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Syracuse vs. Miami football preview: Q&A with State of the U

It’s been awhile, ‘Canes.

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (4-3, 2-1) follow up last week’s top-10 matchup with yet another this Saturday. SU will play the Miami Hurricanes (6-0, 3-0) for the first time in over a decade, and this ‘Canes squad resembles the old Big East power much more than any of the previous ACC iterations.

Since we’re not Miami fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Cam Underwood, managing editor of State of the U, joins us to chat all about the Hurricanes. We’ve answered some questions over there as well, which you can find here.

Obligatory: Is the U "back?"

No, The U is not back. The U is good for once, undefeated to the point of the season, has beaten Florida State for the first time in eight years, and has a favorable schedule for the rest of the season, but none of those things mean that Miami is "back".

For this program, "Back" means one thing: playing for and winning championships. Period. Not the ACC Championship, though that would be a great step forward for this program. National Championships. College Football Playoff Championships. CHAMPIONSHIPS!!!!

So, until then, any question or conversation about Miami being "back" is without merit or foundation. Miami is a program where Championships are the standard, and until that standard is reached, The U isn't back.

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Despite sharing the same conference (again) since 2013, this is the first time Syracuse and Miami play one another in football since 2003. Are there any feelings of dislike left? Or are we doomed to not caring since we only face each other once a decade?

The only time there are feelings of dislike are when for #ThrowbackThursday or #FlahbackFriday someone mentions the 1998 game between these teams, a 66-13 Syracuse blowout win. After having endured years and years of torment at the hands of Miami, Syracuse delighted in running the score up on the Canes that day. That was Donovan McNabb's senior day at the Carrier Dome, and he and then-Orangemen had a field day with Miami.

The Canes won the next four games between these teams by a combined score of 179-20, including two shutouts and a 59-0 beatdown of 15th ranked Cuse in 2001 on the way to a National Championship. Miami has won five in a row vs. Syracuse, and 14 of the last 17.

The once-fierce rivalry between Miami and Syracuse is a thing of the past, in my opinion. We don't play enough to for it to continue to pull at the hearts and minds of the fans. It's a cool story, to look back at the games from the first part of this answer and say "DAMN! They mocked us during McNabb's senior day!!" and then "We got payback in 2001!!!".... but that's really about it. Cool memories to bring up, but yeah, playing each other only once a decade has pretty much removed the firey passion from this matchup.

Miami v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Miami's been hit with quite a few injuries already this season. Which one is most problematic?

Man, you're right about "quite a few injuries". Here's a quick list, in case your fans haven't been paying attention to Miami's roster movement this season (which is totally understandable, btw):

  • RB Mark Walton (broken ankle, out for year)
  • WR Ahmmon Richards - hamstring (continues to battle that injury - only played in two games this season)
  • OG Navaughn Donaldson (sprained ankle - missed GT game)
  • LB Jamie Gordinier (torn ACL - out for year)
  • LB Michael Pinckney (chest strain? - missed 2nd half of GT game)
  • CB Dee Delaney (leg - missed GT game)
  • S Sheldrick Redwine (concussion - missed GT game)

That might not be the biggest number of injuries, but with the exception of Gordinier, those are all starters who are or have been injured this year. For a program still building depth, that is a problem.

The most noteworthy injury is Mark Walton's broken ankle. He was the ACC's best RB this season and the centerpiece of Miami's offense. Losing him moved Travis Homer into the starting role, which he handled well in his first start last week (188 total yards, two total TDs). Losing Walton put Miami in a precarious position because of depth at RB, but if Homer is able to stay healthy and play the majority of snaps for the rest of the season, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

The most problematic injury has been Redwine's. Unlike the RB position, the depth at S is not that good. Robert Knowles has played mainly in Redwine's place since the middle of the FSU game, and he's struggled mightily in pass coverage. Both FSU TDs in the 4th Q came on Knowles blowing his coverage, and he let a GT receiver, the only one running a route on this particular play, get behind him for a 48 yard play on 3rd and long last week. I know you know, but Syracuse likes to throw the ball. A lot. Knowles' continued struggles in coverage could be a big problem. Hopefully Redwine is healthy and able to return to the lineup this week, but if not, I fully expect Syracuse to attack Knowles in the passing game.

The last couple games have been weird for you guys. Describe how the Hurricanes have pulled out these close victories.

Perseverance, faith, and execution under pressure. In years past, Miami would have surely folded against FSU and GT when down late in the 4th quarter and needing a long drive to win. This team has continued to fight to the end of the game, and regardless of the circumstance, has believed that they can win. It may seem like a small thing, but that's HUGE for this program. Miami found ways to lose games it should win for years, and most close games, even if they should/could win, they would lose. The change in mentality has been big, both to beat FSU and end that streak, and come from behind and beat GT (who Miami outplayed for most of the day).

The last part of the last two close victories: late-game execution. Against FSU, The offense was varied (two runs, six passes) and effective on every play. Malik Rosier made all the right reads, threw perfect passes, his receivers caught the ball, got up the field, and got out of bounds to save time. And, every CFB fan in America has seen the ABSOLUTELY PERFECT throw to Darrell Langham for the game winner in Tallahassee.

Similarly, Miami executed to perfection last week vs GT. The defense held the Yellow Jackets to three points in the second half (that onside kick notwithstanding), and forced several three and outs. Michael Jackson had the play of the game with a PBU on third down to end GTs last drive. Had that ball been caught, GT would have won the game, so the PBU on a contested ball was absolutely massive.

On the ensuing offensive drive, Miami executed, again, to perfection. GT played soft zone, acting as if only a TD could beat them (GT only had a two-point lead at the time, so that was not the case). GT coach Paul Johnson, and their entire fan base, has said he was displeased with DC Ted Roof's calls on the last drive. Why? Because the defense that GT ran gave Miami an open bubble screen over and over again. Miami ran eight BUBBLE SCREENS IN A ROW as they walked down the field. The drive stalled shortly, but on fourth and the ballgame from the 43, Rosier hit Langham for the second week in a row, this time against double coverage, and Langham caught a tipped ball while lying on his back for a 28-yard gain. You've seen the highlight. It was wonderful.

When you put the trio of perseverance through adversity, faith in ability, and execution in pressure situations, you have the recipe that Miami has used in each of the last 2 weeks to win tight, tough games. It's good to see this team be able to do that, but luck runs out, and I would love to get a couple easy, blowout wins so my nerves aren't put to the test all the way to the final play of the game.

Miami v Florida State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

How's the Malik Rosier experience been so far? He seems like he's getting better by the game.

Malik Rosier has been either really good (see: second halves vs FSU, GT) or really, REALLY bad (see: 1st halves all season except Duke).

I've spoken about this on our site, but "first half Malik" has been terrible. For example: 4-of-16 for 34 yards at FSU. That's not good enough to win games. "First half Malik" has missed reads, missed throws, and just generally not been the kind of player that Miami needs at QB.

"Second half Malik", however, is the polar opposite. He's fast in the run game, makes the right reads, throws accurately, catchable balls, gets his team in and out of the huddle and is a baller. "Second half Malik" is first-team All-ACC caliber. But he's not always there.

The thing that I've learned with Rosier is he's streaky, maybe the streakiest QB in America. When he's off, he's OFF. When he's on, he's NBA JAM-level on fire. There hasn't been an "okay Malik" or "average Malik" yet this season. He's been extremely bad or remarkably good, and that's it.

Rosier has the tools to be good all the time, but the performance isn't always there. Maybe that's nerves? Maybe that's Mark Richt's playcalling being restrictive and predictable? Maybe.... other? Either way, I would like to see Rosier add consistency to his top level play, seen at the ends of game that shouldn't otherwise be so close.

Syracuse might not have the talent Miami possesses, but the idea (for us) is that tempo can help close some of that gap. How will the 'Canes combat the hurry-up Orange offense?

Miami will try to combat Syracuse's up-tempo offense by creating pressure with the defensive line, some timely blitzes, and changing looks in the secondary. Miami's DL is one of the best in America, with a legit 10 players who can see the field and make plays. That group could be in for a big game, as Syracuse allows three sacks per game on average. Additionally, Miami likes to penetrate in the run game, and the DL is the group that starts that havoc.

Miami Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz is known for dialing up blitzes. This season, some blitzes have been very good, and timed well. But, other blitzes have been shown early and ineffective to say the least. Last year, Diaz had a perfect feel for when to blitz CB Corn Elder. This year, it's been LB Michael Pinckney and a rotating group of DBs. Pinckney is the best blitzer on the team, so look for him to try to get up the field some. From the secondary, Jaquan Johnson has been used as a blitzer in the past, with varying results. I don't know that I'd trust anybody else in that role, but I'd like to see freshman CB/nickel Trajan Bandy blitz from the slot and see hwat he can do.

Miami's secondary is young, no matter what group is playing. Without Redwine and Delaney, a junior and fifth-year senior respectively, the group gets even younger. Obviously, vs an up-tempo passing offense such as Syracuse, defenses are best served to change the coverage looks. But, I'm not sure how much of that Miami will be able to do on a particular drive. Maybe the looks will change from drive to drive. But I expect some kind of coverage changes to happen throughout the game.

Florida State v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Which unsung Miami player should Syracuse be most concerned with?

Interesting question. On offense I'll say TE Christopher Herndon IV. He's got great size at 6'4" 252 lbs., good hands, and can move all over the field. He's been used at FB, H-Back, TE, and in the slot. He even caught three bubble screens from the slot on Miami's game-winning drive vs Georgia Tech last week. He's not the physical freak that former Canes TE David Njoku was, but he's a better ALL-AROUND player. Herndon is Miami's second-leading receiver, though most people, even most Canes fans, wouldn't guess that.

On defense, I'll say DE Trent Harris. "Trusty Trent" or "Toolbox Trent" isn't the biggest, strongest, or fastest player, but he's always in the right place and just does his job. For a team that's had many missed assignments and jobs not done over the course of the last decade, it's great to see a player who just does what he's been asked to do, and makes the plays in front of him. Harris has 16 tackles, five TFLs, and a team-leading 3.5 sacks. He doesn't get many headlines, but he makes plenty of plays, and that's all that matters to me.

Prediction time: What happens in this one and how?

Before the season, I thought that Syracuse could have come into this game as plucky underdog, completely under the radar and ready to spring the biggest upset of their season.

Then last Friday night happened and Syracuse beat Clemson.

I think Syracuse causes a couple problems for Miami with their tempo, but I think the OL is shoddy allowing Miami to get after Eric Dungey and disrupt the Cuse offense. I know that Syracuse doesn't have the athletes on defense to contain Miami, especially if Ahmmon Richards comes back at nearly full health.

Syracuse scores some late to make it a closer final, but I don't think this game will have any of the drama of Miami's last 2.

Final Score: Miami 41 Syracuse 24


Thanks again to Cam for taking the time out to answer these. Be sure to follow State of the U on Twitter, and head over to the site as well, for the latest on Miami.