NCAAF - ACC
2021-2022 TEAM LEADERS
Miami Hurricanes Football Team News
I won’t take long for third-year head coach Manny Diaz to know how good his team will be in 2021, as they face off against defending national champion Alabama in Atlanta to open the season. The Hurricanes return starters at nine offensive positions, including star sixth-year quarterback D’Eriq King, who is on track to fully recover from a torn ACL suffered during their bowl game.
Diaz made a lot of changes on defense, including taking over the role of defensive coordinator in order to personally oversee improvements.
Miami began the 2020 season by winning eight of their first nine games, with the only loss coming to Clemson, who was ranked number one at the time. The ACC wasn’t particularly strong in 2020 and Miami didn’t have to play Notre Dame, with their final 8 – 3 record masking some weaknesses on both sides of the ball, particularly the defense.
Their final regular-season game was an embarrassing 62 – 26 loss to North Carolina after the Hurricanes had risen to ninth in the rankings in a season when things were, to say the least, chaotic in college football. They followed that up with another defeat, this time to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, where they fell behind the Cowboys 21 – 0 in the first quarter and were never able to claw all the way back, eventually falling short by the score of 37 – 34.
King threw for 23 touchdowns with only five interceptions last year for an offense that was much improved from 2019. Although there are a couple of suitable backups on the roster, the Hurricanes would prefer they sit for another season while King continues to bring Miami back to its former prominence.
The defense needs to improve, but the secondary will still be the strength of the unit, with safety Bubba Bolden instrumental to its success. He led the team in tackles in 2020, with 6.5 of them for loss from the defensive backfield and his leadership will be critical for the defense to move forward.
Miami was ninth in the ACC and 67th nationally in rushing, despite King’s dual-threat ability, so running back Cam’Ron Harris needs to step up and take a bigger load of the rushing attempts. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry in 2020 with 10 touchdowns.
Freshman quarterback Jake Garcia was impressive in the spring as an early enrollee and the prized recruit out of Loganville, Georgia could be the starter of the future after King departs. He will also be a suitable backup if King doesn’t make it all the way back from his injury.
Tyrique Stevenson transferred to the Hurricanes from Georgia and is expected to have an immediate impact at cornerback, adding more talent to the backfield as Diaz tries to plug holes up front.
All-American defensive end Jaelen Phillips is one of those holes Diaz has to fill, as the departed standout led the team in sacks with eight and tackles for a loss with 15.5. He was taken in the first round of the NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins with the 18th pick.
The Hurricanes also lost another defensive end to the draft in Quincy Roche, who contributed 4.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, just behind Phillips in both categories. Roche was a standout at Temple before transferring to Miami for his senior year and was a sixth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are expected to give him a look at outside linebacker.
One the few skill players that the Hurricanes lost was tight end Brevin Jordan, who averaged 15.2 yards a reception and caught seven touchdown passes in 2020. Jordan was a fifth-round draft pick of the Houston Texans.
The ACC returns to divisional play after Notre Dame competed for the league title in the Covid-19 impacted 2020 season. The Coastal Division has always been very competitive and 2021 is no exception, with Miami and North Carolina expected to duel for the chance to most likely face Clemson in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte.
Virginia Tech, with sixth-year head coach Justin Fuentes on the hot seat after a tumultuous 2020, will also figure to be in the mix. Miami has a scheduling advantage over the other two contenders, dodging both Clemson and Notre Dame, the two teams who played in the title game in 2020.
North Carolina travels to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech in the opening game of the season, which will be an early indicator of whether the Tar Heels can live up to their top 10 preseason ranking. Pittsburgh, Virginia and Georgia Tech could be spoilers in a balanced division, with Duke coming off a dismal 2 – 9 season.
The key for the Hurricanes is King’s healthy return because the offense revolves around his varied abilities. The experienced returning skill players are good, but not great, except for leading receiver Mike Harley, who hauled in 57 passed for 799 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020.
Almost the entire offensive line is back for another season, led by sophomore left tackle Zion Nelson, who helped the unit improve from its sack happy performance of 2019. A better run blocking performance could make the Hurricanes very dangerous, improving their offensive balance and making King even more of a threat than he was last year.
Manny Diaz has his work cut out for him to replace a lot of departed talent on the defensive front, especially on the outside. The defense recorded 30 sacks in 2020, led by Phillips and Royce, both of whom will be playing in the NFL this season.
Against the better teams in the conference, Miami had trouble last year, giving up 42 points to Clemson, 41 to N.C. State and 62 to North Carolina, including 554 rushing yards, the most ever by a Hurricane defense. They’ll benefit from a softer ACC schedule, but that first game against the Crimson Tide will be a real test with another coming against Michigan State in week three.
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