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Miami Hurricanes Matchup Preview: Week 0 vs Florida Gators

Another chapter will be written in this Sunshine State rivalry

Florida v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs One Matchup)

Florida Gators WR Van Jefferson #12 vs Miami Hurricanes CB Trajan Bandy #2

Leading the Gators with 35 receptions, 503 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns, Van Jefferson has established himself as the headliner of the Gators’ passing attack. The former Ole Miss Rebel does most of his damage close to the perimeter of the field, specifically when the Gators are not in the red zone. Running, slants, posts and streaks down field, Jefferson doesn’t shy away from confrontation with any defensive back. Given his propensity to run posts and slants, the wideout can shake defenders with subtle moves at the top of his route to create separation. The 6’2”, 197 pound WR makes up for a lack of elusivity by fighting through contact at the line of scrimmage, sometimes corralling a pass through double teams.

On the other side of the field will be the Hurricanes’ top cornerback, Trajan Bandy AKA ‘Muddy B’, who can talk with the best of them. He often backs that talk with stellar coverage. Regardless of size, speed and notoriety of whomever he takes up in coverage, the constant is that the Miami corner will be a nuisance throughout the 180 minutes. Attributes that stand out from Bandy’s game is his ability to make a play on the ball, ultimately resulting in a batted pass. Regardless of his position as a corner, Muddy’s ability to come downhill and make a play in the running game is exceptional. On passes outside the numbers, Bandy displays his recovery speed and knack to play the ball in the air. He enjoyed a breakout season with 36 tackles, three interceptions, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and eight pass breakups in 2017 for UM.

I don’t expect Bandy to follow Jefferson across the formation, meaning that he will see his fair share of Gator receivers: Trevon Grimes (#8), Josh Hammond (#10), Freddie Swain (#16) and Tyrie Cleveland (#89). Based on Florida’s multiple formations, Jefferson figures to be the focal point of the Gator passing game. And given Bandy’s penchant for being near the ball, a meeting of two of the proudest members of their respective teams is very probable.

Positional Matchup of the Game

Miami’s Wide Receivers vs Florida’s Cornerbacks

Florida v Florida State
CJ Henderson will be a major factor Saturday night.
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It’s been a long summer with plenty of jawing back-and-forth between the two fanbases as to which of these position groups holds the edge over the other. Honestly, the trash talking has been going on much longer than that, but who can keep track in such a heated rivalry? Florida’s defense take the headline when you look into the team, and the conversation starts with their dynamic cornerbacks in sophomore Marco Wilson and junior CJ Henderson.

Henderson has drawn praise and excitement entering 2019, with some analysts projecting him to be the first CB off the draft board in the 2020 NFL draft. When you watch the film you can see why. His recovery speed on a play is incredible as he’s never truly out of the picture on any big play from the opposition. Coming back into the frame to swat the ball away or launching himself into a receiver to force a fumble and touchback against Tennessee, Henderson is a do-it-all player on the Florida defense. Don’t be surprised when you see his No. 5 jersey taking off into the backfield at least a couple of times on a CB blitz this weekend.

The Gators will place Henderson on the opposition’s biggest receiving threat, which could mean that he’ll be following Miami WR Jeff Thomas for most of the night. Touted as the most explosive option in the Hurricanes’ passing game, JT4’s top end speed and ability to make the circus catch stands out among his peers. UM offensive coordinator Dan Enos will be challenged to find a way to get the ball in the hands of No. 4.

Not to be forgotten is Henderson’s running mate, Marco Wilson. If Henderson is the star, then Wilson is his muscle. The sophomore is a good tackler and while Henderson may be the better of the two in coverage, Wilson is often in an ideal position to make a play on the ball. With so much familiarity in this game between the players on both sides, it’s safe to say that one of the main chirpers will be No. 3 on defense.


KJ Osborn is the new “old” guy. A graduate transfer from Buffalo, Osborn joined UM this past spring for practice. It became evident soon after that Osborn wouldn’t just be a contributor, but a focal point of Miami’s passing game in 2019. A contested catch specialist with excellent hands and the work ethic to match, many are expecting a big season from Osborn. One of 12 seniors on the roster, a young Canes squad will call upon his veteran leadership in a hotly contested opener.

Caneseye Players of the Game

We’ve highlighted some of the X-Factors to keep an eye on Saturday in some earlier pieces this week.

Offensive Game–Breakers: The Impact of Jeff Thomas and Kadarius Toney

Striker vs Star: Defensive X-Factors in UM vs UF

The Rush Factor: Analyzing the Running Game of the Hurricanes and the Gators

Miami QB Jarren Williams #15

NCAA Football: Savannah State at Miami
The keys to Miami’s offense are firmly in the hands QB Jarren Williams (#15).
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday will mark the first start of Jarren Williams career. The redshirt freshman has a grand total of three snaps in 2018, all coming in a blowout against Savannah State. The Gators will be a significant step up in competition, but those at the Hurricanes facility have embraced Williams as QB1. Often credited for his arm talent and decision-making, it will be on the Lawrenceville, Georgia native to put the ball in the hands of UM’s playmakers.

Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will make sure to bring the pressure on the young Hurricanes pivot. It won’t take long to discover how well Williams does under pressure, because he will likely be seeing it all night.

Florida LB Jonathan Greenard #58

Chomp fans are hoping newly acquired grad transfer, LB Jonathan Greenard, pans out. Greenard joined the Gators this past offseason after missing the entire 2018 season because of a wrist injury. In 2017, Greenard tied for the team lead with seven sacks for the Cardinals. Greenard took part in the UF Spring game and appears to be one of the candidates to succeed Jachai Polite.

Miami T Zion Nelson #60

Zion Nelson (#60) has defied the odds to win the starting left tackle spot for the Hurricanes. The freshman will get his first start in contentious season opener this weekend.

Freshman Zion Nelson has zero starts and the same amount of game experience when it comes to college football. Upon his signing with the Hurricanes, the South Carolina native was chided for his lack of weight. Despite being considered a project because of his star rating and lack of ideal weight, Nelson ascended to the starting left tackle role for Miami in short order. Nelson’s agility at tackle will be called upon against the competent pass rush of UF. The first game for any freshman is surely nerve-racking and it could be the same for Nelson. That said, Nelson has been taking reps against Trevon Hill, Jonathan Garvin, Greg Rousseau and Scott Patchan. If you he can handle that onslaught in practice, then gameday shouldn’t pose much concern to you or I.

Florida DE Jabari Zuniga #92

Bookended by Jachai Polite last season, defensive end Jabari Zuniga combined with Polite to form one of the most productive pass rushing tandems in the SEC in 2018. Polite is now in the NFL, but Zuniga slides over to left end to fill that role. Sporting 15.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles-for-loss entering his final year in Gainesville, the Gators’ DE is a legitimate threat as a pass rusher. He spent his first three seasons in Gainesville as a traditional 4-3 DE, but is expected to add more two-point stances to his arsenal. Zuniga often employs a rip or dips his shoulders when trying to turn the corner on his rushes upfield. With 22 starts under his belt, Zuniga has a well of experience to call upon in this opening match of the season.

Florida QB Felipe Franks #13

Franks doesn’t throw the prettiest ball and won’t be considered the most polished passer in the country. The junior quarterback just does enough to put his teammates in a position to make the most of each possession. Franks is the biggest dual-threat the Hurricanes will face this season. A signal caller that can tuck the ball and rush for a first down in a few strides, the UF QB is capable of making short- to medium-range throws that end up in a big gain for the Gators’ offense. Franks is not flawless by any means. He does have a bad habit of throwing off his back foot and a tendency to take his eyes off the target when he moves away from the pocket. Yet, you can’t coach his ability to throw off platform or extend plays with his legs. When he puts it all together, there’s not much that can be done to stop No. 13 from barrelling through a defense.

One Last Thing

Miami leads the all-time series in the rivalry 29-26. UM won the last meeting between the two in 2013 when Stephen Morris passed for two TDs and Duke Johnson rushed for one to help lift the Hurricanes to a 21-16 victory.

The Gators won the last contest held in Orlando, dating all the way back to a 19-10 win under head coach Doug Dickey. Since then, Miami has won each neutral site game — Tampa in ‘84, New Orleans in ‘01 and Atlanta in ‘04.