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Miami vs. Alabama Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Season Opener Guide

Final Thoughts and Analysis Before the Highly Anticipated Matchup in Atlanta

NCAA Football: Miami at Duke Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Miami’s ability to thrive in the big game environment has been few and far between in recent years, with the 43-8 victory over Notre Dame in 2017 being the lone outlier that stands out in their favor. Thus, from a fan’s perspective, the apprehension over the past few months has been on full display as the Canes prepare to open their season against perennial powerhouse/defending national champion/preseason number one, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

From that same fan’s perspective, there is the cautious optimism that comes with every season. The evidence has been well-documented this offseason: footage of a fully healthy D’Eriq King exhibiting his dual threat capabilities in the pocket, every defensive linemen putting up monster number in the weight room, Charleston Rambo and the stable of young receivers packing the stat sheets in scrimmage play, as well as a more disciplined defense led by Manny Diaz, and assistants Jess Simpson and Travaris Robinson, which is collectively enough to exude the maximum confidence as we enjoy the fresh, new jug of Kool-Aid (just hopefully not the Tide’s talented freshman DB, Kool-Aid McKinstry).

Like Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The Canes will indubitably get punched in the mouth many times throughout Saturday against a strong and fast Tide opponent. The key will be how they respond. Will the Canes be sloppy and pack it in or will they hang tough and show they belong in the same stadium as the nation’s best?

In fact, the 19.5-point spread in Bama’s favor is the largest underdog spread for Miami since they were 21-point dogs at #3 FSU in 2013. In that game, the Canes were ranked #7 but they were run out of the stadium 41-14. Likewise, in this opener, Miami is ranked 14th and theoretically should be able to keep the game respectable.

However, Bama’s dominance has obviously been well-documented the past two decades, but in openers it has been even more evident - they have not lost an opener since 2001 when they were ranked 25th against UCLA. Even more, Saban has outscored his opposition by a cumulative score of 477-138 in season openers.

In recent weeks, the StateoftheU staff has addressed the highly anticipated Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Season Opener from a variety of angles.

  • Yours truly did a deep dive in a three part series previewing the first Miami-Alabama matchup since 1993.

- Part I of that series explored the recent turnover at Alabama, overall history of the matchup (14-3 Alabama), the trajectory of both programs, and Alabama’s personnel/coaching scheme analysis.

- Next, Part II looked into the projected starters and the keys for Miami to stop the individual positional units (the official depth chart has since been announced).

- Lastly, Part III analyzed keys to a Miami victory (or 19.5-point cover) and a prediction for the big game.

Obviously, our staff has addressed the ins and outs of this game from multiple key perspectives. As we are mere hours before kickoff, I’ll provide some information on what to know about the game/key matchups and players, as well as final thoughts:

Roster Analysis:

Offensive Starters: (11 Personnel - One RB, One TE)
QB: Bryce Young, Sophomore (6’0”, 194lbs)
RBs: Brian Robinson, Jr., Redshirt SR (6’1”, 228lbs)
WR(X): John Metchie III, JR (6’0”, 195lbs)
WR(Z): Jameson Williams, JR (6’2”, 189lb)
WR(H): Slade Bolden, Redshirt JR (5’11”, 191lbs) OR JoJo Earle, Freshman (5’10”, 170lbs)
TE: Cameron Latu, Redshirt JR (6’5”, 250lbs)
LT: Evan Neal, JR (6’7”, 360lbs)
LG: Javion Cohen, Sophomore (6’4”, 325lbs)
C: Chris Owens, Redshirt SR (6’3”, 315lbs)
RG: Emil Ekiyor, Jr., Redshirt JR (6’3”, 324lbs)
RT: Kendall Randolph, Redshirt SR (6’4”, 298lbs)

Defensive Starters: (2-Gap 3-4 Base Scheme)
DE: Justin Eboigbe, Junior (6’5”, 285lbs)
NT: DJ Dale, Junior (6’3”, 307lbs)
DE: Phidarian Mathis, Redshirt SR (6’4”, 312lbs)
SAM: Christopher Allen, Redshirt SR (6’4”, 252lbs)
JACK: Will Anderson Jr., Sophomore (6’4”, 235lbs)
WILL: Christian Harris, Junior (6’2”, 232lbs)
MIKE: Henry To’oTo’o, Junior (6’2”, 228lbs)
CB: Josh Jobe, Senior (6’1”, 192lbs)
FS: Jordan Battle, Junior (6’1”, 210lbs)
SS: DeMarcco Hellams, Junior (6’1”, 208lbs)
CB: Jalyn Armour-Davis, Redshirt JR (6’1”, 192lbs)
Star DB: Malachi Moore, Sophomore (6’0”, 190lbs) OR Brian Branch, Sophomore (6’0”, 190lbs)

Roster Takeaway and Key Matchup Analysis:

Bama’s Offense: The key takeaways from this roster is that there are areas where Bama can be exposed. In particular, LG, Javion Cohen, and RT, Kendall Randolph, are relatively inexperienced/less talented compared to the rest of the offensive line. Even further, the main skill positions are trying to fill the gigantic shoes of Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, and Najee Harris as Bryce Young, Brian Robinson Jr., and John Metchie III look to make the transition relatively seamless (Metchie has dealt with some lingering injury issues this offseason).

Nick Saban is not afraid to give other newcomers opportunities as transfer, Jameson Williams, and true freshman, JoJo Earle, round out the wide receiving core. Even though these players are uber-athletic, first game chemistry may not be where it needs to be across the Tide’s formation. Lastly, TE Cameron Latu was a surprise starter listed at the tight end position ahead of highly touted junior, Jahleel Billingsley. This leads me to believe that OC, Bill O’Brien, who is no stranger to two-TE sets dating back to his time as OC of the New England Patriots, will not stray from employing formations involving both Latu and Billingsley.

With Manny Diaz calling plays for Miami’s defense, he needs to creates schemes that confuse the young QB aptly-named Young. No doubt he’s talented but it’s his first start (as opposed to King’s 32nd career start) and now is the time to attack his inexperience. The signal-caller history has gone from Jalen Hurts to Tua Tagovailoa to Mac Jones without any lapse in skill. While Young should be able to carry the torch, he could certainly expect his fair share of growing pains.

Bama’s Defense: Bama’s front seven is SCARY fast and big. There is simply no easy way around it, both literally and figuratively. Transfer LB, Henry To’oTo’o, is as athletic as they come and rightfully earned his way into a starting LB group that should have no issues finishing plays. Saban is expected to rotate a deep group of players across the defensive line. However, one of the key players, DE LaBryan Ray, appears to be battling an injury. The secondary’s top tier CB, Josh Jobe, has yet to prove himself as the number one corner as he played behind Patrick Surtain II all last year. Even more, Star CB Malachi Moore, may be nursing an injury. While Alabama is as good as they come at finishing plays and tackling in front of them, it is unclear whether they have the coverage prowess to match, an area that could be attacked in OC, Rhett Lashlee’s, quick spread schemes with TE, Will Mallory, the RB unit, and the slant-heavy WR-group led by Mike Harley.

Final Thoughts:

As three touchdown underdogs, the Canes are widely expected to lose and thus can have an underdog mentality with something to prove. With that in mind, they can play more fearless and take risks. Miami Safety, Bubba Bolden, is already embodying a PG-version of Alonzo Highsmith, as he states the Tide are just “another team.” It’s that fearlessness and calm poise that needs to be carried to the field tomorrow. Even more, Alabama has experienced immense turnover over the past couple of years. Miami has the benefit of facing a less cohesive unit than prior years and could certainly catch the Tide off-guard in the opener.

If the U wants to get back, it starts with staying competitive in games like this. While these two programs’ peaks never aligned, let’s see if Miami can cultivate the Canes’ culture of the early 2000s or if it will be business as usual for the recent Crimson Tide.

One way or another, it’s goin down in the ATL. Will the Tide make Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sweet Home Alabama or will Miami rock them like a Hurricane?

Prediction: Alabama 44-29. It could be a cold Welcome to Atlanta but the Canes really just need to keep it respectable and take care of business with the rest of the schedule.