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Expectations 2019: Miami fans should anticipate a Coastal Division title in year one under Diaz

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A weekly breakdown of year one under Manny Diaz

Cam (Davis) Harris scores his first career TD last season at Georgia Tech. With the departure of Travis Homer, Coach Diaz will most likely call Harris’ number more often in the coming season.
Todd Forrest/SOTU

Manny Diaz is well aware of the expectations that come with a head coaching gig at the University of Miami and he made that crystal clear during his introductory press conference earlier this year.

”This is a tough city,” he said. “This is a passionate city. The fans of the Miami Hurricanes, they want to see their team play with toughness and they want to see their teams play with passion.”

Those passionate fans can be just as tough when it comes to the demands placed upon head coaches at The U. Look no further than each of the previous three coaches, two were shown the door while the third threw in the towel. How much leeway will be afforded to the Miami native if his tenure gets off to a shaky start?

Here is a game-by-game breakdown of what could be deemed as “reasonable expectations” for the matchup with each of the 12 opponents on this season’s slate.

FLORIDA (in Orlando)

Turnovers and limiting big plays will be vital for Diaz and the Hurricanes. After ranking third nationally in takeaways and fifth in turnover margin in 2017, Miami tumbled to 73rd in turnover margin in 2018. They were even worse on the road, coming in at 104th in road/neutral site games, which was reflected in a 2-5 record away from Hard Rock Stadium. Florida, on the other hand, was seventh in turnover margin last season. In the big play department, Diaz’s defense was 75th, surrendering 20 runs of more than 20 yards; as for their counterpart, Florida’s offense was 24th nationally with 26 rushes of 20-plus yards.

Based solely on those numbers, things could potentially get ugly for Miami; e.g. LSU last season. But this is a rivalry game and historically, blowouts have rarely exemplified the Battle for the Seminole War Canoe -- if that’s even still a thing.

Finally, Miami has only defeated two ranked teams away from home this decade, but Florida hasn’t defeated Miami outside of Gainesville since 1985.

EXPECTATIONS: As much as Canes fans hate losing to Florida, a close, competitive loss should ultimately serve as a positive barometer of Diaz and the 2019 season. Reaching the ACC Championship Game should be the ultimate goal during year one and a loss to UF does nothing to derail Miami’s dreams of playing in Charlotte. (It only results in listening to Gator fans’ B.S. on Social Media for the next...on second thought, what did I say our ultimate goal was again?). As long as Miami’s recent big-game struggles away from home don’t carry over to 2019, and the glaring mistakes of the past are remedied, Diaz’s Hurricanes will be on the appropriate course.

These are not the 2003 Canes or the 2008 Gators so this year’s showdown should play out similar to the 2013 edition -- minus Al’s orange tie and Will’s protruding jugular. Like that matchup six years ago, the safe bet is on a low scoring defensive struggle where the team that makes the fewest mistakes begins the year unbeaten.

@ NORTH CAROLINA

Diaz’s #TNM makes its ACC debut in Chapel Hill, two weeks removed from the opener in Orlando. Last season, North Carolina’s Chaz Surratt (QB) and Michael Carter (RB) combined for 144 yards on 16 carries during a blowout loss to Miami. And no, those numbers weren’t padded during garbage time. Carter tallied 81 yards on four carries in the first quarter alone; Surratt went for 26 yards and a touchdown on three attempts in the opening 15 minutes.

And that was at Hard Rock Stadium.

Miami’s last two visits to Chapel Hill haven’t been pleasant. In 2017 the 8th ranked Canes needed a Jordon Brown fumble in the final minute to survive a 24-19 near-upset over a one-win UNC team and a third-string QB. In 2015, the 8-1 Tarheels hosted a Miami squad under interim coach Larry Scott and proceeded to demolish Scott’s Hurricanes, 59-21, en route to an ACC title game appearance.

Additionally, since joining the ACC in 2004, Miami has never defeated UNC three straight times.

EXPECTATIONS: To quote former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis, “just win, baby.” Regardless of what happens vs Florida, Miami will have two weeks to put Orlando in its rearview mirror. A 1-1 start with a win over UF and a loss at UNC could have fans thinking, “more of the same from the inconsistent Hurricanes.” As for an 0-2 start? We won’t even go there.

BETHUNE COOKMAN

If Miami doesn’t score a lot while limiting BCU to very little, something has gone horribly wrong.

EXPECTATIONS: Win. By a whole lot.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN

The Chippewas finished 1-11 in 2018. They lost 51-13 to a Toledo team Miami thumped by 25 points at the Glass Bowl. Yes, CMU has nowhere to go but up from 1-11, however, this was a team that was fifth nationally in turnover margin on the road and dead last (130th) at home. (I know, a head-scratching statistic, isn’t it?) Bottom line: Miami needs to roll, and they shouldn’t be required to force six turnovers to do so.

EXPECTATIONS: Anything less than a rout and there will be questions. Maybe not a 50 or 60-point drubbing like Bethune but 35 or 40-plus will be expected. The Canes should be 3-1 (at worst) after this game.

VIRGINIA TECH

Miami has won three of the last four meetings at home and four-of-five overall vs its division rival. Despite having not defeated the Hokies three-straight since the glory days of 2000-02, the Canes need this one to reclaim the Coastal, especially drawing Tech at home coming off a bye week. Since 2011, Virginia Tech has won three Coastal titles and each of those three seasons they scored victories over Miami. As for the Hurricanes, they defeated the Hokies both times they finished atop the Coastal -- in 2012 and 2017. Long story short: The winner of this one jumps into the driver’s seat for a December date in Charlotte.

More recently, Miami forced three turnovers, returned a punt for a score and limited Virginia Tech to a very pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry in 2018. As a result, the Canes won going away, 38-14 in Blacksburg, Virginia.

EXPECTATIONS: It’s okay to expect the win but don’t count on another blowout, especially when you consider the last meeting was a 17-14 contest until Cam’ron (Davis) Harris tore off a 42-yard scoring run and Jeff Thomas took a punt return 51-yards to the house, opening the flood gates at 31-14 with 5:47 remaining in the third. The Coastal Division ramifications are massive so Miami must find a way to win this one at home.

VIRGINIA

The fourth of five-straight at home is a revenge game that’s as much a “must-win” as any game on the 2019 slate. Miami outgained UVA 339-231 in last year’s meeting in Charlottesville and each team turned it over three times.

Miami was better on third down, in the red zone and averaged 2.1 yards more per-play. The time of possession and penalties went in favor of the Cavs, but only slightly. If N’Kosi Perry is the starter, this is a game he should have circled on his calendar, since this is where the wheels started to fall off for the then-redshirt-freshman quarterback in 2018.

EXPECTATIONS: Last time around, Miami won every category except the scoreboard. This time, Miami needs to dominate the points total, as well.

Holding Virginia to its second-lowest scoring output of the season (16) should always equal a win when you’re the University of Miami. Two straight losses to Virginia won’t be tolerated and the Canes have won three straight at home vs UVA. This needs to be a Hurricanes victory. No excuses.

GEORGIA TECH

The five-game homestand concludes with the new-look Yellow Jackets. Until first-year coach Geoff Collins makes the transition from the triple-option -- something that shouldn’t take very long in a talent-rich area like metro-Atlanta -- this is a divisional game Miami can’t afford to drop on its home turf.

EXPECTATIONS: The Canes haven’t lost to the Jackets in Miami since 2007, and two years ago, Tech gave the Canes their best shot and still came up short on Darrell Langham’s miracle. This has win written all over it for The U. And with four of its final five on the road, these are the games you can’t allow to slip through your fingers.

2019 will be the last hurrah for Manny Diaz and his three senior linebackers that arrived alongside then-defensive coordinator Diaz in 2016.
Todd Forrest/SOTU

@ PITTSBURGH

Miami has struggled in cold weather and last season’s 24-7 win in Hard Rock could have been due to the Panthers’ lack of urgency after having already clinched the Coastal. Miami will certainly get Pitt’s best shot this fall.

Pitt took advantage of a terrible Coastal Divison and basically back-doored its way into the ACC Championship Game last December. The division champion Panthers were outscored 389-359 over the course of 14 games and finished 1-4 vs ranked opponents last year-- not a good look for Coastal Division.

Pitt was 18th in rushing offense but 80th in rushing defense. They were also 121st in passing offense, 59th in total defense and 79th in takeaways. Nothing about Pitt screams “great” so a down-year should be expected following a season of overachieving -- that’s assuming the division isn’t hot garbage once again this fall.

EXPECTATIONS: Miami hasn’t lost to Pitt in consecutive seasons since the early days of the Kennedy Administration (1960-1961); the Canes have to expect the W, but this one -- the first game on the road in six weeks -- doesn’t feel as safe as Miami’s previous two opponents.

Through eight games and with Florida State up next, the Hurricanes could be, at best, undefeated, or, at worst, 4-4, so somewhere in the middle at 6-2 is reasonable at this point. However, Miami should never lose more than two conference games a season for a plethora of reasons, but none more important than this one: This decade, only one Coastal team has made the ACC title game with three losses and it occurred in 2012, when there was a three-way tie at 5-3; Miami and UNC were ineligible so Georgia Tech represented the division. Meanwhile, no two-loss team has won the ACC since 2011 when a 6-2 Clemson squad were kings of the conference. The last seven ACC Champions have a combined conference mark of 53-3, and that’s the level Miami must reach before it can join the national title conversation.

@ FLORIDA STATE

Miami should be the favorites, but once again, this game could go either way. If Miami is sitting at one conference loss, they could potentially absorb another in Tallahassee. Two or more losses prior to the Florida State game and Charlotte will be out of reach (the second ACC crossover game is the following week vs Louisville so Miami’s conference losses would have come at the hands of a fellow-Coastal team by this point).

EXPECTATIONS: Eighteen of the previous 20 meetings went down to the wire, and since neither Jameis Winston or Ken Dorsey will be taking snaps, I doubt we see a replay of the blowouts from 2013 or 2001. As I said, it could go either way. A lot could also depend on Willie Taggart’s job status entering November. Taggart on the hot seat (or jobless) can only help Miami, despite the fact Florida State will always treat the Miami and UF games as its Super Bowl, even if the season is a wash.

LOUISVILLE

The Cardinals closed 2018 with eight-straight losses and Miami has won four-straight on Senior Day. Louisville’s offense was atrocious on the road last season (124th / 15 ppg) but new head man Scott Satterfield was solid in that regard at Appalachian State (20th / 34 ppg). The Mountaineers defense, on the other hand, allowed 45 ppg to Power-5 opponents and Louisville surrendered 50 ppg vs ACC competition in 2018.

EXPECTATIONS: Gotta have the W. Miami’s linebacker trio will be making their final appearance at Hard Rock Stadium after starting game one together as freshmen. It will be an emotional day and even if Miami’s season has been a letdown, this game should still go into the win column for The U.

@ DUKE

Another must-win revenge game. Daniel Jones is gone and there is no excuse for Miami to lose to Duke once, much less two-straight times. Last season, Miami outgained the Blue Devils 411-290 in a game that saw both offenses combine for 18 punts and go 6-for-30 on third down.

Special teams woes cost Miami but the Canes defensive front was just as deficient, combining for three sacks during consecutive losses at Boston College, Duke and at Georgia Tech. Granted, Tech and BC are run-first offenses so low-sack totals should be expected, but one sack vs a Duke squad that attempted 37 passes with an offense that finished 78th nationally in sacks allowed is simply unacceptable for a front-seven as talented as Miami’s.

EXPECTATIONS: Another must-win game for Miami if they want to return to national prominence. David Cutcliffe has built a nice program in Durham and might be the most underrated coach in America, however, the talent-gap alone should be enough for the Canes to have their way in this series.

2019 OVERVIEW

In 2017, Miami was undefeated in revenge games, and this fall the Coastal schedule swings back to the same divisional matchups/locations from the season the Hurricanes started 7-0 in conference play.

In crossover games, things get a little easier. Miami faced a gritty Syracuse squad in 2017 but they’ve been swapped out for a rebuilding Louisville program. As a result, the 2019 schedule couldn’t be more perfectly suited for a Miami Coastal Division title.