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The Day After: Syracuse

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Our weekly look back on our commentary and analysis to see what was right, what was wrong, and how it played out on the field

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Another week, another win for the Miami Hurricanes. This time, it was a hard-fought 27-19 victory over the Syracuse Orange. Here’s a recap, and 3 stars, and Good, Bad, and Ugly for more about the game.

And now we’re back with another installment of The Day After, reviewing our pre-game commentary and analysis to see just how right we were yet again. And, seriously guys, you need to be listening to us because we’re really, REALLY good at this stuff.

And we begin.

Matchup of the Week

1 vs. 1 Matchup - Syracuse WR Steve Ishmael (six foot two, 209 pounds) vs. CB Malek Young (five foot nine, 180 pounds)

Commentary: “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.”

The Day After: Young did yeoman’s work to limit Ishmael, the nation’s leading receiver entering Saturday’s game, to just 4 catches for 41 yards. Young was fast and physical and used the sideline as a timely help defender to squeeze Ishmael’s route and make a completion to the talented WR impossible.

Ishmael caught a couple balls out of bounds due to Young’s savvy play, and was generally blanketed by the talented sophomore CB. Win of the matchup, and the game, to Miami on this one.

Additional 1 vs 1 matchup - Miami WR Braxton Berrios (five-foot-nine, 186 pounds) vs. Devin M. Butler (six-foot-one, 189 pounds)

Commentary: “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.”

The Day After: Berrios didn’t do much in the game, thanks in large part to Butler’s defense. The senior WR only had 1 catch for 11 yards on the day, a far cry from his early-season performance. Berrios’ only catch went for a big 3rd down conversion, so there was some consequence to his play. But, Berrios was 1 play away from getting shut out on the day, so that’s a great job by Syracuse’s DBs, and Butler in particular.

On the flip side, Berrios getting held to only 1 catch opened things up for TE Christopher Herndon IV to have a career high with 10 catches for 96 yards and a TD vs Syracuse. So, it was a win in this matchup for The Orange, but Miami’s offense is varied and dynamic enough that if you take away 1 receiver, another one will step up and make plays. That’s what happened on Saturday.

Positional Matchup - Miami’s Defensive Backs vs. Syracuse’s Pass Catchers

Commentary: “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.”

The Day After: Miami’s pass defense had Syracuse on lock down for the majority of the game on Saturday. The Canes held Syracuse’s QB Eric Dungey to 13-41 passing for 137 yards and 4 Interceptions, and it could have been 5 or 6 picks if we’re being honest. That yardage total is nearly 50 yards fewer than Dungey’s previous season-low (182 yards vs Middle Tennessee State), and the completion percentage, 31.7%, is way, way, WAY below Dungey’s previous season-low (54.3% vs Central Michigan).

Miami’s DBs were everywhere they needed to be vs Syracuse. They were in perfect coverage position for most of the day (there was that one blown coverage on 3rd and 25, but those things happen), but the passes that Dungey completed were mostly chunk plays (10+ yards) due to Syracuse’s offensive scheme.

But, even with giving up 10 chunk passes, would I take 13-41 allowed for less than 150 yards with 10 PBUs and 4 interceptions? HELL YES ABSOLUTELY! Great job, defensive backs!

Oh, and that was without starting CB Dee Delaney in this game, by the way. Fantastic work.

Caneseye Players to Watch -- Syracuse QB Eric Dungey and Miami DE Joe Jackson

Commentary: “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.

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.”

The Day After: Miami had Dungey on the run and out of rhythm for the whole game. Syracuse’s starting QB went 13-41 passing for 137 yards and 4 interceptions. Season lows in completions, yards, and percentage, and season high in interceptions.

On top of that, Miami sacked Dungey 4 times, and generally harassed him all over the field. The QB was able to find some success in the run game, carrying the ball 20 times for 100 yards on the day. It was the 2nd game on the season where Dungey hit triple digits rushing (105 yards vs Central Michigan being the other), and that helped Syracuse hang around for a while.

Dungey is a tough player and left it all on the field, but Miami had him off his game throwing the ball, and that’s the key component of an Air Raid offense, so it’s no surprise Syracuse lost this game.

As far as Jackson, he had a solid game with 5 tackles and a TFL. Jackson also got pressure on Dungey a couple of times, so that was good to see.

Jackson, however, was overshadowed by the absolutely dominant performance by DT RJ McIntosh. McIntosh had 5 tackles, a QB hurry, and 5 PBUs/deflected passes. Everywhere you looked, you saw #80 making a play for the Canes. And that’s what makes Miami’s DL great: even if the highlighted player doesn’t have a dominant game, someone else will.

Lastly…

Commentary: “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.”

The Day After: Miami held Syracuse to 1-2 on 4th downs on Saturday. The conversion was a short run, but that wasn’t the one that counted. Miami forced Syracuse into an incomplete pass on 4th and the ballgame with just under a minute left to seal the win.

Syracuse only punted 3 times, but they turned the ball over 4 times, so there weren’t that many opportunities for the Orange to go for it on 4th down. And, when it counted, Miami held them to a turnover on downs, and sealed the 6th victory of the year for the Canes.


Game Preview

Commentary: “To find the heart of Syracuse, you need to look no further than their passing attack, led by junior QB Eric Dungey. The Orange’s explosive, up-tempo offense averages 463 yards per game, 2nd in the ACC, accompanied by 31.3 points per game. 297.1 of those yards come through the air via Dungey, who is also a threat on the ground. Dungey averages 55.1 yards per game rushing and has accounted for 8 rushing TD’s, his dual-threat abilities helping to keep opponents off-balance and from focusing too much attention on favorite targets Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips.

Ishmael ranks second in the nation in receptions per game (8.9) and third in receiving yards (802). Philips is tied for fifth in receptions per game (8.0). Philips even caught 17 passes in a loss to N.C. State this season.

And all this offensive success has not come all against cupcakes, either. The Orange have battled against some of the nation’s toughest defenses, including the aforementioned Clemson and N.C. State, plus LSU. But what really sets this offense apart is the nature of their hurry-up spread. Syracuse is second nationally in plays per game at 87.8 and just wears defenses down over the course of a contest. Dungey gets his team lined up ultra-fast and snaps the ball quick: line-up, snap, repeat. It’s something that even Clemson struggled with, as there were multiple plays where the Tigers’ defense wasn’t ready when the ball was snapped. Mark Richt is aware of this issue and hopes to get the Canes prepared for it.

Miami will counter with their #20 ranked scoring defense. The Canes come into the game allowing just 18.6 points per game and while Manny Diaz’s unit has bent, they haven’t broken often this season.

However, Miami’s secondary has been considered the weak link of the team and they will be pushed to the limit being asked to cover Ishmael and Philips all game. Making matters worse, the secondary has been banged up with injuries. Starting safety Sheldrick Redwine is expected back this week off a concussion, but starting corner Dee Delaney will not play on Saturday due to a lower leg ailment.

The Canes will have to get strong play from a recovering Redwine, Malek Young, Michael Jackson, and Jaquan Johnson.

When Miami looks to get on the scoreboard, they have discovered they can rely on running back Travis Homer, who had a spectacular debut as a starter in replacing the injured Mark Walton against Georgia Tech. He showed he could run tough between the tackles, as well as burst to the outside in rushing for 170 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Homer is also a threat in the passing game, and added a touchdown catch to his performance last week against the Yellow Jackets.

Hurricanes QB Malik Rosier has been better than expected this season in taking over for the departed Brad Kaaya, but will look to start games faster after slow starts nearly cost Miami the game against FSU and GT. He’ll have some more help this week, though, as Miami’s #1 receiver Ahmmon Richards is expected to return after missing the GT game with a pulled hamstring. Richards has missed 3 of the Canes’ 5 games this season, but has made his impact felt when he has been on the field: on 7 catches this year, Richards has 174 yards and a TD, good for over 20 yards per catch.”

The Day After: Dungey went over his average rush yards, but as I’ve detailed above, was well, WELL below his average in passing. This caused Syracuse to score 12 points below their season average.

Ishamel (4 catches, 41 yards) and Phillips (5-57) were held well below their averages as well. For 2 of the nation’s leading receivers, Saturday’s game was frustrating, to be sure.

The thing Syracuse did best/most consistently was run plays. The Orange matched their season-high by running 93 offensive plays (done previously twice: vs Central Connecticut State and Middle Tennessee State). They succeeded in the attempt to push tempo, but with little in the way of tangible results. So, good on them for running plays, but good on Miami for stalling drives and creating turnovers.

For Miami, this was a typical defensive performance, creating havoc and holding Syracuse to 0.4 points above their average points allowed (18.6 on the year, Syracuse scored 19).

The pair of Malik Rosier and Travis Homer had big games to help Miami win. Rosier went 26-43 passing for 344 yards and 2 TDs, while Homer ran 20 times for 95 yards and the game-clinching TD late in the 4th quarter.

And, in his return to game action, star WR Ahmmon Richards had 6 catches for 99 yards, and created space for other players to make plays on offense. He did have 4 drops on the day, including 2 that would have been sure TDs, so it wasn’t perfect, but Richards still had a positive impact for Miami’s offense.


Opponent Q&A

Commentary: In our opponent Q&A, John Casillo of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician said the following:

Re: QB Eric Dungey “The junior's a dangerous passer rolling out of the pocket, and he's pretty lethal running in open space. He'll throw into coverage sometimes while trying to make something happen. But more often than not, you'll see him either throwing underneath routes or exploiting one-on-one coverage down the field (something he's very adept at). Not sure what this is a result of, but he'll probably underthrow a few passes every game. That's typically where the interceptions have occurred. It does seem like he's been keeping "hero ball" at a minimum this season, though.”

and

Re: Syracuse’s skill players “Ishmael's a terrific route runner and a great downfield blocker, too. His size is an asset, allowing Dungey to throw balls down the field without much worry, knowing Ishmael stands a good chance to go up and get it. He's physical, which refs have unfortunately started to key in on a bit more than we'd like. Still, he's nearly unstoppable one-on-one.

When teams double Ishmael, that's where the offense really gets humming, though. Ervin Philips is a speedy slot receiver that caught 90 passes last year and already has 56 catches this season. Tight end Ravian Pierce has gotten more involved in the passing game as the run has opened things up for him a bit. You'll see Dontae Strickland catch screens out of the backfield too. Having dangerous players like Ishmael and Philips out there every play forces opponents into some tough decisions, usually leading to someone getting an opening.”

and

RE: the matchup that favored Syracuse most heavily “I wouldn't say this matchup heavily favors Syracuse, but I do think the Orange still test the secondary and find ways to move the ball through the air. The Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the country stopping big passing plays, and I think they minimize the damage there. But SU isn't above dinking-and-dunking down the field if needed. It's tough to defend against both strategies at once.”

and

RE: the matchup that favored Miami most heavily “Miami's defensive front-seven is going to get some opportunities against Syracuse's beleaguered offensive line. The Orange have already allowed 21 sacks (seven last game) and those struggles should continue. We didn't necessarily pull in an extra blocker against Clemson so we could avoid losing a receiver out in space. We might make the same decision against Miami, which could lead to some opportunities to really get after Dungey.”

and

Game prediction: “As much as I'd love to predict a second straight Orange victory over a top-10 team, there's just too much going against them. Road game, an emotional come-down from last week, a more talented Miami team -- it's just a lot to go up against. The Hurricanes defense bends but won't break, while Syracuse allows enough big plays to force us into a comeback situation. Things fall short, and Miami gets to 6-0.

Pencil me in for a 30-20 'Canes win.”

The Day After: Miami had Dungey on lockdown, although he was able to find some space in the run game. So, there was an element of truth in this commentary, but Miami squashed the other part.

In that the passing game for Syracuse was anemic at best, the skill guys listed didn’t really make too many plays. Chalk up another win for Miami there.

Syracuse’s passing game being the matchup that favored Cuse? Not on Saturday it wasn’t.

Miami’s DL being the matchup that favored the Canes the most? While the DBs balled out, Miami’s DL was elite again. I’ll take it.

Score prediction? Off by 4 total points, and had the correct winning team. Yeah, that’s accurate in my book.


Hurricanes Q&A

Commentary: I answered John’s questions about the Canes for TNIAAM, and here’s some of what I said:

RE combating Syracuse’s uptemo offense: “Miami will try to combat Syracuse's up-tempo offense by creating pressure with the defensive line, some timely blitzes, and changing looks in the secondary. Miami's DL is one of the best in America, with a legit 10 players who can see the field and make plays. That group could be in for a big game, as Syracuse allows three sacks per game on average. Additionally, Miami likes to penetrate in the run game, and the DL is the group that starts that havoc.

Miami Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz is known for dialing up blitzes. This season, some blitzes have been very good, and timed well. But, other blitzes have been shown early and ineffective to say the least. Last year, Diaz had a perfect feel for when to blitz CB Corn Elder. This year, it's been LB Michael Pinckney and a rotating group of DBs. Pinckney is the best blitzer on the team, so look for him to try to get up the field some. From the secondary, Jaquan Johnson has been used as a blitzer in the past, with varying results. I don't know that I'd trust anybody else in that role, but I'd like to see freshman CB/nickel Trajan Bandy blitz from the slot and see hwat he can do.

Miami's secondary is young, no matter what group is playing. Without Redwine and Delaney, a junior and fifth-year senior respectively, the group gets even younger. Obviously, vs an up-tempo passing offense such as Syracuse, defenses are best served to change the coverage looks. But, I'm not sure how much of that Miami will be able to do on a particular drive. Maybe the looks will change from drive to drive. But I expect some kind of coverage changes to happen throughout the game.”

and

RE: unsung players to know vs Cuse “Interesting question. On offense I'll say TE Christopher Herndon IV. He's got great size at 6'4" 252 lbs., good hands, and can move all over the field. He's been used at FB, H-Back, TE, and in the slot. He even caught three bubble screens from the slot on Miami's game-winning drive vs Georgia Tech last week. He's not the physical freak that former Canes TE David Njoku was, but he's a better ALL-AROUND player. Herndon is Miami's second-leading receiver, though most people, even most Canes fans, wouldn't guess that.

On defense, I'll say DE Trent Harris. "Trusty Trent" or "Toolbox Trent" isn't the biggest, strongest, or fastest player, but he's always in the right place and just does his job. For a team that's had many missed assignments and jobs not done over the course of the last decade, it's great to see a player who just does what he's been asked to do, and makes the plays in front of him. Harris has 16 tackles, five TFLs, and a team-leading 3.5 sacks. He doesn't get many headlines, but he makes plenty of plays, and that's all that matters to me.”

and

RE game prediction “I think Syracuse causes a couple problems for Miami with their tempo, but I think the OL is shoddy allowing Miami to get after Eric Dungey and disrupt the Cuse offense. I know that Syracuse doesn't have the athletes on defense to contain Miami, especially if Ahmmon Richards comes back at nearly full health.

Syracuse scores some late to make it a closer final, but I don't think this game will have any of the drama of Miami's last 2.

Final Score: Miami 41 Syracuse 24”

The Day After: Miami did bring different looks on defense, and it worked to perfection. Michael Pinckney had a huge game, with tackles and sacks and creating havoc with blitzes. Oh, and Miami’s DL dominated the game, which I expected.

Jaquan Johnson wasn’t used as a blitzer on Saturday, he was playing deep center field for most of the day. It was from that position that Johnson had his diving interception in the first half, so that’s fine by me.

Redwine returned to the secondary, so that was a positive for the Canes defense. Delaney is still out, however, so that stayed the same.

Christopher Herndon IV had a career high with 10 catches for 96 yards and a TD so I think that would qualify as an unsung player stepping up.

Trent Harris had 3 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 2 QB Hurries. He was used heavily on 3rd downs, because of his penchant for always being in the right place and doing his job. His stat line wasn’t as big as others on the DL, but Harris had plenty of impact on Saturday’s game.

Okay, so, I was off on my score prediction, but it would have been closer to what I predicted if Miami had been able to finish drives with TDs in the first half. And, I know this is a narrative thing, but if you look at the stats from the game, Miami should have won by a much larger margin than they did. This was a dominant game, but the inability to finish drives kept the score from reflecting that.


That’s it for this installment of The Day After. And, YET AGAIN, we were overwhelmingly, incredibly, remarkably right (my score prediction notwithstanding).

Love it? Hate it? Have a thought to make this piece better? Hop in the comments and let me know.

Go Canes