7:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Louisville -1.5, Over/Under: 65.5
An early Top-25 matchup is on tap tonight featuring a pair of ACC combatants as the No. 17 Miami Hurricanes battle the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals from Cardinals Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. With the Atlantic Coast Conference one of three remaining Power-5 leagues to continue playing this Fall under the specter of CVOID-19, the door is open for other teams within the conference to push for a place in the College Football Playoff, and with top-ranked Clemson the odds-on favorite to win a sixth straight ACC Title, it’s up to teams like these to make a case for themselves. For all intents and purposes, Miami (1-0, 0-0 in ACC) figures to be one of those teams as they look to take advantage of the opportunity due to the vacancies created by the loss of so many programs in the Big Ten and Pac-12. However, under normal circumstances this is still very much a program that is trying to build themselves into the elite powerhouse that they used to be, with Manny Diaz looking to improve upon last year’s disappointing 6-7 finish in his first campaign as Head Coach. Of course, Diaz, a Miami native, served as Mark Richt’s Defensive Coordinator from 2016 to 2018, and accepted the Head Coach position at Temple, only to abruptly perform an about-face and return to the U upon his former employer’s surprise resignation.
Defensively, Diaz had built a solid unit in his three years coordinating Richt’s Defense, most notably creating the opportunistic culture that has been popularized by the gaudy Turnover Chain. However, upon his hiring as Head Coach the 46-Year Old quickly lamented the need to improve offensively, modernizing the attack, particularly at Quarterback where the program has lacked for years now. After struggling at that position in 2019, Diaz made some serious moves within the NCAA’s Transfer Portal, enticing former Houston dynamo, D’Eriq King (65.2%, 141 YDS, 6.1 Y/A, 1 TD, 0 INT, 131.1 RATE), to bring his talents to South Beach, which could very well turn out to be a coupe for the Hurricanes. From 2017 to 2018, King was one of the most prolific dual-threat Quarterbacks in college football, passing for 4,242 Yards and rushing for another 1,053, while accounting for a whopping Sixty-Seven Touchdowns during that span. Billed by many as a dark horse candidate for Heisman in 2019, things changed quickly as Major Applewhite left the program and was replaced by Dana Holgorsen, which after just four games prompted a number of players (headlined by King), to leave the program in search of a transfer. It was clear that the Senior was far from enamored with the new scheme, completing just 52.7% of his Attempts and averaging a meager 6.0 Yards per Attempt. So with that said, he made the decision to sit out the remainder of the season, and with his status as a graduate he would be able to enter the Transfer Portal and move to another program without having to sit out a season, thus bringing him to Miami. Over the Spring and Summer, King competed with last year’s starter, N’Kosi Perry, and another high-profile transfer, Tate Martell, though quickly asserted himself as the team’s No. One Quarterback, with the aim of improving an Offense that was rather pedestrian in 2019; the ‘Canes averaged just 25.7 Points per Game (90th Overall) last year on 367.4 Total Yards, with the Quarterbacks on hand collectively completing 58.5 % of their passes for 249.2 Yards on 7.4 Yards per Attempt, Twenty-Seven Touchdowns and Ten Interceptions. With a Defense that continued to play at a high level, yielding only 20.2 Points (20th Overall) on 309.4 Total Yards it’s not like they need to morph into 2019 LSU or anything like that to improve as an overall team, which is what Diaz & Co hope will come about in the form of King’s arrival.
“We have to pass the ball better moving forward… But running the ball and keeping the defense off balance is the key to our success.”D’Eriq King, Miami Quarterback
So how did the dynamic Quarterback acquaint himself in his first outing with his new team? Rather well, all things considered, as Miami pulled away in the Second Half to defeat UAB, 31-14 last Thursday Night. It was an excellent debut for all involved offensively, particularly new Coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, who has implemented a Spread Offense for the first time at the U, a program that has long held onto the notion of running a Pro-Style Attack. At the end of the night, they certainly looked strong on that side of the football, churning out 495 Total Yards on Twenty-Five First Downs, rushing for a staggering 337 Yards on Fifty-Two Carries and Three Scores, with Junior Tailback, Cam’Ron Harris (17 CAR, 134 YDS, 7.9 Y/C, 2 TD), exploding for 134 Yards and a pair of scores on just Seventeen Carries, highlighted by 66-Yard Touchdown midway through the First Quarter. King played well in his debut, completing 15-of-23 Passes for 141 Yards and a Touchdown, while rushing for another Eighty-Three Yards and a score on a Dozen Carries. It was an emotional night for the Fifth-Year Senior, who played his first collegiate game without the presence of his father in the stands, who passed away back in Mid-February. We’ll see if he and the Offense can continue to progress in tonight’s matchup with Louisville, for as much as they struggled at times last year, they had ZERO problems against the Cardinals in a 52-27 thrashing in early November. The Hurricanes totaled 449 Total yards, with former Quarterback, Jarren Williams, tossing a career-high Six Touchdowns, in what would be the team’s final victory of the campaign before dropping each of their final three outings, punctuated by a listless 14-0 shutout loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a school that could possibly disrupt Clemson’s dominance within the ACC, then there is a chance that Louisville (1-0, 0-0 in ACC) could indeed by your pick. Needless to say, the Cardinals are well ahead of schedule in Year Two of the Scott Satterfield Era, flush with speed and athleticism on both sides of the football. Following the 2018 season, this program was in a dark place, having already parted ways with Bobby Petrino for the second time 2006, relieving him of his duties following a dreadful 2-8 start that turned into a miserable 2-10 finish, the school’s worst since 1997 when they were a member of Conference USA. Granted, few teams have skipped conferences like they have, but circling the drain at the bottom of a Power-5 league was clearly the nadir for the program. In search of new leadership, the Cardinals eventually landed on Satterfield, who had spent the previous five years at Appalachian State, where he had gone a stellar 47-16 (.746), including a 3-0 record in Bowls and three consecutive Sun Belt Titles (if you’re questioning the credentials of the Sun Belt, just ask the Big 12). Coming into his first season with Louisville, the expectations were far from high, with many predicting that the learning curve would be indeed too great for the 47-Year Old coming from a lesser league. Well, Satterfield apparently didn’t get the memo, as he guided his charges to a surprise 8-5 finish, highlighted by a 38-28 victory over Mississippi State in Music City Bowl.
Much of Louisville’s success in 2019 came on the strength of an Offense that was both entertaining and explosive, averaging 33.1 Points per Game (31st Overall) on a very balanced 448.0 Total Yards, with 234.2 Yards coming through the air and another 213.8 Yards coming on the ground. At the center of show was Sophomore Quarterback, Micale Cunningham (55.9%, 343 YDS, 10.1 Y/A, 3 TD, 1 INT, 163.9 RATE), who burst onto the scene with 2,061 Passing Yards, Twenty-Two Touchdowns in comparison to just Five Interceptions, while adding another 482 Rushing Yards and Six Scores on 122 Carries. Big plays quickly became his hallmark, as he averaged 8.5 Yards per Play, looking like another Cardinals Quarterback (ahem, Lamar Jackson), who went on to do BIG things in his stay with the program. However, Cunningham was far from alone, as Tailbacks, Javian Hawkins (19 CAR, 71 YDS, 3.7 Y/C, 1 TD) and Hassan Hall (6 CAR, 66 YDS, 11.0 Y/C, 0 TD), were home run threats out of the Backfield, while Receivers, Catarius (Tutu) Atwell (7 REC, 78 YDS, 11.1 Y/R, 0 TD) and Dez Fitzpatrick (4 REC, 110 YDS, 27.5 Y/R, 1 TD), terrified opposing Secondaries. Oh, and all of these guys have returned in 2020, making for a potential juggernaut in Louisville. They were all on display in Saturday’s Opener against Western Kentucky, a 35-21 victory that really showcased the skillset of their Quarterback, as Cunningham absolutely dazzled against the Hilltoppers. the Junior completed 19-of-34 Passes for 343 Yards, Three Touchdowns and an Interception, while rushing for another Twenty-Four Yards, highlighted by a 14-Yard Touchdown Run that began a 21-Point Second Quarter that swung the momentum firmly in the direction of the hosts. Fitzpatrick and fellow Wideout, Braden Smith (4 REC, 110 YDS, 27.5 Y/R, 0 TD), absolutely went off, accounting for an identical Four Receptions and 110 Yards apiece, though the former was responsible for the play of the game, torching Western Kentucky’s beleaguered Defense on a 70-Yard Touchdown midway through the Third Quarter. In the end, the Cardinals amassed 487 Total Yards on Twenty-Two First Downs despite committing a pair of Turnovers, while the Defense came to play in shutting down the ‘Toppers, who were relegated to a scant 248 Total Yards on Twelve First Downs, including 10-of-23 Passing for only 129 Yards.
“We knew coming into this game a lot of guys would have to make some plays… We knew they would try to take Tutu away and they did a pretty good job of that. Dez, Braden, and Justin Marshall made some plays for us on the outside. When they take away our No. 1 guy, some other guys got to step up and they did tonight. That was good to see.”Micale Cunningham, Louisville Quarterback
And that last bit will likely be the biggest factor in whether or not Louisville will actually challenge Clemson in the ACC this season, for their Defense must make the leap from bad to at the very least competitive in 2020. As good as Satterfield’s Offense was in his first year with the program, their play on the opposite side of the football was another story altogether; the Cardinals were shredded on a regular basis defensively, yielding 33.4 Points per Game (109th Overall) on a disappointing 440.1 Total Yards, including 234.2 Yards against the Pass and another 205.9 Yards versus the Run, where they were particularly susceptible to being gashed, allowing 5.4 Yards per Carry. Furthermore, the Defense gave up 200 or more Rushing Yards on six occasions last year, including an embarrassing 517 Yards against instate rival Kentucky, and their record in those affairs was a middling 3-3. With that said, this unit was young last year, and the hope is that with more experience they will eventually round into a formidable unit worthy of sharing the field with their comrades on the opposite side of the football. Satterfield must have been happy with their showing against Western Kentucky, in which they were aggressive in racking up Ten Tackles for Loss and Three Sacks, two of which came courtesy of Junior Linebacker, Monty Montgomery (5 TKL, 3 TFL, 2.0 SK).