We find ourselves at a crossroads of sorts, Hurricanes fans. This season, and really this era of Miami Hurricanes football, can go in a number of different directions depending on the outcome of this weekend's game versus an old foe, Nebraska. Sure, this game doesn't have any bearing on the ACC standings. It also is just the 4th game of a still young season, but this game will be a huge barometer to where this program is and the perception of it to diehards and casual fans alike. I'm not saying this game will define anybody's legacy, or get anyone fired or anything like that, but you can't overlook what a big win or loss means to this program, both good and bad. For this big game, we take a look at two players that have carried the leadership burden for their teams for years now; Linebacker Denzel Perryman and Running Back Ameer Abdullah.
Season to Date
Perryman has been the heartbeat of a much improved Miami defense this season. You can say what you will about the strength of competition skewing the numbers, but the Miami defense has passed the eye test this year for improvement. This is in no small thanks to Perryman, who is the unquestioned leader on that side of the ball, and perhaps the entire team. Perryman has been delivering his fair share of hits so far this year, but he has meant much more than just sending a message to opposing teams. In the loss to Louisville week 1 (the only time he played the entire game this season) Perryman recorded a team-high 12 tackles, 11 of which were solo tackles, with a sack. Perryman flies all over the field to make plays and he's critical to any success stopping the other team.
Abdullah is having an above average season, coming off the remarkable season he had last year. After racking up over 200 yards in week 1 versus FAU, Abdullah struggled against FCS opponent McNeese State. He did score the game-winning touchdown on a long catch and run in the closing seconds to save Nebraska from what could have been a very bad loss. Abdullah has been and will continue to be crucial to everything Nebraska likes to do on offense, where they like to spread you out and run the ball. Many are looking at Abdullah as a potential dark horse Heisman contender if he continues to make big plays and put up big numbers (an, of course, if Nebraska keeps winning).
Both of these players are considered undersized for the position the play, but both play much bigger than their measurable would indicate. Perryman is listed as 6'1 245 pounds, but in reality is probably closer to 5'11. That has not stopped him from delivering punishing blows to ball carriers all season that has earned him attention on social media platforms. Abdullah is listed at 5'9 195 pounds, but again, plays much bigger than that. He is not afraid to deliver the first blow to tacklers and gain a few extra yards on any play. Immovable object, meet unstoppable force.
Running Skills vs. Defensive Skills
Abdullah is one shifty and special player. He gets in and out of his cuts very quickly and then accelerates to top speed in a hurry. He isn't afraid to deliver punishment at the end of runs, either. He has a lot of similarities to Miami's own Duke Johnson in his vision and running style (he even wears number 8). He has tremendous balance and decision making when choosing a hole and can hit it hard once he finds what he is looking for. It will be up to guys like Perryman to find him once he picks a hole and close it off before he can get going. Perryman is very good at running downhill to the ball carrier and delivering a hit before they can get their momentum going. Where Abdullah may have an advantage, however, is when he goes out into passing routes. Perryman' strength is defending the run. While he has improved dropping into coverage, it is still not one of his strengths.
Again, with most match-ups, these two will be facing off on every play Saturday. When they do cross paths, however, it should be something to watch. Overall, slowing down Abdullah has to be priority no. 1 for Miami to be able to get stops on a consistent basis. Perryman will be instrumental in stopping Abdullah when they hand off the ball to him, but might need some help from his teammates when they use him in the passing game. This should be a fun game to watch with a lot of interesting subplots. Grab a seat on Saturday night and see which road this program goes down.
What do you think? Is there a more important match-up in this game? Follow me on twitter @Josh_Maser and let me know if there is something more important to keep an eye on.