Every week, usually on Mondays, we take a long look at the Hurricanes’ previous game. We’ll share three factors that contributed to either a win or a loss, three areas of improvement heading into the next game and five (give or take) nuggets we noticed watching on film (and live).
THREE REASONS MIAMI BEAT BETHUNE-COOKMAN
1. Size and speed.
Mark Walton and Travis Homer were too fast. Same with Mike Harley, Braxton Berrios (and Jeff Thomas. though he had a quiet debut). UM had speed advantages all over the field against Bethune’s defenders.
They also made great use of their size. On a drive that put UM up 17-3, quarterback Malik Rosier attacked Bethune cornerback Elliott Miller (5-9, 148). He found receiver Darrell Langham (6-4, 220) on an inside slant on third down, then let him make a play on Miller on a 46-yard catch. Lawrence Cager (6-5, 215) got Miller later on the drive, and laid out behind coverage on a touchdown catch.
On the next drive, Langham posted up 6-foot, 186-pound corner Jamaal Burgess and high-pointed a TD catch of his own.
Nowhere was the advantage more disparate than when true freshman right guard Navaughn Donaldson, all 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds of him, locked onto strong safety Arthur Williams (6-3, 205) on a run play in the second quarter. With Donaldson driving his man 10 yards downfield and out of bounds, Walton cut across the field for a 47-yard gain.
Think of it this way: if the two Bethune-Cookman defenders named here stepped on a scale together, they may or may not outweigh Donaldson. Miami won’t always have that kind of edge, but against an FCS opponent, it really all they needed.
2. Walton and Homer.
One Hurricanes player has put up two 1,000-yard seasons: Edgerrin James. By the end of this year, it should be two.
Walton needs 77 yards per game (852 total) the rest of the way to hit that mark, and after rushing for a pair of scores, needs one touchdown per game (11) to break Stephen McGuire’s school record for career touchdowns.
He looked like he wanted it all Saturday. He barreled into defenders early, looking for contact, jumped up and let Bethune know about it. In the first quarter, coaches had a conversation with him to calm him down. He reached the 100-yard mark in the second quarter. He would have had three touchdowns in the first half if he didn’t slip inside the 10 on one run.
Walton, according to stats kept by Friend of Canes Watch Daniel Gould, forced 14 missed tackles and gained 80 of his 124 yards after contact. Last year, Walton gained 58.8 percent of his yards after initial contact. In this game, it was 64.5 percent.
Those numbers are evidence of a running back with zero fear.
Miami will need more than Walton to survive a 13-game season, and has to be highly encouraged by what his sophomore backup showed (career-high 103 yards on 11 carries).
Homer ran tough with a forward lean, showed nice hands and the ability to separate. He, too, has no problem lowering his pads. With Walton resting on Miami’s third drive – and after a penalty, starting on its own 4 — Homer slipped outside and gained 21 yards. A clutch run by a speed-power back who could should see plenty of time in relief this season.
3. Rosier steadily improved.
Once Miami got into the red zone for the first time, it struggled. Rosier threw late to Harley, who dropped it. The quarterback didn’t read how Walton was turning, and Walton couldn’t handle a hard pass into his twisting frame. UM settled for a field goal.
Rosier missed a few other throws early, but not all were his fault. He overthrew Langham, who didn’t separate downfield. Chris Herndon dove and couldn’t handle a hard low pass, as Walton didn’t pick up a blitz, letting Rosier get hit. His fastball over the head of Jeff Thomas could have been a touchdown. Plays like that have to be cleaned up.
But we’e nitpicking. Rosier does a lot of good, and should be a more-than-capable starter if he can clean up those throwing mistakes. He has a strong arm, has shown so-so accuracy so far, is quick when he decides to run, and is tough enough to take a hit. He seems to make good decisions on run-pass option plays. He spun out of a potential sack in the third quarter, turning it into a 5-yard gain.
The issue so far: He can be a bit streaky. In stretch spanning much of the second and third quarters, was 13-of-16, including two touchdowns, long ones to Langham (46 yards) and Cager (33). He also missed 5-of-6 throws in one stretch and missed four of his final five, though one of those was a 22-yard strike to Berrios for a touchdown.
He wasn’t asked to win this game, and didn’t face much adversity. Jury’s still out on whether he can rise to that kind of challenge, but UM has to like what it saw Saturday.
THREE AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT BEFORE ARKANSAS STATE
1. Pass coverage should be tighter.
Arkansas State, who passed 68 times in last week’s loss at Nebraska (a school record for attempts), is likely to do the same against UM. The Red Wolves will be looking at this tape to see how quarterback Justice Hansen can attack UM’s back seven.
Bethune-Cookman quarterback Larry Brihm completed his first nine passes, though he was good on half of his final 26 and threw an interception on his last (on an end-zone shot tracked down by Malek Young). UM wasn’t exactly vanilla in this FCS opener, but did work out of a base 4-3 front about 61 percent of the time. Last year, it spent about 51 percent of the time in that 4-3.
This won’t be a game for Dee Delaney’s highlight film. The Citadel transfer, who had 13 picks in three years there, played more than any Miami defensive player — 57 of 71 defensive snaps — and looked capable, though he found himself in Brihm’s crosshairs.
On the fifth Bethune-Cookman drive, late in the second quarter, the fifth-year cornerback allowed catches of 14, 11 and 10 yards — one of them on fourth down — and fell down on a throw that would have gone for a touchdown if Miami didn’t pressure Brihm into an incompletion. That was one reason the drive lasted a game-long 14 plays and ended in a field goal.
Delaney held strong on coverage the rest of the drive. He stuck to his man, and Brihm was off-target twice. Along with Jaquan Johnson, he nearly blocked the ensuing field goal. He had a diving tackle for loss in the fourth.
Bethune converted 1-of-8 third downs in the first half, but closed 8-of-17 (and hit both fourth-down attempts). That owes in part to UM playing a lot of backups in the game’s latter stages, but Miami has to be cleaner in this area, and stopping the pass was a big reason why.
2. Run defense has to set the tone.
Not the start Miami wanted. A front seven that entered the season with shutouts on their minds allowed two first downs on the first two plays of the game against an FCS opponent.
On the first play of the game, running back Michael Jones bounced outside for a 19-yard gain. Defensive end Joe Jackson got locked up with the left tackle and linebacker Zach McCloud charged into the gap, but Jones cut outside and got good perimeter blocking. on the second play, McCloud saved a big gain with a tackle from behind as Jones scooted up the middle.
In total, UM wound up allowing 121 yards on 30 carries, an average of 4.0 per. Not outstanding, but not bad. Aside from the early pair of first downs, UM allowed rushes of 23, 14, 12 and 9 yards in the second half. Overall, BCU didn’t get much. Miami stuffed 10-of-28 run plays for zero yards or negative yardage, a 35.7 percent rate. In 2016, UM did that at a 28.3 percent clip
But those early ground wins were a reason BCU took the lead first; in 2016, Miami didn’t allow the game’s first points until Oct. 15 against North Carolina. The Hurricanes allowed the Wildcats allowed four drives of 10 plays or more. One reason: they were subbing players early and often, something they’ll have to do in Jonesboro, Arkansas this week. Manny Diaz has to get everyone on the same page.
3. Enough with the penalties.
The Hurricanes were 116th nationally in penalty yards per game last year. They were 128th, dead-last, in 2015. In 2014, they were 108th.
After one game in 2017, they sit 107th.
On Miami’s first drive, left guard Trevor Darling was flagged for a block below the waist, diving at a defender who beat him. It came in the red zone. On the second drive, Walton got to the 16-yard line but it was negated by a block in the back on Cager. Left tackle Kc McDermott held his man (though the referee announced center Tyler Gauthier was at fault), negating a Walton first-down rush in the red zone.
To start the third drive, with Miami backed up at its own 8 after a punt took a BCU bounce, Gauthier false-started. Gauthier, who generally blocked well, also missed signals with Rosier on the final play of the first half and snapped the ball off his quarterback’s chest. Donaldson had a false start on the first series of the second half.
It wasn’t just offense. With Miami whipping BCU up front late in the second quarter, a personal foul on defensive tackle Anthony Moten (he dove late on the quarterback as ed Joe Jackson ripped him down for a sack) put the Wildcats at the UM 7. That led to a field goal.
CB Michael Jackson: Had two tough tackles early and looked capable in his first career start, using his size and speed to his advantage. Also played nine of his 41 snaps as a dime back. He appeared to injure his right hand or wrist in the third quarter, but soon returned.
The crowd: announced at 50,454 and wasn’t quite that, but was loud enough to help Bethune-Cookman draw three straight penalties the first time it hit the red zone. That knocked the Wildcats back to third-and-28, where they settled for a field goal. On its second drive, BCU had to take a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty on third down.
WR Braxton Berrios: His usual self, pinballing off defenders, running crisp routes and making excellent blocks (UM coaches call him “Mr. Fundamental” for a reason). He caught each of his three targets, including a 22-yard touchdown and led UM wide receivers with 22 yards after the catch. After ceding time to David Njoku in the slot last year (just 12 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns), expect him to play a lot more.
LG Corey Gaynor: A true freshman backup at guard and center, could he be UM’s fullback? He took one rep there, in the second quarter, though he wasn’t needed. On first-and-goal from the 5, the 6-foot-4, 285-pounder cannonballed into a pile of bodies. Walton bounced outside, held off a tackler and dove over the goal line for the game’s first touchdown.
QBs N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon: Both true freshmen spent the game signaling plays from the sideline. Weldon was an obvious redshirt candidate, and it seems Perry could be heading the same way.