For insight on Georgia Tech’s opponent this Saturday, we turn to Palm Beach Post writer Matt Porter, who covers the Hurricanes. Our thanks to Matt, whose work can be found here on Twitter and here at the Palm Beach Post website.
Q: I think the Georgia Tech view of this series is that, while it’s been heavily in Miami’s favor in the Paul Johnson era (Tech is 2-7) and many games have been decided by double digits, the series is closer than results and scores would indicate, that a lot of breaks and fluky things have gone against the Jackets, such as the two fumbles returned for touchdowns last year and Justin Thomas getting hurt on the first drive in 2015. How would you say Miami players/coaches view it?
A: I would say there's fear of Johnson's offense -- no one takes Tech lightly down here -- and a confidence of how to defend it. For Al Golden's failures, he typically had a decent game plan (the loss in 2014 notwithstanding) and those in the program can look to Mark Richt's record against the Jackets (14-2) if they doubt the current staff. In a nutshell, everyone realizes this game makes you sweat, and it's never going to be a fun tape session on Sunday.
Q: Georgia Tech devoted a lot of time in the open week to improving special teams. The return teams have been safe but not explosive, the kickoff team has given up some big returns and the punt return surrendered a touchdown. Statistically speaking, it looks like Miami’s pretty solid with the kick and cover teams. Does Tech have much chance to break a big play somewhere in the kicking game?
A: Their chances this week may be better than anyone else's this season. Travis Homer, Miami's best special teams player, is now the No. 1 running back (we'll get to him). His ST duties have been reduced from four teams to two. UM has said he'll still be covering kicks and punts, but I wonder if they'll take him off specials entirely (he would not readily agree to that). Miami is also banged up after FSU, and may be missing a starting corner and starting safety. That hurts depth on special teams.
Q: I imagine Tech fans are hoping that running back Travis Homer, who is replacing injured running back Mark Walton, is slow and a total bum. What do you know about him?
A: He's looked good in limited duty. Not the biggest back (5-11, 195) but makes one cut and runs hard. Not as shifty or explosive as Walton but may be able to take a healthy Walton in a 40-yard footrace. Seems to be a decent pass-protector. Smart and takes his craft very seriously, not unlike Walton. Should be able to handle 15 carries no problem. Behind him, there are major concerns. Trayone Gray, a redshirt junior, has 33 touches in his career, mostly in garbage time. UM moved true freshman wideout DeeJay Dallas to the backfield to help.
Q: What’s the injury picture looking like for Saturday, and what are the biggest question marks?
A: Not good for the Canes. Walton is a huge loss, no question. He was arguably Miami's best player. How Miami's offense does without him is the major question mark. UM could also be missing starting right guard Navaughn Donaldson, who sprained his ankle last week. Top wideout Ahmmon Richards has struggled through a hamstring strain (a mid-camp injury that has lingered). Starting safety Sheldrick Redwine (believed to be an upper-body issue) and starting corner Dee Delaney (knee, it appears) have been limited in practices this week. Win or lose, Miami always limps around after FSU week.
(Update: Donaldson, Redwine and Delaney have been ruled out in Miami’s injury report. Richards is questionable.)
Q: Malik Rosier was 19 for 44 against Florida State. Is that more a reflection on Rosier or FSU or both?
A: More FSU than Rosier. He was playing well against Toledo and Duke, but FSU's defensive backs were flypaper to Miami's receivers, and the front seven was far and away better than anything UM had seen to that point. Miami had nothing going on the ground, with Walton hobbling around (he entered the game with a left ankle sprain, and then sprained his right ankle. Tough luck). The Hurricanes were highly encouraged by how Rosier responded in the final seven minutes of that game; he forgot about the stats and what FSU's offense was doing, and put together two touchdown drives to win the game. The belief in his ability is high.
Q: What do you think Miami’s biggest concern is going into this game?
A: I don't think anyone in Coral Gables is doubting the legitimacy of the challenge. Everyone knows Georgia Tech is a tough team to stop, one that demands full attention. Miami knows this is a critical game for the Coastal. Miami knows the win over Florida State means all its goals are attainable. I think Miami's major issue is health and depth, and how explosive an offense without Walton can be. Homer might be fine, but Richt described running back depth as "scary thin" before the season, when Walton was healthy. Now? Well, it's appropriate Friday the 13th is this week.
Q: What do you think the ultimate impact of Hurricane Irma on the team was?
A: Irma affected everyone in South Florida in some way, whether they rode out the storm or fled. Miami evacuated campus, and shared a lot of time on the road together. They practiced for a week in Orlando, getting the bonding experience of being in a hotel around each other. They struggled with conditioning after their 10-day layoff without an official practice (and 21-day break between games), but that's over now. Most players we've talked to say they never had to deal with anything like that, and have chalked it up to the 2017 season being a memorable one. They'd like to make it a memorable one for other reasons, and Georgia Tech is the next hurdle to clear.