It's has been a while since Miami and Nebraska have played each other. It has also been just as long since either team has been relevant on a national level. For Miami - if FSU is the next door neighbor that it's always competing with for recognition - then for Nebraska it's the jerk older second cousin that lives out of town, but shows up for the major events. Miami and Nebraska have only played each other five times since 1983. Four of those years ended with either Miami or Nebraska being crowned National Champs though. For more on the history between these two schools, check out a great article by Hurricane beat writer Matt Porter here.
Ken Dorsey isn't walking out that tunnel Saturday no matter how much we wish he was. The starting QBs were about six or seven for the Rose Bowl 2001, and the head coaches appear in more "hot seat" articles than playoff previews. The credit earned in the heyday of these programs is all but gone, but a win Saturday will be something each fan base can walk away from feeling happy about. Coach Golden seems to be missing a "signature win", while the Big Ten as a whole can use all the outta conference wins it can get. If you look back at the total number of losses in the last four seasons these two teams played, the combined total is twelve. Going back the last three seasons, they combine for 23 regular season losses. This game matters, just not for the reasons most fans are used to.
Nebraska: "I've got a lot of concerns about Nebraska" - Al Golden
Nebraska comes in 3-0 on the season with two blowouts and a close call. They were ranked 19th prior to a last second win against McNeese St. They are currently 22nd in the coaches poll and are coming off a 55-19 whooping over Fresno St. Wins over FAU, the close call to McNesse St., and also beating a Fresno State team that lost its' QB from last season to the NFL makes it hard to gauge just how good Nebraska is; but a few things do jump out at you. They average over 200 yards rushing a game which is 19th in the country; and just under 200 yards passing a game, which is 95th in the nation. Defensively they lost a few talented players this preseason, but still have some game changers Miami will need to account for. Overall they have the 38th ranked defense. giving up 156 yards a game rushing and 214 yards a game passing.
I am going to go ahead and pencil in their run game as one of the top concerns Golden has. Worrying about Nebraska's run game is a time honored tradition... it would be weird not to worry about it. This year's headache for Miami will be led by RB Ameer Abdullah. He comes in as one of the best backs in the nation, and probably the best back Miami has faced in a season or two. The Heisman hopeful comes into the weekend with a 6.9 yards per carry average and four TDs. When Nebraska struggled in week two against McNeese, Abdullah broke five tackles for a TD in the final seconds on a third and six pass to win the game. I've seen too many of these type of plays happen against Miami. They will need to wrap up well because it will get ugly fast if not; check the highlight here. Earlier this week, Jerry Steinberg took a look at how Abdullah matched up against Miami's own Duke Johnson (check out the tale of the tape here). If you take away nothing else, Abdullah can move up to third on Nebraska's all-time rushing yardage list with 61 yards this week. There's been some damn good runners on Nebraska over the years, so it speaks volumes about his talent.
Yes, an NFL ready back is plenty to worry about - but as any Miami fan can tell you over the past few years - the Canes have had issues with mobile QBs. Guess what? Nebraska has a mobile QB - awesome. Tommy Armstrong Jr. has 27 rushes on the year for 258 yards (a 9.6 yards per carry average). Miami's defensive ends will need to stay aware of their spacing when rushing, and not get too wide in their attempt to get around their blocker. Miami's game last week against Arkansas St. may come in handy; not in that they run the same offense, but that they have to deal with a QB that can run and throw.
Armstrong can also beat you through the air. At 53% he has thrown for 773 yards, 7 TDs and only 1 Int. His primary targets are Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp. Westerkamp has 13 catches on the season for 271 yards (and 3 TDs), and Bell has 10 catches for 214 yards. Both average over 20 yards per reception, so while Arkansas St. last week kept everything short, Nebraska isn't afraid to stretch things out. With all the attention the run game demands, it leaves the deep pass open when needed. Miami's secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense this year; so far they have been suspect at best. For more on Miami's secondary issues take a look here.
Defensively Nebraska has looked good in two of their three games. They didn't seem to have an answer for what McNeese St. was running, but seemed to work out any issues they had in time for last week's game against Fresno St. From what I read, it seemed like Nebraska could have put more effort into practice the week leading into McNeese St., but I can assure you they won't take Miami lightly. Their defense has six sacks on the year with 13 QB hurries. Defensive End Randy Gregory is probably causing Art Kehoe a few sleepless nights this week. Gregory has been quiet so far this season but will be looking to make a splash against a Miami O line that has had some issues. The defense was hit by injuries during camp but seems to be holding up well.
Their defensive line worries me with the way Louisville's line impacted that game. DT Vincent Valentine has been a force in the middle; the 320lb sophomore has 9 tackles 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. Greg McMullen plays the other defensive end slot and has been busy: 15 tackles, 3 QB hurries, 1 pass break up and 2.5 sacks. With all the attention that Gregory brings McMullen seems to have taken advantage. Again, with a true freshman QB on the road in a hostile environment, Miami will need to keep Kaaya clean. (Think I just made a hashtag). As for defending the rush they have given up an average of 3.8 yards per carry. It goes without saying that Miami will need to run if they have any shot in this game.
The Nebraska secondary is led by Nathan Gerry and senior Corey Cooper. Nebraska only has one interception so far this year, but CB Josh Mitchell has 5 pass breakups, so it's just a matter of time before he starts catching a few of those. Gerry leads the team with 19 tackles, 3 of which were for a loss.
MIami: For Miami they already have a great "what not to do" game plan on tape from Louisville. Last week was encouraging for Brad Kaaya. Even if you take away the long TDs to ACC receiver of the week Phillip Dorsett, Kaaya connected on a few great throws that either he wasn't able or allowed to make week one. The Black Shirts are a jump up from A-State, but it's nice to see Kaaya start to develop some chemistry with his receivers. Good things happen when Dorsett is heavily involved in the passing game; and Braxton Berrios has already contributed more than even he thought he would so far this year. It's time for Stacy Coley to join the party. You wouldn't know it from this year, but I promise you when things click, the offense, play calling, and special teams will all look MUCH better. He should be ready to go after resting his shoulder/shoulders last week.
The play calling will also need to evolve this week. Seems Miami fell in love with the screen last week and it worked, so that's fine, but UM cannot afford to go cold on offense and leave the defense on the field 10 mins. a quarter. Miami will need production from the run game to help with the time of possession. UM hasn't had much luck running the ball in big games lately; you can blame that on Duke's injury, the O line, the game score getting outta hand early and needing to abandoning the run, or all of the above. Whatever the reason, if the Canes want to help out their QB they are gonna need big days from Duke Johnson and Gus Edwards. Both had good games last week so hopefully that continues.
Much has been made of Miami's "improved defense". No one is going to blame you if you're a little hesitant on trusting them - I'm with you. This week will tell you everything you need to know. The secondary is going to need to play up to their potential and hopefully get an interception or two. The safeties are going to be busy, between helping with run support and not letting Kenny Bell run free behind them. Hopefully the line can get a push while keeping things contained. NT Michael Wyche hasn't played as much as I thought he would. He isn't listed on the injury report, so hopefully he is ready to go, because his size will help keep some of the running lanes closed. Denzel Perryman will need another performance like last season against GT were he had over 11 tackles in the first half. They will have their hands full but seem to be playing better, I for one hope we get DJ D'onofrio DROPPING BEATS this week. (i just ensured a terrible performance.) Oh yeah, Miami needs to play sound assignment defense.
Whatever needs fixing, for whatever reason, special teams needs to be better. Nebraska has already had returns for TDs. Miami cannot afford to keep messing up. If UM is going to pull this game out special teams cannot be an issue. Matt Goudis is out this week so things should be interesting.
Miami can use a big win, maybe if this game was in November I'd feel a bit better about it. With the offense still working things out I think it's just a bit too much for them to bring home a win. I think they break the trend of getting blown out in these type of games, and wouldn't be shocked if they win.I just think offensive inconsistency costs UM the win
Prediction: Nebraska 24 Miami 17
Where to Watch: 8pm ESPN2