Miami’s run game disappeared against the tougher teams on its schedule. It did well the last two weeks against Pittsburgh and Virginia.
If that trend continues Saturday at North Carolina State, you can say the Hurricanes have found something.
The strength of the Wolfpack is its defense, and in particular its run-stopping front seven. N.C. State ranks fifth nationally in yards per carry allowed (3.0) and fourth in rushing yards per game (99.4). It is one of four teams — Alabama, San Diego State and Houston are the others — to allow fewer than 100.
“This is probably the best front seven that we’ll see all season,” quarterback Brad Kaaya said. “They’ve had some good games, some games they should have won. I was watching their game against Florida State [and] against Clemson, and frankly they probably should have beaten those teams. … I think they could have a better record than they have right now. We have to watch more film and figure out ways to beat this front seven.”
Not surprisingly, No. 3 Louisville found a little running room against the Wolfpack. But they did not ran roughshod. In a 54-13 win at home on Oct. 22, the Cardinals gained 163 yards — on 44 carries, an average of 3.7 yards per. Boston College had slightly more success, gaining 168 yards on 44 carries. That was the greatest yardage total N.C. State has allowed this year. The Wolfpack completely shut down Syracuse in last week’s 35-20 win. The Orange gained 28 yards on 28 carries, a total that includes 24 lost yards on three sacks.
If Miami has that kind of day Saturday, they might have flashbacks to last month.
In five October games, it registered a combined 375 yards — a paltry 2.42 per carry — and four touchdowns. It faced Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, losing the latter four games. In the last two games, Miami has more than doubled its yardage (400) and yards per carry (5.12) and equaled its ground scoring (four touchdowns).
Running backs Mark Walton, Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards — who were fresh at the start of October — looked like their old powerful selves. Saturday, they’ll get to know a powerful defensive end, N.C. State junior Bradley Chubb. A cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb, he ranks fourth nationally with 17 tackles for loss and has a team-high 8.0 sacks.
“They’re big,” Richt said of N.C. State’s front seven, which includes productive end Darian Roseboro (6.0 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss). “The two inside guys are over 300 pounds apiece. The edge guys are big, long, 275- 280-pound guys. The linebacking corps is a veteran group. And the back end is veteran. It’s rare to have that many guys on one side of the ball with that much experience. In the secondary they’re averaging around 20 starts.”
The Hurricanes’ offensive line last week performed well despite the fact one player, little-used sophomore left guard Tyler Gauthier, made his first career start. Additionally, injuries turned senior center Alex Gall into a starter, and left guard Kc McDermott into a left tackle.
Richt said left tackle Trevor Darling (knee) was limited in practice Tuesday. “He didn’t get a lot of work today, but he was right there watching and getting himself ready to go,” Richt said.
Is McDermott’s future at tackle?
“I don’t know,” Richt said. “Maybe. He played well at tackle. It was one game.” He previously noted McDermott didn’t face a premier edge rusher against Virginia. That will change Saturday, if he remains on Kaaya’s blind side.
Led by Chubb, the Wolfpack are 22nd in sacks (28) and 26th in tackles for loss. Miami’s defense, incidentally, is 17th in sacks (29) and tied for first with Texas A&M in tackles for loss (90).
Given the strength of its run defense, teams often attack N.C. State through the air. Its pass defense has been more pliable, giving up 245 yards per game (84th nationally). The Wolfpack rank 25th in yards per play allowed (5.08). It is also stingy on third owns, allowing 34.25 percent conversions (24th).
To be fair, some of the Wolfpack’s defensive and offensive numbers have been slightly altered by one game: its Oct. 8 win over Notre Dame, which was played in stormy conditions brought on by Hurricane Matthew. The Pack allowed 113 total yards in that game, a 10-3 win. While preparing to play Notre Dame three weeks ago, UM coaches commented that the rain-deluged game should have been canceled.
Butch is back: Richt’s thoughts on FIU hiring Butch Davis, who was introduced as coach Tuesday:
“He’s a great coach and great person,” Richt said. “I think it already is a home run for FIU. He’s going to be excited about the challenge and opportunity there. And we’ll have to get ready when the time comes. I don’t know him well but have known him for a while. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach and a person.”
Last year the teams — who infamously brawled in the Orange Bowl in 2006 and haven’t played since 2007 — agreed to a home-and-home series. Miami will face FIU on Sept. 22, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium, and will play an FIU home game in Nov. 2019. That game could be at Marlins Park or another venue.