After a long, COVID-interrupted season, I take a look back at my predictions from our SOTU roundtable during the first week of September 2020. There were a number of things that went right and wrong this season, and hopefully our SOTU writers hit on most of them (see the links below).
As for mine, the most accurate prediction was Mike Harley as breakout offensive performer and biggest miss was looking forward to the UNC game - not exactly the experience anyone would want to look forward to. Besides that, I’ve provided some quick analysis, what went right or wrong, and what to look forward to in 2021:
Question 1. What are your expectations for year 2 of the Manny Diaz era?
Preseason Prediction: Marked improvement on the offense ... That and finishing drives are going to need to be the impetus behind the transformation.
Analysis: The offense improved for sure, considering the last time they played in 2019 they put up zero points against Louisiana Tech. D’Eriq King’s third down efficiency and the improved kicking game assisted with taking a step in the right direction in finishing drives.
Question 2. Who is the bigger addition: OC Rhett Lashlee or QB D’Eriq King?
Preseason Prediction: Lashlee .... King is currently slated as one of the favorites for the Heisman. However, Lashlee’s operation of the entire offensive scheme has been pronounced in prior programs, most recently at SMU where Baltimore Ravens rookie, James Proche, went from catching 97 balls in two years without Lashlee to 204 receptions in the final two years under Lashlee’s offense. Expect breakouts like that at the U due to Lashlee’s guidance.
Analysis: Lashlee will have even more to work with this year as the Canes welcome WR, Charleston Rambo, from Oklahoma. Let’s hope D’Eriq King can make it back effective in time for September so this debate can continue.
Question 3. What do you expect from D’Eriq King at Quarterback?
Preseason Prediction: I expect King to be distributing the ball pretty well amongst his targets (speedy receivers, two-TE sets, and strong RB core), which should keep defenses off balance.
Analysis: King was able to spread the ball around but the targets did not do him any favors due to a number of dropped passes. That should be a huge point of focus this offseason as King hopes to return healthy.
Question 4. Which offensive position is the strongest for Miami in 2020?
Preseason Prediction: It’s gotta be TE. Will Mallory is on the cusp on a breakout and Brevin Jordan should be one of the best TE’s in the nation. Combine that with Larry Hodges and Dominic Mammarelli and this group will keep the TEU reputation rolling for a while. If the current tight end commits for 2021, Elijah Arroyo and Kahlil Brantley, have any hesitations about joining the Canes, this group’s play will quickly eradicate that.
Analysis: This has gotta go to QBs, which SOTU writers Marsh Thomas, Candis McLean, and Dylan Sherry nailed. Between King’s success and N’Kosi Perry’s use as an emergency blanket (which Sherry noted in his analysis) in the Cheez-It Bowl, the QB position was a lot more poised than 2019. The RB cohort looked strong out the gates but leveled off. As for TE, Mallory proved he was able operate effectively as TE1 when Jordan was out due to injury and he’ll be expected to do the same in 2021 with some youth movement behind him in order to maintain TightEndU.
Question 5. Which offensive position is the weakest/most concerning for Miami in 2020?
Preseason Prediction: Offensive Line. The 51 sacks allowed last year requires more than just a makeover, it requires invasive reconstructive surgery. I like the idea of slowly assimilating the young players as DJ Scaife Jr. and Corey Gaynor should do a decent job of keeping the RG and C positions steady, but beyond that, I’m not completely convinced at any position.
Analysis: This remained a problem area as the Canes allowed an average of 7.91 tackles for loss a game (117th out of 124 FBS teams) and 2.73 sacks per game (99th out of 124). The 30 sacks was a marked improvement from the atrocious 51, but there are still obvious needs to address here.
Question 6. Who is your breakout player on offense in 2020 (not King) and why?
Preseason Prediction: Mike Harley. After James Proche’s breakout under Lashlee’s system, one of the receivers is bound to breakout, and I expect it to be someone who mainly operates out of the slot. Harley, who is a Senior, is the most productive returning WR and will likely assume a leadership role. WR Coach, Rob Likens, has described Harley as being “courageous across the middle. He’s not afraid and that’s what you need with some guys that are going to play in the inside.” Harley also has the speed to match out of the blocks, which should assist on quick slant patterns. I expected big things from the 5’11”, 180lbs slot guy.
Analysis: It took a few weeks but this prediction ended up being pretty sound after Harley’s breakout game against Virginia. If Harley puts together a full season like the last few games of 2020, then he’ll be pretty high on NFL scouts boards. His leadership qualities will also be significant for the young and deep core of receivers.
Question 7. Who is your offensive newcomer of the year and why?
Preseason Prediction: Jaylan Knighton for sure. It will largely be a RB by committee with veteran Cam’Ron Harris as the expected workhorse, Don Chaney, and Knighton, but Knighton will be the biggest beneficiary.
(*All SOTU writers selected Knighton, Xavier Restrepo, or Jarrid Williams).
Analysis: Knighton ended up going down due to injury so this award ended up going to his counterpart at RB, Donald Chaney Jr. Expect the successful backfield to be potent led by Knighton, Chaney Jr., and Cam’Ron Harris, who decided to run it back, as well as incoming freshman, Thad Franklin.
Question 8. Which defensive position is the strongest for Miami in 2020?
Preseason Prediction: 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.
Analysis: The defensive line stepped up big time in applying pressure to QBs. I expected more production out of Roche, but it was the interior DT big bodies that ended up stepping up in key situations. Harvey also ended up being incredibly productive as the first EDGE guy off the bench.
Highest-graded edge defenders in Wk 7:— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 19, 2020
1. Quincy Roche, Miami - 91.6
2. Arnold Ebiketie, Temple - 89.7
3. Jaelan Phillips, Miami - 87.5
4. Myles Murphy, Clemson - 85.5 pic.twitter.com/3PhEub4Tc6
Question 9. Which defensive position is the weakest/most concerning for Miami in 2020?
Preseason Prediction: 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.
Analysis: See UNC game. Still need more in this area for 2021.
Question 10. Who is your breakout player on defense in 2020 and why?
Preseason Prediction: 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.
Analysis: Phillips got better and better as the season went on and has earned himself a well-deserved first round grade from most NFL draft analysts.
Guess who in the backfield...?— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) December 6, 2020
JAELAN PHILLIPS. AGAIN. pic.twitter.com/sj5iPKSj9p
Question 11. Kickers are people too. How do you feel about the Cane’s kicking situation?
Preseason Prediction: A lot more confident. Even just hearing that Jose Borregales is connecting beyond 40 yards in scrimmages is reassuring ... 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.
Analysis: You cannot undersell the hidden yardage battle on special teams and man did Borregales and Hedley deliver. Borregales won the Lou Groza Award and Hedley was indeed snubbed on the Ray Guy Preseason Watch List as he ended up being a top three finalist for the award by season’s end.
If it feels like we're filling your TL with accolades for Jose Borregales and Lou Hedley, well...they deserve it. @F5_Jose was 18 of 20 on FGs with 8 FGs of more than 40 yards. @LouHedleyy had an FBS-leading net punting average of 44.98 yards during the regular season. pic.twitter.com/R05HkCKZ7p— Christy Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) December 22, 2020
Question 12. Who is the player Miami can least afford to lose?
Preseason Prediction: 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.
Analysis: A popular pick by SOTU contributors for this choice was King, which makes sense. N’Kosi Perry certainly surprised a lot of people by stepping up in the Cheez-It Bowl when King went down, and basically played his way into a situation where he should have a good shot at starting at a quality power five school in the NCAA Transfer Portal. In that Bowl game, we also got a glimpse of what it was like without Roche, albeit without Phillips as well, and the disposition of the pass rush will have its work cut out for it in 2021. Harvey, the Wiliams’ (Cam and Chantz), and Deandre Johnson (Tennessee Transfer) will try to mitigate the tripartite departure of Roche, Phillips, and Rousseau.
Question 13. Which game(s) are you most looking forward to?
Preseason Prediction: 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.
Analysis: Well, if this is the barometer for where Miami stands in the ACC Coastal, then they should have been an ACC cellar dweller. The ideal situation of Sam Howell “running for his life” instead turned to UNC running over Miami, and was painful from start-to-finish.
Michael Carter (308) and Javonte Williams (236) finished with the most rushing yards by teammates in a game in FBS history (544).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 13, 2020
UNC finished with 778 total yards, it's the most yards Miami has allowed in a game in school history. pic.twitter.com/95rP21GX9G
Question 14. What would a successful season for Miami look like in your mind?
Preseason Prediction: 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.
Analysis: The 8 wins was great but they need to get to the next step and find ways to win the tough games. They found ways to win the games they should have won in close contests against Virginia, Virginia Tech, and NC State. However, the Canes need to keep moving forward by maintaining those close games against respected, ranked opponents.
Question 15. What would a bad season for Miami look like in your mind?
Preseason Prediction: 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.
Analysis: Manny’s seat appears cooler at this point and the culture definitely appears to have made a turn for the better.
Call your shot: What’s your prediction for the W/L record for Miami this season?
Preseason Prediction: 9-2 regular season with the two losses coming at the hands of Clemson and Virginia Tech. UNC will also be a tough game but I’m going to give them the slight advantage there. If they only finish with 8 wins, it should basically be what is expected of them, and anything at 7 wins or below will be a massive disappointment.
Analysis: They finished 8-3. Lost to Clemson, beat Virginia Tech, but lost to UNC and Oklahoma State...
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article, where I make a way-too-early prediction on 2021’s W/L regular season record.