Miami football has been all style and little substance since joining the ACC. After Larry Coker flamed out, Randy Shannon came back with a promise of bringing ‘swagger’ back to the U. After his 28-22 stint, Al Golden was supposed to bring class back— and was fired midway through the 2015 season. Next up was Mark Richt, who was ‘rejuvenated’ after a tumultuous end at Georgia. He won his first four games, lost his next four, and then reeled off 16 straight wins between the end of 2016 and first 11 games of 2017...then petered out with a 7-9 record over his final 16 games.
Aside from a brief moment in the Richt era, Miami has been a team of bold proclamations, immediate returns, and, ultimately, failure.
Enter Manny Diaz. Back in the fold as Miami’s defensive coordinator under Richt, his defenses ranked 9th, 12th, and 3rd in yards per play allowed. The year before, he led a pretty good defense at Mississippi State. Before that, he led the nation in turnovers forced at Louisiana Tech.
His substance is proven (on one side of the ball), but the issue for Miami since the departure of Brad Kaaya has been the offense. That will have to get better for Miami to avoid another “high expectations, mediocre results” coaching hire.
Its probably appropriate to start with the defense here. Somehow, Miami is getting a fourth year from its elite linebacking corps of Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud, and Michael Pinckney, and they’ll be excellent. The front four loses Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson, but returns All-ACC talent in Jonathan Garvin at DE, and adds two highly-sought-after transfers in former Virginia Tech end Trevon Hill and UCLA transfer Chigozie Nnoruka.
The front seven will be a force to be reckoned with.
The secondary? There are questions, but as always, talent. Trajan Bandy has been excellent as a two-year starter, and anchors a unit that includes USC (again, the real one) transfer Bubba Bolden, elite recruit Al Blades, and a ton of young talent.
The biggest question mark on this Miami team, for at least the fourth year in a row, is quarterback play. They got the inexplicable redshirt waiver for the obnoxious Tate Martell (formerly of Ohio State), and he’ll compete (even in the Oklahoma drill, apparently) with third-year sophomore N’Kosi Perry. Whomever wins the job has the fun task of playing Florida’s excellent defensive line in 18 days...and the Miami offensive line does not appear yet to be fully operational. Phil Steele has second-year players at each tackle spot and right guard, a redshirt sophomore at center, and incumbent NaVaughn Donaldson at left guard. That’s...less than ideal.
In true Miami fashion, they’ll have the skill talent if the offensive line can get it together. DeeJay Dallas is the incumbent at running back (5.7 YPC, 6 TD last year), but Cam’Ron Harris and Lorenzo Lingard were both top-10 running back recruits in the 2018 class, and proved much more explosive and efficient than Dallas in limited duty. At receiver, they’re stacked— deep threat Jeff Thomas returns for his junior year, sophomore Brian Hightower averaged 15 yards per catch as a true freshman, and tight end Brevin Jordan was 2nd team All-ACC as a true freshman.
They also add grad transfer K.J. Osborn from Buffalo, and all he did was put up 892 yards on 16.8 YPC on a very fun MAC team last year.
If Miami solves its quarterback and offensive line problems early, look out. If not...they’re again immensely talented but easily beatable.
The biggest feather in North Carolina’s cap was the Labor Day game Miami had against Florida. Unfortunately, they got a waiver to move that game up to Week Zero, giving the Canes a chance to lick their wounds if that game goes how I think it will.
The return to UNC in Week 2 will be monumental for a multitude of reasons: Mack Brown’s first game back at Carolina, home opener, ACC opener for both squads— and (much like the Will Muschamp head-coach-in-waiting incident) an opposing former head coach who is not too fond of Mack Brown.
Brown unceremoniously fired Diaz early in the 2013 season after Texas gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU. Diaz has made no secret that he holds a grudge against Brown, and it’ll be interesting to see how that translates on the field.
After that, Miami gets two easy home wins against Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan, a bye, then three more home games against ACC Coastal opponents (Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech). They could essentially have the division wrapped up if they took the tiebreakers over four teams by the third week of October.
Next, they travel to Pitt and Florida State, draw Louisville at home as their cross-divisional opponent, have their second bye, then close with FIU and at Duke (the ultimate Thanksgiving weekend rivalry).
On paper, this team should go 10-2, with a loss to Florida and another surprise somewhere down the line.
On the field, we know that that’s not likely the case...but they should be the best team in the Coastal, and are my pick to win the division despite their issues.
North Carolina vs. Miami Outlook
Like I said, this will be an emotional game for both teams. Night game, Return of the Mack, Manny Diaz’s incurable saltiness...it all adds up to what will likely be a weird game decided by big plays, turnovers, and emotion.
Miami’s offensive question marks are offset by Carolina’s relative (as we see it now) weaknesses in rush defense, pass rush, and the secondary. Miami’s defense is just freaking good.
As it stands now, the Heels will hang around and likely generate some big plays— but inexperience at quarterback and in a new system against this defense spells trouble. Much like the 2017 game, I’m expecting a sloppy performance with Miami winning close.