Each week, I’ll (hopefully) talk to a beat writer who covers Duke’s opponent. Today, we have Matt Porter, who covers Miami for the Palm Beach Post. Links to his work can be found here. Matt is also on Twitter at @mattyports.
Also, if you’re curious, the Duke-focused Q&A I did for Matt can be read here.
1. So, the Hurricanes have actually played two real opponents, which is nice to see—but they lost both games. Was 2-2 what you were expecting from them at this point, or is this slightly disappointing?
It’s true, they have played two legitimate opponents – actually, UM is one of eight teams to play two power-conference teams on the road. They’ve been tested. I believed before the season UM would be 2-2 at this point, so I’m not surprised. They were competitive in both, which I believed they might be. I’m not saying I’m a genius, here, but they’ve been about as good as expected.
2. True freshman QB Brad Kaaya—has he made progress through the first month of the season? What are his strengths and weaknesses? And where does Ryan Williams stand with his comeback from ACL surgery?
Before camp started, coaches and recruiting staff were very excited to see what he could do, based on his film and demeanor and offseason workouts. He’s been impressive. he doesn’t have a rocket arm like Stephen Morris, but he has excellent touch and awareness, and most importantly for a 19-year-old four games into his career, bounces back quickly after making mistakes. He has thrown seven interceptions so far, locking onto receivers and throwing passes he shouldn’t when his protection breaks down. But he arrived on campus in May, so stuff like that is to be expected. Though Ryan Williams is progressing – currently battling the forgotten man, Jake Heaps, for the No. 2 quarterback spot – no one’s talking about him because Kaaya’s shown more than enough. It’s his job.
3. This may seem like an obvious question, but how significant will it be for Miami to have Duke Johnson for this matchup? Obviously, he missed last year's game in Durham.
He’s vital in every area of the game. Need to lean on him for a 12-play drive? He can do that. See an exploitable matchup in the passing game? Last week he burned Nebraska’s linebackers for 84 yards on five catch-and-run plays. He blocks well. He can return kicks and punts, though Miami would rather he didn’t. Last week was the first time UM really turned him loose, and he had 177 total yards on 23 touches. Ideally, that helps the defense by keeping it off the field.
4. So, Nebraska ran for 343 rushing yards last Saturday. Last year, Duke ran for 358 yards. Safe to say the Hurricanes still haven't figured out how to stop the run?
Yeah, got some issues there. Miami has now allowed 300-plus yards three times its last 13 games. For perspective, from Nov. 1998 to Oct. 2008, that happened exactly once. In about 10 years (that killer stat courtest of the AP). Fans are up in arms about the passive zone scheme UM uses, while coaches say it’s on the players for not executing. It’s clear UM has more defensive talent than it has in Al Golden’s tenure. It’s his fourth year, and we’re still talking about fixing the defense, so us reporter types are wondering how long this can go on. I’ll say this: beating Duke this week is a must.
5. So how do you think this game will play out? Honestly, I'm having a hard time evaluating Duke, given the state of the competition they've faced, so I'm curious to see your perspective.
Hard for me, too, because of the same factor. I tend to think Duke may not finish the year with both the ACC’s top-ranked scoring offense and defense, and my gut tells me Miami has a little more talent (especially on offense). That said, I love what David Cutcliffe has done with the program and cannot trust the Hurricanes’ defense right now. I’ll say Miami wins based on how good the offense has looked, but it’s going to be close, messy and wholly unsatisfying for Canes fans.
Thanks to Matt for his time.