Miami’s gameplan is a simple one—score early, score often and don’t stop scoring until the final whistle.
Posting 110 points in their last three contests, the Hurricanes hope their high-powered offense will take advantage of Duke’s struggling defense, which has allowed 146 points in three-consecutive losses.
“Got a really good, talented, good football team we're playing in Miami. And Miami whipped us badly a year ago,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “A well-coached team, a team that's got skill and athleticism in all three phases, a big challenge for us.”
Junior quarterback Stephen Morris leads the Hurricane offense, which has been shorthanded in the passing game because of the suspension of sophomore wide receiver Rashawn Scott. After Scott recorded 35 receptions for 512 yards and three touchdowns in nine games this season, head coach Al Golden announced earlier this week that his indefinite suspension would not be lifted until after the season.
Morris will continue to rely on sophomore receiver Phillip Dorsett, who leads the team with 54 catches on the season. Freshman Herb Waters will start in Scott’s place.
Morris has experienced success this season despite boasting a pedestrian 58.1-percent completion rate. Miami’s signal-caller has excelled at spreading the ball around, as nine different players have been on the receiving end of Morris’ 18 scoring strikes this season.
Allowing just 16 sacks on the season, good for third-lowest in the ACC, the Hurricanes have an NFL-sized offensive line to protect Morris and provide a push at the line of scrimmage in the running game. Miami’s starting offensive line averages 6-foot-6 and 316.4 pounds, headlined by mammoth right tackle Seantrel Henderson, who stands at 6-foot-8 and weighs in at 340 pounds.
Miami’s strong offensive line has been a large contributor in its success running the football this season. Freshman sensation Duke Johnson took the ACC by storm in the season’s opening weeks, and still ranks third in the conference with 781 rushing yards despite hitting a rough stretch in the middle of the year in contests against N.C. State, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida State.
“He’s fast. He’s dangerous, he’s talented, he’s strong,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s got great lower body strength and when he opens up and runs we don’t have anybody who can catch him.”
The Hurricanes have developed a two-headed rushing attack in recent weeks with the resurgence of senior tailback Mike James. At 220 pounds, James is Miami’s bruiser, and earned the starting spot on Golden’s depth chart for this weekend’s matchup with Duke.
Allowing 29.2 points and an ACC-worst 478.1 yards per game, Miami’s defensive prowess is limited. Most of the Hurricanes’ struggles defensively have been against the run, where they rank last in the conference in rush defense. Despite its defensive struggles, Miami has been one of the most opportunistic teams in the ACC, leading the conference with a plus-seven turnover margin. Forcing 22 takeaways on the season while only surrendering 15, the Hurricanes have forced three safeties and blocked two kicks this year.
Like most other facets of Miami’s team, its defensive unit has seen contributions from players across the board—no Hurricane defender has registered more than 65 tackles, two interceptions or two fumble recoveries on the season.
After self-imposing bowl ineligibility for the second-straight season Monday, Golden’s Hurricanes will take the field Saturday thinking what could have been for them this season. Despite the distractions the team has faced in the preceding weeks of speculations concerning Miami’s bowl eligibility, Golden believes that his team will show up at Wallace Wade Stadium ready to cap off its season with a win.
“It's been a resilient group. Heartbreaking losses, and then they come back. I'm very proud of them,” Golden said. “It's difficult because these kids have given up a lot. It's not that we've given up two bowl games; we've given up the opportunity to be part of three postseason games, and that's giving up a lot.