After the Storm: NC State

After the Storm: NC State

Stefan Adams
The Miami Hurricanes fought off an onslaught from the NC State Wolfpack and were able to survive with a 44-41 road victory this weekend to move to 6-1. After a rewatch of the game, here were my takeaways and grades.

**For the second straight week, the Canes found themselves in a close game in the 4th quarter. First off, you never want to be in a close game on the road late where it only takes one play to send you home with an L. There were countless mistakes made in this game, mainly on defense, that led UM to be down 10 in the 4th against a team they were double digits favorites against. And, through their first 4 wins of the year, to their credit, the Canes had avoided close games in the final stanza. However, that just made me even more curious to see what would happen when Miami got into those types of situations, because it’s in those moments that you find out what your team is truly made of and if you have warriors that are mentally tough enough to hold up under pressure.

Each of the past two weeks, Miami has been able to shake off bad plays made earlier in the game, reset, and show the mettle necessary to make the key plays in close games, when they matter most, to pull out wins. More so than in the first 4 wins of the season, I think we’ve learned much more about this team during their past 2 wins, and how they are different than Miami squads of the recent past. That doesn’t mean that mistakes should be completely overlooked or ignored, but I think it’s ultimately a net positive for Manny Diaz and his staff to know that their team has matured from last year and that they can have some confidence in their players to gut out a win late in games. Bonus points for the Canes finally getting it done off a bye.

**Lets dive into the 4th quarter dominance that led Miami to the win. It was rough sledding for Miami’s defense through the first 3 quarters, as they gave up 31 points and 404 total yards to the Wolfpack in that timeframe. It was a completely different story in the 4th quarter though, as the Canes’ stop unit finally figured out NC State’s offense, while Miami’s attack continued to hum along. That led to complete dominance during the most important part of the game, as Miami outgained NC State 209-6 in the 4th quarter while also possessing the ball at a 10:54-4:06 advantage over the Wolfpack. Laying out the numbers shows just how drastic of a beatdown it really was in that final frame, and how well the Canes responded to adversity. That 4th quarter emphasized what this team can be at it’s absolute best; now the trick for the staff is to coax out that type of complete effort for an entire game more consistently.

**Rhett Lashlee told us exactly how he wanted to attack NC State, then went out and had his unit execute the gameplan almost flawlessly. Earlier in the week, Miami’s offensive coordinator made no secret of what he was planning to do on offense against NC State after their tape vs. UNC the game before essentially revealed the blueprint on how to beat the Wolfpack. The Tar Heels used the deep ball with great effectiveness early on against the NC State secondary, and when the Wolfpack defense eventually devoted more defenders to stop the pass on the outside, the Tar Heels made them pay by pounding the ground game; this was something Lashlee brought up during the week during his pressers with the media.

While Miami’s run game (189 yards) didn’t quite meet the totals that UNC ran for against NC State (326 yards), the Canes had no need to go away from their passing attack when NC State showed no ability whatsoever to stop it. Lashlee recognized this weakness, adjusted the gameplan accordingly, and kept twisting the knife. The result was one of the best offensive assaults UM has ever produced; the 620 total yards of offense in the game was 7th in Miami history. The Canes were also much better in the redzone this week, essentially scoring on all 6 of their chances with 3 TD’s and 3 FG’s (although the stats are skewed because of the kneel downs in the redzone at the end of the game). After 7 games, you can see a team that is hitting their stride in this new offense, as well as a coordinator that is starting to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of his players.

**D’Eriq King might have just had the best game from a Miami QB in recent memory. King did whatever he wanted against this NC State defense and really looks to be coming into his own in this Lashlee offense. His final numbers were 31-41 (75.6%) for 430 passing yards, 5 TD’s, no turnovers, and 105 rushing yards, and you can see the timing and chemistry starting to blossom with his receivers. With this game, King became the first FBS player to throw for at least 300 yards and run for at least 100 yards in a game this season.

King also created multiple explosive plays of 25+ yards (9 total – 7 passing, 2 rushing), while I thought his best throw was the 20-yard TD pass to Mike Harley on a corner route in the endzone, where King dropped it in to Harley right on the back pylon. That’s a difficult throw to make and it couldn’t have been much better placement from King. Mind you all of this production came without his most talented weapon in Brevin Jordan. Those type of numbers were reminiscent of some of the huge lines Stephen Morris used to put up at times, but it’s taken to another level when you add in King’s ability to make plays with his legs. Miami doesn’t win this game without him, and it was King’s first real chance to show his comeback ability in the 4th quarter; consider that test passed.

**Miami’s receivers ate like kings again; is this real growth or a product of weak opponents? On the heels of a season-high 18 catch, 255-yard performance vs. UVA last game, the Canes’ receivers remarkably topped that output against NC State over the weekend (22 catches, 339 yards). It begs the question if this improvement is a mark of true development for the WR corps or just a mirage. From one point of view, Miami’s receivers had these massive games against two of the worst secondaries in the country in UVA (116th of 123 FBS teams in pass defense) and NC State (107th). We’re not likely to get much more clarity soon with Virginia Tech (88th) up next, but it is nonetheless encouraging that Miami receivers are able to get loose against anybody at all and that they’ve now demonstrated they are capable of putting up big numbers as a unit after how little they showed through the first 5 games.

One reason to be more optimistic on Miami’s WR’s is that they are making plays in a variety of ways; they have shown they can work the quick game on short passes to the sticks via slants and curls, and have also shown they can get vertical and beat DB’s deep. They have produced both by getting major separation and have also shown they can make contested catches with defenders right up on them. Harley even demonstrated this weekend that he could churn up YAC, as he took a hit, kept his balance, and turned on the jets for the game-winning 54-yard TD. It’s also not just one player either, as now Harley, Mark Pope, and Dee Wiggins have shown the ability to produce big games. Again, we’ll have to wait for a strong performance against a better secondary to really feel good about this WR group, but these past two games have definitely raised confidence in what looked to be a bleak situation at receiver.

**There is something missing from this Miami defense. It’s hard to say because UM has for so long relied on their defense to bail out a defunct offense in recent seasons, but it’s clear at this point in the year there is something lacking from the stop unit. Whether it was a ferocious run defense that would completely shut down their opponent on the ground, a secondary that stopped passers in their tracks, an impressive ability to create havoc plays in the backfield with countless TFL and sacks, or pure and simple turnover wizardry, the Canes’ defense has always had something to hang their hat on even when all else failed, an identity to fall back on. I’m not seeing anything close to that in 2020, and it’s fair to wonder if it will ever show up. The run defense has been an inconsistent outfit that is just as likely to blow a run fit or get washed out of a play as they are to come up and make a tackle at the line, the secondary has seen receivers running free consistently all year, while the havoc plays and turnovers forced have been okay at times, but haven’t been near the elite levels of past years.

In 2020 overall, Miami’s defense is now averaging 148 ypg allowed on the ground, 245.9 ypg through the air, 2.4 sacks, 8.1 TFL, and 1.4 turnovers, all down from even their 2019 per game numbers in those categories (114.6 ypg rushing allowed, 195.2 ypg passing, 3.5 sacks, 8.3 TFL, and 1.6 turnovers), and down also from some of the heights of the Manny Diaz era defenses at Miami. While eventually the D did get things figured out in the final quarter vs. NC State this weekend, ideally, there would have been a better gameplan and/or subsequent adjustment from Blake Baker to stop the bleeding sooner. To be fair, this unit lost their best player a month before the season when Gregory Rousseau opted out, and the defense has been far from terrible overall despite a bad game this weekend, but I still expect more from this UM defense.


Offense: A+

44 points scored and 620 total yards. Finally put two and two together with both yardage and points for maximum results after struggling in one category or the other the last two games. 7th most yardage in UM history. 9 plays of 25+ yards or more. Just 2 three and outs. A whopping 83 plays run for 7.5 ypp. Converted 7-16 (43.8%) on third downs. No turnovers. Much better than last week in red zone (scored on 6 of 7 trips) with the one “miss” coming on kneel downs to end the game. OL allowed just 5 TFL and 2 sacks after being among the nation’s worst in those categories over the past 3 games (4.7 sacks, 12.3 TFL allowed per game in that stretch).

Defense: D

34 points and 410 yards allowed. Finally figured out the NC State offense in the 4th quarter by allowing them just 6 total yards in the frame, but the damage had already been done at that point. 1 turnover that helped seal the game late in the 4th, plus 6 TFL and 2 sacks. Allowed 7 for 12 (58.3%) on third downs. 6.5 ypp allowed. Ultimately, nowhere close to what we’ve come to expect from this unit in recent years against a backup QB and a slightly above average opponent at best.

Special Teams: C-

Giving up touchdowns on ST’s is always going to make this grade a “C” or lower at best, so the coverage unit allowing a 100-yard kickoff return TD really hurts this mark. Jose Borregales did his best to make up for that by going a perfect 3-3 on FG’s and 5-5 on XP’s, while also converting on an onside kick to give UM an extra possession. Lou Hedley tied for his lowest output of the year (43.2 ypp on 4 punts), but that was partially a product of working with shorter fields (2 inside the 20) and he was still good overall. Despite taking out a season-high 6 kick returns, UM failed to get a 30-plus yard return. Gurvan Hall nearly cost UM the game with a bonehead play by muffing a punt late in the 4th quarter, then running backwards for a loss.

Coaching: B-

Undisciplined with penalties (12 for 101 yards), with many being of the 15 yarder/drive-killing variety. Dominated the 4th quarter with the game on the line. Impressive offensive gameplan and execution. Took too long to make effective adjustments on defense. The onside kick ended up coming at the right time and was a smart gamble. Ultimately, the team showed the killer instinct to make the key plays when they mattered most to get the win. The staff also finally did not trot out a team that put up a complete dud off a bye.

Comments (16)

The onside kick and kicking the FG on 4th down to keep momentum going were coaching gambles that could have helped seal the win. The extra possession from the OS kicks didn't pay off, unfortunately, but the FG in the 4th quarter lit a fire under the defense. The DL make it look like they were just playing with their food the whole night when they turned it on in the 4th. I'd give the coaching a couple more points because Manny made his presence felt in a couple decisions he made at the end of that game (not even counting the unsubstantiated rumor that he took over the defensive playcalling.)
Hindsight is 20/20 but at the time, I thought kicking the FG in the 4th was the right call. Coming out of that drive with no points would more than likely killed the momentum we had and probably resulted in a different outcome.
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despite the ko return, this unit deserves better than C-
What's missing is the havoc plays. This defense was always going to take a step back from what we've seen over the last 3 years. Losing Shaq, Pinck, GR15, Redwine, etc. was going to take a toll at some point. While we assumed it would have some impact, I didn't expect a drop in disruptive plays. Nesta and JHH have shown flashes of being Willis/McIntosh, there is a ways to go in terms of consistency. Bubba has shown flashes, but does not get his hands on enough balls and has fallen off a bit in recent weeks (fatigue? injury?- who knows).....

I did want to disagree with one thing @Stefan Adams said re: King's best throw....I LOVE the throw to Harley for sure....but this one, as far as placement and difficulty was more impressive IMO

Inside of our own 10, 2nd and 18, needing to create some momentum with under 4mins in the game, and King drops THIS between 3 defenders?!
Hindsight is 20/20 but at the time, I thought kicking the FG in the 4th was tbe right call. Coming out of that drive with no points would more than likely killed the momentum we had and probably resulted in a different outcome.
My knee jerk reaction was that they should go for it. Then I remembered, "Never pass up an opportunity to put points on the board."
My knee jerk reaction was that they should go for it. Then I remembered, "Never pass up an opportunity to put points on the board."
I think going for it is the most common reaction. How many times have we seen a team go for it, fail, and get deflated? I just felt we had some mo and the D finally seemed to be waking up. 6 yards in the 4th. And King was hot.
I think going for it is the most common reaction. How many times have we seen a team go for it, fail, and get deflated? I just felt we had some mo and the D finally seemed to be waking up. 6 yards in the 4th. And King was hot.
And if they failed to convert, we likely would have lost.
I still think Manny, whether he did take control of the defense or not at the end, also went for three to give confidence to the defense that they could make a stop.
We need to get the turnovers that are handed to us. There would still be plenty of hand-wringing, but if McCloud and Phillips don't blow easy picks, that's 7 points off the board. If Blades doesn't blow an easy pick, that's more points off the board (I forget if that drive ended in a TD or FG).

There would still be much to criticize, but the defense left two EASY turnovers off the board. 31 points is still unacceptable, but we'd be talking about a more comfortable- though far from dominant- win.

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