It’s that time of year once again. We’re not talking about putting together those Thanksgiving long weekend plans to your in-laws. No, this is probably worse than that. It’s the time of the year when the Miami Hurricanes have to play Georgia Tech and their triple-option offense. With the Canes limping into the game on a three-game losing streak, the Yellow Jackets look to build on the misery at home on Saturday.
Can Miami stop the run, or will the bleeding of losses continue yet again for another week? State of the U examines the players you should watch when UM travels to Atlanta, Georgia.
Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs One Matchup)
Georgia Tech Guard Parker Braun vs Miami Defensive Tackle Gerald Willis III
While the skill players who carry take top billing, we’ll highlight one of the men responsible for opening up lanes for said ball carriers. Left guard Parker Braun is a 2017 First-team All-ACC member and has been named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice this season. Pro Football Focus grades Braun with a team-high 71.8 position grade, boasting a 71.1 run-blocking grade. He’s also ranked in the top 10 in the conference. Standing at 6’3, 280 pounds, Braun is an athletic guard who can lead on power/counter runs. Yet he also has the agility to reach linebackers at the second level of the defense.
Gerald Willis III shouldn’t be the recipient of single-blocking assignments, yet it continues to happen. Mr. G leads all Hurricanes with 16 tackles-for-loss and has only just one game this season where he didn’t register at least half a TFL. Putting the Jackets behind the chains will be paramount Saturday evening, a task that the fourth leading TFL producer in the nation should be able to muster this weekend. Pressure up the middle of the scrimmage has benefited the Hurricanes for a majority of the season, so here’s hoping that Miami finds similar success this week in the ATL.
Positional Matchup of the Week
Georgia Tech’s Backfield vs Miami’s Front-Seven
It couldn’t be more obvious that this contest boils down stopping Georgia Tech from gaining momentum on the ground. For the uninitiated, the Yellow Jackets are a run-oriented squad content with rushing on every play. The leading rushers for GT are actually both of their starting and backup quarterbacks. The Hurricanes are all-too-familiar with senior QB Taquan Marshall. In 2017, Miami’s defense was able to limit the Marshall to a season-low 18 rushing yards on 19 attempts. This season, Marshall is averaging 4.8 YPC, surpassing 100 yards rushing in three games this season.
Although Marshall remains a threat, Georgia Tech appears to have a new driver behind the wheel. Freshman QB Tobias Oliver leads all GT rushers with 780 rushing yards, sporting a healthy 5.9 YPC and finding the endzone for 12 touchdowns. Another green freshman who is sure to draw Miami’s attention is RB Jordan Mason, rushing for 604 yards approaching Saturday. Mason splits carries with sophomore RB Jerry Howard and senior RB Qua Searcy. Georgia Tech possesses an armada of runners capable of gashing Miami for a big gain downfield.
For the defensive line, as much as penetrating and making a play behind the line of scrimmage is always a priority, Miam’s linemen will need to guard against the constant chop blocks from the opposition. If that wasn’t enough, the triple-option thrives on misdirection and taking advantage of defenders who shuck their assignment. Stifling the run game this week holds a different meaning to Many Diaz’s unit, given the priority Tech places on the run game. To date, Miami has held teams to 123.5 rushing yards per game, with the Canes set to take on the ACC’s top ranked 377 YPG rushing offense, Georgia Tech, on Saturday.
Caneseye Players to Watch
QB N’Kosi Perry
This week on the ‘As the Quarterback Carousel Turns’ we highlight QB N’Kosi Perry. Whether the redshirt freshman starts and finishes the game is anyone’s guess, as the offensive continues to freefall into ineptitude. Since the epic win over Florida State, Perry has struggled to find any rhythm, passing for 55 yards, zero TDs and two interceptions. Granted, Perry has not started a game during this losing streak.
Perry throws an accurate ball, one that gives his passing targets the chance to pick up yards after the catch. Given the Canes’ current slump, finding some consistency — aside from the lack of it — would be greatly appreciated in the final three games of the year. If Perry is the future of this offense (as a portion of the fanbase believe him to be), then it’s time to give him the chance to thrive and dive with the first-team offense. Georgia Tech ranks towards the bottom of the conference in sacks and tackles-for-loss, but ranks fourth in the ACC with 11 interceptions — just two behind Miami.
DE Anree Saint-Amour
The 6’3, 245 pound senior leads the Jackets with 10.5 TFLs and four sacks. Amour uses his leverage to get his paws under the pad of blockers, employing a bullrush to either walk the blocker back into the pocket. In GT’s 3-4 defensive system, the defensive ends responsibility is to man two-gap, essentially occupy a blocker so that the linebackers make a plays. Despite his general assignment, Amour gets good penetration into the backfield to be a disruptive force on a given play, especially considering that Amour has two interceptions and three forced fumble this year.
WR Jeff Thomas
It’s not for a lack of effort, as Miami has tried to get the ball in the hands of their most dynamic receiver, however the space has just not been there. In the midst of UM’s three-game losing streak, Thomas has hauled in nine receptions for 51 receiving yards. The Yellow Jackets will be well aware of Thomas’ prowess for the big play, after he posted 78 yards on team in 2017. Look for JT4 to stretch the GT defense with some deep routes down the field to gain some major yardage, or at the very least open up space underneath for teammates.
CB Tre Swilling
The 6’0, RS freshman cornerback has come on as of late for GT defense. Swilling picked up his first career interception last weekend against North Carolina, and has two pass breakups, and a forced fumble to go with his 17 total tackles this season. A legacy commit for the Jackets, following the footsteps of his father and cousin, Swilling appears to be holding up the family name. Swilling drives hard on short routes such as slants and curls. Although he can get beat on deep routes, the freshman illustrates an ability to recover to make plays on the ball.
RB Travis Homer
As great as a performance as Homer was able to put forth against Duke last weekend —18 carries, 133 rushing yards, 4.2 YPC and a touchdown, winning, it gets overshadowed because the Hurricanes suffered another L. The Yellow Jackets give up 4.25 rushing yards on the ground. Clemson’s Travis Etienne is the only rusher to surpass 100 yards against the GT in 2018. In 2017, Homer ran roughshod over the Jackets for a career-high 170 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Canes are desperate for a repeat of that performance to get back into the win column.
CB Lamont Simmons
The 6’2, 197 pound cornerback will be looking to strike some revenge against UM. Simmons was the man in coverage on Miami WR Darrell Langham on the 4th down conversion that led to a Michael Badgley game-winning field goal to give the Hurricanes the 25-24 win. Simmons strength lays in his coverage ability.
One Last Thing
It goes without saying that getting off the field ASAP is the main priority when you go against the Yellow Jackets. This season the GT is averaging 34:28 per game. Ideally getting out to a lead and forcing the triple option to play from behind would be a victory in itself.
No team in the ACC has a better punt average the Ramblin’ Wreck. With an average of 44.9 the team has been good at flipping the field for their defense.
Three Yellow Jackets — TaQuon Marshall, Tobias Oliver and Jordan Mason have over 500 rushing yards to date this season.
Of their five wins this season, GT has not attempted more than 18 passes in any of those games.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!