You did it, Miami.
You finally beat Florida State.
We see you. Nice job.
Does that mean … you could go unbeaten in the regular season, for the first time in 15 seasons? Does it mean you could take the Coastal crown and then play Clemson?
Sure, that’s possible. It would be no small feat, but it’s possible.
There’s a problem, though.
Remember in the offseason, all the analysis of Miami’s roster determined that the worst-case scenario would be a long-term issue with Mark Walton? Well, we’re here. Babying him didn’t help, because football is a brutal sport. He limped into the FSU game, was carted out, and Miami is now without arguably its best player.
Not to paint a doomsday scenario on Friday the 13th, but it gets worse. Two starters in the secondary, Sheldrick Redwine and Dee Delaney, are out this week, as is a starting right guard, Navaughn Donaldson. Those are three players who typically play the entire game.
That’s why Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech (3:30 p.m., ABC) is one tough test. The Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-0 ACC), a unique challenge from a game-planning standpoint, have a quarterback (TaQuon Marshall) who has proven he can run that option-based offense. The defense isn’t bad, either. Miami (4-0, 2-0 ACC), who just beat the No. 3 preseason team on the road — yes, the Seminoles are struggling, but that’s a talented group — is ranked 11th, but enters Georgia Tech week a 6.5-point favorite at home.
Without Walton’s big-play ability as a runner and receiver — and with Ahmmon Richards still hobbled — Malik Rosier can’t make many mistakes. The secondary needs to grow up, fast. Same goes for Donaldson’s replacement, Corey Gaynor.
The Hurricanes will need to be sharp to win this game. If they do, it’ll be a heck of a statement.
Maybe even greater than beating Florida State.
When Miami passes
Last week, FSU defenders were flypaper to Miami’s receivers. Rosier had little time to throw. Until the final minutes of the game, Miami’s offense didn’t have a lot going.
A repeat would spell disaster against Georgia Tech. The Jackets force three-and-outs, leaving opposing offenses to ponder their mistakes from the sideline as the clock drains. The Hurricanes haven’t been great on third down — 39.13 percent success, 68th in the country — and if that’s the case Saturday, it won’t be good.
According to Georgia Tech’s game notes, it has forced three-and-outs on 29-of-49 defensive series (53.1 percent). The Yellow Jackets are one of two FBS teams that have forced three-and-outs on more than half of their defensive series. Michigan (58.2) is the other.
The Jackets aren’t a turnover-creating machine defensively, but safety A.J. Gray intercepted two passes last week in a 33-7 win over struggling North Carolina.
Judging by key stat categories (rating, yards per attempt, touchdowns, interceptions, yards per game), Miami has a top-40 passing attack. Georgia Tech’s pass defense is top-15 in all those categories except interceptions. To this eye, Miami has better talent — not sure who on Georgia Tech can cover Braxton Berrios one-on-one — and the Jackets are due for a slight regression. Edge: Miami
When Miami runs
With Walton healthy, Miami had one of the better run games in the nation. Through four games with him in the lineup, the Hurricanes ranked sixth in the country in yards per carry (6.40). That sagged in the last two games, with UM gaining 3.97 at Duke and 2.86 at FSU.
Now it’s up to Travis Homer, the sophomore who has done well in limited action (207 yards, three touchdowns on 25 carries). In the last two games he is averaging 12 yards per carry, but on just six carries. His efficiency should dwindle with more usage, but he should be a capable back. He gained a critical pair of first downs on UM’s winning drive at Tallahassee, so early returns are good.
“We all believe he can do it,” linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “You look at him, he doesn’t look that tall, but he has the speed to break away from you and he is physical. He’s not one of the guys who always wants to juke you. He will lower the shoulder on you.”
Rosier must be accounted for in the run game. Neither Trayone Gray, DeeJay Dallas or Crispian Atkins, all vying for the No. 2 role, have proven themselves. Georgia Tech has allowed one rushing touchdown and just over 3 yards per carry in its last three games. We’ll find out if that’s because it played FCS and bottom-tier ACC competition, or it’s because Tech’s defense is actually pretty good. Edge: Miami
When Georgia Tech passes
Turnovers will be key for the Hurricanes. An interception or two would be outstanding. Those are hard to come by, unless the Jackets are trying to come from behind.
They like to lull teams to sleep with the option and hit a deep ball, and that has worked so far against sub-par ACC defenses (North Carolina, Pittsburgh). Marshall hasn’t thrown an interception, though his numbers in the last two games haven’t been stellar (9-for-17, 101 yards, touchdown). Miami is well coached and should be able to handle it, but inexperience is a worry. Georgia Tech’s passing game isn’t prolific, but it doesn’t need to be.
The young defensive backs thrust into the spotlight, like safety Robert Knowles and cornerback Trajan Bandy, will have to be stout against the run while defending the handful of passes that could break bad. Leading receiver Ricky Jeune (6-3, 212) has 10 catches this year, but has gained 171 yards and scored three touchdowns. Edge: Georgia Tech
When Georgia Tech runs
Getting Tech’s offense off the field is critical. The Jackets convert third downs more often than all but three teams nationally (53.3 percent). They pile up rushing yards (1,584 in four games) and do it efficiently, averaging 5.91 yards per carry (10th). UM allowed a few sizable gains two weeks ago at Duke and allowed a season-worst 4.72 yards per carry at FSU. Now would be the time to clean up those issues.
Marshall set rushing records for ACC quarterbacks in the 42-41 season-opening loss to Tennessee, with 249 yards and five touchdowns on 44 carries. He leads the ACC in rushing yards per game and averaged 124 and 1.5 touchdowns against Pitt and UNC. Sophomore KirVonte Benson (5-9, 211) doesn’t have Cam Akers’ speed, but UM’s issues in tackling Akers last week are a worry with another good back (476 yards, four touchdowns on 84 carries) on deck. Freshman Jerry Howard (9.64 yards per carry, fifth nationally) can hit homers.
Last year, Miami had scoop-and-score touchdowns on back-to-back series. That’s the path to success against this year’s Jackets, who have lost an ACC-worst eight fumbles. Quarterman and Joe Jackson, who scored the aforementioned touchdowns last year in Atlanta, believe they’re better, and Miami’s defense is better as a whole. They’d better be right. Edge: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech hasn’t been a threat at all in the return game, and Miami’s coverage is typically solid. The Jackets have missed two of five field goals, while Miami has missed one of five. Berrios is the most dangerous returner in this matchup. Tech has no one who scares you. Injuries mean Miami’s depth took a hit, so expect a few fresh faces in the lineup here. Edge: Miami
Paul Johnson has been running his flexbone system so long he doesn’t use a play sheet, which is something that impresses Mark Richt. He just stands there and makes calls. It typically works. He’s also aggressive, and will be going for it on fourth downs with regularity. Will Richt be as bold? He may have to be, and that shouldn’t be an issue. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz should expect his players to struggle a bit with Tech’s offense, and the adjustments he makes will be key. Georgia Tech usually wins with coaching, rather than raw talent. Miami has better players, are banged-up as some of them are, and the coaching has been good. Edge: even
Miami fans won’t have fun watching this one. Last year, turnovers took the Jackets out of it. If the Canes don’t get those kind of bounces, it could be struggle. In a game that goes down to the wire, Miami survives. That’s about all one could ask, given the current situation. Miami 34, Georgia Tech 30