Miami won national acclaim for its upset victory over Florida last month.
But since then, the Hurricanes have not had much of a test, nor have they played their starters for an entire game. Quarterback Stephen Morris has been banged up too, leaving valid questions about where Miami truly stands headed into the heart of its season.
Make no mistake, the Florida win was huge. Starting Saturday against Georgia Tech, though, every game is even bigger. For No. 14 Miami (4-0) to get where it wants to go, the wins have to pile up in ACC play.
“As a team we have our own goals, but one of our biggest goals is just playing well in the ACC and right now we’re playing our first challenge in the Coastal Division,” Morris said. “Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech have been winning this division for a long time so we have to understand what we’re playing for is a lot more important now. It’s bigger stakes and you just gotta play smarter.”
The truth is, we do not know much more about this team than we did Sept. 7 after the Florida victory. Miami had a bye week, then went unchallenged in victories over FCS Savannah State and USF, one of the worst FBS teams in the nation. Morris has attempted 20 total passes in the last two games, first injuring his ankle against Savannah State, then tweaking it last week against the Bulls.
He said he feels better this week than last and will start Saturday. Meanwhile, running back Duke Johnson has 22 total carries in the last two games. Two of them ended in fumbles inside the 5-yard line last week. As a result, Johnson was wearing a white jersey normally reserved for backups during practice Tuesday.
In all, Miami turned the ball over four times in the USF game and still easily won, 49-21. It might not be able to overcome those types of errors against a better team in Georgia Tech.
By contrast, the Yellow Jackets are headed into their third straight Coastal Division contest, having been tested for weeks now. They dropped a tough game to Virginia Tech last Thursday, and need a win to keep from falling further behind in the division race.
Morris, for one, is not concerned about being unable to finish a game over the last few weeks.
“The whole purpose of us not playing a lot of those times is we do a lot of rotations, a lot of guys are feeling fresh right now,” Morris said. “So coming in to this ACC game, everybody will be OK. Everyone’s excited to play a full game because we know what this game is going to take. Offensively, everyone’s on the same page, and that’s most important.”
Miami is one of five FBS teams that has yet to trail in a game this season, but there are definite areas to shore up. Among them: third-down conversion percentage (No. 9 in the ACC), red-zone offense (No. 10 in the ACC) and penalties (No. 13 in the ACC).
Against Savannah State, the Hurricanes were penalized 10 times. Against USF, Miami had seven penalties, including one that wiped off a kickoff return touchdown by Johnson.
“You can’t do that and beat Georgia Tech. You just can’t,” Hurricanes coach Al Golden said. “If you turn the ball over, if you go backwards, you can’t beat them. We have to get that squared away quickly.”
Indeed. A new season awaits.