Georgia Tech grinded out 472 rushing yards that Thursday night and were up 41-10 entering the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Canes D looked like it’d never seen the triple option before that frustrating evening.
A year later, Miami rolled at home. Fresh off a thrilling win at Florida State, the Canes welcomed the Yellow Jackets and returned the favor with 454 total yards against the Ramblin’ Wreck. However, the bigger story was a disciplined defense that held Tech to 95 rushing yards, throwing them completely off their game and putting ‘The U’ in the driver’s seat all night.
Paul Johnson’s triple option offense is lethal when it’s “on”, but when facing a disciplined defense that plays assignment football, it can absolutely be blown to bits.
And there in lies the million dollar question this weekend; which Miami shows up in Atlanta? One ready to play fundamental ball or one that will be eating dust all afternoon?
Much talk has revolved around Jacory Harris and Damien Berry missing a second straight game, even though the offensive output with their backups was extremely productive last week versus Maryland.
Stephen Morris not only went 18 of 30 for 286 yards, complete with a final minute, game-winning touchdown strike. He also elevated the level of his teammates with heads up football and an ability to keep the chains moving.
The Canes had 25 first downs and were 9-17 on third down against the Terps, with 10 penalties for 100 yards keeping that number from being even more impressive.
Travis Benjamin had his best game of the season with five receptions for 127 yards. Not bad for a wideout who was the fall guy for many early season interceptions throw by Harris.
On the ground, Lamar Miller carried 22 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, whereas Berry’s best game was a 25-carry, 111-yard outing at Duke.
Miami rushed 49 times against Maryland while only attempting 30 passes and as long as the ground game is effective, it’s a recipe the Canes need to stick with down the stretch.
Of course when playing at Georgia Tech, it’s not about your offense. Everything starts and stops with the ability to stop the other guy’s rushing attack. Can Miami buckle down and stop the run? Especially with rookie quarterback Tevin Washington making his first career start. Washington has a better arm than regular starter Josh Nesbitt, but lacks experience running the complicated triple offense.
Ohio State put 181 rushing yards on the Canes, while Florida State torched Miami for 298. Even Virginia got in on the fun with 185 yards on the ground two weeks back, which is a big reason UM’s rushing defense is ranked 61st, giving up and average of 150.7 yards per game.
Bigger than the opponent itself, the fact that Miami has the horses to run and simply needs this game – regardless what happens with Virginia Tech and North Carolina at 3:30pm ET.
The Canes are 6-3 and this was supposed to be a year of growth. Not controlling one’s destiny is frustrating enough, but regardless of that, Miami has to hold up their end of the bargain. Take care of business and win out. A 9-3 season entering bowl season is respectable and a 10-3 season with a bowl win is growth.
With a little luck, 11-3 with an ACC title and BCS bowl win and some critics will be silenced – though there’s no reason for anyone to hang their hopes on that best case scenario. Not when this team has collapsed so many times when hopes have been raised and expectations weren’t met.
The way things are setting up – and based on recent history – this game has disaster written all over it. Just the mention that such a hot and cold rushing defense is going up against the nation’s best rushing offense, combined with how much Miami needs this game; it’s hard to be confident.
Linebacker Sean Spence has referred to that 2008 loss as “embarrassing”, going as far to say he still has a bad taste in his mouth, courtesy of the 18-point beating and pummeling ground game.
Will the Miami D step up, or will this prove another game week full of hollow post-game quotes? The Canes truly should have an identity at this point of the season, but questions are still abound regarding this team’s balls. Will Miami punch Georgia Tech in the mouth or will the Canes wither down the stretch?
And what about special teams? Both Miller and Benjamin had returns for touchdowns in Columbus, but the Canes have been quiet since. Georgia Tech gave up a 90-yard return to Virginia Tech last week. Can Miami capitalize on a potential weakness here? UM returners are burners and appear due.
I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. After being let down too many times the past few years, the “prediction” game rings hollow. I can give a slew of reasons why Miami could and should win this game, but without know which team shows up, the words hold little meaning.
Two ACC games remain, while two have already been lost. Another season with little breathing room in November. Miami has talked about underestimating certain foes, trying to give reasons for past losses. There’s no more time for that. It’s truly do or die.
As talented as Georgia Tech may be, so is Miami in its own right.
Backs to the wall last week against Maryland, the Canes responded – overcoming a bogus facemask call (a ten-point swing), forcing a crucial turnover (a Ray Ray Armstrong end zone interception was a game-changer) and driving 82 yards for the game-winning score with (1) a freshman quarterback making his first start, (2) a back-up running back, (3) not buckling when faced with a 3rd and 11 and (4) winning with a 35-yard deep ball instead of losing with an interception, leaving the pass short and throwing into double coverage. These are all things that need to be built on.
In some ways this is game ten, but in other ways it’s only game two. Miami got a second chance with the Morris/Miller tandem and a team that was growing a bit stale got some much-needed fresh blood.
Build on it. Rally. Come together. Do whatever it takes to win out, as that truly is the only option. Miami has the talent to pull of a big time win … as long as they show up.
The players and the momentum are there. Execute and prove yourselves.