Prior to the NCAA schedule realignment, Miami’s toughest matchup on their schedule was to take place after a bye week in the seventh week of the season. In that schedule, Miami was set to play UNC after the bye week, who is likely the Canes biggest threat for the ACC Coastal crown as they are currently ranked 12th in the nation.
Needless to say, Miami did not get the opportunity to see how things would play out with that cupcake schedule and instead face a much harder slate of games. Possibly the biggest reason the new schedule is tougher is because they face one different opponent: the Clemson Tigers, aka the one number one team in the nation. And while the Canes have looked top notch on the field and are currently ranked 8th in the nation, Miami either has a big advantage - or disadvantage - with a week off before they head into Death Valley, depending on how you look at it.
In theory, Miami now has an extra week to game plan against an offense that features two potential first round picks in projected number one pick QB, Trevor Lawrence, and RB, Travis Etienne. The high octane spread offense also must prepare for a Defensive Line that features big contributors in Nyles Pinckney, Myles Murphy, Regan Upshaw, Tyler Davis, and freshman star, Bryan Bresee, as well as a secondary that includes preseason All-Conference CB, Derion Kendrick.
Highest accurate pass % in College Football:— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 30, 2020
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson - 94%
2. Gunnar Watson, Troy - 74%
3. D'Eriq King, Miami - 71%
4. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh - 69% pic.twitter.com/cbUmH7Lbwm
On the other hand, however, Miami must ensure they maintain focus in a county, Miami-Dade, that just lifted many of its COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. They must also maintain and continue to build off the momentum that has just gotten better and better as they’ve put up 99 total points in the past two weeks. On paper, it appears that the coaching staff and players know what they need to do, but executing and ignoring distractions will be all the more important as they prepare for the game of their life.
“We just told them in the locker room, ‘We’re going to face our most difficult opponent of the year, and that’s not Clemson,’” Manny Diaz said. “No disrespect to them — it’s going to be this off week and, again, making sure everyone makes great decisions. … Really focused on being smart on this bye week and continuing to protect this program and giving us a chance to play, obviously, a team we’ve got a ton of respect for.”
“Well, we got to be safe on coronavirus,” D’Eriq King said. “That’s the biggest thing for us. We’ve got an off week. Probably got a couple off-days, so everybody’s got to be smart.
Interestingly, Clemson is coming off of a bye week as they play Virginia this week where they are heavy favorites. Similar to the Canes and Diaz, Clemson’s coach, Dabo Swinney, is preaching a similar sentiment for his team: “Our protocol’s been really, really good. I trust them. It’s not like we get them all day, every day. We get them for about four hours max. So the other 20 hours comes down to trust, discipline and sacrifice.”
It's about to get real for the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes -- after a week off.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) September 27, 2020
UM heads into bye knowing true test in No. 1 Clemson is on the other side. https://t.co/xksVuQj799
To get an idea as to how Diaz and Miami have responded after bye weeks in the past, we need not look further than just this past season. In Miami’s three bye weeks last year, the results were not good.
First, Miami lost a 28-25 game against UNC after a bye following their season opening loss to the Florida Gators, 24-20. Next, the Canes lost to Virginia Tech 42-35 following a bye, a game that the U almost came back from. The week before that bye the Canes edged out Central Michigan, 17-12. Then, as the season was reaching its end, Miami lost to FIU 30-24 at Marlins Park after a bye. Just before that bye week it had appeared that Miami had found some semblance of a team dynamic as they beat Louisville 52-27. The momentum was shortlived as Miami then lost that FIU game, as well as the final two games against Duke and Louisiana Tech. In 2018, Miami lost to Boston College 27-14 following a bye.
Miami must do everything possible to preserve their tenacity and improve on areas that need work. After the FSU game, the Canes had a couple of days off to physically decompress. Now, however, it can be assumed they are back on track to analyze what needs to be done for the next week. This will include physical preparation, as well as mental review such as watching tape and Clemson’s game on Saturday night.
This Miami team is obviously in a different state than the 2019 roster. However, they need to ensure they maintain the focus to stay on track and keep the pedal to the metal moving forward as they will need a perfect game plan and execution. Maximizing the bye week could serve as a platform to give the Canes a chance in a game where they will be an underdog.
In particular, there are players and units that can really benefit from the bye. Penalties have been an issue to date, as two players will have an elongated bye week by at least one half. DE, Jaelan Phillips, was ejected early from the FSU game but will be eligible to play against Clemson, and S, Gurvan Hall Jr., was ejected and will have to sit out a half next week.
In addition, Miami’s WRs need to work on hanging onto the ball. This was a clear problem in the Louisville game, and a little less of a problem in the FSU game, but still evident. Of note, Mark Pope has dropped the ball twice on punt returns this season and Mike Harley had the Canes’ two dropped passes last week. It was reported that the WRs were spending extra time after practice at the JUGS machine working on holding onto catches, but they cannot afford to drop catchable balls in this game.
Lastly, D’Eriq King, who has been nearly perfect and obviously an awesome addition at QB, could work on placement of some throws. That is not to say he has been inconsistent by any means, but merely continuing to improve on his timing in the uptempo spread offense will be key in putting up a good performance against the Tigers.
Besides that, just keeping the composure and focus will be the key to bringing the right mindset to Death Valley.
Clemson vs. Miami in two weeks could potentially be sorta fun— Zach Maskavich (@ZachMaskavich) September 27, 2020
It is no secret that Clemson has had nearly everyone’s number in the NCAA over the past few seasons. However, Miami might as well have not even showed up to the stadium the last two games. They have been blown out by scores of 38-3 (ACC Championship) and 59-0 (Al Golden’s final coaching game for Miami) in the last two contests.
As the 8th ranked team in the country, the Canes need to show up. In theory, because Miami is playing the best team in the country, they have a little bit of a buffer. That is, they could theoretically still lose, remain in the rankings, and have another shot at Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. However, in order to maintain a respectable rank, they must make it a competitive game. And to remain in the ACC Coastal hunt and secure a Clemson rematch, they would likely need to win out. Winning out would include victories over other ACC Coastal threats in 24th-ranked Pitt, which comes the week after Clemson, and in the regular season finale against UNC.
Ideally, in a dream world, Miami pulls off the upset we have all been waiting years to witness. In order to do so, it starts this week during the bye by doing all of this necessary things to ensure perfection. It starts with maintaining focus, increasing the momentum that has already developed, and perfectly executing on the practice field and in the film room.
“There will be a little bit more idle time and not to mention by the way if you look at where the state’s going, the numbers are going down, but we are easing restrictions, and no one really knows how that’s going to go,” Diaz said. “It comes down to trust and I trust our guys to do right and to protect the team.”
A Miami upset over Clemson is possible and we don’t have to look further than September 28, 2019. Last year, an unranked UNC team led by true freshman QB, Sam Howell, played the Tigers down to the wire. UNC scored a TD with 1:17 remaining on the clock to make the score 21-20 Clemson. UNC went for the win on a two-point conversion, which ultimately failed, but they were that close to pulling off the upset.
Hypothetically, a better Miami team is marching into Death Valley and anything is possible on any given “Saturday.” And... if all else fails, Miami can “win” the bye week if the Gators, Seminoles, and everyone ranked ahead of them, loses.