Last season, Miami went on the road in front of a record and hostile crowd of 91,585 at Memorial Stadium. The Canes got manhandled the entire game, as the 41-31 score strangely reflected how close the game was, and also how lopsided Nebraska's victory was as well. On one end, Miami held their own against Nebraska. Honestly, it was going to be tough to go into Lincoln with a freshman QB and win; however, then-freshman Brad Kaaya threw for a freshman record of 359 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. The worst turnover was a Duke Johnson fumbled that was returned for a touchdown. If you were to re-watch the game, the offense played well, despite the turnovers.
Now, the defense...it was bad. The run defense looked like they teleported back to 2012, when they were letting anyone and everyone run all over them. QB Tommy Armstrong was the second-leading rusher in the game with 96 yards on 13 carries. Running back Ameer Abdullah made the defense look like JV squad. The future second round pick rushed for (brace yourselves) 229(!!!) yards on 35 carries with 2 TDs. The Miami offense made the game look close, and the defense made you wonder how it was even a game. The focus of last season's matchup was clearly going to be Abdullah/Nebraska's rushing attack vs. Miami's run defense. We all know who won that battle. This year, it's going to be a new matchup that takes center stage in Miami Gardens...and hopefully this one goes the Canes' way.
Tommy Armstrong vs. ENTIRE Canes Defense
This was originally going to be Armstrong vs. the secondary, but that changed ever so quickly. Yes, Armstrong going up against the secondary will be crucial, but in case you forgot, the defensive line has been lackluster in recent memory and will be a key factor going up against a traditionally stout Nebraska O-line. So, instead, we're going to break down what each position group will need to do to stop Armstrong & Co.
First, let's get some background info on the Nebraska QB. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a 6'1" 220 lbs. redshirt junior from Texas (they probably could've used him). Known for his dual-threat ability, Armstrong is known to be an inconsistent passer. This season, with the aide of head coach Mike Riley, Armstrong and the Nebraska offense will primarily attack through the air. From Armstrong's player profile on Nebraska's website: "Armstrong will focus on improved passing accuracy in Coach Mike Riley's offense in 2015" (Huskers.com). Last season, Armstrong completed a mere 53.3% of his passes (a career high), threw for 2,695 yards, while recording a 22/12 TD/INT ratio. So far in 2015, he is completing 63.4% of his passes, threw for 589 yards and sports a 6/1 TD/INT ratio. He is clearly getting better as a passer and being molded into the QB Riley wants for his offense to work.
Their number will be called a lot throughout this game, and they will need to step up. Their play will depend on the D-line performance, but that is a moot point. That is football. Everyone depending on the guy in front of, behind, or beside them. The Miami secondary is wayyyyy (Drake voice) too talented for Armstrong to light them up through the air, and frankly, the first two games are only a small sample size of what Armstrong can do as a passer. He only threw for 113 yards last year against Miami, but he also didn't need to do too much through the air last season. The secondary will be tested through the air unlike last season. Armstrong threw a bomb for a TD in the first quarter last season, but after that the Miami secondary kept the QB in check. He threw for another, but Abdullah did most of the work on the that play. Personally, the safeties will make or break this game.
Deon Bush will need to make an immediate impact, and this is the type of game I'd like to see Rayshawn Jenkins get some burn. He is a rangy safety who seems to always be active when the football is in the air. On the lesser end, Dallas Crawford CANNOT steal minutes from Jenkins and/or Jamal Carter, who is still developing as a safety, but is a fierce tackler. Also, look for Corn Elder to make an impact on this game. First, I think he is the best corner on the team, and if he isn't, he's sure as hell playing like it. Second, his name, the opponent, the magnitude...it's only right.
Tackle the guy with the football.
I would love to leave it at that, but I want to avoid my ever-present sarcasm. I will keep this one short, but Miami got absolutely humiliated by Abdullah and the Nebraska rushing attack. The good news is that Abdullah is gone, the "not as bad bus still something to keep an eye on" news is that the successor at running back, Terrell Newby, is averaging 6.3 yards a carry and has rushed for an average of 120 yards in the two games this season to go along with three scores on the ground and one through the air. Miami will be without sophomore Darrion Owens, who was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered against FAU. Raphael Kirby will need to have a sound game and assert his dominance in the middle, while LB Tyriq McCord will fill the void left by Owens and , in Cam's terms, "make him some NFL $$$." The Canes have the athletes and the coverage skills necessary at linebacker to combat the Nebraska passing attack, but this unit has a simple task...tackle the guy with the football.
Attack, attack, and attack some more. The defensive line's play will be imperative to the Canes' success this game, and really for the entire season. In the previous match up against Nebraska the Canes gave up about 1,000 yards on the ground, at least that's what it felt like. Miami was blown up at the point of attack and seemed to play on their heels instead of being the ones dictating the play. There was a supreme lack of pass rush in the previous matchup, but the Cornhuskers did not need to throw the ball much. This game will be vastly different. Honestly, this is like preparing for a different team. Based on Miami's defensive output in the past three seasons, Nebraska becoming pass-happy plays more into Miami's hands than it does hurt them. The D-line will have to be stout and stop the run first, and if I'm Mike Riley, I would make sure to establish the run early and often going off of the last game these two teams played. But if Riley intends to light up the scoreboard and go for the yards/big plays, Miami will be better off compared to Nebraska being a power running team that the country is accustom to seeing.
Edge rushers/blitzers will be key in this game. Fan favorite Trent Harris, Quan Muhammad, Tyriq McCord, Demetrius Jackson and LB Jermaine Grace will have to impact this game in one way or another. Miami has too much talent and speed on the edge and on the defense to not constantly pressure QB Tommy Armstrong. I would rather have Armstrong hurting Miami with his legs and not his arm. The Canes' (and ultimately D'Onofrio's) goal is to turn Armstrong and the Nebraska offense back into what Riley has been working all offseason to change.
Heading into the Nebraska game, the Canes look very good in this matchup on paper...that is, on paper. The defensive line will need to get constant pressure on Armstrong throughout the game. Whether that pressure comes from scheme or blitzes remains to be seen, but it has to happen in order for this defense to be successful. This pressure also needs to occur when the Canes only rush four. Blitzing and aggressiveness is great, but you live and die by it, so Miami needs to find life more than they perish.
Another aspect that plays a factor in EVERY game is coaching. The game plan is never the same week to week for teams, so for all we know Nebraska could come out and have an offensive philosophy similar to the one last season. Or Miami could bring out one that mirrored the Virginia Tech game last year. What is known is that this game is pivotal to both programs and to both coaches. Mike Riley is looking to beat the rivaled Hurricanes, and beat the Canes in consecutive seasons, something Nebraska hasn't done in four decades. For Miami, Al Golden is still looking for a signature win in his tenure has head coach here. I will call this a signature win...for now. The offense will need to put up points and the defense will have to flash some ability and expose some of the potential that exists within the entire unit. As for the coaches, the coaches need to be the ones executing.