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Three things to watch: Michigan State

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Will this be the week that Miami’s offense comes to life?

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Miami
Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King scrambles against Appalachian State in Miami’s 25-23 victory on September 11 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Richard Graulich-USA TODAY Sports

After an underwhelming opening two games of the season, the Miami Hurricanes need to make a statement on Saturday afternoon when they host the Michigan State Spartans at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Hurricanes (1-1) will take on the Spartans (2-0) in a game that will be broadcast nationally on ABC at noon. As of Friday morning, Miami was listed as a seven-point favorite by DraftKings.

A lopsided loss to Alabama and a nerve-wracking victory over Appalachian State is not how most Hurricane fans envisioned this season starting. But Miami has a chance to put the past behind it Saturday with a big win on national television.

What do the Hurricanes need to do to turn the corner on Saturday? Keep reading for three things to watch in what figures to be Miami’s last competitive non-conference game of the 2021 season.

It’s time for the offense to put it all together

Watching Miami’s offense right now is a lot like watching your middle school niece or nephew’s class musical. You’ve got very few shining moments where it looks like a star is ready to be born, but generally speaking, it’s a less than professional presentation—to say it nicely.

And while the middle school parents are going to stand and cheer for little Timmy and Susie when that musical ends, that’s obviously not going to be the case for second-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and this Hurricane offense. We saw that firsthand last Saturday when the boos reigned down multiple times at Hard Rock Stadium.

What specifically is the issue with the Hurricane offense? It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly. And quite honestly, it might not be the same issue on every play.

There are certainly plays where Miami’s run blocking is subpar. There are definitely plays where Miami quarterback D’Eriq King has made the wrong read on his run-pass options. There are agonizing dropped passes, plays with poor pass protection, and even just a few poorly thrown balls from King.

Miami just looks out of sync and uncomfortable—and that should not be happening in year two of Lashlee’s power spread offense.

I don’t have the coaching acumen to know how to fix the issue. But it just seems like everything would be better if the offensive line could consistently create holes for Cam’Ron Harris to run through on Saturday.

Harris will be Miami’s go-to runner as Don Chaney Jr. is out for the season with a knee injury and Jaylan Knighton is suspended for the third straight game. I think Harris is Miami’s most important offensive player this week. If he gets it going, that should naturally open up everything else that Lashlee wants to do against the Spartans.

If he doesn’t get going, or Miami fails to effectively block for him, quite frankly I am a little worried about the Hurricane offense. While King was successful when he was forced to throw the ball a lot in games last season, we have not seen that same prowess yet in 2021.

Miami’s best bet is to establish Harris and let everything expand from there on Saturday.

Waynmon Steed and Avery Huff

In my 15+ renditions of this pre-game article, I don’t believe I have ever mentioned two one-time reserve players as a thing to watch. However, I think what Waynmon Steed and Avery Huff contribute to Miami’s defense on Saturday playing weakside linebacker is extremely important.

Miami starting weakside linebacker Keontra Smith will miss about a month with a knee injury. In my opinion, this was one of the two positions on defense where Miami could least afford to lose its starter (with the other being middle linebacker).

While Smith isn’t big, he’s fast, and has good enough instincts to beat blockers to spots to help defend running plays. He is considerably faster than Steed and seemingly knows the defensive scheme much better than Huff.

But Smith isn’t available on Saturday so we are left with Steed and Huff. Manny Diaz praised Steed in his time with the media on Monday.

Steed has overcome injuries in his Miami career and is now as healthy as he has ever been as a Hurricane. He is listed as the starter on the depth chart.

Huff has never played meaningful snaps at Miami since joining the program as a highly touted recruit from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in 2019. Huff’s size and speed have made him a fascinating follow for fans but he has never cracked the playing rotation, supposedly because of a lack of understanding of the scheme.

The past no longer matters for Steed and Huff. The future is here. The time is now.

Both players need to take full advantage of their snaps on Saturday afternoon as Michigan State will likely be well aware that Miami is missing Smith at weakside linebacker.

Their play is particularly important because....

The Spartans are going to try and run the ball all day

Unlike Miami, Michigan State knows its offensive identity—a potent power running game.

The Spartans rank third in the NCAA in 2021 with a 7.97 yards per carry average and sixth in the NCAA with their 299.5 rushing yards per game average. Make no mistake, Michigan State wants to run the ball against Miami on Saturday.

Kenneth Walker III is averaging 160 yards rushing per game with five touchdowns thus far in Michigan State’s wins over Northwestern and Youngstown State. The good news for Hurricanes fans is that those opponents are far from formidable—Northwestern is ranked No.87 in ESPN’s SP+ rankings and Youngstown State is an FBS program.

Miami’s defense will be the best unit that Michigan State has faced in this young season. But Walker III is a dangerous runner, as seen below in these impressive highlights in MSU’s win over Northwestern.

Walker III will be one of the best running backs Miami sees all season. He is explosive, can cut on a dime, and is difficult to bring down on first contact. Slowing him down will be the key to Miami’s defensive success on Saturday. Failing to do so, or giving up a long touchdown run like Northwestern did, will make things extremely difficult on the Hurricanes.

Poll

What position is most responsible for Miami’s lack of success on offense?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Offensive Coordinator
    (50 votes)
  • 7%
    Quarterback
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Running Back
    (0 votes)
  • 2%
    Wide Receiver/Tight End
    (4 votes)
  • 58%
    Offensive Line
    (91 votes)
156 votes total Vote Now