As the 2018 Miami Hurricanes work toward establishing a championship mentality throughout the program, the living embodiment of past success returns once more. Yes, Butch is indeed back. There are some that would have liked to see the 66-year-old coach return to the program that he helped mold into a historic collegiate juggernaut, but not everyone feels this way. Butch will walk into the visitors locker room at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday.
For FIU, Saturday is a chance to make a statement against a powerhouse in the Sunshine State. For the Hurricanes, it’s the final non-conference contest to iron out the wrinkles before ACC play gets underway. For residents of the city of Miami, it’s an opportunity to silence the opposition until the rematch in 2019.
Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs. One)
OG Jordan Budwig vs. DT Gerald Willis III
While most fans will be drawn to the play of those away from the line of scrimmage, we’re going to spotlight a couple of players who make their living in the midst of chaos. Budwig is a mauling 6’4”, 324 pound guard who has been out of the Panthers lineup for the past two seasons because of injury. Now a redshirt senior, Budwig has been a positive for the Panthers upfront over the first three games of the season.
Budwig will face the monumental task of getting in the path of Gerald Willis III. The senior DT has been a man on a mission after missing the entirety of the 2017 season. Over three games, Willis has put together an instructional video in the first portion of the season on how a DT should play. The expectation this week is that G will see plenty of double-teams as the Panthers try to establish their run game.
FIU Defensive Line vs. Miami’s Offensive Line
As good as the Panthers’ defensive line is, this matchup has more to do with the Hurricanes’ inconsistencies along the trenches than anything else. Miami knew they had staples in LT Tyree St. Louis, Tyler Gauthier and Navaughn Donaldson, yet the play from the unit as a whole has been woefully underwhelming.
Donaldson made the move to right tackle and is struggling against the speed rushers and the players coming off the edge of the line. The Hurricanes continue to have a revolving door at offensive guard, cycling through Jahir Jones, Haydon Mahoney, and Venzell Boulware. DJ Scaife is now rotating in at tackle. Miami should have their best five narrowed down by now, as opposed to rolling with the hot hand on the offensive line.
Anything less than a dominant performance from this unit is not only an utter failure, but confirms that the concerns for the unit in the off-season have now manifested into the weak link of the program.
Caneseye Players to Watch
S Amari Carter
After missing last week’s victory in Toledo, Carter is set to return to the Canes’ lineup. With the health of Jaquan Johnson up in the air, Carter is poised to be in the starting lineup. Already named a captain for the game, this matchup should provide an excellent test for the sophomore’s gradual improvement since arriving at the U. With six total tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack, Carter should build extensively on his numbers this week.
LB Sage Lewis
Hailing from Mount Signor Pace High School, Lewis is the do-it-all backer for the Panthers. With the graduation of a pair of senior LBs, Lewis has stepped up to be the leader by example. Working best between the hashes, Lewis is a dependable tackler in one-on-one situations. Lewis leads all Panthers’ defenders with 36 total tackles, adding four pass breakups to display his multifaceted talent. Canes fans will likely see No. 3 around the pile early and often.
QB James Morgan
After dealing with Mitchell Guadagni a week ago, this week the Hurricanes move on to face a former MAC QB. QB James Morgan transferred to FIU via Bowling Green, where he passed for 3,342 yards, 25 TDs and 22 interceptions, with a 50.7 percent completion average during his two years with the Falcons. After winning the QB1 spot in camp, Morgan appears to have acclimated well to his new surroundings.
A traditional pocket passer, Morgan stares down throws, becoming skittish when the pocket collapses on him. With that said, the ball comes out of Morgan’s hands quick enough to avoid sacks — the Panthers allowed just three sacks in as many games. Look for Morgan to feed the ball to his favorite target in the passing game, WR CJ Warton, who leads the Panthers with nine receptions, 171 receiving yards and one touchdown.
TE Will Mallory
With news of sophomore TE Brian Polendey out for the remainder of the season, there’s no one left at the position aside from Miami’s two freshman standouts. Brevin Jordan has played the more traditional role of TE, working inline next to the offensive tackle. For the Hurricanes to keep opponents guessing, both of the TEs will need to be interchangeable playing on the line and in the slot. We saw Mallory get a taste last week against Toledo in this very aspect, and against an athletic Panther defense, he should be put to the test again.
WR Maurice Alexander
FIU WR Maurice Alexander reminds us a lot of former Cal Golden Bear receiver and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver, DeSean Jackson. With a slight 5’11”, 180 pound frame, Alexander stops and starts in a heartbeat and has enough speed to gain 40 yards in the time it takes you take to blink. Alexander was a backup QB for the Panthers before being moved to returner and receiver this season. It’s a move that has given this Panthers’ offense some dynamism on their way to a 2-1 start to 2018.
One Last Thing
The first time the Hurricanes played FIU, the game kinda got out of hand. Punches and helmets were thrown, players tried to stomp one another and the whole scene became a tool to promote the thuggish nature of the sport. There should be no such concerns this week, with Butch Davis and Mark Richt leading their respective sides. With so many familiar faces renewing acquaintances after battling it out on high school fields, there will be some added motivation on both sides.
When Davis was the head coach of UNC, Miami was 1-3 all-time against their former coach.
FIU RB Shawndarrius Phillips is the do-it-all playmaker for the Panthers’ offense. The 5’11”, 225 pound back can lower his shoulder between tackles, bounce a run to the perimeter of the line of scrimmage, and is a threat to filtrate out of the backfield as a checkdown option for QB James Morgan.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!