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:
As the saying goes, a win's a win, but that was certainly a game most Canes fans would like to forget. Last week was fall break for students and I spent mine up visiting a friend in Ithaca, New York and made a lot of people stare in the Cornell community center as I screamed in anguish at the TV for three quarters. But Dallas Crawford played the best game of his career when the team needed it most and Miami was able to overcome injuries to arguably their two best offensive players, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett. While losing Dorsett is a tough blow for the vertical passing game, the position where the Canes do have a lot of depth is wide receiver and getting Rashawn Scott back this week should help things a little bit. Let's get to our upcoming opponents.
WAKE FOREST (4-3, 2-2 ACC)
Last week: As I'm sure everyone knows, the Deacs picked up what appeared to be a convincing win over reeling Maryland, 34-10 in Winston-Salem. However, the final score is hardly representative of what went on in this contest. Maryland actually outgained Wake in both first downs (22-16) and yardage (383-307), but Wake Forest got by through winning the turnover battle 3-0 and picking up third downs at an unsustainable 7-for-15 rate. Nevertheless, 34-10 is 34-10 and Wake Forest is not a team that should be taken overly lightly. They still don't create any panic for me though.
Biggest strength: The defense as a unit is solid, though not spectacular by any means. The Demon Deacons rank 38th in the nation at 377 yards allowed per game, including 41st against the run. The passing defense did drop from 34th to 56th after conceding 344 yards through the air against Maryland.
Biggest weakness: The rushing offense is a disaster. At just 101 yards per game, Wake checks in at 112th in the nation and the offense as a whole also sits at 112th. This weakness was on full display against Maryland, as the Deacs ran for just 47 yards, an average of 2 per carry.
Fear level (1-10): There's still really nothing to be scared of, but coming off a 34-10 win Wake's confidence should be as high as it has been all season. I'll bump them up a point from last week, from 3 to 4.
Outcome of matchup for UM: This is no longer the easiest game remaining on the schedule (see: Cavaliers, Virginia), but I would still say it should be a gimme. That said, I want to reiterate that this is pretty much the definition of a trap game. The Canes host a middling-at-best conference opponent the week before traveling to Tallahassee for what should be a Top 10/College GameDay/Saturday Night Football matchup. Overlooking Wake could spell doom a week early for Miami's undefeated run. That said, the talent disparity here is huge and—as they proved last week—the Canes can win while not playing their best. Should win
Next game: vs. #7 Miami (6-0)
AT #2 FLORIDA STATE (6-0, 4-0 ACC)
Last week: We all know what happened last week, as what many called the biggest regular season game in the history of the ACC turned into the biggest rout in the history of Memorial Stadium. The results for FSU were terrifying: they outgained Clemson by over 200 yards and Jameis Winston threw for an absurd 444 passing yards and 13.1 (!!) per attempt. His YPA on the season is now an unfathomable 12.0. Yes, every time Jameis Winston lets go of the football, the 'Noles gain an average of 12 yards. Good. Lord. I think I'm going to be sick.
Biggest strength: The 'Noles rank 5th in the country in total offense and 7th in total defense. This is a complete team, and really everything is a strength.
Biggest weakness: There's nothing I can really pinpoint without some serious nitpicking. Sure, you can point to how their rushing offense ranks "just" 28th in the nation and their rushing defense "just" 29th. Is that really a weakness?
Fear level (1-10): This is a bonafide national championship contender. While I don't think Clemson is as good as everyone thought they were (they had pretty close calls with both NC State and Boston College and that Georgia win has lost all of its luster now that the 'Dawgs sit at just 4-3), that was a dominant win in one of the greatest atmospheres college football has. If this team isn't a 10, I don't know what is.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Especially after losing their best deep threat at wideout for the game, a win in Tallahassee would be at least a small miracle in my opinion. Hey, I'd love to be proven wrong, but Florida State is downright terrifying. Should lose
Next game: Oh god, avert your eyes....vs. NC State (3-3)
#14 VIRGINIA TECH (6-1, 3-0 ACC)
Last week: The Hokies debuted in the BCS standings at a confusingly high 14th and enjoyed a BYE.
Biggest strength: VT's defense now sits at 2nd (!!) in the country and first in the ACC. Both their passing and rushing defense sit 6th 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 in their last game against Pittsburgh—a team that allowed 55 to Duke—the Hokies stand at 112th in the nation in total offense, including 107th 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): I've previously had them at a 6, but this offense is just so bad I can't justify anything higher than a 5.5. 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: vs. Duke (5-2)
AT DUKE (5-2, 1-2 ACC)
Last week: The Blue Devils picked up their first ACC win of the season in a 35-22 win at Virginia (boy are the Cavs bad, but I'll get to them next). The Blue Devils outgained UVA 472-363 in total yardage and scored 35 unanswered points after falling behind 22-0 en route to a convincing road victory. Duke was able to run for 180 yards (4.1 per carry) against a poor defense.
Biggest strength: Duke's offense is up to 40th in the nation in yards per game, at 452. The attack is balanced: QBs Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette have combined to average better than 8 YPA and a 65% completion rate and on the ground the Blue Devils feature a two-headed attack, with Jela Duncan averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 64 touches and Josh Snead 6.3 on 53.
Biggest weakness: The rushing defense continues to be the lowest ranked unit on the squad, at 72nd in the nation. The Blue Devils had a good day against UVA, conceding just 100 yards on the ground and 2.6 per game, but this is definitely mitigated by just how anemic the Cavs' ground game is. A good rushing offense—such as Miami—would be able to run all over Duke.
Fear level (1-10): No change from last week; Virginia is quite awful so the road win shouldn't faze you. 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: at #14 Virginia Tech (6-1)
VIRGINIA (2-5, 0-3 ACC)
Last week: Last week I predicted that Virginia's seemingly strong performance in a one-point loss to Maryland further exposed the Terps as pretenders rather than provided a glimmer of hope for the Cavs. While I'm frequently wrong (see this sentence I wrote about Jameis Winston before the season over on my blog: "The Noles are also breaking in a new QB, with sophomore Jameis Winston being announced the starter this week. While he looked great in FSU’s spring game, he has no significant game experience and expectations should be slightly tempered." Oops.), I hit the nail on the head here. As I covered in the Duke section of this post, the Cavs turned a 22-0 lead into a 35-22 loss at home to Duke. The Cavs were able to pick up just 2.6 yards per carry against a poor Duke rushing defense.
Biggest strength: Last week I gave the defense the benefit of the doubt and called it the strength of this team, but I said the jury's still out. After last week, the jury hasn't quite reached a verdict but it's certainly getting close. The Cavs gave up nearly 500 yards to Duke and are close to falling out of the Top 50 nationally in yards conceded per game. I can't see an offense like Miami's having trouble with this defense.
Biggest weakness: This passing offense is absolutely atrocious. Virginia could only manage a paltry 263 yards (6.9 YPA) through the air against a Duke passing defense that is far from a juggernaut and the Cavs now rank 97th in the country at an average of 198 yards per game. This season, QB David Watford has passed for an unsightly 5.3 YPA with 5 TDs to 8 picks. Yikes.
Fear level (1-10): I had South Florida pegged at a 2, so I'll put Virginia at a 2.5+an extra half-point for what happened last year. 3.
Outcome of matchup for UM: With Wake Forest's mini-resurgence, this game is now the easiest remaining on the Canes schedule. Should win
Next game: vs. Georgia Tech (4-3)
AT PITTSBURGH (4-2, 2-2 ACC)
Last week: Even though the Panthers escaped with a 35-24 win, Pitt was outgained in first downs (25-18) and yardage (405-370) by FCS opponent Old Dominion at Heinz Field. While the Monarchs are good for an FCS team, they still lost to Maryland 47-10. This was not a good performance from the Panthers, even in a victory.
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 53rd nationally. Their D is ranked 47th in overall yardage.
Biggest weakness: Coming into the ODU game, the rushing offense had managed just 117 yards per game and ranked 106th in the country. While they were able to run all over the Monarchs to the tune of 266 yards, I'm still not sold on the ground game. To make matters worse for the Panthers, they now rank 97th in the nation in passing offense at 198 yards per game. QB Tom Savage does average better than 8 YPA, but the Panthers have not found a consistent passing game all season, something the floundering offense could desperately use.
Fear level (1-10): Even after their poor showing Saturday, I would still put the Panthers above the dreck of the ACC but below teams like Georgia Tech and UNC. 4.
Outcome of matchup for UM: It's a conference road game, so I was hesitant to confidently predict victory, but I'm finally ready to upgrade this to from lean win. Should win
Next game: at Navy (3-3)
Just one more win before we can finally focus our sites on the Seminoles. Full Speed Ahead and Go Canes!