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Miami Hurricanes Matchup of the Week: Syracuse Orange

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Will Miami be able to spoil Syracuse’s air attack?

Middle Tennessee v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

On Saturday, Miami will renew what was once a Big East rivalry when they host the Syracuse Orange at Hard Rock Stadium. It will be quite a contrast for a Hurricanes’ defense that was concerned with the triple-option of Georgia Tech a week ago. This week the focus turns to the spread formation air attack of the Orange.

1 vs. 1 Matchup

Syracuse WR Steve Ishmael (six foot two, 209 pounds) vs. CB Malek Young (five foot nine, 180 pounds)

Pittsburgh v Syracuse
Leading the NCAA in receptions, Steve Ishmael is the go-to receiver for an impressive Syracuse offense.
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

As the kids say, Ishmael “is that dude”. The wide receiver who attended North Miami Beach Senior High returns to his hometown looking for retribution. Ishmael leads the country with 62 receptions and is third in the NCAA in receiving yards with 802. Ishmael is a big play WR, with 10 plays of 20 yards or more and seven plays of 30 yards or more. Ishmael plays well to his size, often leaping to catch the ball and using his big body to shield defenders from disrupting the reception. The WR can also be a load to bring down for a DB, so he has the ability to not only make the catch, but to pick up plenty of yards after the reception.

Miami does not run a matchup-based, man-coverage defense. They prefer to have their defenders line up to an assigned side of the field, instead of letting a player travel with a matchup. That means that we won’t see CB Malek Young, Miami’s best cornerback, line up against Ishmael exclusively. Young leads all Hurricanes in passes defensed with five, showing off his ability to make a play on the ball. It’s that playmaking ability that makes me want to see Young line up across from Syracuse’s number one receiving threat. Given Syracuse's’ tendency to spread the ball around, the Hurricanes could use some clones of Young to help defend the Orange’s dynamic passing game.

Miami WR Braxton Berrios (five-foot-nine, 186 pounds) vs. Devin M. Butler (six-foot-one, 189 pounds)

Toledo v Miami
Miami WR Braxton Berrios does it all, from stretching out for grabs, or rinsing and repeating the bubble pass. Berrios will do it all to help Miami get the win.
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Most of the one vs. one spotlights feature players that line up on the outside hashes. This matchup bucks that trend, focusing on the battle at slot, or the inside receiver position. Braxton Berrios has been the best wide receiver for the Hurricanes, often besting his opponents for huge chunks of yardage or providing enough yards after catch for a touchdown score. Berrios leads all Hurricane receivers with 24 receptions, 326 receiving yards and five touchdowns, with an average of 13.5 yards per catch. Miami’s best route-runner of any player at receiver, Berrios can be asked to run shallow, intermediate or downfield routes, with confidence from QB Malik Rosier to be where he is supposed to.

Syracuse will look to limit Miami’s explosive receiver with transfer cornerback Devin M. Butler—not to be confused with the wide receiver of the same name. Butler started the season as one of the Orange’s top corners before being moved inside to defend the slot position. Butler has the size advantage in the matchup, but who knows if he’ll be able to stay with an elusive receiver such as Berrios. The Orange could alternatively task CB Christopher Frederick to shadow Berrios on Saturday.

Positional Matchup

Miami’s Defensive Backs vs. Syracuse’s Pass Catchers

NCAA Football: Miami at Florida State
In their biggest test since their game against Toledo, secondary personnel such as Michael Jackson (left) and Sheldrick Redwine (right) will be counted on to limit Syracuse receivers.
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been awhile since we’ve featured Miami’s defensive backs as the group to watch. Over that time, the unit has endured injuries, communication breakdowns and the odd gaffe. However, on the whole, the unit improved as the season has progressed. Squaring off against Syracuse, Miami’s defensive backs have another opportunity to illustrate that improvement. There should be ample opportunity for multiple ‘Turnover Chain’ appearances.

The Orange are loaded with capable receivers. The most lethal of the group is WR Steve Ishmael, who we profiled earlier. Ishmael is not a one-man show; WR Ervin Phillips ranks third in the country with 56 receptions, TE Ravian Pierce is a sure-handed tight end and WR Devin C. Butler and his 9.28 yards-per-catch have become a downfield threat that makes QB Eric Dungey and the offense potent.

Caneseye Players to Watch

The Caneseye Player to Watch for Syracuse is QB Eric Dungey. Dungey is the engine of the offense, spurring the Orange through the air and on the ground. Dungey has gaudy passing numbers: 293 pass attempts, 188 completions, 64% completion percentage, 2,080 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. What may get overshadowed is that Dungey is the Orange’s leading rusher with 101 rushes for 386 yards and eight touchdowns. He provides enough balance that defensive coordinators need to force his hand with pressure, or have a designated defender that follows the QB.

Defensively for the Orange, keep an eye out for No. 30, LB Parris Bennett. The senior leads the Orange defense with 65 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and five QB hurries. DL Chris Slayton is a huge load in the middle of Syracuse’s defensive line at six-foot-four, 315 pounds that pushes the pocket, forcing ball carriers and quarterbacks to redirect from their initial read.

NCAA Football: Miami at Georgia Tech
This has the potential to be a pin your ears back and get after the QB game for Miami DE Joe Jackson.
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Caneseye Player to Watch has provided apt pressure throughout the season. DE Joe Jackson has been running tackles and quarterbacks ragged. Jackson has two sacks so far this season, but has been undressing offensive tackles to get into the backfield, forcing errant throws and chasing down the running backs behind the line of scrimmage. Miami will need to see that pressure against the Orange who run a high-tempo passing attack. The pass rush of Miami will need to be in full force against the Orange. If Miami learned from their mistakes against Toledo, then the Hurricanes should be up for the challenge on Saturday.

Over the past couple weeks, the legend of WR Darrell Langham Jr. has grown. It has gone from a ‘what is he doing on the field’, to fans wanting to see him featured on the offense. All he does is make plays at crucial moments. Call him ‘Mr. Clutch’, call him ‘I am Legend’—just be sure to call his number on Saturday.

Miami v Florida State
After sitting out last week, WR Ahmmon Richards is expected to return to the starting lineup.
Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

WR Ahmmon Richards has been a full participant in practices this week. So there is a good chance that he does more than just warm up with the team on gameday. We have not seen Miami’s playmaking wide receiver since the ‘Rally in Tally’, as a hamstring injury once again flared up. So far on the season Richards has seven receptions for 174 receiving yards and one touchdown. A far cry from what he accomplished in his freshman season, however, kudos to the coaching staff for being patient with the injury. It speaks to the talent level that Miami has built up over recent seasons when a player like Richards can fly under the radar. Here’s hoping that Saturday we get to see a healthier version of Ahmmon Richards.

Lastly…

Saturday will be a four down football game. No team in the country attempts more fourth down conversions than Syracuse, who have attempted a fourth down conversion 23 times, converting 15 for a 65.2% conversion rate. Talk about playing high risk. Miami’s defense has been on the field for seven fourth down conversions, with their opponents converting four of those opportunities.

IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!