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Key Matchup Against Florida: Miami’s Front-Seven vs Gators Offensive Line

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Miami’s biggest strength going up against Florida’s greatest weakness will determine the outcome when these two teams play each other.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re almost at the month-mark until the Canes kickoff against the Gators on August 24th, so we can actually start discussing the actual game and what needs to happen in order for Miami to win.

When talking about matchups within the game between the two schools, obviously Miami scoring points is going to be the biggest topic of discussion, and one that has been covered plenty.

However, I believe the most important battle will be between the Hurricanes front-seven on defense and the Gators offensive line, and whether or not Miami can get to Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks. I’ll give you a few reasons.

First, Florida is coming off a 10-3 2018 season and has some lofty expectations to live up to, and they’re loaded with talent, no denying that.

Good news for Miami, arguably the weakest unit for the Gators going into 2019 is their offensive line, as they’ll try and protect Franks back there at QB, as well as replace four OL starters from 2018 and a combined 141 career starts between them now gone.

During the Orange and Blue game for Florida back in April, Franks played well, throwing for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Though, the offensive line gave up seven sacks, and was a concern throughout all of spring practice. Head coach Dan Mullen told reporters after the spring game regarding the OL, “not complete at that position yet at all for this season.”

Most notably on the line, UF is replacing both of their starting tackles. Florida o-line coach John Hevesy has a knack at developing solid lineman, but whether they’ll be ready against the Hurricanes in the first game is something else. The Gators 2019 line is drawing comparisons to that of both 2015 and 2017, which ranked 118th and 128th in sacks allowed.

Miami’s front-seven with their defensive line and linebackers is probably the greatest strength for Manny Diaz and his team. The Hurricanes return their LB starters with seniors Shaquille Quarterman (14.0 TFLs in 2018), Michael Pinckney (11.0 TFLs in 2018) and Zach McCloud (4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks in 2018). These are guys who can be extremely disruptive in the backfield, whether they’re blitzing or just shedding tacklers to get to the running-back. Especially Quarterman, who was more aggressive in 2018 when it came to rushing the quarterback. In the video below, you see Shaq’s speed is just too much to handle against UNC last year, as he easily gets to the QB for the sack.

On the defensive line for Miami, the position where this crucial matchup will be most critical comes at DE. Even though they lost Joe Jackson early to the NFL, UM still has talent for days at the ends, highlighted by junior Jonathan Garvin (17.0 TFLs, 5.5 sacks in 2018) and Trevon Hill (3 games in 2018: 4.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks). Then, you add Scott Patchan and Gregory Rousseau behind Garvin and Hill, they will have the opportunity to take full advantage of Florida’s new starters at left and right tackle.

Gerald Willis is gone at DT, but the Hurricanes have great depth at the position and will look to clog the lanes for Florida’s offense. Nesta Jade Silvera, Pat Bethel, Jon Ford and others will need to come up big on 8/24, especially if Miami wants to blitz their linebackers.

Moving on to my second point. One of the areas of talent for the Gators is at the receiver position, and is considered to be one of their deepest WR rooms UF has had in a decade.

Van Jefferson (503 yards, 6 touchdowns in 2018), Josh Hammond (369 yards, 4 touchdowns), Freddie Swain, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes make up an impressive group at receiver, among others.

While Miami’s front-seven is impressive, their secondary is a cause for concern. Though they boasted the nations number-one pass defense in 2018, the Canes have to replace three of those four DB starters, with junior cornerback Trajan Bandy the only returning starter.

Either sophomores Al Blades Jr. or D.J. Ivey will start opposite Bandy at corner, with Gurvan Hall, Bubba Bolden and Amari Carter taking over at safety. Are these players talented? Absolutely. Are they experienced? Not necessarily.

With Florida feeling confident about their receivers, the last thing Miami needs is for Franks to have all day to throw the ball and wear-out UM’s young secondary. Knowing what type of corner Bandy is, look for the Gators to air it out and target Ivey and Blades Jr.

The thing about Franks, is that he’ll fight to keep plays alive, which can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Here’s an example, last year in their bowl game against Michigan, you see the pressure to get to Franks, but doesn’t go down and throws it away with a defender hanging on to him. He doesn’t throw an interception, but if the Hurricanes can get pressure on him, Franks will try and make something out of it, which may just lead to an ill-advised pass.

Though, like any quarterback, Franks will make you pay if he has time to throw.

Don’t get me wrong, Franks is talented as a quarterback, and his 24 touchdowns in 2018 were impressive. He also ranked 10-out-of-14 for SEC quarterbacks completing just 58% of his passes.

Miami must get pressure on Franks and get him rattled, because while he can throw those touchdown strikes, he’s also been known to make these kinds of throws.

The Hurricanes offense is another story, but one thing that Miami knows is UF’s weakness at OL, and if they can get to Franks with sacks, rattle him and snag an interception, UM could walk out of Orlando with a victory.