Weekly preface: While SOTU's weekly coverage is excellent, I thought I'd add an Opponents Watch as a FanPost each week. Let me know if you like the feature and if you have any suggestions for how to make it better, I'll definitely check out the comments. For each team I'll look at their last game, a strength, a weakness, how much Miami should fear them (from 1 being Savannah State to 10 being the 2001 Canes), what I expect when they play Miami (should win, lean win, toss up, lean loss, should lose), and their next game. This is not at a comprehensive preview of each team (dorseyitis already does a fantastic job with that each week); it's designed to be a snapshot of each game down the road. Last week's opponent watch can be found here. Let's get into it.
About last week:
'Canes fans kicked back and watched about 429 (all numbers approximate) ranked teams fall, some to unranked opponents (WTF, Stanford?). A couple Top 10 teams narrowly avoided the same fate, with Clemson and Texas A&M escaping by a total of 13 points. Meanwhile, during FSU's bye week Jameis Winston saved 14 puppies from a burning building, solved world hunger and dressed up as four different Tigers pitchers to one-hit the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALCS.
AT NORTH CAROLINA (1-4, 0-2 ACC)
Last week: BYE
Biggest strength: The passing offense remains the best part of this team. Backup Marquise Williams had a pretty good day (23/35, 277 yards, 2 TDs, 2 picks) against an outstanding VT defense and the Tar Heels' attack ranks 25th in the nation at 293 yards per game overall. In good news for the Heels, starting quarterback Bryn Renner seems ready to return to action under the lights on Thursday.
Biggest weakness: In their last game, Carolina picked up just 99 yards rushing on 38 carries, good for an average of 2.6 yards per carry with a long of eleven. Yes, their longest run of the game was 11 yards. This is somewhat mitigated by the strength of VT's defense, but come on, man. The Tar Heels now rank 115th in the nation in rushing offense.
Fear level (1-10): This will likely be the best passing attack that the 'Canes have faced thus far, but the defense is pretty horrendous. 5.
Outcome of matchup for UM: What I said last week hasn't changed: "It's a conference game, it's on the road and it's a night. A game like this should never be taken for granted, even if it seems like a sure thing. Both teams have a bye week going into the game, meaning 12 days to prepare, so coaching will play a huge role. All signs point to the 'Canes, but remember Virginia last year? Let's just be a bit cautious." To add to that, Miami now has the target of being a Top 10 team on their back and UNC's crowd should be absolutely nuts. This won't be fun or easy. Lean win
Next game: vs. #10 (!!!!) Miami (5-0)
WAKE FOREST (3-3, 1-2 ACC)
Last week: BYE
Biggest strength: The passing defense continues to be the best asset the Demon Deacons can deploy, ranking 34th in the nation at 206 yards per game. However, expect this to continue to slide down as the meat of the ACC schedule hits the Demon Deacons, who still have to play Miami and Florida State.
Biggest weakness: The offense continues to be anemic and the main problem is on the ground. At just 110 yards per game, the Wake ground attack ranks 110th nationally. While their passing attack is a bit better (QB Tanner Price actually has deceivingly solid numbers: 57.8%, 6.9 YPA, 9 TD, 3 INT), it's no powerhouse, ranking 79th.
Fear level (1-10): Really nothing very scary here. 3.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Theoretically this is the easiest remainng game on the schedule, but this absolutely screams trap game. Don't forget what can happen to a team when they're playing a conference bottom feeder the week before the biggest game of their season (see: Clemson vs. Boston College last Saturday). The 'Canes will have to make sure not to overlook an overmatched Wake Forest sqaud at Sun Life Stadium. Should win
Next game: vs. Maryland (5-1)
AT #6 FLORIDA STATE (4-0, 2-0 ACC)
Last week: BYE
Biggest strength: Okay, let's take a second to actually analyze what we have here instead of SOMEWHAT SARCASTICALLY SCREAMING THEIR PRAISES LIKE I DID LAST WEEK!!!!!! They're absolutely killing every statistical category, ranking 4th in total offense (549 yards per game) and 7th in total defense (277 yards). However, it's come against pretty meager competition. Their big 63-0 win over Maryland is certainly diminished after the Terps near-loss at lowly Virginia last week, but I still think a 63-point win over a conference opponent is pretty freaky. Are the 'Noles as good as their stats who right now? I doubt it, but they still appear to be pretty formidable.
Biggest weakness: Like I said above, as of now, there are no statistical weaknesses. It seems like they might be able to be had on the ground as this is their lowest ranked unit (27th), but that's certainly nothing to sniff at. This Saturday night should be enlightening.
Fear level (1-10): We'll know so much more about Florida State after the Clemson game Saturday night. If I had to predict the game, I say FSU is able to go into Death Valley and pull it out, but with the lack of any meaningful games on their schedule to this point, no one can really know how this will play out for Jameis Winston and company. For now, they're a 9. We'll reevaluate after the ACC game of the year.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Still no idea, as with the fear level we'll have to wait and see what happens on Saturday. For now, this is somewhere between Should lose and Lean loss
THE SUPER BOWL!!! at Clemson (6-0)
#19 (??) VIRGINIA TECH (5-1, 2-0 ACC)
Last week: The Hokies pulled out a pretty unimpressive home win over Pittsburgh, 19-9. The defense was great as always, allowing just 210 total yards including an impressive 23 rushing yards on 26 carries (!!). Yep, that's an average 0.9 YPC. This came against an anemic Pittsburgh ground game, but that number is impressive regardless of who you beat. The offense continued to sputter though, only reaching 315 yards and 2 yards per carry.
Biggest strength: VT's defense now sits at 4th in the country and first in the ACC. Both their passing and rushing defense sit 12th or higher nationally and this is by far the Coastal's best defensive unit. That said...
Biggest weakness: ...boy this offense is really bad and it's going to really hurt the Hokies against Miami. After putting up just 19 points against Pittsburgh—a team that allowed 55 to Duke—the Hokies stand at 105th in the nation in total offense, including 105th in rushing. Logan Thomas's supposed improvement took a step back against Pitt, as he completed just 19-of-34 passes for 7.0 YPA and an unimpressive 54.8 QBR. Even more concerning, this marks the third week in a row where the Hokies have failed to break 2 yards per carry and their past three opponents have hardly been juggernauts (GT, UNC, Pitt).
Fear level (1-10): Last week I had them at a 6, but this offense is just so bad I can't justify anything higher than a 5. That said, look at this incredibly favorable conference schedule. The Hokies luckily avoid both Clemson and Florida State AND catch the 'Canes the week after Miami plays Florida State. The 'Canes better be able to get up for the Hokies just one week after the trip to Tallahassee, because unless something very unexpected happens, VT is probably going 7-0 against their other conference opponents and could steal a bid to the ACCCG with a win at Sun Life Stadium.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Miami is the better team, but a hangover could be in the works following FSU week. The stakes for this game are going to be incredibly high, as explained above. Lean win
Next game: BYE
AT DUKE (4-2, 0-2 ACC)
Last week: The Blue Devils picked up an impressive 35-7 win over Navy. While the Midshipmen are certainly not a powerhouse, they were 3-1 coming into the game including a 41-35 win over an Indiana team that beat Penn State two weeks ago. Duke's offense was prolific, with starting QB Anthony Boone returning from injury to throw for 295 yards (7.8 YPA) and three scores. The defense yielded 230 yards on the ground to Navy's triple-option offense, but nabbed three takeaways to turn the game into a rout.
Biggest strength: This continues to be a very balanced attack offensively, with QBs Boone and Brandon Connette combining to average better than 8 YPA and a 70% completion rate. On the ground, the Blue Devils feature a two-headed attack, with Jela Duncan averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 56 touches and Josh Snead 6.1 on 46.
Biggest weakness: The rushing defense is quite bad, further evidenced by Navy gashing the Blue Devils for 230 yards on the ground Saturday. Duke now comes in at 86th nationally in that category, conceding an average of 180 yards per game.
Fear level (1-10): The offense is explosive even if the defense is quite vulnerable on the ground. 3.5.
Outcome of matchup for UM: As with all confernece road games, it's dangerous to take things for granted, but the 'Canes offense should be able to dominate this game. Should win
Next game: vs. Virginia (2-4)
VIRGINIA (2-4, 0-2 ACC)
Last week: The Cavs followed up their embarrassment against Ball State by going on the road to Maryland and...wait, what? Virginia actually outgained the Terps in first downs (29-19) and total yards (505-468) in a narrow 27-26 loss. That said, this probably says more about how much of a pretender Maryland was than anything about Virginia.
Biggest strength: I guess it's the defense, but this is still a very inconsistent unit even though it's ranked a respectable 38th in the nation. They have played offensively-potent Oregon and BYU, but Clemson and Miami are coming down the road. Additionally, this is a team that gave up 48 points to a MAC team. The jury's still out on the Cavaliers' defense.
Biggest weakness: Even after putting up better than 500 yards against Maryland (sure makes you feel a little bit better about our upcoming date with FSU doesn't it?), the offense still ranks 87th in the nation in overall yardage and 106th in passing yardage. Last week's outburst says far more Maryland's defense being terrible than anything about Virginia, and keep in mind all of those yards only led to 26 points and yet another loss. QB David Watford averages just 5 YPA and has 4 TDs to 7 picks. Yikes.
Fear level (1-10): At least they're slightly competitive sometimes? Maybe? 2.5+an extra half-point for last year's UVA game=3.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Senior day should be a happy one for the 'Canes! Should win
Next game: vs. Duke (4-2)
AT PITTSBURGH (3-2, 2-2 ACC)
Last week: Pittsburgh was dealt a snoozy 19-9 loss by Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium. The defense performed reasonably well, holding a pretty terrible VT offense to 315 yards and 17 first downs, but the offense was just terrible. 11 first downs, 210 total yards and 0.9 (!!) yards per carry did not make Saturday a fun one for Panthers fans.
Biggest strength: As I've been saying, it's still very difficult to identify a solid strength with this team. That's not meant to say that they're terrible; I think they're better than three other teams remaining on Miami's schedule (Wake Forest, Duke and Virginia). They just have nothing that stands out. Their highest ranked unit is their rushing defense, which comes in 47th nationally. Their D is ranked 43rd in overall yardage.
Biggest weakness: The rushing offense continues to be terrible. Coming into the VT game, the Panthers averaged just 140 yards per game and ranked 88th nationally. After? 117 yards per game and 106th in the country. Pitt does have two backs with at least 45 carries and 4.5 yards per, but QB Tom Savage has been running for his life all season in front of a porous offensive line and the sacks add up as they are counted against rushing yards in college football. No, no one is sure why and I certainly can't tell you.
Fear level (1-10): I would certainly peg the Panthers above the dreck of the ACC but below teams like Georgia Tech and UNC. 4.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Hopefully this game is a final statement before the 'Canes head to Charlotte for the ACCCG. Lean win
Next game: vs. Old Dominion (4-2, 0-2 against FBS)
Let's go 'Canes! Take care of business Thursday and then sit back and enjoy FSU-Clemson on Saturday (poll on this game below). Full Speed Ahead.