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.
Programming note: I apologize for this being a few days late. This week I've discovered that the whole being a UM student thing can get in the way of recreational blogging. Who knew?
About last week:
I think everybody's read enough about the FSU game at this point. The loss was expected, Miami's not quite there yet in terms of competing for national championships, but the effort from the guys was still great to see. I was in attendance at Doak Campbell and I was proud to be a 'Cane walking out of there. The whole experience in Tallahassee was extremely positive and I wrote about it at length here if you're interested. Onto the opponents.
Last week: Remember when I said that Virginia Tech looked like they were a near lock to go 7-0 in their conference games aside from Miami? Shows what I know. The Hokies dropped the ball against a lesser opponent AGAIN, falling at Boston College 34-27. While BC can be competitive—and played Florida State better than anybody has this whole year, sadly including Miami—this is still a bad loss for a team that now needs to beat the 'Canes on Saturday and have Duke lose at least once the rest of the way to make it to Charlotte. The Hokies were able to move up and down the field against BC and outgained the Eagles in yardage 446-289, but four turnovers to zero takeaways doomed VT.
Biggest strength: Holy cow this defense. Every week they just look better and better. BC's 34 points in this game were largely due to the Hokies' offense setting up the Eagles very nicely—VT allowed just 289 yards, including just 93 through the air (!!). Virginia Tech is now the #3 ranked defense in the country by yardage (253 per game) and the #1 passing defense (151 per game). Yes, you read that correctly; they are the #1 passing defense in the entire country. Don't expect a lot of points on Saturday.
Biggest weakness: The offense as a whole is bad, but the rushing offense is just putrid. QB Logan Thomas is at least up and down as a passer, but the Hokies' ground attack can never seem to get off the ground. They picked up just 55 yards against Boston College—a terrible 1.9 yards per carry—and now rank 108th in the nation with just 117 yards per game on the ground.
Fear level (1-10): I had them at a 6.5 last week and I'll leave them there. I know they've looked bad the past two weeks, but their defense is straight menacing and Miami is injured in key places offensively. Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett are of course both out and Stephen Morris is not healthy. Everyone could see him limping around against FSU on Saturday night and while I'm no insider to the program, I did walk past him on the way to class today and—despite an admirable job trying to hide it—he was clearly still gimpy. I feel like if the 'Canes can even get to 20 points they'll win, but this defense is awfully good.
Outcome of matchup for UM: We all know the stakes, but I'll go ahead and spell them out briefly. Win and the 'Canes are a win against Duke away from Charlotte. Lose and they'd need to win out and pray. This is the most important game of the season to this point. Lean win
Next game: at #11 Miami (7-1)
AT DUKE (6-2, 2-2 ACC)
Last week: BYE
Biggest strength: Running back Jela Duncan. Even against Virginia Tech in the Blue Devils' last game, 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 73rd 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, Pittsburgh and now Boston College. Even without Duke Johnson, this is a tantalizing matchup for the 'Canes with Dallas Crawford and a solid offensive line.
Fear level (1-10): I'll bump them up a half-point because this game could turn into a shootout and the 'Canes are undermanned offensively. 5.5.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Getting into a shootout is a little scary, but Duke's defense is pourous. The 'Canes shouldn't have too much trouble here, but I'm still hesitant to declare certain victory, especially because Miami will be coming off a critically important game against the Hokies and Duke gets NC State this Saturday. Lean win
Next game: vs. NC State (3-5)
VIRGINIA (2-7, 0-5 ACC)
Last week: It's pretty likely that we'll have not one, but two 0-8 teams in the ACC this year as Virginia and NC State both sit at 0-5 and do not face each other. Last week, the Cavs hung in there for about a quarter against Clemson before getting steamrolled 59-10 on their home turf. It's the second time they've lost by that exact score at Scott Stadium this season (with the first loss coming at the hands of Oregon in Week 2). UVA yielded 610 yards to the Tigers and allowed Tajh Boyd to throw for a gargantuan 13 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Virginia picked up just 277 yards of offense and didn't help their cause by turning the ball over three times and committing six penalties for 74 yards.
Biggest strength: LOL
Biggest weakness: Fielding a team in the first place? Remember last week how I said their passing defense was 29th in the country but unlikely to hold up? Let's play a fun game! Guess what position they fell to after allowing 435 yards through the air against the Tigers! I'll wait while you give it a shot. Ready? Who guessed 50th? If you did, you're wayyyyyy short. Try 74th. That's right, their "strength" fell 45 spots IN ONE WEEK! Yeesh.
Fear level (1-10): They just continue to drop. 2.5 last week, now 2.
Outcome of matchup for UM: If this games is close, I won't know what to do with myself. Let's just say you won't want to be near the student section at Sun Life. Should win
Next game: at North Carolina (3-5)
AT PITTSBURGH (4-4, 2-3 ACC)
Last week: The Panthers' tailspin continued, with Pittsburgh falling 21-10 to Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The game was pretty much a microcosm of the season to this point for Pitt, as the defense performed adequately but the offense was pretty much a pile of garbage set on fire. 360 yards and 21 points conceded against Georgia Tech is nothing outstanding, but it definitely should be enough to win. Unfortunately, the Panthers were only able to muster 228 yards, including -5 (!!!!!!!!) rushing. That's not a typo. QB Tom Savage averaged a paltry 6.3 YPA through the air while the team picked up an average of -0.2 yards on 21 carries. I'm not even sure if I have words to describe that type of rushing performance. Even accounting for sacks, the Panthers averaged just 1.4 yards per carry. And this came against Georgia Tech, who you probably recall Miami carving up for 227 (7.3 per carry) on the ground. I'd insert an exasperated sigh-like substitute like "oof", "guh", or "ouch", but I think that would be an insult to those expressions.
Biggest strength: The passing defense is pretty good, but boosted by playing a team that doesn't throw the ball very much last week. Currently the Panthers rank 18th in the nation in that category and 35th in overall defense. However, we'll see if that holds up with Tommy Rees, Bryn Renner and Stephen Morris coming up in the next four weeks.
Biggest weakness: As I stated in the breakdown of last week, their rushing offense is a pile of garbage set on fire. The Panthers now rank 105th in the nation and 104th in overall offense.
Fear level (1-10): Last week was pretty eye-opening for me, but I can't really say this team is any worse than Wake Forest and we all remember what happened to Miami against those guys two weeks ago. For now, I'll leave this as a 4.
Outcome of matchup for UM: Hopefully this will be a nice victory lap for the 'Canes the week before heading to Charlotte. Should win
Next game: vs. #23 Notre Dame (7-2)
Let's show up to Sun Life Stadium on Saturday night and support the team against Virginia Tech! I'll be at my normal spot in the first row of the student section at the 35 yardline. Go 'Canes!