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Which Version of the Miami Defense Will Show up in the Cheez-It Bowl?

A once reliable group is now a major question mark.

Georgia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In 2020, Blake Baker’s unit often bent but didn’t break. They looked dominant in games against Duke and Florida State but were porous and unmotivated against North Carolina in the regular-season finale. Looking ahead to Miami’s matchup against No. 21 Oklahoma State, the ‘Canes will have to be on their ‘A’ game in order to stop an offense that ranks ahead of the likes of Georgia and USC.

When you hear “Big 12 offense,” you may assume that means 50+ pass attempts with 400+ yards to boot, but Oklahoma State is more run-orientated than the majority of their conference counterparts. Additionally, the Cowboys rank higher than Alabama in rushing offense at No. 36—Bama at No. 44.

What does this mean for Miami? It means that they’ll have to sure-up their run defense, as Oklahoma State will undoubtedly try to exploit it. It’s what many of Miami’s past opponents succeeded at. We’ve seen how the lack of a run game can cripple a Miami offense—whether it be Brad Kaaya, Malik Rosier, or D’Eriq King at the helm. In 2020, we’ve seen how it prevents the ‘Canes from finding any rhythm, held to just 75 total rushing yards against UNC and 89 against Clemson.

The ‘good’ news for Miami is that their game against the Tar Heels truly was a worst-ever performance, and it’s hard to believe that they’ll give up 500+ rushing yards again. That game sparked an outcry from fans for the firing of Baker—another dismal showing would likely send him job searching in the new year.

Ultimately, bowl games shouldn’t be regarded as “meaningless” for Miami. A 9-win season is never a given for the ‘Canes, something Manny Diaz knows too well. It’s not only crucial for him in his young head coaching career, but for the players’ experience. It’ll be difficult, as Miami will be without their best defensive ends in Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, but Oklahoma State is a legitimate foe—there’s no excuse for Miami to come out flat.