The Hurricanes expected to have a challenging October, with games against preseason ranked opponents Florida State, North Carolina and Notre Dame.
September is proving to be tougher than they anticipated.
A spate of injuries, coupled with suspensions and dismissals, has left 25th-ranked Miami (1-0) in a shorthanded state entering its backyard battle with Florida Atlantic on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN3.com) at Hard Rock Stadium.
“We’ve lost depth across the board, on defense and on special teams,” said coach Mark Richt, whose team has a bye after next week’s sneaky-tough road test at Appalachian State. “It puts pressure on your second team, it puts pressure on your scout team, it puts pressure on your special teams,” Richt said. “The more attrition you have, the tougher it is for everybody to stay healthy.”
The Hurricanes, a three-touchdown favorite over the Owls (1-0), lost starting cornerback Adrian Colbert and backup defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins to knee injuries this week, the latest blow to a roster that was already thinner than Richt would prefer.
UM may have 67 of its 75 scholarship players available — the NCAA limit for an FBS team is 85 — for Saturday’s game. That doesn’t include those playing hurt, like defensive end Trent Harris (broken hand), defensive tackle Anthony Moten (dislocated shoulder) and linebacker Darrion Owens, who expects to make his debut a year after recovering from major knee surgery.
“We hurt when guys get hurt,” Richt said. “We know it’s part of the game. Guys have to rise up.”
Said senior safety Jamal Carter: “We’ve just got to make it work. Whatever situation we get put in, life goes on.”
Fortunately for Miami, which commandeered a spot in the Associated Press poll for the first time since Nov. 10, 2013, its offense looks healthy. In a season-opening 70-3 win over Florida A&M, UM set a school record for points in a quarter – 42 – outgained FAMU by a 523-197 margin, and had three 100-yard rushers for the first time since 1987. It was the most lopsided win of Richt’s 16 seasons as a coach.
While the Hurricanes blew out their FCS opponent, Florida Atlantic struggled with theirs. Facing Southern Illinois at home, the Owls trailed 24-21 at halftime and needed 17 unanswered points in the second half to win 38-30.
Basically, the Salukis did to FAU what the Owls did to Miami last year in Boca Raton. FAU tied the game at 20 with 9:44 left in the third quarter, before Miami solved its issues on defense and in the red zone. The Hurricanes won 44-20.
FAU’s returning quarterback is redshirt sophomore Jason Driskel, who went 18-of-30 for 155 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Hurricanes last year. Running back Greg “Buddy” Howell, who led Miami-Dade County high schools in rushing in 2013, put up 128 yards and two touchdowns in the opener.
The Owls’ defense features 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior end Trey Hendrickson, who finished second nationally last year in sacks (13), and sophomore linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who had 10 tackles (2.5 for losses) last week. Richt said FAU has “a lot of confidence in their cornerbacks” to cover downfield.
Judging by final results on the scoreboard — in the first meeting of the teams, 2013, Miami won 30-6 — the series has been a little stale. The local flavor should spice things up a bit.
Of the 115 players listed on the Owls’ roster, all but six are Florida-bred. Miami has 42 out-of-state players, including standout qurterback Brad Kaaya. FAU, located in Boca Raton about 60 miles north of Coral Gables, counts 24 players who call Palm Beach County home. The Hurricanes have eight, three of whom started last week.
Even the coaches — Boca Raton’s Richt and Plantation’s Charlie Partridge — grew up in towns less than 25 miles apart.
Those products of Miami-Dade and Broward and Palm Beach, of Tampa and Jacksonville and Orlando, will heat up those high school rivalries when they see each other on Saturday. For them, it might feel like Friday night.
Not that they need it, but an extra adrenaline boost certainly wouldn’t hurt the Hurricanes.
“We’re fit mentally, and physically tough,” left guard Kc McDermott said. “We’re prepared. We’re ready to go.”