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Three things to watch: Appalachian State

Running the ball and stopping the run will be key for the Canes on Saturday night

NCAA Football: Alabama at Miami
Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King (1) runs with the football during Miami’s loss to Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing season-opening loss to Alabama, the Miami Hurricanes are back in action on Saturday night in their home opener against Appalachian State.

The Hurricanes (0-1) will host the Mountaineers (1-0) at 7 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in a game that will be broadcast on ESPNU. As of Friday morning, Miami was listed as a nine point favorite according to DraftKings.

Despite returning 19 of 22 starters from its 2020 team, Miami struggled to sustain drives offensively and had no answer for Alabama quarterback Bryce Young on defense in its lopsided loss to Alabama. The Hurricanes will need to make major improvements — albeit against a significantly less talented opponent — to avoid losing their home opener on Saturday.

Here are three things to keep an eye on during Saturday night’s game.

Miami needs to establish the running game

It seemed like Hurricanes offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was focused on establishing the running game early in the first quarter of the Alabama loss. That obviously did not work.

Miami attempted to run the ball on seven of its first nine offensive plays of the Alabama game and gained just 14 yards in doing so, counting D’Eriq King’s sack and lost fumble early in the second quarter. The Hurricanes also fell behind 17-0 in that timespan.

Lashlee’s power spread offense is most effective when it is two dimensional. The Hurricanes have to find a way to effectively run the ball against the Mountaineers.

Appalachian State gave up just 86 yards rushing on 24 carries to East Carolina in its 33-19 victory over the Pirates on September 2nd. Miami has a better offensive line and better running backs than ECU and should expect to be more successful on the ground against the Mountaineers than the Pirates were.

Miami is most effective on offense when the running game is going and King can throw play-action passes to open receivers or run himself. It will boil down to Miami’s offensive line creating holes for Cam’ron Harris and Don Chaney Jr. to run through on Saturday night.

The Hurricanes did make a change at right tackle this week as DJ Scaife Jr. was benched and UNLV transfer Justice Oluwaseun is now listed as the starter at that position.

The Hurricanes averaged 162.5 rushing yards per game in 2020. I say they need that and more on Saturday night, not necessarily to win, but to be the best version of themselves on offense. Miami rushed for just 88 yards against Alabama last week.

The run defense needs to be good too

Appalachian State loves to run the football. The Mountaineers had two 100-yard rushers (Nate Noel from Miami Northwestern and Camerun Peoples) in their victory over ECU and finished the game with 226 rushing yards total.

Appalachian State was No.6 in the NCAA in total rushing in 2020 and had the most rushing attempts among teams that do not run a predominantly option offense.

All that to say, the Mountaineers are going to try and run the football on Saturday night. That is no secret.

Miami’s run defense was statistically better last week against Alabama as it held the Crimson Tide to 147 yards rushing on 3.9 yards per carry. But the classic “chicken or egg” question would ask: was Miami’s run defense better because Alabama found so much success through the air or because it has actually improved?

I could make a strong argument for either based on watching certain parts of the Alabama game film.

This week, the Hurricanes must slow down the Appalachian State running attack and make former Duke quarterback Chase Brice—now the Mountaineer starter—beat them through the air. We all remember what happened last time Miami did that.

Miami needs to appear prepared to win

I told myself I was not going to beat this dead horse, but, here I am. The Alabama game was yet another example of Miami not being prepared for a big game under Manny Diaz.

The Hurricanes fell behind 27-0 and never had a chance to win the game. While Appalachian State has nowhere near the talent Alabama does and this game is nowhere near the magnitude, every game is important for Miami now. The Hurricanes cannot afford a slip up against a Sun Belt team on Saturday night.

Saturday night isn’t just about getting a home opener victory, it’s about how the Hurricanes look in doing so. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t a success if Miami doesn’t win by 20 or 30 points. I happen to think Appalachian State has enough talent to keep this game within reach, at least for a while.

Miami needs to appear prepared for Saturday night’s contest—that means no silly penalties, no turnovers because of a blown assignment, no appearing confused when the opponent lines up a certain way, etc. I think the fan base would feel much better heading into what should be a competitive game with Michigan State knowing that Miami came out prepared and executed a well-thought-out game plan with minimal mental mistakes.