As part of the dwindling off season, SOTU will preview each game on the Canes' schedule. During the season there will be much more in-depth previews the week before each game, but these will serve to get you ready for what is to come. Enjoy!
After a week off followed by a (hopeful) layup against Savannah State, Miami invades the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for their first tilt away from Sun Life Stadium. South Florida, a team that beat the Canes in 2010 to effectively drop the guillotine on Randy Shannon’s tenure as head coach, will be looking to make a splash in Willie Taggart’s first season at the helm.
Last year’s matchup in Miami was an Orange-and-Green rout, as the Canes, led by its high-powered offense, smacked the Bulls 40-9 in a game that could have even been more lopsided by that score. Morris threw for over 400 yards, with Clive Walford and Herb Waters each tallying 130+ yards receiving. For the first time of the season, Miami kept an opponent out of the end zone, with the harried Skip Holtz opting for a questionable (or gutless might be the better word) 32-yard FG down 40-6 with 2 minutes remaining.
The last meeting in Tampa was one of the ugliest football games ever played to the neutral eye, although the 6-3 victory was beautiful to Miami fans. The Tampa Bay area is an important recruiting ground for Miami, as Al Golden has stated before. Anthony Chickillo, Tyriq McCord, Antonio Crawford, Maurice Hagens, and Danny Dillard all hail from the Florida Suncoast area. And when you see out of state schools like Georgia come in and snatch up A.J. Murray from Plant High School and USC grab WR Nelson Agholor from Berkeley Prep, there’s no doubt there is a fertile ground of top-tier talent to raid, where the main school in town can’t keep them home. So, the point is….succeeding in Tampa is important, and this is a more meaningful game than some might think.
As far as the game, it’s one that’s awfully early to predict as far as what USF will look like, not having seen the Bulls yet field a Willie Taggart offense or defense. The Bulls will have a three-headed quarterback battle this fall, with Penn State transfer Steven Bench competing with Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd for the starting position. It’s tough to say who has an edge in this battle before fall practice even begins, but from what I saw of Floyd last year against Miami….if he’s the winner, yikes. Regardless, USF’s top returning offensive weapon will be WR Andre Davis, who had 2 TDs in the spring game, including an 85-yarder.
Players to Watch
For Miami, it may be as simple as QB Stephen Morris making the right decisions. He won't need to repeat a 400-yard performance (which he's more than capable of doing), but he's got to show the poise of a senior quarterback, avoid mistakes, and keep the Bulls from getting a short field. Conversely, can the Bulls get big plays in the passing game against a defense that allowed plenty of them last year? They'll need a big game from their horse Davis if they hope to keep up with Miami's offense.
This is not a game Miami should take lightly, and you always have to be wary of a coach like Taggart, a local Tampa Bay area guy who brings a world of energy to his team, as evidenced by the gritty performances of his Western Kentucky teams. But at the end of the day, talent wins out, and Miami simply has much more right now. They have a poised quarterback, an offensive line that can protect him, speed out wide at both sides, a running back that can make a house call anywhere on the field, on offense or special teams, and enough athletes on defense to keep a new and developing USF offense at bay. A little early for predictions but (knocking on wood), I’m gonna chalk this one up for Miami.