In our first installment of this series — which feels like it was a year ago, given everything that’s transpired since — we spotlighted five players under pressure for the season-opener against an FCS team. The focus was mostly on quarterback play and Miami’s defense backing up big preseason talk.
This week, with the 14th-ranked Hurricanes (1-0) facing plucky, prolific Toledo (3-0) at home, we’ll resist the urge to list five Miami defensive backs. The challenge of stopping Rockets quarterback Logan Woodside falls on the entire defense, which hardly impressed UM’s coaches in a 41-13 rout of Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 2.
When it takes the field at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the Hurricanes will be playing their first game after a 20-day break. Hurricane Irma kept UM from practicing for 10 days, forced the cancellation of one game and caused two others to be moved. If Toledo is smart, it will get in a few punches early while the Canes are finding their legs. Miami will likely need a full complement of starters and backups on defense to deal with a fast-paced, spread-it-around passing attack.
While Toledo is humming along, Miami didn’t get much of a warmup for this game, and this date with a MAC team will serve as its only real test before entering ACC play next Friday at Duke. Time to get right, right now.
Starting off our list: a veteran newcomer who wants to ruin Woodside’s day.
Miami CB Dee Delaney
Delaney needs to show he’s the graduate transfer cornerback who made solid plays in the second half of the Bethune-Cookman game, not the one who was picked on during a puzzling drive in the second quarter. Delaney will play a part in shutting down Toledo senior Cody Thompson, who produced 1,269 receiving yards last year and is fourth in FBS receiving yards (391, on 22 catches with four touchdowns) after three games. Thompson (6-2, 205) isn’t the only receiver on UM’s scouting report; sophomore Diontae Johnson (5-11, 181) is a regular target and Woodside knows where is tight end and running backs are. Miami is likely to play a lot of defensive backs to keep players fresh, but Delaney (team-high 57 snaps against Bethune) could be on the field more than anyone.
Toledo QB Logan Woodside
A huge game for him. Woodside has lit up mid-major teams in his career, but has fallen off against better competition. In two career games against Power 5 teams — Missouri and Iowa State in 2014 — and last year’s Western Michigan squad, which was ranked 12th when it played Toledo, Woodside’s passer rating (129.19), yards per attempt (6.84) and completion percentage (58.5) were less than impressive. In his 29 other games in college, he is operating at a 168.92–9.22–66.2 clip. Of course, better defenses haven’t clamped down on Woodside alone, but he is the engine that drives what is considered the best offense in the MAC, and the reason the Rockets were the preseason favorite to win the conference. He must be at his absolute best for Toledo to have a chance, and a win at Miami would raise eyebrows in NFL scouting circles.
Miami DE Joe Jackson
With defensive tackles Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh pushing the pocket, Jackson and fellow end Chad Thomas (and their backups) must finish the job from the outside rush. If Woodside has time to throw, he could pick apart a largely inexperienced secondary. Jackson, who struggled against the run at times in his freshman year, has to remain disciplined against short passes (this goes for Miami’s linebackers, too). Jackson and Thomas have long arms that should disrupt Woodside’s passing lanes, too. Toledo’s offensive line should hold up well against MAC teams, but Miami’s large, athletic front seven should be its largest advantage in most ACC games. It should be a big edge here.
Toledo WLB Ja’Wuan Woodley
If this player is on the field a lot, that’s a win for Miami. You might say Toledo’s run defense has been permissive. Tolerant, if you will. In a 54-51 win against Tulsa last week, the Rockets allowed 423 yards on the ground (and six touchdowns, on 68 carries, an average of 6.2 per). It was a huge chunk of the 548 yards Toledo allowed; Tulsa wanted to run the ball, and did. Toledo will have a tough time stopping Mark Walton and Travis Homer (251 yards and two touchdowns in the opener), and that’s without having to account for quarterback runs. If Malik Rosier sees daylight, he has no fear of flight. Combined, those three averaged 10.06 yards per carry in the opener. It may not be that much Saturday, but don’t expect them to have a quiet day.
Toledo RB Terry Swanson
After producing 2,238 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons as a backup to standout Kareem Hunt, Swanson has five touchdowns in three games as the starter. Miami will focus on slowing Woodside, but has to be aware that Swanson can go.