This week as Clemson takes on Miami in the ACC Championship game we have a chance to talk to a different SB Nation site. State of the U is Miami’s SBN site and they were kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us ahead of the game. A big thanks to Cam Underwood, the managing editor over there, for his time and you can see the answers to my questions for him over on State of the U as well as some excellent coverage on all things Miami. You can check out our answers to their questions here.
STS: We are... intimately familiar with losing unexpected games to Pitt. What exactly happened last weekend?
SOTU: We stunk, plain and simple. Pitt's defense was predicated on crashing hard to any run action and making Malik Rosier beat them by hitting throws. There were receivers running WIDE F*CKING OPEN in Pitt's secondary all day, but Rosier couldn't hit them. So the offense didn't do anything, and the game was lost.
This was pretty much a "Murphy's Law" game for Miami; everything that could go wrong did. There was the defense having their lowest havoc rate of the year (just 4 TFL and 1 sack, less than half our per game average). There was also allowing Pitt to go 9/18 on 3rd and 4th down, including a 4th down TD to put the game away. There was starting TE Christopher Herndon IV injuring his knee in the 3rd quarter (an injury that will require surgery and thus ended Herndon's college career). There was a 13 yard punt. There were 2 turnovers created....and no points scored on those turnovers.
Oh, and did I mention that Mark Richt benched Malik Rosier early in the 4th quarter of a 10 point (2 POSSESSION) game? And, when benched, the backup went 0/2 with 2 passes batted down and a sack in a QUICK 3 and out? Did I talk about Pitt holding the ball for 36:30 of game action? Did I mention the missed tackles? It was the worst game Miami played all year, by far, against a garbage team, and it cost us the chance at an undefeated season. It wasn't like when y'all lost to Pitt last year and they were just operating at a high level. Pitt was decidely average, but Miami was terrible.That's what happened last weekend.
STS: Early in the season there was a lot of talk that Miami was lucking out with a few wins, but now the national media seems to actually respect Miami's ability. How would you describe this team and how they've played this year?
SOTU: This team has fought hard all season long. It hasn't always been a work of art on offense, but the defense has been very good at stopping the opposition and forcing them into turnovers, as evidenced by the cultural phenomenon known as the TURNOVER CHAIN!!!The main thing this team has done (outside of that damned Pittsburgh game) is find ways to win. Yeah, there were games that were closer than we would have liked, but in the past, those games would have surely been losses by the Canes. Instead, somebody stepped up every week to make a play to turn the tide in Miami's favor. And, it was a different player who stepped up each week, so this was really a collective effort to get Miami to their current 10-1 record.
STS: On offense Miami has been pretty explosive, how has Malik Rosier done as a QB this year?
SOTU: Malik Rosier has been sub-zero cold or hotter than the sun, with no level of performance in between that. Earlier in the year, I called this difference "first half Malik" vs "second half Malik" because his performances varied greatly before and after halftime. As the season has worn on, we've been using those phrases to describe Rosier's play, regardless of when in the game it happens, because Canes fans all know the difference between "first half Malik" (VERY VERY BAD) and "second half Malik" (VERY VERY GOOD) by now.
As the season has worn on, Rosier has run more and more. When teams bail to play coverage on Miami's receivers, or if they blitz guys to try to get to the quarterback, Rosier has been able to find running room, and impact the game by running in a way that no Miami QB has done in nearly 40 years.
While that's cool to say, the thing that matters most to Miami's offense is Rosier being able to hit throws. He hit enough throws in the the first 10 games to win, even if it was close, but didn't hit ANYTHING in the Pittsburgh game, and that's a huge reason why Miami lost. Rosier has been able to hit throws all season, but the inconsistency in that area still leaves a lot to be desired.
STS: What are some names on offense besides Rosier Clemson fans should get to know before Saturday?
SOTU: Well, this answer would have been very different a few days ago. Miami has lost 2 starters -- TE Christopher Herndon IV and WR Ahmmon Richards -- to injury for the year since the Pitt game, so that takes away 2 of Miami's very best players for this week's game.
RB Travis Homer has taken over for another injured player -- starting RB Mark Walton -- and done very well with his increased role in the offense. A tough 5'11" 195lb back who runs bigger than his size, Homer is the key to Miami's run game now, so he's a name to know.
DeeJay Dallas is a multi-talented athlete who has seen time at RB, WR, and Wildcat QB. He's thickly built but has ELITE change of direction. He'll be used as a backup to Homer and in packages for various situations.
At WR, without Richards, Miami will lean on senior Braxton Berrios (2nd team All-ACC), juniors Darell Langham -- he of the game winning TD at FSU and game-saving catch vs GT a week later -- and Dayall Harris, sophomore Lawrence Cager, and freshmen Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas, arguably the 2 fastest players on the team. Of this group, Berrios is the veteran and best player, but Thomas is the most explosive due to his electric speed. All those players will see heavy snaps this week, and (for Miami's sake) hopefully a couple of them step up to make plays.
STS: Miami's OL has been considered weak to average depending on who you ask. What are some things the coaching staff will have to do to mitigate Clemson's DL in the passing game?
SOTU: Yeah, Miami's OL is better this year than it has been for a while, but it's not great. The good thing for this group is that they go up against another top notch DL in practice every day, so they're not seeing something they've never seen before. I'm not saying Clemson's DL isn't good -- it absolutely is. But it's in the same elite group as Miami's, so Miami's OL has experience playing against elite defenders up front.
Now, as far as what Miami can do to mitigate Clemson's DL in part (because your DL is too good to completely dominate), I think that quick passes and moving the pocket (bootlegs, rollouts) will be key. Miami's scheme calls for a lot of zone blocking, and that could be a great or terrible thing. I think integrating some horizontal elements to the offense could help to give Miami a leverage advantage against Clemson's DL. But, even if that does happen, Miami has to expect that there will be negative plays against a group as talented as Clemson, and have a play for what to do when they get behind the sticks.
STS: Miami's defense is well known for turnovers, why have they been so successful at forcing turnovers this year?
SOTU: I think this has been a combination of talent, scheme, and luck that's paid off for Miami in a big way. Players at every level of Miami's defense have elite talent, and DC Manny Diaz has done a good job putting them in position to make plays.
In the past, Miami struggled to get turnovers. That's the thing people forget now that Miami is leading the nation in turnover margin. Getting the ball away from the other team was a STRUGGLE for years. The Turnover Chain, that wonderful piece of celebratory jewelry, was dreamed up to help the team get the ball. (no, it has no tangible effect on the gameplan, but it's working so whatever).
When presented with the chance to get a turnover, Miami has capitalized at nearly every turn. I can think of only a couple tipped balls that weren't intercepted. Miami is recovering nearly every fumble they force by the opposition. Everything is bouncing or falling Miami's way in the turnover department. The team swarms to the ball on defense, so there are usually players around the ball to make plays. Like I said, this is the perfect combination of talent, scheme, and luck...and things just bouncing Miami's way after years of seeing it go the other way.
STS: Who are some of the names on defense Clemson has to keep an eye on?
SOTU: On the DL, Joe Jackson, Chad Thomas, RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton are the starters, and I'd put them up against any DL in America, period. Senior Trent Harris was 2nd in the ACC with 8.5 sacks. Freshman Jon Garvin has a blocked punt and 2 strip sacks (with recovery) to his credit.
At LB, Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are the major playmakers. Quarterman is more steady, while Pinckney uses instincts and ability to make big plays.
In the secondary, Safety Jaquan Johnson was absolutely ROBBED for 1st Team All-ACC. He's a captain of the team, Miami's leading tackler, and has created 6 turnovers (4 INT, 2 FR) this season. He's absolutely one of the best players at that position in America, so he's a name to know. Sheldrick Redwine pairs with Johnson at S, and is a solid performer. CBs Malek Young and Michael Jackson have stepped their games up this year, and grad transfer Dee Delaney is a solid NFL prospect while freshman Trajan Bandy is one of the toughest competitors you'll ever find.
STS: What will you be looking for early on in this game to determine if Miami is going to win the game?
SOTU: I want to see how Miami handles the moment. Everybody knows this is Miami's first ACC Championship game. How will the team come out to start? Will there be nerves? Mistakes?
Also, I want to see how this team responds to adversity. I am not expecting a shutout on either side, so how will Miami bounce back after Clemson scores, especially if it's really early in the game? This team has displayed great discipline and perseverance all season long, and I want to see that again on Saturday.
STS: Finally, how do you see this one playing out?
SOTU: First of all, let me just say how happy I am to have Miami playing a game of consequence again for the first time in forever. Man, this is a lot more fun than waiting to see which tier-2 bowl game we'll be sent to.
Okay, back to the lecture at hand: I think that Miami has the top end talent to contend with Clemson, but after injuries to Walton, Richards, and Herndon IV, I don't think the Canes have the depth to stay with Clemson the entire game. It won't be 58-0 (thanks for that, by the way; wouldn't be here without you forcing us to FINALLY fire Al Golden), but it won't be a win for Miami either.