2017 Record: 10-3 (7-1, ACC Coastal Division Champs)
2017 Review: The Hurricanes did not win 10 games in 2017 due to the offense. The Hurricanes scored over 40 points just four times, one of which was against an FCS opponent, and struggled mightily at times on this side of the ball. UM did deal with a lot of injuries at the skill positions down the stretch, but the offense was largely ineffective for most of the year, averaging just 29.1 points per game. The yardage and per play totals were not terrible, but UM had a hard time finishing drives.
Scheme: FSU fans will be well versed in coach Mark Richt’s offense. Thomas Brown is the OC, but Richt is the play caller and while his UM offense does not exactly look like the Fast Break offenses of FSU’s glory years, it is still somewhat similar. UM will line up in the shotgun a lot, but will also sprinkle in some power formations. Richt has incorporated some tempo, zone read, and RPO elements into his offense, but for the most part he still runs a pro-style offense, just out of spread formations.
Quarterbacks: Part of the reason for the inconsistency on offense last year was the inconsistency of QB Malik Rosier. Rosier, now a senior, was up and down not just from game to game, but sometimes from possession to possession. During UM’s three game losing streak to end the season, Rosier (3120 yards, 54%, 26 TDs, 14 INTs, 468 yds rushing, 5 TDs) was just awful, completing just 44% of his passes and throwing several picks. That left the door open for his backups, but for now, Rosier is still the man. Personally, I don’t think he is all that good, but I do think if he ups his completion percentage and cuts down on the turnovers, Richt will stick with him while the young QBs get another year to develop.
If Rosier continues to struggle, look for one of N’Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon, or Jarren Williams, all redshirt or true freshmen, to get a chance. The most likely to unseat Rosier is Perry, a 4* recruit coming out of high school who was ranked the #7 dual threat QB in his class by the 247 composite. Perry is still raw as a passer, but he has a big arm and great scrambling ability and he appears to be the future of the program.
Running Backs: Mark Walton was expected to be the star of the offense last season, but he was lost to injury after just four games and he entered the NFL Draft in the offseason. His injury, though, means that junior Travis Homer and sophomore DeeJay Dallas saw extensive playing time last year and should allow Rosier to not have to carry the offense. Homer (966 yds, 5.9 avg, 8 TDs, 18 recs, 219 yds, TD) put up good stats for the season, but he tended to be boom or bust. If he can become more patient, he has home run ability every time he touches the ball. Dallas (217 yds, 5.3 avg, 3 TDs) only got 41 carries for the whole season, but he is shifty and fast and I think he’ll see an expanded role.
Richt tended to lean heavily on Homer last year, but he has some legit depth to work with this year. Redshirt freshman Robert Burns was a high 3* recruit who brings nice size to the table. Everyone is really excited about 5* Lorenzo Lingard, one of the top RB recruits last year, and 4* Cam’Ron Davis. Lingard has college ready size and will surely see the field this year. Davis is small at 5-9, 190 and may end up redshirting, but he has undeniable ability and will push for action.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: For the first time in several years, UM has quality depth here and WR has gone from a position of constant questions to a position of strength. Assuming everyone stays healthy of course.
Health has been the only thing that has stopped junior Ahmmon Richards, whose huge freshman campaign was followed up with an injury-riddled sophomore year. If he can stay healthy, Richards (24 recs, 439 yds, 3 TDs) is legitimately one of the best wideouts in the country. Because of Richards’ injuries, sophomores Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley saw a lot of playing time as true freshmen last season. Thomas (17 recs, 374 yds, 2 TDs) was feast or famine, yet he has the most natural ability to replace the departed Braxton Berrios in the slot. Harley only caught 9 balls last season, but coaches expect him to push for time both inside and outside. His main competition for the other starting outside spot is junior Lawrence Cager (16 recs, 237 yds, 3 TDs), a big guy who has flashed at times, but also disappeared for stretches.
There are several other guys worth looking out for. Senior Darrell Langham (11 recs, 209 yds, 2 TDs) is the biggest receiver on the roster. Redshirt freshman Evidence Njoku was not a highly rated recruit, but he’s 6-6, 225 and, at minimum, could be a red zone threat. There are high hopes for true freshmen Mark Pope, Brian Hightower, and Marquez Ezzard. Ezzard, who was once an FSU commit, is likely not ready to play just yet, but Pope and Hightower are thought to have the potential to step in immediately.
Tight end will be seeing turnover after Chris Herndon graduated and got drafted. That leaves junior Michael Irvin II (9 recs, 78 yds) as the only tight end on the roster who has appeared in a game. Irvin has the genes, but he is undersized and has yet to show much. Most around the program think true freshman Brevin Jordan, the #1 rated TE and #33 player nationally according to 247, is going to win the job at some point this August. Fellow true freshman Will Mallory was himself a 4* recruit and he might get a chance to play too.
Offensive Line: There are three returning starters here and a number of highly rated recruits, but the offensive line looks like it will be a question mark until proven otherwise. The line was not awful last year and a number of players have experience, but the ceiling is probably for this unit to be just decent.
The known quantities are senior LT Tyree St. Louis, senior C Tyler Gauthier, and sophomore RG Navaughn Donaldson. The trio have 47 combined career starts and Donaldson made Honorable Mention All-ACC last year as a true freshman. None are fantastic players, although Donaldson has a high ceiling as a run blocker. The most likely players to join them as starters are senior Jahair Jones at LG and junior George Brown at RT. There is also the possibility that Tennessee transfer Venzell Boulware gets a look at LG and highly rated sophomore Kai-Leon Herbert wins one of the tackle spots. Long story short, the Hurricanes have the ability to field a decent starting five, but it might require some mixing and matching during August practices.
2017 Review: The defense was not perfect last year, but they created enough havoc and turnovers to cover some of their warts and really carried the team at times. The Hurricanes did not finish any higher than 28th in any major defensive statistical categories, but they created 31 turnovers and had 111 tackles for loss and 44 sacks. They got teams behind the chains and that led to turnovers. However, when the defense was not creating turnovers, like against Clemson and Wisconsin, they were gouged. It was feast or famine.
Scheme: Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has surely rehabilitated his reputation with his stint at UM. After rising through the coaching ranks as a DC at Middle Tennessee and then Mississippi State, Diaz fell from grace after being hired by Mack Brown at Texas. Just a few games into the 2013 season, Diaz was fired after his defense gave up 550 yards rushing to BYU. Diaz climbed back up, with jobs at Louisiana Tech and then again at MSU before landing at UM with Richt. FSU fans will recognize Diaz’ style because he was a GA under Mickey Andrews and a LB and DBs coach under Chuck Amato at NC State so he very much runs the attacking 4-3 that those two crafted at FSU. Diaz almost exclusively plays man to man coverage and emphasizes attacking and blitzing. He’s willing to give up yards and big plays at times in exchange for turnovers and sacks. When it works, his defense can be smothering. When it doesn’t, it can get ugly real fast for his defense.
Defensive Line: Much like Andrews and Amato, Diaz relies on an active, aggressive defensive line to attack blockers and get after the QB. While UM is largely rebuilding at defensive tackle, they have at least three reliable options at end. Junior Joe Jackson and sophomore Jonathan Garvin are your likely starters while senior Demetrious Jackson provides a good rotational piece off the bench. Jackson (59 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks) is the star of the group, blending size (6-5, 265) with quickness. He has NFL potential. Garvin (9 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 sacks) got his feet wet as a freshman last year and showed potential in limited opportunities. He is expected to take a big leap forward. Jackson (18 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks) has been oft-injured, but when he plays, he is productive. The only other defensive ends on the roster are senior Terry McCray, junior Scott Patchan, and true freshman Gregory Rousseau, none of whom saw playing time last year.
At defensive tackle, the Canes are definitely relying on senior Gerald Willis to be a dominant force. A former transfer from Florida, Willis sat out last year for personal reasons, but Richt said he was a terror on the scout team. Willis has the talent to play professionally, but the question will be if he can stay focused and keep his head on straight. Junior Pat Bethel (18 tackles) is the next likely starter after playing as a backup last year. UM really needs Tito Odenigbo, a grad transfer from Illinois who started 9 games for the Illini last year, and true freshman Nesta Silvera to be ready to play. Silvera was rated by most recruiting services as one of the top three defensive tackles last year and UM definitely pitched him early playing time. Sophomores Jonathan Ford and Tyreic Martin and true freshman Jordan Miller are other options, but the reality is the Hurricanes are lacking talented depth here and really need Willis, Bethel, and Odenigbo to log a lot of snaps.
Linebackers: From lacking depth to having an overabundance of depth. UM had to start three true freshmen here in 2016 and it is definitely going to pay off this year, with three experienced junior starters back. Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud are one of the best trio of starting LBs in the country and should help offset some of the questions about the line. Quarterman (83 tackles, 7 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups) is a stat stuffer in the middle who can play the run or pass. Pinckney (68 tackles, 11 for loss, 3.5 sacks, INT) is active and fast on the weakside. He’s the playmaker of the group. McCloud (48 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2 sacks) has the best size-speed combo of the trio, but has also been the least productive and is the guy to come off on passing downs.
Because the starters have been so good, UM has been able to slowly build up depth here over the past two years. Senior Mike Smith (23 tackles) is the old hat of the backups and brings experience behind Quarterman. Charles Perry (15 tackles, INT) is another senior who can come off the bench, although he has dealt with injuries and inconsistency. The coaches have high hopes for sophomores Derrick Smith, DeAndre Wilder, and Bradley Jennings, Jr., all of whom saw time on special teams and in blowouts last year. True freshman Patrick Joyner, a one-time FSU commit, may not see the field this year, although he has potential as a blitzer and edge rusher.
Secondary: These guys got all the highlights last year, flashing the turnover chain and picking off passes. Yet, this unit also struggled mightily at times, giving up a 70% completion rate in the three-game losing streak to end the season. A lot of talent and experience returns here, but both starting corners graduated so UM is largely rebuilding there.
If corner is a question, then safety is a definitive strength. Seniors Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine are returning starters who were productive last year. Johnson (96 tackles, 3 for loss, 4 INTs, 4 PBUs) led the team in tackles last year and is equally adept against the run or pass. Redwine (59 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs) moved over from corner last year and was considered one of the most underrated players on the roster. The coaches love the potential of sophomore Amari Carter, who many thought would beat out Redwine in the spring. Carter (26 tackles, 2 sacks) played a lot as a freshman and is perhaps the hardest hitter on the team. Beyond that trio, though, is not much experienced depth. Junior Robert Knowles (18 tackles) has played on special teams and in blowouts, junior Romeo Finley has only played special teams, and true freshman Gurvan Hall has obviously never participated in a college game yet.
The Hurricanes have some talent at corner, but not much proven experienced depth. The star of the group is senior Michael Jackson, a returning starter and All-ACC performer who proved to be a playmaker last year. Jackson (43 tackles, 3 for loss, 4 INTs, 5 PBUs) was a co-leader in interceptions on the team and was a willing tackler on running plays. He has nice size at 6-1, 205 and good athleticism. The ceiling is probably higher for sophomore Trajan Brady, though. Brady (25 tackles, 1.5 for loss, INT, 6 PBUs) is only 5-9, 188, but he has great technique and speed. He can work on both the outside or as a nickel corner in the slot.
From there? Eh, Diaz has his work cut out for him. Senior Jhavonte Dean (11 tackles) has nice size, is one of the fastest players on the team, and is a great athlete, but he is inconsistent. The coaching staff would love for Dean to win a starting job so Brady can be a nickel corner, but he needs to get more consistent to play on an island like Diaz asks. True freshman Gilbert Frierson is an early enrollee who showed a willingness to step up and tackle in the spring. True freshman Al Blades, Jr., enrolled early too, but he missed spring ball and that might hurt his chances to shoot up the depth chart. Still, most around the program expect him to play this year. DJ Ivey also enrolled early, but he isn’t as physically gifted as Frierson or Blades and may struggle to see meaningful playing time.
Special Teams: Talented kicker Michael Badgley moved on and that leaves the kicking game as a worry. As of now, true freshman Bubba Baxa, who made just 4 of 10 field goals as a high school senior, is the leader to start. Baxa has a big leg, but needs to work on consistency. Sophomore punter Zach Feagles (38.6 avg) struggled as a freshman last year. The coaches think he will grow and become much better as a sophomore. Berrios was an underrated weapon as a punt returner and UM is hoping Jeff Thomas or DeeJay Dallas can stabilize the spot.
Schedule: Despite the questions at some key positions, there is a pretty good chance UM will be a favorite in all 12 of their regular season games. Outside of the neutral site opener against LSU, which is rebuilding and has its own questions, the non-conference schedule (which features a road trip to Toledo?!?) should be a cakewalk. The ACC slate features three tricky road games with BC, GA Tech, and VA Tech, but UM gets FSU and Pitt at home.
Overall: Everyone announced UM was back last year, but the season ended with a thud, getting blown out by Clemson and getting upset by Pitt and Wisconsin. The reality was that UM was a paper tiger anyway, needing semi-miracles to pull out wins against FSU, GA Tech, and UNC and barely scraping by Syracuse. The Hurricanes showed what a difference belief and camaraderie can make, but they were not playing at a championship level and the games in the latter part of the year proved it. Yet, here we are in 2018 and prognosticators are once again saying the U is back, including even analytics guys like Bill Connelly. Some people are even discussing UM as potential playoff team. That seems crazy to me, seeing the holes the Canes have at DT and CB and the questions they have at QB, TE, and OL. Richt is still building depth and Miami does not have as much talent overall as one might expect. But the schedule is conducive to a run similar to last year and most people think even a worst-case scenario ends with 8 or 9 wins and it is hard to disagree. The schedule just seems too forgiving, especially if Miami beats LSU in the opener, for UM to do much worse than 8-4. I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped up in one or two of their tough road games and it wouldn’t shock me to see them drop a game at home, but even if Rosier struggles and the defense gives up big plays, on paper the schedule is too easy to foresee UM doing much worse than 9-3 and battling for another division championship. That being said, I don’t think the U is back so much as the Coastal division stinks.