Welcome back, everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your summer. Overall, pretty uneventful few months for Hurricanes fans, right? (Sarcasm really needs its own font). I won't rehash all of what has transpired since the end of the 2013 season because, in case you haven't heard, Miami will actually play in a real football game that counts this upcoming Monday. And, for those few of you that have been hiding under a rock all summer, it is a pretty important game against a familiar foe, the Louisville Cardinals. Today, we will take a look at one of the most important match-ups that will help determine if Miami will avenge its embarrassing 36-9 loss at the hands of the Cards back in the Russell Athletic Bowl on December 28th. With True Freshman Brad Kaaya slated to take the snaps for the ‘Canes on Labor Day night in Louisville, pass protection will be critical. So we are going to take a look at the old pass rusher/left tackle match-up; Lorenzo Mauldin vs Ereck Flowers.
Last Season Recap
This is usually the spot where I talk about how these players have fared so far this season. Seeing as this is the first game of the year, I found that task a little difficult. So, instead, let's take a look at how these players performed last season.
Flowers was one of the best tackles in the ACC last season and anchored a line that was one of, if not the best in the league. Much of Miami's early season success could be contributed to the play of the line and how they were able to move linemen off the line of scrimmage. Flowers and the rest of the line created holes for Duke Johnson the running game and gave Stephen Morris plenty of time for all of those deep balls that gave Miami early success in 2013. Flowers started all 13 games at Left Tackle for a team that likes to rotate its linemen frequently.
Mauldin was part of a dynamic pass-rushing duo in 2013 with Marcus Smith. With Smith now departed for the NFL, Mauldin is the team's leading sacker returning from last season. Mauldin tallied 9.5 sacks while earning second-team all-conference honors (Louisville played in the American Athletic Conference last season, this is their first year in the ACC). With Smith gone, Louisville will need Mauldin to produce in the pass rushing department this season.
Flowers is, in a word, BIG. At 6'6 325 pounds, he is the prototypical size for a Left Tackle. What all that size means is pretty simple; it's hard to get past him. Mauldin isn't exactly small himself, however, measuring in at 6'4 250. Mauldin will do all he can to use leverage to get Flowers off his spots and get into the backfield, but that is easier said than done versus a now veteran lineman coming into his 3rd full year of starting.
Pass Rushing Skills vs. Pass Protection Skills
Mauldin is very skilled and very experienced. He has been a contributor in both the pass rush and run stuffing the past two years and is one of the leaders of the Louisville defense going into his senior campaign. He uses a variety of power and finesse moves from a variety of spots on the field to get to Quarterbacks and ball carriers. This is not Flowers first rodeo either, however. As I mentioned above, he is now one of the veterans on Miami's line and has dealt with his fair share of notable pass rushers. I specifically remember the Florida State game when he was matched-up against Mario Edwards Jr. Miami will do it's best not to leave Flowers on an island against Mauldin, sliding protection to his side when they can (as any team does against the opposition's best lineman), but there will be plenty of times where Flowers will have to deal with Mauldin by himself.
With the way Louisville moves Mauldin around in their different defensive looks, these two will not be matched-up on every play. When they are facing each other, however, the winner between the two could swing the game for either team. It cannot be understated how important pass protection on the blind side will be for a True Freshman quarterback making his first start on the road (on a Monday night, no less). The opposite is true for Lousiville; getting to Brad Kaaya early and making him uncomfortable will be key to making sure he does not get into a rhythm where he can distribute the ball to all of Miami's playmakers. We have talked a lot about the passing game, but probably just as crucial will be creating holes for the running game to create play-action opportunities. It is a lot easier to play Quarterback when Duke Johnson is running free into the second level of a defense. They say football is won in the trenches and this game is a great example of why that is the case. With all of the talk about starting quarterbacks and injured skill position players, this game could be decided by two guys that may not have their name called all night.
What do you think? Follow me on twitter @Josh_Maser and let me know if you think there is a more important match-up in this game and which match-ups you want to talk about the rest of the season.