Extra Points: Is Miami back? With a date at No. 1 Clemson, we're about to find out
CFB Insider Matt Hayes’ weekly guide to the college football weekend:
Two critical factors lost in the hype of D’Eriq King and the Miami offense: new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the development of the offensive line.
One ACC coach told me the Canes’ offensive line in 2019 was “abysmal” and could be physically and mentally intimidated. They’re bigger and stronger across the front this season, and they’ve given up 3 sacks in 3 games.
Miami gave up 51 sacks in 2019.
“We’re setting the tone of what we want to be up front,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said.
They’re also doing it with the offensive philosophy of Lashlee, the former Auburn OC who has taken Gus Malzahn’s offense and molded it around what King does best: stress defenses with his legs, and using his athletic ability with designed rollouts.
King’s ability to throw accurately on off-schedule plays looks eerily similar to what Malzahn had as Auburn’s OC in 2010, when he catered the offense around multiple threat Cam Newton during a national championship season.
King has touched the ball 48.4% of Miami’s 188 offensive plays (63 pass, 28 run), and the offensive is averaging 9.81 yards every time he touches the ball.
Last season, Miami quarterbacks N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams combined for 359 touches (54.3% of the offensive plays) and averaged 5.94 yards per touch. That nearly 4-yard increase is the difference between the team that lost to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech at the end of 2019, and the team that has beaten UAB, Louisville and Florida State to move into the AP top 10.
Now, the problem: The Miami defense hasn’t played an offense remotely close to what No. 1 Clemson will show on Saturday night. The closest has been Louisville, where quarterback Malik Cunningham threw for 307 yards and 3 TDs against a Miami secondary that has problems in coverage.
The Canes are better at safety (Bubba Bolden and Amari Carter) than corner, and that’s a significant problem against Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and a trio of wideouts (Amari Rodgers, Frank Ladson Jr., E.J. Williams) that can beat you deep and catch tough throws at different levels over the middle,
Corners Al Blades Jr., and DJ Ivey like to get physical with smaller receivers, but playing bump man coverage leaves them vulnerable to deep balls if they can’t keep Clemson’s receivers from getting off the jam. No one in the country throws a better deep ball than Lawrence …
An FCS QB on same level as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields?
Trey Lance is leaving North Dakota State after 1 season and 1 game to enter the NFL Draft.
While many draft experts have Lance as the No. 3 quarterback in the 2021 draft behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, not all NFL scouts are sold on an FCS player who has all of 17 career starts.
“Right now, based on game tape, he’s Jordan Love. Very similar games, very similar strengths and weaknesses,” one NFL scout told me earlier this week. “I think sometimes we get enamored with a guy’s numbers and ability to extend plays, and we don’t dig a little deeper.”
There were more than 30 scouts at NDSU last weekend, when the Bison played their only fall game against Central Arkansas. If that game was Lance’s showcase, he didn’t make believers out of everyone.
“I saw the same things I was concerned about after last season,” another NFL scout told me this week. “He’s in an offense that caters to accuracy because of their ability to run and play fake. But when he’s forced to throw in down-and-distance situations on different levels, the accuracy changes, the decision making changes.”
Another scout pointed to NDSU’s national title run last season to further illustrate that point. In 4 FCS playoff games, NDSU threw the ball 68 times (17 attempts per game), and Lance completed 60.2% of his passes.
In the national championship game against James Madison, Lance had 10 pass attempts (6 completions for 72 yards) – and ran the ball 30 times (for 166 yards).
“Are you telling me we’re going to spend a top-10 pick on a player who threw 10 passes in the national championship game, and completed 60% of those throws in the biggest games of the season – while being protected by a run-heavy offense?” another scout told me. “So then I’m thinking, let’s see what he does in this game against Central Arkansas when the pressure is on and he knows every team in the NFL has personnel in Fargo. He completes 50% of his passes, he missed some throws and they won the game because of his legs.
“I understand your business is to sell clicks or whatever it is, but the idea that some “experts” are throwing out there that (Lance) is on the same level of Lawrence is complete nonsense.” …
Wisconsin’s great offensive makeover
You say demolition derby, Wisconsin says beauty pageant. But know this: The loveable – and wildly successful – Crawl Ball days on offense are about to get a significant 21st century upgrade.
The Badgers announced earlier this week that starting QB Jack Coan suffered a non-contact foot injury and is out indefinitely. That means Graham Mertz, the highly-touted 4-star quarterback recruit who redshirted last season, assumes the role of starter. Mertz was the No. 5-ranked quarterback in the 2019 class, ahead of SEC signees such as Taulia Tagovailoa, Jalon Jones, D’Wan Mathis, KJ Jefferson, John Rhys Plumlee and Connor Bazelak, etc.
That also means Wisconsin is on the verge of using more RPO principles – you read that right, Wisconsin and RPO – in coach Paul Chryst’s offense. Chryst has veered little from what has made his offenses successful (see: run, set up play-action), but Mertz’s dynamic ability gives Chryst something he has never had before: a dangerous quarterback the defense must account for in the run game and with off-schedule scrambles.
“The last thing any of us need is Paul (Chryst) and that offense with a dual threat (quarterback),” a Big Ten coach told me. “They haven’t had that type of player for years, since Russ (Wilson). We loved (Mertz), recruited him hard. A lot of us (in the Big Ten) did.”
The problem for Chryst: Mertz obviously isn’t Wilson. He has 10 career passes, and spent the entire offseason as Coan’s backup – and is now thrust into the role of starter and leader.
And no matter what you think of Coan – he was inconsistent in big games – he still gave the Badgers (and the Big Ten’s best defense) the best chance to win the conference and reach the College Football Playoff. …
Pac-12 coaches are lining up behind the idea of 9 a.m. local kickoffs this season.
The conference had been entertaining the idea of 9 a.m. local kickoffs – or noon ET – for the past 2 years, and the unusual schedule because of the pandemic opened the door to what many coaches are quickly embracing.
“We keep hearing about strengthening the conference brand, and that’s fine. But this is about recruiting for us,” one Pac-12 coach told me. “We play those 8 p.m. local kicks, and we’re a quarter into the game, and we’ve lost just about every recruit and their family on the East Coast. If we’re playing 9 (a.m.) local, we’re on the same time as the SEC, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12 – we’re on equal footing. We’ve got a chance to go into Florida and Georgia and Louisiana and recruit those states.”
It should come as no surprise then that the Pac-12’s first 9 a.m. local kickoff is Arizona State at USC on Nov. 7, the first week of the conference season. That game features two of the league’s biggest stars: USC QB Kedon Slovis and ASU QB Jayden Daniels, and will be part of Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff package.
A noon ET game allows for hours of replays on ESPN and Fox throughout Saturday. Or as another Pac-12 coach told me, “Free recruiting where we had none at times with those 8 p.m. kicks.”
The Pac-12 hasn’t announced future 9 a.m. local kickoffs, but there will be more. The market is there, and the only negative is a potential impact on attendance.