Each week, Ill (hopefully) talk to a beat writer who covers Dukes 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, were 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 Dalys feature on DeVon Edwards, the hero from last weeks N.C. State win.
The line is currently Miami by 3.5. All three Blue Devils who missed last weeks game (CB Ross Cockrell, DL Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and S Dwayne Norman) are expected to play. I certainly wouldnt be shocked if Duke won. But the recent offensive struggles dont inspire much confidence. So Ill predict Miami 28, Duke 24.
Onto Matts 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 Miamis chances against Virginia Tech last week, but Duke Johnson isnt a defensive player. Thats the real issue here.
Miamis 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, Floridas offense was mediocre at best). The fact is, UM hasnt been a good defensive team all season. Too many yards allowed, too many missed tackles and, were told by coaches, blown assignments.
The Hurricanes defense made the Hokiess 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 wasnt 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 wont play. As of Thursday, he was catching passes in practice, but wasnt 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 teams fastest player (4.29). However, its unknown how much hell 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 teams 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 hasnt 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, hes not much of a runner, but the injury has limited his ability to extend plays with his legs.
On the other hand, theres the decision-making. It was questionable at times to begin with, but Morris has tried to force throws he simply shouldnt. He threw four interceptions Oct. 17 against North Carolina, but has made better decisions of late. Its tough to know how much, if at all, the injury affects his mental game. He isnt limping around as much as he used to, but clearly, somethings still off. For weeks, coach Al Golden has expressed the hope that Morris is almost back to 100 percent, but he just hasnt looked it.
4. What's the strongest part of Miami's defense?
Next years recruiting class.
Seriously, its definitely junior Denzel Perryman. Hes UMs weakside linebacker, and youll see him running all over the place. Hes not big listed at 6-0, 240, but Im guessing the NFL combine will show hes not quite that but that kid can hit. Hes the only player on UMs 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 Miamis 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 nations 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 isnt the same hard-hitting player he was as a freshman. Freshman corner Artie Burns is an incredible athlete, but hes 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 Techs offense is nothing special, and it went crazy against the Canes. Even in a must-win game, its hard to trust Miami to get it done defensively. Everything theyve geared up to stop Georgia Techs 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 wont be by much, and it wont be pretty.
Thanks to Matt for his time.