Miami, on the heels of a thrilling comeback at Georgia Tech, welcomes North Carolina State to Sun Life Stadium this weekend. This marks the first meeting between the Hurricanes and the Wolfpack since the season finale in 2008.
Miami enters the contest 3-1, with its lone loss a brutal 52-13 beat down at Kansas State, while NC State fell in the season opener, losing to Tennessee, 35-21 at the Georgia Dome.
Wins for the Canes have come against Boston College, Bethune-Cookman and most recently, Georgia Tech, while the Wolfpack have upended Connecticut, South Alabama and Citadel since dropping their opener.
There are some subplots entering this weekend, most notably the emergence of freshman running back Shadrach Thornton, who rushed for 145 yards on 21 carries in NC State’s win over The Citadel last week. The Wolfpack also boasts a quality drop-back passer in senior Mike Glennon, who has been solid in four outings this season.
Glennon has eighty-five completions four games in and already has 982 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with four interceptions — all of which came against Tennessee. He’s also been sacked twelve times in four games, which doesn’t sound well on the pass-protection front and the recently-released injury report doesn’t help his cause.
The Wolfpack will be without the services of two starting offensive linemen on Saturday – offensive tackles Rob Crisp and Andrew Wallace. Crisp is a junior, out with a lower back injury, while Wallace is a senior with a foot injury.
On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Curtis Porter isn’t listed on the injury report and could be back, but his status is still a mystery and he’s yet to see any action this season.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman will miss another week with an ankle injury, the Canes expect to have Raphael Kirby back, after missing the first four games of the season. While his play would be limited, it helps depth with a front seven that needs more bodies.
Miami’s defense started strong against Georgia Tech, fell apart in the second and early third quarter, but after allowing two quick scores soon after halftime, the Canes tightened up and held the Yellow Jackets scoreless from the ten-minute mark in the third, including overtime.
What UM hasn’t proven this year is that it can stop a balanced offensive attack. The Canes were well prepared for the triple option, but traditional offenses have picked Miami apart.
Boston College put up 537 total yards, with quarterback Chase Rettig throwing for 441 in the loss, while Collin Klein and Kansas State racked up 498 yards with their balanced attack, as 210 came on the ground and 288 through the air.
Miami faces a quality duo in Glennon and Thornton this weekend, so defensively Mark D’Onofrio will be challenged in a way the Canes haven’t been in a few weeks – begging the question, is the defense maturing and solidifying, or has assignment football against quirky offenses been the key the past two games?
Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington was a paltry 3-of-8 against Miami, but in those cases running backs and receivers had big gains and at times had the secondary confused. With that the case, again, what might a more traditional and accurate passer do to a depleted secondary?
Miami’s defensive line and linebackers have awoken the past few weeks. Anthony Chickillo had a monster game against Georgia Tech, while Eddie Johnson is proving to be that sorely-missed playmaker at linebacker, hitting hard, going for strips and seemingly having a nose for the ball. Still, the secondary is worrisome and will be attacked by Glennon and the Wolfpack.
Of course Miami can counter that with an aggressive offense, and must – not just in this game, but throughout the season.
Stephen Morris is coming off an epic game in Atlanta, after looking sluggish against Bethune-Cookman. Morris completed thirty-one passes for 436 yards and two touchdowns last weekend and while he still missed on some passes, he was effective in running the offense and kept the chains moving. (The Canes had thirty first downs and were 11-of-16 on third-down conversions.)
Morris lost receiver Malcolm Lewis for the season, while recently-injured Allen Hurns has returned but is yet to resume early-season go-to status, but a few others emerged.
Phillip Dorsett led all wideouts with nine receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown; a sixty-five yarder which came on the game’s third play.
Senior receiver Davon Johnson, who’s spent most of his career off the grid, came strong with seven receptions for 107 yards – including four-straight on the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. Rashawn Scott also had some big grabs and had three receptions for forty-eight yards, but again had a key drop, which has been the case a few times this season.
In all, Morris spread the ball around to eight different options last weekend.
UM also got a much-needed spark on the ground from senior running back Mike James. True freshman Duke Johnson had been stealing all the headlines early, but it was the veteran workhorse who proved to be the back at Bobby Dodd Stadium last Saturday.
James carried fifteen times for 89 yards and ran for three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. He also reeled in three receptions, including a dump-off for the game-tying score, and in his final season as a Cane, looks like he’s finally gone next-level.
James has run hard, looks explosive and his off-season conditioning efforts are yielding results. When coupled with Johnson, gives Miami that one-two punch on the ground it hasn’t seen in years and should third-stringer Eduardo Clements continue succeeding as that hard-nosed, third down, short-yardage back, the Canes ground game can turn into one of the better trios in the nation.
Offense. Defense. Opponent strengths and weaknesses. All standard game preview talk, but it’s the intangible that matters most going into this weekend; state of mind. Coming off a roller coaster game at Georgia Tech, head coach Al Golden had his work cut out for him since returning from Atlanta as there’s a legitimate psychological batter Miami must win.
That fine line between celebrating a huge comeback win, but not letting it distract from the current task at hand. How do you guard against the letdown, while reveling in a win that helps ease the sting of what happened at Kansas State weeks back?
One doesn’t have to dig too deep in the archives to see a handful of let-down games in recent UM history. Last season the Canes only won back-to-back games once, meaning there were several losses on the heels of exciting wins.
Beat Ohio State, fall to Kansas State. Rebound against Bethune-Cookman, face heartbreak at Virginia Tech. Thump Georgia Tech, get upset by Virginia.
In all honesty, this is precisely the prototypical game Miami has dropped over the past several seasons. On the heels of a much-needed win, there has been a let down, of sorts. When momentum has finally been gained, the Canes have recently and often found a way to give it all away with a shoddy performance.
The art of responding from a big time loss takes some serious coaching, but same to be said when dealing with prosperity and refocusing after a thrilling win. Honestly, that in itself might even be a bigger challenge as getting kids to disassociate and put a harsh loss in the rearview seems easier than teaching them to shelve an epic win.
How does Golden get this team mentally prepared? How does the D’Onofrio-led defense respond to a potent passing attack? Will that front seven pressure be enough to rattle Glennon and buy the secondary some time? If not, will there be some wrinkles thrown in so that Miami can keep Glennon second-guessing?
What about offensively? Can Jedd Fisch also guard against a letdown? Will Miami remain in that hurry-up which has really helped minimize false starts, has kept defenses off their toes and has helped the Canes’ offense to remain on a roll? Morris retreating into that Kansas State / Bethune-Cookman shell would be tragic in game five.
The recipe remains the same for Miami. Cut down on mistakes. Move the chains. When in the red zone, score touchdowns and don’t settle for field goals.
Know that NC State will play smart football. They try to own time of possession. Minimize mistakes. Fundamentally sound. Blah, blah, blah.
The Canes have the horses to beat the Wolfpack. This one will come down to focus, execution and desire. Miami had a sense of urgency at Georgia Tech last week. Playing a heavy favorite, there was that allotted, nothing-to-lose mentality. Go balls out and if you lose, it was expected, but if you win, a pleasant surprise and something to build on.
Miami is a slight favorite over NC State, but the game is essentially a pick ‘em, as there are still question marks surrounding both teams. The Wolfpack stomped out three nobodies after falling to Tennessee in a game where four turnovers did them in.
A heady quarterback and a solid, patient coach in Tom O’Brien, you can see why Miami dropped its last two to NC State. O’Brien has a recipe that has worked against the Canes in the past and he will have his team ready to play.
In 2007 Miami fell in overtime, 19-16. Losses to Oklahoma, North Carolina and Georgia Tech had already come for Randy Shannon and his squad, but the worst was to come and UM fell apart late, with a loss to NC State kicking off a four-game losing streak to end the season.
Miami jumped out to a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter when Kirby Freeman connected with Darnell Jenkins for an eighty-four yard touchdown, but NC State responded with a nine-play, sixty-six yard drive and a touchdown, pulling to 10-7 just before the half.
The teams combined for five field goals in the second half, with Daren Daly drilling a twenty-seven yarder with :19 remaining in regulation to force overtime. Daly wound up missing a another twenty-seven yarder in overtime, essentially handing the Wolfpack the game on a platter.
It was an all-time quirky game for Miami. Freeman finished 1-of-14, with the lone touchdown to Jenkins, who spent the rest of his day rushing the ball, carrying seven times for forty-eight yard. Freeman also tossed three interceptions in the loss, while Javarris James, Deron Thomas and Graig Cooper carried a combined forty-four times for 232 yards.
The teams met again a year later and while it was a better Miami team, the result was still a NC State victory – this time fueled by freshman quarterback Russell Wilson, who was 11-of-23 for 220 yards with two touchdowns. He also carried sixteen times, picked up fifty-eight yards and picked up a rushing score.
Lost momentum and the Hurricanes coming out flat was the culprit when these teams met in 2008. As good as Wilson was, it was obvious Miami was still reeling from a Thursday night loss at Georgia Tech, falling 41-23 and giving up 472 rushing yards in the process.
The Canes rode a five-game win streak into Atlanta and the two previous losses were last-second heartbreakers, falling to Florida State, 41-39 and North Carolina the week before, 28-24.
Georgia Tech ripped Miami’s heart out and Shannon never got his kids ready to play, going on to lose to Cal in the bowl game after NC State won the season finale.
The Wolfpack put up 439 yards to the Canes 391 but turnovers were the key, with UM losing that battle 4-to-1.
Miami actually took a one-point lead with 6:58 remaining in the third when James punched one in from a yard out, but from there another staple of Shannon-led teams — the late game collapse.
The 21-20 lead was over when Wilson hit T.J Graham for a forty-two yard pick up and then Owen Spencer for a 32-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion made it 28-21 and the scoring drive took a mere fifty-eight seconds.
This was another game of musical quarterbacks for Miami, with Robert Marve and Jacory Harris both moving the ball and coughing it up – with eerily similar numbers, Harris going 12-of-20 for 138 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while Marve’s stats read 9-of-12 for 131 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Wolfpack tacked on ten in the final period for the 38-21 win, outscoring the Canes 21-7 in the second half.
NC State is 2-0 against Miami the last two meetings, but truth be told, UM was in the gutter in both 2007 and 2008. The last time a good Hurricanes team took on the Wolfpack, it was a 45-31 Miami victory in Raleigh. “The U” was the No. 3 team in the country and the game started off with a 100-yard kickoff return, courtesy of Devin Hester.
Miami put up 416 yards to NC State’s 440, but turnovers were the difference, with the Canes coughing it up twice to the Wolfpack’s four give-aways.
The 2004 showdown came in the midst of a three-game stint where the Miami defense struggled. The week prior, Louisville put 38 on the Canes and the week after, North Carolina scored 31 in an upset win. UM also gave up almost 1,500 yards in those three games but still went on to finish the season 9-3.
Four years since the last showdown, it’s all ancient history for Miami and North Carolina State. The Golden era enters year two, the O’Brien run in Raleigh is at year six and both teams are 3-1 and in need of an important conference win.
The Canes appear to be the team with more firepower and better horses, but if ill-prepared or ineffective, it could make for a long day at Sun Life.
Old ways eventually die hard and year two is generally the time players start coming around and buying into the coaching staff and new ways. 2011 was full of let downs for Miami, but that looks to change this year.
While it’s not a big opponent, it’s a big game for “The U”. Back at home against a ‘real’ opponent, coming off a big comeback win and finding that month-one groove, I expect Golden’s Canes to get it right this weekend. NC State and Glennon will get theirs, but Miami will do enough to win.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.