a phone booth as the cliché goes. He’s also a solid receiver out of the backfield for screen passes. So to those ends, he’s pretty similar to Darren Sproles. However, he’s much more than just a change-of-pace scatback, possessing the power and braun required of an every down back. Watching Duke, one thing that consistently blows me away is his ability to push forward against defenders bigger than him and pick up an extra few yards on most of his carries even as he’s tackled. He’s a unique talent and one who’s hard to compare to an already established pro back.
Q: Who do you think emerges to become the first string starter at quarterback before the season starts?
A: That’s the million dollar question in Coral Gables right now and I’ll say upfront that I don’t think anyone outside the program can answer that definitively, myself obviously included. Here’s what I am pretty sure of: RS senior Ryan Williams will start when he’s healthy enough to do so. He filled in solidly—albeit against poor competition—last season when Stephen Morris missed limited time and was the plan at QB in 2014 before suffering an ACL tear in spring practice. Fortunately, his recovery seems to be going as well as possible and he and Al Golden have targeted September 20th against Nebraska as his return to action. For the Louisville, Arkansas State and Florida A&M games, I think it’s pretty safe to say Golden will go with graduate transfer Jake Heaps or RS freshman Kevin Olsen over true freshman Brad Kaaya, who seems like a likely redshirt candidate with enormous promise down the road. In a very flimsy guess based on nothing other than an extreme reading between the lines of quotes from Golden, I’ll go with Heaps. However, barring something crazy or another injury, UNC fans should expect to see Ryan Williams under center on November 1st in Miami Gardens.
Q: Who is one player set to have a breakout season for Miami?
A: I have a couple names that are pretty hopeful, but a breakout season from either would do wonders for the Hurricanes defense. First, NT Michael Wyche was a JUCO commit in 2014 and will likely slot into the starting role in Week 1. The NT is by far the single most important position in a 3-4 defense and last year Miami had no one who could consistently provide the push up the middle that the ‘Canes desperately needed. Wyche has received considerable hype from coaches and players and ‘Canes fans are excited to see what he can do. While one guy can’t completely change an entire defensive unit, a breakout year from Wyche would go a long way to giving Miami a marketed defensive improvement.
Another name is OLB/DE Tyriq McCord, who had a huge day against Florida in 2013, including forcing a fumble on a sack deep in Gator territory that allowed Miami to seal the victory with a Duke Johnson touchdown run. However, as the defense transitioned to a 3-4 base from 4-3, McCord moved to the Joker LB spot and struggled to make an impact. The Joker’s primary responsibility in a 3-4 is to slash through gaps in the offensive line and pressure the quarterback and with another year of OLB training under McCord’s belt, he should be much more effective in 2014 in this role. How much more effective he is—along with how much Wyche can live up to the hype—could very well determine the ACC Coastal race. That sounds like an exaggeration, but that’s how important these guys and positions are to the Hurricanes 3-4 defense.
Q: Who wins the ACC Coastal Division this year?
A: Your guess is as good as mine here. The Hurricanes really get the short end of the stick schedule-wise every year in the Coastal, being the only team to play FSU on an annual basis, but that stick is especially short the next two years, with the ‘Canes other crossover opponent being Louisville this year and Clemson in 2015. I think Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech are all fairly evenly-matched, so I’ll just go with Virginia Tech because their crossover opponents are Boston College and Wake Forest. Duke has a similarly-easy Atlantic slate, so I’ll hedge by saying I could see them back in Charlotte as well. In other words, I have no idea and neither does anyone else.
Thanks to Harry Kroll for helping us out, and follow him on Twitter @Harry_Kroll!