College football returns from the Sunshine State as Miami-Florida takes on No. 8 Florida from Orlando’s Camping World Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 7pmET. These two teams have not met since September of 2013 when the Hurricanes edged the Gators, 21-16 at home.
Miami is coming off a 7-6 season that ended with a 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. That marked the end of the Mark Richt era in Coral Gables as he retired. Enter Manny Diaz who made a surprising personnel move early in camp, selecting redshirt freshman Jarren Williams at quarterback over Ohio State transfer Tate Martell.
Dan Mullen has the Gators on the fast track, coming off a 10-3 season with Feleipe Franks back at quarterback. Unlike the Hurricanes, Florida ended their season on a winning note, as they crushed Michigan in the Peach Bowl, 41-15 as a 4.5 point underdog. Florida won their last four games, but other than playing two FCS teams in UT Martin and Towson, they face a difficult schedule, featuring Georgia, South Carolina, LSU, Florida State, Tennessee, Auburn and a rematch with Kentucky on the road.
Diaz takes over for Richt
Miami-Florida is looking to get back to their glory years. That will be a difficult or near-impossible task for new head coach Manny Diaz, who spurned Temple to return to Miami, where he was the defensive coordinator for three years under Richt. He was named the head coach of Temple on Dec. 13, but left to return to Miami after Richt abruptly retired on Dec. 30.
So the good news is that Diaz knows this team and was there when they went 10-3 in 2017 as the defensive coordinator. That defense returns six starters from a unit that allowed 143 yards on the ground (3..5ypc) and just 136 yards in the air (53.3%). They also had 40 sacks and add senior DE Trevon Hill, a transfer from Virginia Tech, who had 11.5 sacks in 16 starts there.
Senior linebacker Michael Pinckney (6-1, 220) is a stud, He recorded 74 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season. They do have to replace three starters in the secondary led by junior corner Trajan Bandy, a 2nd team All-ACC performer last season.
Manny Diaz Press Conference https://t.co/Jsz2mqyIDN
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) August 19, 2019
The offense will have to lean on redshirt freshman Jarren Williams (6-2, 210), who won the job over Martell, the Ohio State transfer. Williams’ only appearance last season was against Savannah State, where he went 1 for 3 for 17 yards passing and also ran for a short touchdown.
“What separates Jarren is Jarren has a little bit of an instinct,” Diaz said. “Once you get past the arm talent, it’s just an instinct of knowing where to go with the ball and a feel for the game that I think is really different from the other two, and I thought that might’ve been the deciding factor.”
The Canes will protect Williams’ blindside with a freshman left tackle in Zion Nelson and redshirt freshman right tackle in John Campbell. That’s always a risk. The top two receivers return led by Jeff Thomas (35 catches for 563 yards). However, Thomas is out indefinitely coming off arthroscopic knee surgery. Running back DeeJay Dallas (5-10, 220) gets the start after rushing for 617 yards and six TDs last season.
The offense last season struggled, averaging just 167 passing yards per game on 51.1% passing.
New offensive coordinator Dan Enos has his work cut out for him with such a young quarterback. At times, Florida had issues with the passing game, at least against elite passing offenses. Miami passed over 200 yards just five times last season. To make matters worse, there were four times last season that Miami did not pass for over 125 yards in a game.
Williams doesn’t need to have a big game if the ‘Canes can run the football. The Gators did allow 300 yards rushing to Kentucky last season, so it’s not impossible. In Miami’s seven wins last season, they averaged under 264 yards rushing. But in their five losses, they averaged around 128 yards, so running the football with this squad is usually the key to success. Maybe Williams can change things.
Franks is the key
Junior Feleipe Franks (6-6, 240) has all the tools to be a great one. He has the size and can run it. He threw for 2,457 yards with 24 TDs and just six picks last season (350 rushing yds, 7 TDs) leading his team to a bowl win over Michigan, 41-15. But the Gators still went through some offensive slumps, scoring just 13 points at Mississippi State (in a 13-6 win), 17 in a loss to Georgia and 17 in a shocking loss to Missouri at home by 21.
“I think he’s already improved more during the offseason than he did throughout last season on the field,” head coach Dan Mullen said of Franks, “in his performance and understanding the system and decision making and making plays.”
The passing game could still use some work as they averaged 214 yards per game on 59.6% and 213 rushing yards (5.3ypc). Lamical Perine returns after rushing for 834 yards though Florida is loaded at running back as usual. They also return their top seven receivers led by senior Van Jefferson (35 catches for 503 yds).
🗣 #SavageSZN | Episode 2
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) August 16, 2019
They return eight starters from a defense that held teams to just 181 passing yards and 54.2%. They struggled against the run, giving up 163 yards and 4.3 yards per carry. Senior Adam Shuler (6-4, 275) is a grad transfer from West Virginia, who played well in their 3-4 scheme. They also return three of four members of the secondary including junior cornerback CJ Henderson, who was second-team All-SEC last season.
“What are they going to see?” Mullen said. “What’s our stamp? When every college person in the country turns on their TV, what’s their thought when they see the Florida Gators? We have to go out there and live up to that on the field.
“What do you want them to think about you?”
Update: (8/22/19). There is some speculation that possible player suspensions could occur but that won’t be verified before Saturday. “If we have any, like we always do, that’d be something we’d announce on Saturday before the game,” Mullen said Monday. Mullen also mentioned that there are no injuries to report other than those who are out for the season. The biggest loss is to LB David Reese (Achilles), who was potentially one of the best linebackers in the SEC this season.
- 1-9 ATS last 10 neutral site games.
- 2-6 ATS last 8 overall.
- 5-0 ATS last 5 non-conference games.
- 8-3 ATS last 11 overall.