Duke vs. Miami: Ask an opponent's beat writer, game preview and precdiction

Posted by Laura Keeley on November 15, 2013 

Duke needs some consistency at the quarterback position from either Anthony Boone (7) or Brandon Connettee (18).


Each week, I’ll (hopefully) talk to a beat writer who covers Duke’s opponent. Today we have Matt Porter, who covers the Hurricanes for the Palm Beach Post. Links to his work can be found here and check out his blog here. Matt is also on Twitter at @mattyports.

And this week, we’re combining our Q&A with the game preview. So check out what I told Matt about Duke (I tried to go fairly in-depth), and read Jack Daly’s feature on DeVon Edwards, the hero from last week’s N.C. State win.

The line is currently Miami by 3.5. All three Blue Devils who missed last week’s game (CB Ross Cockrell, DL Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and S Dwayne Norman) are expected to play. I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if Duke won. But the recent offensive struggles don’t inspire much confidence. So I’ll predict Miami 28, Duke 24.

Onto Matt’s take on Miami...

1. What has been the main cause of Miami's two-game skid?

Well, Florida State is on another level. A national championship level. So, playing the Seminoles on Nov. 2 started it. Adding injury to insult, the Hurricanes lost Duke Johnson in that game to a season-ending broken ankle. That certainly hurt Miami’s chances against Virginia Tech last week, but Duke Johnson isn’t a defensive player. That’s the real issue here.

Miami’s defense was historically bad last year, setting a slew of negative program records. With that season-long debacle in the rear view, the defense looked really good in the first four games – but that was because FAU, Savannah State and USF were on the schedule and the Hurricanes forced five turnovers against then-No. 12 Florida (they were outgained by a 2-to-1 margin, and even when it had its main players healthy, Florida’s offense was mediocre at best). The fact is, UM hasn’t been a good defensive team all season. Too many yards allowed, too many missed tackles and, we’re told by coaches, blown assignments.

The Hurricanes’ defense made the Hokies’s offense look like Oregon, and Logan Thomas look like a giant version of Marcus Mariota. Three special teams miscues – two lost fumbles and a rarely seen gaffe where the punter accidentally took a knee while fielding a low snap – gave Virginia Tech 21 points in the first half. That was too much to overcome, especially on a rainy night where UM wasn’t able to run the ball.

2. I saw where WR Phillip Dorsett may be making a return to the lineup. Do you have any sense for how possible that is? And what type of impact would he potentially have?

He suffered a partially torn MCL on Oct. 17 and was expected to be out four-to-six weeks. Right now – the four-week mark -- he is listed by UM as doubtful, which means he likely won’t play. As of Thursday, he was catching passes in practice, but wasn’t running routes or participating in contact drills. I would expect him back next week, when the Hurricanes host Virginia in their home finale. If he can go, he brings an element of straight-ahead speed and field-stretching ability rivaled among UM receivers by only freshman Stacy Coley. According to the 40 times posted during August camp, Dorsett is the team’s fastest player (4.29). However, it’s unknown how much he’ll be able to do when he returns.

3. What's been up with Stephen Morris recently and how do you expect Miami to try to get him back on track?

Preseason expectations were so high for Morris: a senior with a big arm, one of the team’s leaders, who ended last year on a high note and was the darling of scouts at the offseason Manning passing camp. He looked good early, but Morris hasn’t been right since a Savannah State defensive end dove into his ankle Sept. 21, giving him what has been called a deep bone bruise.

That injury has messed him up since. His mechanics, offensive coordinator James Coley says, are thrown off. Coley has explained it like this: Morris has the arm strength to throw gorgeous deep passes, but lacks the base to plant and drive the ball on intermediate throws. Also, he’s not much of a runner, but the injury has limited his ability to extend plays with his legs.

On the other hand, there’s the decision-making. It was questionable at times to begin with, but Morris has tried to force throws he simply shouldn’t. He threw four interceptions Oct. 17 against North Carolina, but has made better decisions of late. It’s tough to know how much, if at all, the injury affects his mental game. He isn’t limping around as much as he used to, but clearly, something’s still off. For weeks, coach Al Golden has expressed the hope that Morris is almost back to 100 percent, but he just hasn’t looked it.

4. What's the strongest part of Miami's defense?

Next year’s recruiting class.

Seriously, it’s definitely junior Denzel Perryman. He’s UM’s weakside linebacker, and you’ll see him running all over the place. He’s not big – listed at 6-0, 240, but I’m guessing the NFL combine will show he’s not quite that – but that kid can hit. He’s the only player on UM’s defense that right now recalls those dominant players of old, like a Jonathan Vilma, a Ray Lewis. Unfortunately for Miami, it would be a miracle if he returned for his senior season.

Other than Perryman and junior defensive end Anthony Chickillo, the best players on Miami’s defense are still a little ways away from making a consistent impact. UM did a nice job of upgrading its secondary two classes ago, landing the nation’s No. 1 corner ( Tracy Howard) and a four-star safety ( Deon Bush). Howard has shown improvement in his sophomore season, but Bush had offseason hernia surgery and isn’t the same hard-hitting player he was as a freshman. Freshman corner Artie Burns is an incredible athlete, but he’s green.

5. We all know (Duke included) that Miami is bigger, faster stronger. I'm sure you can envision them winning this game. Can you imagine them losing, though?

Oh, absolutely. Virginia Tech’s offense is nothing special, and it went crazy against the ‘Canes. Even in a must-win game, it’s hard to trust Miami to get it done defensively. Everything they’ve geared up to stop – Georgia Tech’s option, UNC tight end Eric Ebron, Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro, anyone on Florida State – has burned them. I think UM has the ability to pound the ball behind its big offensive line and hit a few shots downfield, but I see this defense giving up a lot of yards. I think Miami wins, but it won’t be by much, and it won’t be pretty.

Thanks to Matt for his time.

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