Five players under pressure: No. 18 Miami Hurricanes vs. Bethune-Cookman

Malik Rosier (right) stretches during an Aug. 2017 practice. (Miami Herald)

In this weekly series, we’ll list five players who have something to prove in Miami’s upcoming game. Along with the “by the numbers” piece that will drop on Thursdays, consider this our de facto game preview.

We’ll mostly looking at potential matchup advantages for either side. Think unproven offensive tackles who are about to tangle with star defensive ends. Cornerbacks sure to be in the crosshairs of opposing offensive coordinators. That’s the idea. We’ll try to be as specific as possible, but we might shine the spotlight on entire position groups, coaches … maybe even you (OK, probably not you).

In the case of this game — at home against an FCS opponent — “pressure” is a relative term. Though upsets do happen, Bethune-Cookman doesn’t seem to have an advantage anywhere on Saturday’s field. The real pressure for UM comes in Week 3. This opener, and to a larger extent, next week at Arkansas State, are about making the engine run as smoothly as possible before Florida State.

Which starts us here, with the man who has the keys:

Miami QB Malik Rosier 

This isn’t Rosier’s first start, but it might as well be. Brad Kaaya is gone and he’s The Man, and the Hurricanes have enough talent to challenge for the ACC title … if quarterback play is solid.  Saturday, he’s likely to exit the game sometime in the third quarter with Miami comfortably ahead.

Rosier is a threat to run. He had a 19-yard touchdown run and a 46-yard rush last season. As a high school senior at Mobile (Ala.) Faith Academy, he was about as productive on the ground (1,301 yards, 17 TDs) as he was through the air (1,852 yards, 16 TDs). Mark Richt will feel even better about his decision to start him if Rosier, a 50.8 percent passer for his career, drops a few dimes before his departure.

Rosier won’t face much heat from a Wildcats pass rush, which was a major issue for BCU last year.

Miami is certain to play Rosier and backup Evan Shirreffs, and it’ll be interesting to see if N’Kosi Perry or Cade Weldon sees time. BCU, meanwhile, says in its game notes it can play its four quarterbacks — Collyn Anderson, Larry Brihm, Jabari Dunham and Akevious Williams — “at any time.” Williams will start.

You know what would help Rosier this season, a lot? If Miami found more depth at running back than expected, or at least a strong 1-2 punch.

Miami RB Travis Homer

UM coaches know what Mark Walton can do. He has some broad shoulders, but they shouldn’t lean too heavily on him. Homer, a sophomore, will get every chance to show he can handle a significant workload.  If things go as planned, he’ll be able to look at last year’s season-opener and laugh.

Five of Homer’s seven carries in 2016, and 35 of his 44 rushing yards, came against last year’s FCS opponent (Florida A&M). Homer fumbled on one of them. He was an excellent special-teamer the rest of the season, but he’s motivated to make up for slippery-hands debut. Young players have issues with that sometimes — ask Phillip Dorsett or Stacy Coley — but recover.

If the Hurricanes are going to have a dependable run game, it’s vital someone be a solid No. 2 behind Walton. It’s also critical they get some push.

Miami’s second-string offensive line

UM feels confident about its starting five linemen, and they should look great against a defensive front four that averages 6-3 and 250 pounds.

However, Miami needs to see what its backups can do, because it’s rare a team gets through the season playing five O-linemen. Injuries were one reason UM struggled to run the ball and protect its QB against stiffer midseason competition. The late-season emergence of first-time starters Tyler Gauthier and Tyree St. Louis (and moving Kc McDermott from left guard to left tackle) were a reason things came together down the stretch.

At every position, Miami is looking to see who can turn good practices into good game performances. Second-string O-linemen mentioned as potential rotation players — left guard Hayden Mahoney and center Corey Gaynor in particular — should give coaches something to think about here.

Saturday’s film, of course, will be graded on a curve. Last year, MEAC teams (and North Texas, 92nd in FBS in rushing) rushed for 4.6 yards per carry on Bethune. BCU produced 13 sacks in 2016, all against FCS competition. The Wildcats lost their first six games of last year, but even on days things were clicking, they struggled to produce pressure. In a season-ending 39-19 win over Florida A&M (a team Miami beat 70-3 to open the year), they had zero sacks.

Miami TE Michael Irvin II

Bethune’s key playmaker on defense is free safety Diquan Richardson, who had four picks and seven pass break-ups last year. However, Richardson is listed at 5-11 and 167 pounds. Starting cornerback Elliott Miller, a junior, goes 5-9, 148. The linebackers average 6-0, 226. ‘

UM will have size and speed mismatches all over the place, and starting tight end Chris Herndon (6-4, 252 with excellent speed) is a prime example. Herndon won’t come off the field much this year. Irvin is in the same boat as Homer: a true sophomore Miami would love to see make a great leap forward.

Irvin didn’t see much action last year, since Miami had more than enough talent at tight end. Future first-rounder David Njoku played the slot while Herndon filled a hybrid TE/H-back/FB role UM calls the “F.” Irvin, the son of one of the best receivers in NFL history, will be more of Herndon’s backup than a co-pilot. He’s smart with strong hands but has struggled to get in top shape. For insurance, Miami decided this week to try defensive end Scott Patchan at tight end. That should be a clear message to Irvin to step his game up.

We’d mention another son of a Hurricanes great, true freshman punter Zach Feagles, but Miami may not need to punt in this game.

LB Shaq Quarterman 

Again, there may not be much pressure on Miami’s defense in this game. But its middle linebacker and many others on the unit have supremely high goals. Quarterman said he wants to be “top-five, if not No. 1” in points allowed, as well as other key defensive categories. He said he was disgusted when he watched last year’s game film, saying he and his fellow freshman linebackers “looked like little kids out there.”

They want to carry this team. They want perfection.

“We have to be ready to physically whip the man across from you,” Quarterman said. “I feel like we all think like that. We want to be great so bad. We understand that have to dominate. It’s not about winning by nine points. It’s about shutouts.”

All right. Time to see if you can back up that talk.

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