Welcome back. Miami picks up where they left off last season - playing the Louisville Cardinals. Hopefully this time around things go better for the Canes. I won't go too much into what went wrong last time; being that the teams have both had major changes - changes that include two new starting QB's, a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator (not yours Miami, settle down.) New teams, yes; but to say a near thirty point throttling at the hands of the Cards hasn't been on UM's mind would be naive.
Miami was outplayed in every way possible. Current Minnesota Viking (and one time UM commit) Teddy Bridgewater had his way with the defense - throwing for over 400 yards. The Cards' defense made UM's best position - the O-line - look terrible. Miami was dealing with a number of injuries and suspensions, but just flat out got beat.
Louisville has only beaten Miami twice, but they have made them count. The Cards have beaten UM their last two meetings a combined 67 to 16. Miami still holds the overall edge with a 9 to 2 advantage, but now that UL has made the jump to the ACC, the matchup takes on added importance.
Louisville: What comes after success (at least in sports) is change. Louisville is currently navigating that change, coming into the season with a new Head Coach: Bobby Petrino, and new Defensive Coordinator: Todd Grantham. You may recall Petrino from his previous stint with UL; if that doesn't ring a bell, he's the coach you've seen wearing the neck brace with roadrash on his face. Yeah... that guy. Offensive guru; heavy with passing, but when he's had the most success, his teams are just as deadly running the ball. There is a reason people overlook the baggage he brings and it's because he's as talented an offensive mind as there is. If Miami has success shutting down the offense early, they will still need to stay on their toes because Petrino is excellent at in-game adjustments. Think of it as the opposite of the Florida game last year.
Petrino named Sophomore Will Gardner as the starting QB for Week One. While it's Gardner's first start as the man, he did see action in six games last season (mostly in mop-up duty but it's something). The Cards took a major hit on offense when the NFL bound DeVante Parker was injured this preseason. Parker, who shredded Miami for 9 catches, 142 yards and a TD the last time they met has a broken bone in his foot. Petrino came out this week and said the injury "changes the game plan for Miami." While yes - losing a player the caliber of Parker will hurt - don't expect the offense to be stagnant. Petrino's core of WR's will pick up the slack; Eli Rogers should now be their go to.
The news isn't much better when it comes to their big name running back Michael Dyer. The former Auburn back (who you may remember from their national title game) is dealing with a thigh contusion that is healing slower than expected. We should know prior to kickoff if he can go, but if not, RB Dominique Brown will split carries with true freshman LJ Scott. Brown was the back in the bowl game but Scott has impressed since arriving on campus.
DEFENSE:On the defensive side Grantham comes over from Georgia as one of the best in the business. He takes over last season's first-ranked rushing and overall defense at Louisville; but has a bit less talent to work with after losing a few players to the NFL. He brings in a new 3-4 defense, switching from Charlie Strong's 3-3-5.
Bottom line with their defense is that - while still talented - they lost a ton of playmakers to the NFL. There seems to be more concern upfront than in the back field; and from the reports I've read, people seem to be real high on 6-1, 213lb Gerod Holliman. Holliman will fill one of the vacancies at safety, and will play alongside last season's starting CB Terrell Floyd. Floyd moving to safety made room for Andrew Johnson to take over at CB - being a bit less experienced, look for Miami to throw his way. A sound strategy, if for no other reason than it keeps the ball away from CB Charles Gaines. Gaines had five interceptions last season - so no reason to tempt fate.
They will be fully aware Brad Kaaya is making his first start, so I'm sure they will try to give him as many looks as possible. One can only hope they need to keep it simple; being it's their first game in a new defense scheme and all.
Miami: As I write this, Miami is still having position battles to determine who will start. Most of the positions up for grabs rotate quite a bit, so nothing should really change. We will post an official depth chart when available.
UM comes in loaded at the skill positions on offense. Duke Johnson is back and he's spent his off season lifting weights. This season was always going to revolve around Duke; but when Ryan Williams went down in the spring, the run game became the crutch that will keep the offense upright. Miami will need to throw it of course; and should have success doing so with the talent lining up at TE and WR. Coach Golden said during his press conference Wednesday that they will take six to seven WRs up to Louisville with them. That in its self is an improvement over their last meeting, the WR core was a mash unit for the bowl game. Safe to say Stacy Coley, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Lewis and Herb Waters will get the lion share of the snaps with players like freshman favorite Braxton Berrios rotating in. Tight End Clive Walford will play a huge role in helping Kaaya get through his first game. Walford will be the guy in single TE sets is a NFL talent and at least in camp has shown a connection with Kaaya. Miami lost a very talented pass catching TE this week in Beau Sandland but has good depth at the position. Look for Standish Dobard to be the second TE. While more of a mauler he impressed during spring and has continued to turn heads this fall.
It's the run game though that will keep things simple for their QB. It will also keep the clock moving - something UM desperately needs to improve upon. Alongside Duke will be Gus Edwards and true freshman Joesph Yearby. Edwards (with his large frame) will be the primary change of pace back; while Yearby will get a few carries here and there. From what I've seen so far, he will make them count. Yearby is fun to watch - he seems to play on a larger field than everyone else using his vision to find blockers and weave between defenders. To be honest, I never really knew what having "great vision" meant in relation to running the ball - number two on the offense made it make sense. There's been talk of getting Duke and Yearby on the field at the same time...to that I say SET YOUR DVR.
The defense has a lot to prove after getting destroyed in Orlando. Most of the names stay the same, and for a team starting a QB that was in high-school during Miami's spring game, most would say that the defense is their primary concern. To that I would say that I'm actually pretty excited over the secondary. They will be tested right off the bat against Louisville's offense. At CB UM will have Ladarius Gunter back from a neck injury. He, along with Tracy Howard, Artie Burns, and Corn Elder are still fighting for first team spots at CB but figure to all see significant playing time. This has been the first time I can remember someone challenging Howard so it will be interesting to see if the competition has a positive effect on the position. I expect Howard and Gunter to remain starters but having a player like Burns who broke records in track this spring as a reserve will allow Miami to get creative with there looks. Safety is also a position that has three to four players all capable of starting. Deon Bush is healthy for the first time in forever so whether it's him and Dallas Crawford ( who was the starting running back in the bowl game) or the ultra athletic Jamal Carter the position is in good hands.
The front seven is more of a concern. Of course having Denzel Perryman at LB helps, but with the loss of a few players earlier this year, depth is a concern. Defensive tackle is a question mark, it's reliant on two JuCo players getting their conditioning better so that they can stay on the field. Michael Wyche looks like he can make a difference but because he was slowed by an Achilles issue this fall he may not be able to play as many snaps week one as he may be able to week six. Defensive end is in good shape, senior leader Anthony Chickillo has hit the weight room and got into great shape, he finally has the body to play the position the way he wants to. Freshman Trent Harris has surprised many people by getting first team reps in camp as a rush end. Young talent at DE like Chad Thomas and AQM will cause headaches for the Louisville Oline As we have seen in the past though, If the D Line doesn't get a push and create pressure it won't matter how good your LB or DBs are.
Players to Watch: In this match up it's the two QBs making their first start. Will Gardner and Brad Kaaya both come in with similar expectations and while Gardner has some playing time it's a new system and a lot more pressure. Kaaya has more weapons around him while Gardner will be missing his best WR. As I write this a first time starter just threw for over 500 yards against a ranked opponent , it's highly unlikely either QB has a night like that but throwing three interceptions will have just as big of an impact. It feels like I cheated with those picks so my alternate players to watch will be Miami running back Duke Johnson and Louisville true freshman RB L.J. Scott. Both will need to take pressure of their QBs by keeping the defense's honest. Duke comes back from an injury looking to be the leader on offense while Scott looks to step up in the event Michael Dyer isn't able to play, or has to play at less than 100%.