Weeks back it was Kansas State, fueled by dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert. This week it’s Georgia Tech and the triple-option offense, led by quarterback Tevin Washington and running backs Orwin Smith and Zack Laskey.
Predictions are being tossed around and seems most are in favor of a landslide win for the Yellow Jackets. ESPN writer Heather Dinich, who covers the ACC, got in her little dig.
“Sorry, Canes, but I’ve got three words for you : Not even close,” wrote Dinich in her column, where she called for a 42-21 Georgia Tech romp.
The infatuation with the Ramblin’ Wreck comes from a 109-point, 1,306-yard showing over the past eight quarters. Georgia Tech thumped Presbyterian (who?) and conference rival Virginia, jumping out to a 35-7 halftime lead over the Cavaliers.
Still, Georgia Tech has a blemish, having opened the season with a 20-17 overtime loss at Virginia Tech on Labor Day. The Yellow Jackets were held to 288 total yards – only 192 of which came on the ground – and their lone turnover came in the extra period, when Washington forced a pass and was intercepted.
The Hokies kicked the game winner moments later, but before anyone anyone credits stout “Beamer Ball” for the win, this was hardly a world-class Virginia Tech squad who pulled the opening night comeback.
Weeks later Pittsburgh smacked Virginia Tech, 35-17 and put up 537 total yards on the Hokies. The same Panthers team coming off of back-to-back losses against Youngstown State and Cincinnati, opening the season 0-2.
While Miami enters this weekend an understandable two-touchdown underdog, that shouldn’t psyche out the Canes or make the Yellow Jackets overconfident. If there’s anything to decipher from the aforementioned showdowns three weeks into the season; the fact that there’s no consistency.
From this vantage point, Georgia Tech lost to a Virginia Tech team that wasn’t as good as advertised, based on their loss to a Pittsburgh team that looked horrible early, but came out guns blazing when the Hokies took on the Panthers.
As for Miami, a fast-tempo offense was the difference in a season-opening win at Boston College and a sputtering offense started the avalanche of misery in Manhattan the following.
Yes, Kansas State went on to throttled Miami, but the Canes missed early opportunities to go score-for-score with the Wildcats, killing momentum in a hostile road environment.
Down 7-0, Miami moved the ball forty-two yards on its first offensive possession when disaster struck and running back Eduardo Clements fumbled while grinding out extra yards after picking up a first down on 3rd-and-1. Kansas State took over midfield and in a flash it was, 14-0.
The Canes also lost go-to wideout Allen Hurns on that game. The early target of quarterback Stephen Morris has been out since and should return this week, but was sorely missed against the Wildcats.
After trading field goals, Miami was down 17-3, with the Canes leaving points on the field as tight end Clive Walford ran out of gas and couldn’t reach the end zone for seven. A second-down sack of Morris put UM in a 3rd-and-Goal situation from the fifteen, setting for three after an incompletion.
A drive later Morris tried a quick pass to running back Duke Johnson, who blew through the line and let the ball slide through his fingers. A reception and one can emphatically say, based on Johnson’s play this year, that he was going eighty yards for the score, closing the gap at, 17-10.
Instead, a loss of two on second down, a personal foul and a sack pinned Miami at the five-yard line, facing a 4th-and-25. After a forty-five yard punt from Dalton Botts, Kansas State started their next possession from the thirty-eight and five plays later led, 24-3.
The final minutes of the half ended with missed Wildcats field goal and a Canes drive that went seventy yards, ending with another Jake Wieclaw showing with Miami out of time facing a 1st-and-Goal from the ten.
The Canes trailed 24-6 at the half, but in a best-case scenario world, capitalizing on the aforementioned opportunities and minimizing mistakes, Miami could’ve entered the locker room tied, or at worst, down somewhere in the neighborhood of 21-17, getting the ball to start the third quarter.
A lot of “what ifs” in that scenario, but they’re being illustrated to prove a point and to give the Canes an obvious blueprint for Saturday; play smart football, stick to assignments and capitalize when given the opportunity. Especially with ‘lesser’ defense when facing another explosive offense.
Miami holds a three-game win-streak over Georgia Tech and the formula was basic; score first, build a lead and force the Yellow Jackets to play catch-up as it’s not conducive to their brand of football.
After losing four straight to the Yellow Jackets – including a 41-23 thumping back in 2008, where the Canes surrendered 518 yards – Miami reversed the curse with a 33-17 win in 2009.
After going down 3-0 early, the Canes aired it out and were in the end zone four plays later when Jacory Harris hit LaRon Byrd for the forty-yard score, one play after a third-six yard gain when he connected with Leonard Hankerson.
The following drive took thirteen plays, went seventy-one yards and was capped off with a Harris to Dedrick Epps touchdown – a thirteen-yard reception on 3rd-and-1.
Miami led 17-3 at the half and from there, it was over. The Canes cruised to a 33-17 victory as the Yellow Jackets weren’t going to make up that kind of ground relying on the triple option.
Morris was the man the Canes last trek to Atlanta and again, pouncing on the Ramblin’ Wreck early was the key to the 35-10 win. A steady dose of Damien Berry and Lamar Miller on the ground early put UM up, 7-0 and more of the same after stopping GT on their first possession.
The Yellow Jackets came back from the 14-0 deficit, down 14-10 after a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, but the Canes immediately responded when Morris found Hankerson on first down for a seventy-nine yard touchdown. 21-10, Miami and eventually the Canes pulled away.
Miami’s third-straight win against Georgia Tech came last season and was arguably the Canes’ most complete win of the season as a defense that struggled early in the year finally found a groove, while the offense was balanced, effective and good enough.
The Canes held the Yellow Jackets to 211 total yards. Washington threw for 63 yards, carried twenty times for thirty-six yards and was GT’s leading rusher.
Every game seems to have a star and last year it was JoJo Nicolas, who recovered a fumbled punt for a touchdown and nabbed an interception.
Miami was up 14-0 early in the second quarter and while Georgia Tech looked to cut the lead just before halftime, a Travis Benjamin return put the Canes at mid-field with a minute to play and three plays later, Miller rumbled in from fourteen yards out. 21-7, Canes en route to the 24-7 win.
Obviously the difference between “knowing” and “doing” is the difference between winning and losing. Miami knows the triple option is coming and that assignment football on defense keeps a two-yard loss from becoming an eighty-yard gain.
Where the Hurricanes appear to be in trouble this year is in regards to so much youth on defense. When listening to head coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio three games into 2012, “blown assignments” has oft been the culprit every week and getting guys to play disciplined football against the quirky triple option at this phase of their careers – it can be a daunting task.
Making matters worse, the Canes will be without middle linebacker Denzel Perryman on Saturday. The quarterback of the defense, Perryman suffered an ankle injury against Bethune-Cookman and is sidelined, though safeties Vaughn Telemaque and Andrew Swasey are expected back, as is Hurns, a must-have wideout for Morris and young Miami offense that must sustain drives and put points on the board.
Three games into the season, this isn’t make-or-break for the Canes, thought another lopsided loss won’t do much for a young team’s confidence.
A win would put Miami at 3-1 and would help get the Kansas State loss out of the program’s collective mouth, but certainly wouldn’t be any indication that UM was out of the woods as a one-dimensional offense of this nature is a different monster than what the Canes will see when facing the Irish, Noles, Hokies, etc.
On paper, Miami loses big Saturday but games aren’t played on paper. This coaching staff faced the triple option last year, prepared well for it and the defense executed. The x-factor going into Saturday; how quickly did this year’s newbies pick up on things?
The 2008 Hurricanes were young and green and were bowled over in Atlanta four years back. A year later they were ready and the Canes won three straight against the Yellow Jackets.
I’ll save the bold predictions for the likes of Dinich and others who feel like piling on Miami right now as this is too strange a game to call, in my opinion. A loss wouldn’t come as a surprise, nor would a narrow win if the Canes’ defense bends without breaking.
Truth be told, offense must be the name of the game if Miami is going to leave Bobby Dodd Stadium with a win on Saturday. Morris hasn’t looked crisp since the Boston College win and needs to regain his game one form. Ball control, sustained drives and touchdowns instead of field goals are the keys to this showdown.
Errant throws and an inability to move the chains will not only give Georgia Tech momentum and the advantage, but it will also keep a tired Miami defense on the field. Not a recipe for success against an offense like this.
A daunting task this weekend? Sure. But it’s Atlanta, not Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge. The Yellow Jackets aren’t a physically imposing juggernaut. They’re simply a team that will give the Hurricanes some match-up nightmares if there are blown assignments.
Should Miami go out and do what it’s supposed to – even with limited personnel – there’s no reason this game has to be the buzzsaw national analysts thing it could be.
It could even be a win. Maybe. Not likely. But, maybe. If. A big if. Wanna bet? Me either.
Follow us live during the game via Twitter @allCanesBlog and look for a Sunday recap.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.