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SOTU 2020 season predictions roundtable: part 2

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Impact players on defense, games we can’t wait to see, and more in the 2nd part of our roundtable.

DE Jaelan Phillips (15) and LB Zach McCloud (53) will be key players for Miami’s defense in 2020.
Tim Brogdon, Miami Athletics

Happy Sunday, Canes fam. We’re back with the second part of our season preview roundtable. What’s that? Missed the first part? Click the link below and get caught up:

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s keep the conversation going, shall we?

Question 8. Which defensive position is the strongest for Miami in 2020?

Cam Underwood: I KNOW most everybody is expecting me to say Defensive End, but I’m going with Safeties. Look, there are multiple NFL players in that position group: Bubba Bolden, Gurvan Hall, Amari Carter lead that list, but Avantae Williams, Keontra Smith, Jalen Harrell, Keyshawn Washington, and Brian Balom are all guys with athleticism and high level potential. And that’s not even to mention the best pair of HS safeties any program has committed: 5-star James Williams and 4-star Kamren Kinchens. I know the DEnd group gets the headlines, but Miami’s Safeties are the best unit on the team.

Marshall Thomas: I think defensive end is really the only answer here. Even without Gregory Rousseau, the trio of Quincy Roche, Jaelan Phillips and Jahfari Harvey is going to be very dangerous.

Justin Dottavio: On talent it’s the defensive backs. The issue is if they’re being coached up well, and if the scheme matches the talent. You have four and five star guys back there that should be balling out and instead were taking plays off or hip bumping themselves onto the IR. Al Blades Jr, DJ Ivey, Bubba Bolden, Gurvan Hall, Te’Cory Couch, Christian Williams, and Amari Carter are all big time talents, and that’s just the guys off the top of my head.

John Michaels: Defensive End. Gregory Rousseau will be a huge loss, but the talent at End is still best on the team. Phillips, Roche, Harvey, Williams, Williams and company will make it miserable for opposing QBs. Miami will have one of the best pass rushing groups in the country.

Roman Marciante: As much as it pained me to see Gregory Rousseau go, that group is still the most talented position group. It will still come at you in waves and the trenches this year should be fun to watch.

Stephan Cheatham: Defensive line is the only answer here. No group features the same depth of high level talent on the 3 deep. The group features multiple candidates for ACC All American even without Miami’s next First Rounder off the board. Todd Stroud’s groups is STACKED.

Candis McLean: Even without Gregory Rosseau, the defensive ends will be relentless. Qunicy Roche, Jaelan Phillips, Cameron Williams, and Jahfari Harvey all bring something different to the table. There’s a mix of explosive athleticism and great edge rush ability.

Carl Bleich: I really can’t imagine how the answer is any group but defensive line, defensive end specifically. Miami had arguably the top group of defensive ends in the country before Greg Rousseau opted out. It is still elite without him as Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips won’t miss a beat replacing him.

Jake Marcus: Defensive Line for sure. I mean just look at the products of David Feeley, QBs should be afraid to face Quincy Roche, Jaelan Phillips, Jahfari Harvey, and Chantz Williams and RBs will be stuffed by the likes of Jonathan Ford, Jordan Miller, and Nesta Silvera.

John Reynolds: Defensive Line and it isn’t even close. Even without Greg Rousseau Miami is absolutely stacked on the line, with Quincy Roche, Jaelan Phillips, Jahfari Harvey, and Nesta Silvera. The Hurricanes could have one of the best defensive lines in the entire country, and that should help out the new starters at linebacker and in the secondary.

Robby Espin: Defensive end is no doubt Miami’s strongest position group on D. Despite losing an absolute star in Gregory Rousseau, Miami still has a preseason All American in Temple transfer Quincy Roche along with the number one player in the 2017 recruiting cycle in a transformed Jaelam Philips starting.

Question 9. Which defensive position is the weakest/most concerning for Miami in 2020?

Underwood: The answer is cornerback. Al Blades Jr. is the lone player with a consistent history of success at the position. Sure, there are other players who were blue chip recruits, but their performance has not matched that potential to this point. And, especially considering my well-founded belief that Safeties are the best position group on defense, the lack of performance at Corner is all the more glaring, to me.

Thomas: I’m going to give two answers, and say both cornerback and linebacker. At corner, Miami needs to DJ Ivey to become more consistent, like he was the second half of 2019, as well as needing Christian Williams and Te’Cory Couch to step up. At linebacker, it’s kind of the same thing, but Miami is going to need big things from Avery Huff and Sam Brooks Jr., and hopefully an injury free season from Bradley Jennings Jr. and Waynmon Steed.

Dottavio: Inside linebacker. And what an embarrassing statement seeing as the head coach, defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator are all linebacker coaches by trade. Zach McCloud has yet to prove he’s more than just potential, and the rest of the crew are all completely inexperienced. The position coaches also have to prove they can develop as Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney seemed to float in “good enough mode” for four years.

Michaels: DT. I like the hype of Nesta Silvera and Jon Ford, but the game tape hasn’t shown enough so far. Miami has some good young talent, but with great ends, these DT’s need to eat in 2020.

Marciante: Linebacker. Simply based on youth. I think with young linebackers who play amped up, you typically miss a gap or two until you settle in. I love the speed they have, it’s the discipline that I have concerns with.

Cheatham: Cornerback - I feel like the group is razor thin in experience after Ivey and Blades, though that tandem will be very good. We just haven’t seen enough from the group beyond those two, and maybe Te’cory Couch. The freshmen coming in aren’t scheduled to contribute largely yet so injury is a real concern here. Avantae Williams is a huge loss here as depth.

McLean: The defensive tackle group needs to step up. Jon Ford and Nesta Jade Silvera are both returning after solid 2019 campaigns. However, they both need to take the next step to ensure the dominance of the entire defensive line.

Bleich: Cornerback. I think many will say linebacker here and that is a reasonable answer. But we have not seen much of Christian Williams and Te’Cory Couch and both should be expected to see some playing time this season. DJ Ivey was inconsistent at best in 2019. It will be interesting to see who steps up to lead this group with Al Blades Jr.

Marcus: Linebacker seems like the biggest question mark for me right now. Replacing Shaquille Quarterman is no easy task. The depth also is not great at the position, which is concerning if there are any injuries to this group.

Reynolds: Cornerback is a concerning spot for the Hurricanes heading into 2020. Al Blades and DJ Ivey have a lot of experience on the boundary, but elsewhere Miami will have a lot of inexperience. Slot, in particular, is a concern, with Te’Cory Couch moving into that position. Couch has great coverage skills and gained experience with limited snaps last season, which should no doubt help this year. However, there’s limited experience in this position group, and that will no doubt cause some pains this season.

Espin: Linebacker. Losing Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney means that the young guys have to step up. Miami still has Zach McCloud, but outside of him the position group is full of unproven players.

Question 10. Who is your breakout player on defense in 2020 and why?

Underwood: This is tough. I could easily pick one of a number of guys I think is going to step into a bigger role for the Canes this year. But give me Jaelan Phillips. I know it seems like cheating to pick the former #1 OVERALL recruit (2017 recruiting class) as a breakout player, but Phillips hasn’t played in a couple years, has completely rebuilt his body in the year that he’s been at Miami, and is next in line as a star DE for the Canes.

Thomas: I think we’re finally going to see the Nesta Silvera we’ve all been wanting to see since he came out of high school. He’s fully healthy, and now the starting guy at defensive tackle. Last year, he showed flashes of what he could do, and in 2020 I think he’s going to put it all together and become dominant in the middle.

Dottavio: Jalar Holley. Anyone with that lack of social awareness and with those moves is destined to be a great defensive tackle.

Michaels: Bubba Bolden. Bubba was coming into his own before the unfortunate injury vs FSU. I look for him to help stabilize a secondary that has the talent to be great. Putting Bubba next to Gurvan Hall and Amari Carter will put fear in the offenses head.

Marciante: Qunicy Roche. He came here for a reason and purpose. Just a dynamic first step and opposite of Phillips (close 2nd) I think you will have to double one or the other. The other will have the benefit to meet at the QB.

Cheatham: Jahfari Harvey. The guy is terrifying with the talent and attitude he possesses. He has the work ethic, the speed/size, the moves and the motor. A lot is made of the top guys, and for good reason, but Harvey is possibly the most talented in the room. Should Miami see bigger margins of victory and rotate as they usually do, Harvey should have ample opportunity to make good on a breakout.

McLean: I think the most popular pick here will be Jaelan Phillips. But I’m going to go with Gilbert Frierson who I think will win the battle at striker vs Keontra Smith. Frierson is comfortable in coverage and will get plenty of chances to show off his athleticism during the season.

Bleich: Plenty of options here to choose from with Miami replacing so many starters on defense. I will go with Jaelan Phillips. The quotes coming out of training camp on Phillips just feel a lot like they did about Greg Rousseau in 2019 and Gerald Willis in 2017.

Marcus: Jaelan Phillips. Just stay healthy and this guy has so much untapped potential at the college level. Due to Rousseau’s opt-out, Phillips should anticipate far more snaps. It’s time the former number one recruit takes the NCAA by storm

Reynolds: Jaelan Phillips is an extremely talented athlete and I think will be Miami’s defensive breakout player. Phillips has great speed, strength, and potential, and he should be a nightmare for opposing offenses along with Quincy Roche.

Espin: JJ Phillips. With the departure of Gregory Rousseau, it’s next man up for the Canes. Phillips has the potential to be an absolute beast at DE this year. The number one player in the class of 2017 has completely changed his body since transferring from UCLA in 2019.

Question 11. Kickers are people too. How do you feel about the Cane’s kicking situation?

Underwood: Cue the James Brown music. I FEEL GOOD!!!!! Jose Borregales comes over from FIU to solidify the kicking game. He was a Groza Award semifinalist last year, and hit 2 50+ yard FGs against Miami last year, so we’ve seen what he can do in the game. Add him to P Louis Hedley, who helped Miami improve from 115th to 37th in punting last year, and Miami’s kicking situation could be....a strength? Crazy.

Thomas: Compared to last year? I feel 100% more confident, especially when it comes to the kicking game. Snagging Jose Borregales from the transfer portal is going to help Miami so much this season. Louis Hedley was solid punting in 2019, and I think he’s going to continue to be dependable there.

Dottavio: Obviously the talent was improved upon by adding in a kicker that’s actually made kicks not only in high school but in college. I just hope that the coordinator, Patke, has improved himself. Often people look to improve the talent of failing areas in an organization rather than the culture and ability of the unit leader. This should be Patke’s last year as STC if there aren’t drastic improvements to placekicking, coverage, and the return game.

Michaels: Drastically better. My goodness it can’t be as bad as it was a season ago. If Jose Borregales simply makes the kicks he’s supposed to make, like extra points and short field goals will make the kicking game infinitely better.

Marciante: For two seasons in a row I have seen special teams kickers with the yips. Chuck Knoblaugh would blush. I am just excited that we will have a kicker who isn’t stepping onto the field already defeated. That high pressure position, Yes, They are people too, needs someone without any mental baggage.

Cheatham: The same as last season with the punting. Relieved and excited. To have a kicker that has been under the lights countless times already is huge. Jose Borregales’ personality reflects his unflappable nature on the field. It’ll be a celebration after that first chip shot goes through the middle of the uprights.

McLean: Nothing made me feel more jacuzzi Diddy in “Big Poppa” video than when we landed Jose Borregales. The kicker position is finally sorted out in Miami after years of poor play haunting us each week.

Bleich: I think I value special teams more than most and it is hard to fully understand how bad Miami was in the kicking game last year, kickoff coverage included. I am afraid what this fan base will do if Jose Borregales gets off to a slow start (like he did with FIU in 2019). That said, Borregales is an obvious upgrade at the position over Bubba Baxa. Let’s hope that relates to more field goals made and better kickoff coverage.

Marcus: A lot more confident. Even just hearing that Jose Borregales is connecting beyond 40 yards in scrimmages is reassuring. This offense will get better at finishing drives compared to 2019, but, assuming they are unable to, it will be nice to have some semblance of consistency as opposed to constantly giving the opposition ideal field position. Placeholders and Punters are people too, and I expect big things from Louis Hedley. He was snubbed from the Ray Guy Preseason Watch List, but he will be a big contributor to the Canes’ field position this season.

Reynolds: I feel a lot better than last season. Louis Hedley is a fantastic punter and Jose Borregales is a fantastic addition at kicker. Borregales has impressed all throughout fall camp and expectations are high that he’s resolved the issues that plagued UM last season. Remember, Miami arguably could’ve won 9 or 10 games last season with just an average kicking game.

Espin: In two consecutive offseasons, Miami has addressed horrendous performance at special teams. Last year we got our Aussie punting superstar in Louis Hedley. This year we looked no further than 9 miles away from campus when we landed Groza award finalist Jose Borregales from FIU. Adding Borregales might’ve been the most underrated move of the offseason. I can’t wait to see Borregales suit up for his hometown team and play for his dream school.

Question 12. Who is the player Miami can least afford to lose?

Underwood: D’Eriq King, and it’s not even close. Do I......need to explain this one? No, right? That’s what I thought.

Thomas: D’Eriq King, and I don't think that’s up for debate. When you see what King did at Houston, that's the kind of consistency and level of play that has been missing from Miami quarterbacks for most of the last 15 seasons. If he goes down, the season completely changes.

Dottavio: It’s... it’s gotta be King (WWF 1997 reference for you other dorks like me)! After D’Eriq King it’s N’Kosi Perry, Tate Martell, and a bunch of redshirts and true freshmen. Yikes.

Michaels: King, and it is not even close. I like N’Kosi Perry and I’m intrigued by TVD, but if King goes down, the season will not go as well. He truly is the most gifted QB Miami has had in a long time, and he is the difference between an ACC Championship type team, or a 6-5/7-4 type group.

Marciante: D’Eriq King. It would still be an effective offense but it would lose some of its multifaceted danger with him out of the lineup. He is a game changer and a run threat that the Hurricane fan base have never seen before.

Cheatham: King. By a mile. The leader of the club and the energizing figure of the offseason, his loss would loom large with a team that is still learning how to answer adversity.

McLean: We can’t lose Corey Gaynor. Depending on how you view Jakai Clark, the depth at the center position is not premium. Gaynor is experienced and if he went down, a lot of the aspects of the offense would struggle.

Bleich: I do not subscribe to the theory that 2020 will be lost if King goes down. While he is obviously more talented than N’Kosi Perry, I think Perry in Lashlee’s system will be a much improved quarterback. My answer is going to be DJ Scaife Jr. He is undoubtedly Miami’s best offensive lineman heading to the season as he has experience playing almost every position on the line. Replacing him would be requiring Garin Justice to get creative with unproven replacements.

Marcus: Quincy Roche. Already losing Rousseau is a tough predicament to be in, but we have a strong safety net at the position with Phillips, Harvey, Chantz Williams, and Cameron Williams. However, Roche is a projected second round pick by most sources. If the Canes lose Rousseau, a projected top-ten pick, and Roche, then the depth and fear of the Defensive Ends certainly dissipates. It would create a situation where Phillips, who I am cautiously optimistic about, and Harvey, a Sophomore, are the starters. After that, you’re relying on the Williams’ (Chantz who is a freshman and Cameron who has seen no college game action) for depth and not much else behind them.

Reynolds: King, and no one else is in the same universe. He’s a game changer and a leader for this team and this offense. He’s no doubt also going to help the offense work through the struggles of youth and learning a new system. Losing him would drop Miami’s record by at least two wins in my opinion, maybe more, it’d be absolutely crushing to lose him.

Espin: King by a county mile. D’Eriq King could elevate Miami to levels we haven’t seen in a VERY long time. He’s an exceptional talent who brings a dynamic running game along with a strong arm. Kosi Perry is a capable quarterback, especially in a spread offense (Watch last year’s VA Tech game for proof) but isn’t near the talent level that King is at.

Question 13. Which game(s) are you most looking forward to?

Underwood: The evergreen answer to this question is FSU. That game is always at the top of the “must see” list, as it should be. We have the added bonus of playing Clemson, arguably THE preeminent program in the country. So they’re on the list too, right at the top. Apart from that, I just want to enjoy watching as many Canes games as possible.

Thomas: I have three games for this answer. UAB being the first one, I’m just so excited to see how different this offense is going to look, and how D’Eriq King looks at QB in orange and green. FSU obviously, for no other reason than its FSU. The last one is Clemson, it’s going to be a measuring stick game, to see how far off, or even how close Miami is to the elite of college football.

Dottavio: All the ones that are played before some COVID outbreak breaks my soul and postpones the season.

Michaels: FSU. It is the rivalry game tht gives 365 days of trash talk. Miami should win their fourth in a row against the Seminoles and continue their dominance over a team that is really struggling. With the game being early in the year, and the Canes having a bye week the following week, Miami can go as hard as they can, decompress and get ready for the rest of the season.

Marciante: UNC. They have a pretty good QB and seeing a coastal year in and year out come down to us two would be fun. Still need to take down the champs eventually in Clemson but this Tar heel thing could be a fun new rivalry. We need one, FSU been cheeks lately.

Cheatham: Clemson. When there is this big of a measuring stick on the schedule its difficult to look past it. A basic loss has a negligible affect on the program. A close one helps this year, on and off the field. A win? You’re talking major ramifications everywhere. As a huge game there has been since, well Clemson in 2015.

McLean: I’m really looking forward to the Clemson game. I love measuring stick games that can reveal your place in the hierarchy of things. I think once that game is over, we’ll gain true clarity on the direction Miami is heading.

Bleich: Florida State. My jaw has dropped several times early on in the Mike Norvell era because of just how unorganized and combative things seem to be in Tallahassee. Getting to an opportunity to beat your hated rival a fourth straight time with your fourth different starting quarterback is the top individual game storyline of 2020 for me.

Marcus: UNC should be the barometer utilized to determine where Miami stands in the ACC Coastal as they are currently ranked fairly similarly across the major ranking systems. Ideally, 2019 freshman phenomenon and UNC QB, Sam Howell, will be running for his life against the Canes and we can handle them, especially after last year’s tough loss to them. Until I see Miami play decent, the Clemson game is one that I do not look forward to at all... a la the last two games being the 2015 58-0 shellacking/Al Golden’s breakup party and the 2017 Clemson Invitational (aka ACC Championship) 38-3 blowout. Unfortunately the U plays them fairly early and UNC doesn’t come until the season finale.

Reynolds: Clemson, purely because it serves as a measuring stick for where the Hurricanes are as a program. Clemson is the peak of college football, they are arguably the best program in the country at present, a win for Miami, or even a competitive game, would show how far this program has come. UNC would make another strong argument, as that game could determine a spot in the ACC Championship game in the last week of the season.

Espin: Clemson. I love games like this. A true test for the Hurricanes. This game will tell us a lot about where Miami stands in the grand scheme of things. This is the only game on the Canes’ schedule in which we are truly underdogs and don't have more talent than another team. A close game could show the world that this Miami team is on the come up. A win however, that would change the balance of college football as a whole. Five star recruits would be flocking to Coral Gables the day the Canes win in Death Valley. Knowing Miami we’d probably lose to Pitt the next week.

Question 14. What would a successful season for Miami look like in your mind?

Underwood: 9-10 wins, a competitive game, if not an outright win, against Clemson, looking like a complete team with the updated offense, and looking like THE MIAMI HURRICANES again.

Thomas: At least 8 wins would be a successful season in my eyes. But more than that, the last two years have ended with such negativity surrounding the Miami program. When the 2020 season ends, I want to hear positive things coming out of Coral Gables, and I want people to be excited about where Manny Diaz is leading UM.

Dottavio: Undefeated. No wait, that’s a bit too far. 9-2 in the regular season (I think I counted that right) and just missing a shot in the ACC Championship Game. Rhett Lashlee and King are going to be awesome improvements, as will the kicker, but it takes more than talent to improve on 6-7 and the tank job to end the season.

Michaels: Playing Clemson for e 2nd time in Charlotte in December. The excuses have gotten old, so it is time to start making moves back towards the top of the ACC and college football. Miami also must start closing the gap on Clemson, so no more 38-3 or 58-0 type losses.

Marciante: Do not lose more than two games this year, do not get blown out by Clemson and continue to recruit your ass off.

Cheatham: We get to see Manny and Co. have learned from mistakes. We see coaches consistently putting players in positions to succeed. We see those same players taking advantage of it. We explode out of bye weeks. We ultimately avoid losing streaks and win the Coastal.

McLean: After last year, I’ll settle for playing competent enough to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat. We played down to competition too often. I’d also like to see us close out games against quality opponents. The game against the North Carolina Tar Heel comes to mind.

Bleich: Win eight games. Don’t lose any game you are favored by sports books in. This is very realistic for Miami this season and Diaz likely needs this to happen to stay in good graces with the fan base.

Marcus: An offense that actually puts up points against formidable opponents on a consistent basis. They need to get off the schneid of finishing .500 over the past two seasons and put together at least 8 wins. On paper, they look great and besides the Clemson default loss, every other game should be winnable.

Reynolds: A consistent offense that scores points, a continuation of the defensive excellence, and a good enough season to hold together the Hurricanes’ recruiting class would be a successful season in my eyes. That probably means the Hurricanes would have to go 8-3 or 9-2, which with the strangeness of a season in a pandemic and a new offense would show progress in my opinion.

Espin: A successful season would be simply beating the teams we are more talented than. Miami has no excuse to not win 8 games this year.

Question 15. What would a bad season for Miami look like in your mind?

Underwood: (gestures wildly at 2018 and 2019)

Thomas: Anything close to resembling the 2019 season, whether it’s win-loss record, or locker room and problems. If there’s still a big culture problem clouding Miami, then some changes may need to be made.

Dottavio: What Marsh said above. Anything that looks, smells, feels like Fortnite and weed are more important than winning a football game for your brothers in the locker room. Culture beats scheme every time.

Michaels: Anything less than a trip to Charlotte. yes my expectations are sky high, but this is Miami and the talent and scheme finally match. Also disappointment would include a loss to any of the scrub teams on the schedule. Miami has to stop losing to the Duke and Georgia Tech’s of the world.

Marciante: Anything remotely resembling last year. Being that bad off bye weeks, last on third downs, that bad with sacks allowed, in the bottom of the ACC in terms of PPG, or rushing etc. etc And Baker better duck if he calls those type of calls on 4th and 17 again.

Cheatham: Only marginal improvement over last year. 7-4 or 8-3 is unacceptable. Settling needs to stop being an acceptable outcome for the football program. Coaching and player mentalities need a strong leap forward. If we see the same struggles in preparation and playcalling, and subsequent breakdown in play by the players, Miami should start thinking of replacements.

McLean: Wins and losses are a huge factor in an abysmal season. Finishing at the bottom of the conference is not an option. But ultimately a bad season to me is full of games in which you appear like you don’t belong on the same field as the other team and poor execution on both sides of the ball. Also, please no more sideline dancing while losing to teams like FIU.

Bleich: A bad season has some combination of Miami still struggling on offense and in the kicking game and regressing on defense because of so many new faces. I don’t think 7-4 is a “bad season” but anything less than seven wins is not acceptable for Diaz in 2020.

Marcus: If the sloppiness from the past two seasons continues, then even bigger changes are going to start happening from the top-down. Manny’s seat is hot right now and this program cannot afford another .500 season where there appears to be zero discipline or motivation across the units. Looking at this schedule, four losses would be a massive disappointment.

Reynolds: Playing down to lesser opponents, a struggling offense, and a sloppy defense would be a disappointing season in my eyes. Any or all of these issues appearing would probably result in the loss of the momentum Miami has built so far this offseason, and would again set the program back. All of these things have been issues for years, it’s time to start resolving them in 2020.

Espin: A bad season would be anything similar to 2019. Losing to crappy teams, giving up big plays, immaturity, etc. This team has a chance to put that in the rear view mirror and go off in a new direction. Just win.


Whew. That brings us to the end of the 2nd part of our season prediction roundtable. LOTS of great conversation here. Hop in the comments and share your thoughts and keep the conversation going.

Go Canes