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After the Storm: Bethune-Cookman

After the Storm: Bethune-Cookman

Stefan Adams
The Miami Hurricanes did what they were supposed to do in their home opener against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday, taking it to the Wildcats by a score of 63-0. These were my takeaways from the game.

**Nothing like an FCS team to stave off the lynch mob for a bit. It was nice to have Bethune-Cookman as a safety net to bounce back after the debacle of the last two weeks. Admittedly, there’s not much to take away from a game when your opponent is an FCS team, but we did get our first look at plenty of young players on UM, which is always interesting. In a game like this, the biggest plus is when there are no major injuries, and UM looks to be okay on that front, although Mark Pope did go down with a foot injury of unknown severity in the second half. The Canes simply did what they were supposed to do in this one, putting up nearly 600 yards of total offense while holding Bethune-Cookman to under 150 yards total. Manny Diaz also (somewhat) gets off the schneid and records his first career win as a head coach; it took a few games longer than he wanted, but the rookie head coach is finally in the win column. No, a blowout against an FCS team doesn’t mean Miami’s issues go away, but it’s hopefully a starting point for better football for the rest of the season.

**Slow starts still plague Miami. It had been an issue all during the Richt era, but for whatever reason, UM has had trouble getting off to quick starts and that has continued under Diaz. UM only scored 7 points in the first quarter vs. BCU; getting points on 1 of their first 4 drives and 2 of their first 6 vs. an FCS team is just a bad look. Aside from their first drive of the season against UF where they moved the ball at will and kicked a FG, Miami has been pretty dismal out of the gate; in the first quarter this season, they’ve been outscored 24-13 by their opponents. Interestingly enough, UM has been dominant in the second quarter through 3 games, scoring 41 points in the second frame while shutting out their opponents. So, while the slow starts aren’t lasting long, UM certainly wants to get to a place where they aren’t happening at all.

**Jarren Williams is playing at a near All-Conference level right now. The redshirt freshman kept humming along against the Wildcats, going 19-24 (79%) for 254 yards and 3 TD’s. He is now in the top half of the conference in pretty much every major category: first in the ACC in completion percentage (73.1%), third in QB Rating (164.6), fourth in YPA (8.4), and fifth in both passing yards (777) and passing TD’s (6). He is also one of four ACC starting QB’s to not have thrown an interception yet this year. Each week in practice, Williams has focused on improving one area of his game. From game 1 to game 2, it was getting the ball out quicker, and he succeeded by working the short game and taking less sacks in game 2 vs. UNC. This week was the deep ball of 20+ yards, and Williams ended up hitting on multiple to KJ Osborn and Mark Pope against BCU. In this context, Williams has shown an impressive ability to identify flaws in his game and quickly correct them. The QB play and coaching has been night and day from where it was a year ago, and Dan Enos deserves a lot of credit here.

**Miami did not commit a turnover yet again vs. Bethune-Cookman, displaying a surprising turnaround in this area of the game. Through 3 games, Miami’s offense has not turned the ball over at all, and the only UM turnover has come from a Jeff Thomas muffed punt on special teams. They’re one of only 3 teams in the country to not have a turnover on offense so far in 2019 (App State, NC State). That’s a huge improvement from where Miami was just one year ago under Mark Richt, when the offense was averaging 2 turnovers per game and finished 113th in the country with 26 total turnovers. Dan Enos has come in and has made taking care of the football a primary goal for this offense, which has really helped UM become a top 10 team at possessing the football this year (7th in the country at 35:44 TOP). You can see the effect protecting the football has had in terms of stringing together drives to help in the field position battle and keeping the defense off the field. If this trend continues into the heart of the ACC schedule, UM will be very well-positioned to make a run in the Coastal.

**The sophomore receivers finally made some plays. The UM starting receivers have played above average through 3 games, but we hadn’t seen much of the backups and some were starting to wonder if the talented sophomore class would ever live up to their hype. At least for one game, they certainly did. Pope (3 catches for 92 yards, 1 carry for 21 yards) was the clear standout, as he showed his explosion with 3 gains of 20+ yards or more, including when he got behind the defense for a 54-yard reception from Williams. Brian Hightower (5 catches for 51 yards) and Dee Wiggins (1 catch for 14 yards, 1 carry for 33 yards) were both productive as well, and now this trio has built some trust with the coaching staff that they can make plays when called upon.

**UM’s offensive line dominated as they should. The Canes’ OL paved the way for over 250 yards rushing at 6.9 ypc and, most importantly, zero sacks. This may have seemed like a given, but some may remember just one year ago when the UM OL was struggling to get any push in the run game in their FCS matchup against Savannah State with 44 first half rushing yards, so hat tip to Butch Barry for doing his job. After UM got out to a comfortable lead in the second half, we finally got a glimpse at how the backup UM offensive line shook out. John Campbell saw some time with the starters in the third quarter at RT, while Jakai Clark played some snaps at center with the backups in the fourth quarter. When the full backup line came in, from L-to-R, it looked like: Herbert-Campbell-Traore-Reed-Hillery. The backup line played most of the fourth quarter and picked up right where the starters left off, paving the way for back-to-back scoring drives. Just like QB, the line has improved every week, and I’m really loving the offensive coaching right now from a technique standpoint.

**Aside from another slow start, the only other big negative is how Miami continues to struggle on the money downs.
UM went 4-9 on third down and 1-2 on fourth down vs. BCU, which was a slight improvement, but 1: You want to see that number higher against BCU; and 2: They notably missed opportunities to convert in the short yardage game. They were stopped on runs on third and 1 multiple times and also failed to convert a 4th and 1 inside the BCU five yard line. After a lot of hype about fullback Realus George in the offseason, he’s been pretty much a non-factor this year with zero carries or targets. I would think it’s time he gets a chance in these short yardage situations, if nothing else just to see if it works. UM was better in the red zone this week, though, scoring 6 TD’s in 8 trips vs. Bethune, and didn’t have to settle for field goals all game, so that was nice to see. Of course, we need to see if that can carry over vs. Power 5 competition.

**The freshmen got a chance to shine. These types of games can always be fun to see which of the newcomers on the team are poised for bigger and better things in the future. Against Bethune-Cookman, 6 true freshmen saw the first game action of their careers. They were: Jeremiah Payton, Jason Blissett, Jared Harrison-Hunte, Jalar Holley, Sam Brooks, and Keontra Smith. Brooks led the team with 5 tackles and also had a tackle for loss and Blissett had a tackle for loss as well; Christian Williams recorded a PBU. On offense, Larry Hodges stole the show with two goal line TD catches, while Payton had a nice 23-yard, weaving catch and run to go with a 7-yard carry. The Canes were able to establish some more depth down their roster and see which of their young players have bright futures, so that’s another win in my book.


Offense: A

You’re graded on a curve when it comes to playing an FCS opponent, and UM had a slow start on the attack unit, but it’s hard to argue with the final numbers: 63 points, 590 total yards, 8.3 yards per play, and no turnovers. Going back to the second quarter, Miami finished their last 7 drives in the endzone, just imposing their will on the Wildcats. It was an efficient and explosive performance.

Defense: A-

UM has an issue in that they’re lacking the big plays of a year ago: they only had 1 turnover and 2 sacks against BCU, numbers that you’d expect to be higher vs. an FCS opponent. Still, the final results speak for themselves, as UM pitched a shutout and held the Wildcats to 4 first downs and 137 total yards, 54 of which came on the final drive of the game against Miami’s third and fourth stringers.

Special Teams: C

Bubba Baxa missed another easy kick (30 yards) and he is officially a huge concern right now if he wasn’t already. Lou Hedley continues to be a godsend, as he nailed both of his punts inside the 10-yard line, one of which was a 50 yarder. Jeff Thomas had a big kick return to start the game, but the coverage unit also gave up a big return to Bethune-Cookman as well. No game-changing miscues this week, and an improvement from the first two weeks for sure, but Miami still has room to do better in this area.

Coaching: A-

I’ll slightly dock the staff for their second straight slow start, something that was common in the Richt era and hasn’t gone away yet under Diaz. However, the team cut their penalties for a third straight week (5 for 45) and positions such as QB and OL have improved each week. UM went up by so much that the staff was also able to get a look at key backups for the first time, something that will be important for later in the year and going into the offseason. Ultimately, Miami did what they were supposed to do and had no major errors or breakdowns, so you hope this momentum carries over when they get back to ACC play.

Comments (6)

What’s up with Finley? Shoulder or concussion?
Why has Realus not been utilized after much hyping?