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Miami at Clemson Preview: Q&A with State of the U

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The one and only Cam Underwood joins us to preview this weekends College GameDay showdown between #1 Clemson and #7 Miami.

Miami v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Clemson has their first big matchup of the year as the #7 Miami Hurricanes come to Death Valley on Saturday. The Canes remain relatively untested after wins over UAB, Louisville, and Florida State, but have done enough to prove they’re tapping into their offensive potential with new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and QB D’Eriq King. To learn more, we’ve connected with Cam Underwood from SB Nation’s State of the U.

Ryan: Just about every year Miami is one of the three most talented teams in the ACC, yet they generally fail to tap into that potential. They’ve gone just 41-31 in ACC play from 2011-2019. Last year, many thought new offensive coordinator Dan Enos was going to change that, but offense stagnated in a 6-7 (4-4) season. With Miami’s excellent start to this year, how much are you buying into them being a legitimate top-10-quality team? Are they giving you optimism that they will become the top-10-15-type program that they were hoped to be when added to the ACC?

Cam: Good question, and it’s where every Q&A for Miami will start for the foreseeable future. As you may know from my comments in our Season Preview StoryStream on SOTU, and several podcasts where I guest starred, I’m NOT as confident this year as I have been in the past. And the reason is simple: I’m tired of being proven wrong by an underachieving Miami team. We’ve done less with more talent than anyone in the country (in terms of winning) in the last 15 years, and it’s not even close. And, frankly, Miami hasn’t given me any reason to continue to give them the benefit of the doubt.

HOWEVER...

Miami has taken a MASSIVE step forward on offense this year. Absolutely massive. Getting from the bottom of the FBS in offense (or very near it), skipping over bad and mediocre, to become good is really an incredible transformation. And finally having a complete team – with a VASTLY improved kicking situation as well – leads me to believe there’s a realistic chance Miami could be on the precipice of being a perennially good team. So, I’m optimistic that Miami COULD become the top 10-15 team everyone had hoped we’d continue to be when we joined the ACC, but I’m not certain it will happen. Yet.

Ryan: During the opener against UAB, TV commentators assured viewers that D’Eriq King wasn’t just a runner, but he looked like exactly that as he threw for just 144 yards while running for 83. Then in the next two games against Louisville and FSU he was superb. He averaged 296 passing yards and 2.5 TDs per game (while not playing entire games). What kind of offensive threat does King bring to Death Valley? When was the last time Miami had a QB play at this level?

Cam: If you’re basing everything off of any one game, you’re missing the full picture on D’Eriq King. Sure, he only threw for 144 vs UAB, but Miami as a team ran for nearly 340 on 6.5 yards per carry. They couldn’t stop the run…..so we kept running it. The passing game opened up in the next 2 games, as the above-listed stats prove.

What kind of player is D’Eriq King? A dynamic one, that’s for darn sure. King can throw it from the pocket or on the move with equal success, and his ability to run is game-changing.

Miami Head Coach Manny Diaz, Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee, and countless journalists and evaluators have said the same thing: Miami has 2 plays whenever they break the huddle with King at QB; 1) the play that’s been called, and 2) the play King can make happen if things break down. Look up his highlights, from Houston or Miami, and you’ll see exactly what they’re talking about.

And, even more impressive than his incredible talent, is King’s work ethic and leadership ability. He came in to Miami and took over the team on day 1 as the leading voice, and that’s been a good thing for the Canes.

Miami hasn’t had a QB of this caliber (weighing both talent and demonstrated performance), since…….? The most likely answer is probably Ken Dorsey, but Dorsey wasn’t the athlete King is and didn’t have the arm King does, either. I mean, there’s a realistic argument for King being the best QB since 1992 Heisman Trophy Winner Gino Torretta for the Canes. And if people say that’s crazy and wanted to go with 5-star recruit Kyle Wright (who never matched the hype in college), Brock Berlin, or even Brad Kaaya, I wouldn’t fight them.

The thing that doesn’t change no matter who the comparison is to: King is the most athletic and mobile QB Miami has had. Ever. There are other guys on the list like Kirby Freeman and Derrick Crudup and Kenny Kelly who were athletic, but none of them were the kind of athletic that King is. It’s literally singular in the entire storied history of the Miami Hurricanes. And that was largely intentional, as Miami was a pro-style QB team forever. But King has changed and broken that mold. And it may sound like hyperbole but it’s not. He’s the most athletic QB to ever wear Orange and Green.

Ryan: One player that has stood out to me this season is running back Cam’Ron Harris. He has 311 yards, 5 rushing TDs, and is averaging 8.2 YPC this season. What does he bring to the table as a runner and how much do you expect Miami to lean on him to control the game?

Cam: First of all, a GREAT first name. Gotta start there, of course.

But, in all seriousness (wait, I was serious about the first part, but I’ll move on to the question), Harris is tough, quick, and plays with a chip on his shoulder. In HS at Carol City, he was “the other RB” in the minds of many behind an underclassman (UF RB Nay’Quan Wright, who was a year behind Harris at Carol City). In the 2018 recruiting class, he was “the other RB” for Miami, behind 5-star Lorenzo Lingard (who has subsequently transferred to Florida). But through it all, in HS and at Miami, Harris has worked tirelessly to prove himself as THE MAN, not just “the other guy,” and that work is paying off in a well-developed physique (he’s chiseled), and top-level performance, as well.

Harris is fast enough to have 66 and 75 yard TD runs to his credit already this season, but he’s not FAST, per say. Harris is a 1-cut back, who prefers to square his shoulders and get downhill instead of dancing around in the backfield (or in open space, given the chance). Harris uses his well-honed physique to be the initiator of contact more often than not. And though he’s averaging 8.1 ypc, Harris can also hurt defenses with his pass-catching ability. Sure, more of those passes have gone to the freshmen RBs – Donald Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton – but don’t let that fool you: Harris can hurt a team in the passing game as well.

New OC Rhett Lashlee makes no mistake about the foundation of his offense: running the ball. For Miami to do that, Harris will be a focal point of the offense. Whether, it be as a runner, or as part of the RPO series which King could keep as a runner himself, it’s hard to envision a game plan where Harris is not a central figure, barring injury.

Ryan: While sometimes being overshadowed by the Hurricane’s offensive struggles, Miami has consistently been one of the best defenses in the ACC in recent years. This year, they had to replace LB Shaq Quarterman, who was drafted by the Jaguars, and DE Gregory Rousseau, who opted out of the season, among others. What are your expectations for this Miami defense and what have you seen from them thus far?

Cam: My expectation for the Miami Defense is to be the championship caliber unit they’ve been ever since Manny Diaz came to Coral Gables 5 years ago. I fully believe Miami can compete for championships – Coastal Division, ACC, and National – with the defense we’ve seen from them recently. But, as you said, the failings of the offense have hurt the defense, and overshadowed some really, really excellent performances.

Miami wants to create havoc on defense, with the DL getting up field, the LBs roaming free, and the secondary making timely plays. There are NFL-caliber players at every level of the defense, something which Clemson knows plenty about with their own strong unit, so the Canes should not be overmatched physically in this, or any, game.

The names are different than in the past, but there are plenty of playmakers, even with Quarterman in the pros and Rousseau opting out. DEs Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche are among the best tandems at that position in the country. DTs Nesta Silvera, Jon Ford, and burgeoning superstar Jared Harrison-Hunte, a redshirt freshman, provide depth and talent inside. Zach McCloud is a 5th year senior who has started his whole career (except his RS season last year). And the Safety trio of Bubba Bolden, who is playing like a serious Thorpe Award candidate, Amari Carter, who hits like a runaway freight train, and Gurvan Hall Jr., are all future NFL player with high caliber pedigree and performance. And CB Al Blades Jr. is playing the best football of his life.

So, like I said, the names might be different than 2017 or even last year, but there are plenty of players who can, and will, make plays in Miami’s attacking, dynamic defensive scheme.

Ryan: Lastly, if you have to pick one X-factor that’ll play a big role in determining the outcome of this game, what would it be?

Cam: This is always tough, because you want the team to play well…..but that simply hasn’t been the case against Clemson any time recently. And you want the stars to be stars but……same.

You asked for one X-factor but I’m going to give you 4:

  1. Turnovers - Miami has been at the top of the country in forcing turnovers since the inception of the iconic Turnover Chain. That will need to continue on Saturday.
  2. Tackling - Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne are special at escaping arm tackles to make big plays. Miami has to tackle well, especially in space, to have a chance.
  3. D’Eriq King - Look, everyone knows Sunshine is a generational QB prospect. But King is a top-5 QB in the country, and has running ability the likes of which Miami has never had at the position. He came to Miami to play in, and win, big games. And for Miami to do that on Saturday, King is going to have to be SPECIAL.
  4. The “Santana Moss” factor - No, Miami’s legendary WR isn’t back on campus or anything. But as he stated after Miami beat FSU in 2000, “big time players step up in big games.” And someone is going to have to step into the moment and make a legacy type play. Could it be King? Sure. Maybe Brevin Jordan, the best TE in America? Could be. Someone on Defense? That could work. But SOMEONE is going to have to make a game-changing play when the moment presents itself if Miami is going to beat Clemson on Saturday night.

Ryan: Thank you to Cam for joining us and sharing these insights. You can head over to State of the U to see my answers to his questions.