On the second Saturday of the season, the Canes will be road tripping to the quaint town of Jonesboro to face the Arkansas State Red Wolves. If you’re wondering why in the world Miami is trekking to the Land of Opportunity, it’s to finish up a home-and-home series which began with a Miami home victory back in 2014. Now, three years later, the only opportunity for Miami in Jonesboro is to fine tune their road mettle against a talented team ahead of the week 3 FSU match-up.
Be warned, the Red Wolves are not to be overlooked. Head coach Blake Anderson has kept this team near the top of the Sun Belt over the past three years, so they know how to win. They ended 2016 at a lukewarm 8-5 with a bowl victory over UCF but were 8-1 after a bad September. We should expect this Miami vs ASU contest to be highlighted by two strong defenses overshadowing a couple of offenses trying to click into gear.
Miami’s offensive unknowns, O-Line and QB, could be exploited by the Red Wolves’ defensive line strength. Ja’Von Rolland-James is an NFL caliber pass rusher who has amassed 29 sacks and 44 TFL over the past three seasons. Wow. Next to Rolland-James is Dee Liner, a former Alabama player whose production is slowly catching up to his talent. These two are supported by talented run stopping linebacker Kyle Wilson and some veteran defenders in the secondary. Miami’s offensive line and TBD QB must avoid getting behind the chains. If not, this could turn into a long and uneventful game. Getting the ball quickly to the speedy receivers and Mark Walton will be critical to outpacing ASU’s aggressive defense.
On the flip side, Miami has a preeeetty good defense too. My heart rate just spiked thinking about how the Canes front seven will likely wreak havoc on the Red Wolves brand new offensive line. Their offensive line has combined career starts of only two, both by sophomore guard Troy Elliot. Manny Diaz will be on the attack per usual and will try to fluster QB Justice Hansen early. However, Hansen has proved to be competent. In 2016, after taking over the starting job in week 3 he passed for 2719 yards, 19 TDs, 8 INTs, and averaged an impressive 8 yards per attempt. The boom or bust passing game is definitely the focal point of OC Buster Faulkner’s offense (great first name). Arkansas State’s rushing game finished 106th in 2016 gaining only 137 yards per game, and that new offensive line won’t do RB Warren Wand any more favors in 2017. If Miami can’t get enough pressure on Hansen, the new-look Canes secondary will be tested often by senior receivers Cam Echols-Luper, Chris Murray, and Dijon Maschal.
The good news is that Arkansas State has a knack for being awful in September. Their September record is 1-7 over the past two years and they struggle mightily against power 5 conference teams. Miami comes to town following the Red Wolves’ trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, so it’s likely that ASU’s September doldrums will return in 2017. Although Arkansas State is better than Appalachian State, I expect the same game and outcome to play out. On paper, Miami should have no issue. Speed, talent, physicality, experience, and depth all favor the Canes. The problem could be that the focus is on the Seminoles rather than the task at hand. The most important thing we learn in week 2 could be just how good or bad the offense will be ahead of that trip to Tallahassee. Can the new QB utilize the talent around him effectively and avoid negative plays? Or will offensive struggles against a Sun Belt team foreshadow doom against a much stauncher Noles defense? We shall see soon enough.