No. 17 Miami has done everything it can to jump start the conversation about “The U” and how much it is or is not “back.” After debuting a new up-tempo offense with a dynamic and experienced quarterback in the ACC Thursday night opener against UAB, the Hurricanes stepped up their production as they took a step up in competition and cruised to a 47-34 win at No. 18 Louisville on Saturday night.
D’Eriq King threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, while Cam’Ron Harris hit yet another home run touchdown during a nine-carry, 134-yard effort on the ground. Harris’ backfield mate, freshman Jaylon Knighton, made the most of his opportunities, scoring one touchdown on the ground and adding a touchdown reception on a 75-yard catch-and-run score.
The biggest mismatches were made evident when Miami got out into the open field, hitting five plays of 20-plus yards against Louisville’s defense including two 75-yard touchdowns. The Cardinals had some coverage busts on some of the bigger passing plays, but the speed and athleticism of players like Harris, Knighton, Mark Pope and Michael Harley are going to cause problems for most of the teams on Miami’s schedule.
Of course, you cannot discuss the Hurricanes’ skill players without mentioning tight end Brevin Jordan, who totaled seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown on eight targets in the win. Jordan gets moved around in the offense, and when he finds a favorable matchup, King is dialed in for what seems like an automatic 10 to 15 yards every time. As Miami’s star continues to rise, so will the attention on Jordan, a player who has already long been on the radar of NFL scouts for his physical attributes and ceiling at the next level.
The attention and adoration coming Miami’s way is deserved, but the comparisons and expectations are going to be out of control. This a key stretch of the season here in the first weeks as the national spotlight will stay with the team heading into next week’s rivalry game with Florida State. Then, after a week off — and assumedly after a win against the— the Hurricanes get their shot at the champs when they travel to Death Valley to play No. 1 Clemson on Oct. 10. If Miami is 3-0 heading into that date with the Tigers, it will enter the game with fanfare and excitement that’s been hard to come by for much of the program’s time in the ACC.
As for Louisville, the loss comes with deep disappointment that the team wasn’t able to put up a better fight with a peer in town. After an eight-win season and solo second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic Division in Year 1 with Scott Satterfield, talk of contending for an ACC championship in this one-division format in 2020 was not dismissed. This was an early-season meeting between conference title contenders, and Louisville was just a step slow during the game’s key moments. Concerns about the defense giving up big plays were confirmed in a way that could not be seen against Western Kentucky, and now this team faces an uphill battle with little margin for error if they do want to finish in one of the top two spots in the standings and get a bid to the ACC Championship Game.
Let’s have a look now at three big takeaways from Miami’s victory on Saturday night.
1. Javian Hawkins showed out
The Louisville running back totaled 164 yards on 27 attempts (6.1 yards per carry) with a touchdown, and very little of it seemed to come easy. Miami’s defense was getting a good push and penetration against Louisville up front, but Hawkins has a unique wiggle and burst to his running style that allowed him to slip through defenders or reverse field to find the open space.
This was a good performance from Louisville’s offense. Much of it came while Miami was leading, sure, but making the most of those chances is worth noting. Malik Cunningham threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 26-for-36 passing, while Tutu Attwell brought in eight catches for 114 years and two touchdowns. The stars were stars against a good Miami defense, but right now this team will need superstar performances or better consistency in third-down and red-zone scenarios in order to trade paint with the best teams in the league.
2. Signature win for the Manny Diaz era
The Hurricanes defeated Florida State last year in Tallahassee, but given the state of the Seminoles at the time in their final game under Willie Taggart, you could argue that Saturday night’s road win against a ranked team stands out as proof of what Diaz is building in Coral Gables. Consecutive losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech to close 2019 put the Canes in a bad place, but that narrative has been reversed slowly but surely with staff changes, the arrival of D’Eriq King and now this proof-positive of the offensive turnaround under Rhett Lashlee. Miami fans hope that there are more wins of even bigger significance in this 2020 season, looking at the 15-game sample size this is the most impressive since Diaz was named head coach.
3. Louisville’s offensive line has its hands full next week
There is not much of a drop-off in competition for the Cardinals up front as they go from facing Miami to playing Pitt next week. The Panthers are built from the trenches out, and will look to cause the same kind of disruption for Cunningham and the offense that Miami was able to create on Saturday night. As long as Louisville bounces back with a win, we can still consider it a contender in the ACC Championship race. But an 0-2 start with a road trip to Notre Dame among the remaining games on the schedule makes conference title contention highly unlikely.