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.
Final note before we get started. A lot of this may sound pessimistic or like I'm not really excited about what's going on this season; that's not the case. As I state in the post, I'm a UM student, I got to every home game and scream my head off and I'm making the trek up to Tallahassee this weekend to support the team. I will be on cloud nine if we can find a way to knock of Free Shoes U. That in mind, I'm just trying to give as realistic and objective a preview of each team and how that pertains to UM as best as I can. Here we go.
About last week:
Guh. Another ugly performance where the 'Canes woke up just in time to pull out a victory. Wake Forest nearly equaled the 'Canes in yardage on the day and while Miami did essentially give away 10 points that would've made this win more comfortable (the missed field goal and curious play call to run a stretch on fourth and 1 inside the Wake 10), this was not a particularly encouraging performance. At least the ground game continued to roll.
Quick note on attendance: A lot of people have been debating this so I thought I'd toss my hat into the ring. I'm a UM student and I attend every home game (even Savannah State). While I would love for the stadium to be packed and rocking every game like it was against Florida, I think the impact on the program of how many people are in the stands is greatly overstated. If you look at the average attendance numbers from the Orange Bowl glory years, they weren't all that much higher than they are now and those teams won National Championships just fine. More people will come as Golden continues to build this program up, but for now it's really nothing worth losing too much sleep over. Take a look at Miami's 2014 recruiting class if you don't believe me. Onto the schedule.
AT #3 FLORIDA STATE (7-0, 5-0 ACC)
Last week: Yeah, that final score of 49-17 is a joke. The 'Noles raced out to a 35-0 lead and could've EASILY won this game by over 100 if they wanted to. I feel like the specifics of FSU games can be summarized the exact same way every week. They won in a blowout. The offense is elite. The defense is elite. Jameis Winston is a transcendent talent. Sigh.
Biggest strength: They offense ranks 4th in the country at 533 yards per game. The defense is 8th nationally, including the best in the entire country against the pass. That certainly doesn't bode well for a Miami passing attack missing its best downfield receiving threat and any consistency at quarterback.
Biggest weakness: This category really doesn't apply to Florida State. On defense, they can be had a little bit on the ground, but rushing for 150-180 yards alone won't let you keep up with their offense. Offensively, they have a good ground attack and Jameis Winston has been seemingly unflappable. If you blitz him, he finds ways to escape and then has receivers wide open. If you sit back in coverage, he'll pick you apart. Apparently the only way to have a shot is to generate an organic pass rush with your front four, something Miami has shown flashes of but has not been able to do consistently. Yes, I'm aware this is supposed to be the weakness section.
Fear level (1-10): They nearly break the scale at the moment. 10.
Outcome of matchup for UM: In case you can't tell from what I've written, I'm not particularly optimistic about this game. I'll be heading up to Tallahassee on Friday to witness this one in person, although that seems like a death wish at this point. Look, I love the optimism many have. Jerry and Scott are doing a fantastic job trying to keep morale high and boost excitement for Saturday. It's college football and history shows that anything can happen. That said, I just can't see the 'Canes keeping it close on Saturday based on what I've seen this season from Miami and FSU. Again, I would absolutely LOVE to be wrong, but I don't have much optimism at the moment. You can make your voice heard on how you feel the 'Canes will fare in the poll below. Should lose
Next game: vs. #7 Miami (7-0) For anyone else going up to Tallahassee, come out for College GameDay on Saturday morning and support the 'Canes. See you there.
VIRGINIA TECH (6-2, 3-1 ACC)
Last week: The Hokies slim BCS-bowl odds came to a crashing thud at Lane Stadium after a shocking 13-10 loss to Duke. (DUKE!!!) The defense continues to be incredible and was absolutely stout against a quality offense, yielding just 198 yards on the day. They held Anthony Boone to 7-for-25 passing, 4.3 yards per attempt and four picks!!! Read that again. Unfortunately, as great as VT's passing defense is, their passing offense is terrible. Logan Thomas has no offensive line, but he is not a good quarterback. 5.6 yards per attempt and 4 picks against Duke is just awful and the Hokies paid for his mistakes. Virginia Tech's defense can join Michigan State's same unit in the sorrowful regret of knowing that they are absolutely National Championship-caliber, but have offenses that even Jeff Driskel would look down upon (too soon?).
Biggest strength: This is a darn good defense. I mean it when I say VT could compete for a national championship with an above-average offense. It's disappointing that we don't get to see how they would do against Jameis Winston unless they get to the ACCCG. They ranks 3rd in the nation in overall yardage allowed, including 2nd against the pass and 5th against the run. Wow.
Biggest weakness: Onto the offense. If it wasn't complete and utter panic time for Hokies fans before this weekend, it certainly is now. This unit ranks 111th (!!) in the country, including 106th in passing. Logan Thomas now has more picks (10) than touchdowns (9) this season and he's thrown from an unsightly 6.43 yards per attempt. For comparison's sake, Stephen Morris averages 9.3 this season. The rushing offense was finally able to crack 4 yards per carry against Duke, but that's nothing to write home about. This offense is absolutely terrible.
Fear level (1-10): I had them at a 5.5 last week, but with Miami's recent performances in mind, I'm going to raise everybody's fear level a little bit this week. This team has glaring flaws, but I still feel like they're better than UNC and Wake Forest, who both very nearly knocked off the 'Canes. I'll go with a 6.5, knowing Miami's worrisome propensity to play down to their competition.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Miami is the better team, but a hangover could be in the works following FSU week. This is by far the most important game of the regular season for Miami in terms of winning the Coastal. A loss in this game means that hopes of going to Charlotte are most likely gone. The 'Canes would need VT to lose another game, and take a look at their remaining schedule. It's a critically important contest, but one that Miami should have no problem with if they avoid turnovers and don't give VT points they can't get on their own. But as we know, that's a big if. Lean win
Next game: at Boston College (3-4)
AT DUKE (6-2, 2-2 ACC)
Last week: See above.
Biggest strength: It's hard to be too down on Duke's offense after they struggled against what I would assert is the best defense in the ACC (quiet down, Seminoles fans, that's just one man's opinion). Right now, Duke's biggest strength is running back Jela Duncan. Even against VT, he averaged 5.4 YPC, albeit on just seven carries. On the season, the sophomore back is averaging a healthy 5.2 yards per attempt on 71 touches.
Biggest weakness: The rushing defense is pretty porous and ranks 70th nationally. They gave up more than 4 yards per carry to a Hokies squad that failed to crack even 2 YPC against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. This is a tantalizing matchup for Miami.
Fear level (1-10): I had them at 3.5 last week, but winning in Blacksburg is extremely impressive even if the Hokies are struggling offensively this season. 5.
Outcome of matchup for UM: After the past couple of weeks, nothing should be taken for granted, especially on the road. I do think North Carolina is better than this team and Miami already won in Chapel Hill, but the 'Canes have to avoid playing down to the Blue Devils. Lean win
Next game: BYE
VIRGINIA (2-6, 0-4 ACC)
Last week: Virginia lost what was probably their final chance to win a conference game in 2013, falling at home to Georgia Tech 35-25. It was probably worse than the score indicated. GT outgained the Cavs on the ground 394(!!!!!!)-68. No, that's not a typo. They actually gave up 394 rushing yards. Yes, Virginia did pick up 376 yards through the air, but I'd argue that has more to do with volume of attempts than anything else. QB David Watford chucked 61 passes and averaged a pedestrian 6.1 YPA. Just another futile performance in a futile season for the Cavaliers.
Biggest strength: Nothing. You can officially close the book on this section for the Cavs, and it's only going to get worse going forward. Their remaining schedule: Clemson, at North Carolina, at Miami, Virginia Tech.
Biggest weakness: Everything; this just isn't worth analyzing. You could say that their passing offense is ranked 29th in the country. My response: we'll see how that holds up after their next three games.
Fear level (1-10): In a week where just about everyone moves up because of my panic about the state of our team, Virginia manages to move down from 3 to 2.5.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Higher figure for this game: Miami's total offensive yards or the number of people at Sun Life Stadium? With Miami students on Thanksgiving break, unfortuantely not many people will be around to witness this laugher. Should win
Next game: This is going to be fun...vs. #8 Clemson (7-1)
AT PITTSBURGH (4-3, 2-2 ACC)
Last week: Wow. Even after their struggle to beat Old Dominon, I'm not sure I could've seen this coming. Pittsburgh kicked it in Annapolis, falling 24-21 to Navy. This wasn't even a case of Pittsburgh outgaining Navy in yardage but falling because of untimely turnovers; the yardage was essentially even and the turnover battle was exactly equal. The game was neck-and-neck the entire way and the Midshipmen won on a field goal as time expired.
Biggest strength: Their defense is actually up 34th nationally, but this is probably a mirage as they've only played one stellar offense (Florida State) and gave up 58 points to Duke. Nothing else to see here.
Biggest weakness: The offense is anemic, ranking 96th in the country. The main problem is on the ground, where the Panthers churn out just 141 yards per game, landing them at 93rd nationally.
Fear level (1-10): Even though they managed to beat Duke on the road 58-55, I would say that this game appears to be the second-easiest remaining ON PAPER. The reason I emphasize this is because there is a mitigating factor, which I talk about in the next section. 4.
Outcome of matchup for UM: There is a worry with what appears to be an easy 'Canes victory: it will be the first cold-weather game of the entire season and we have no idea how the team will react. Hopefully, it will be some easy preparation for the chill Miami will probably face in Charlotte the next week. (Somewhat related side note: If FSU and Miami don't slip up on their way to the ACCCG, can't we all just agree to play the thing in sunny Tampa, a perfect meeting point between Tallahassee and Coral Gables?) But who knows how this will go? Regardless, this isn't enough to scare me that much. Should win
Next game: vs. #25 Notre Dame (6-2)
Bring on the 'Noles! Full Speed Ahead and Go 'Canes!