As the pendulum swings back and forth this season for Miami (3-3), which again has a .500 record, this week’s test against Georgia Tech (5-1) may be the worst of both worlds.
The Hurricanes rank 94th in run defense while the Yellow Jackets boast the country’s second-best rushing attack. But still, senior quarterback Jacory Harris maintains hope for a break in the cycle, and with good reason.
“All of us are frustrated with where we are because of the fact that we’ve always been one play away from winning the game,” Harris said. “But at the same time we understand where we are as a team and how we can go forward from where we are. It makes it easier for us to move forward because we see the potential that this team has.”
This week marks the return of defensive lineman Olivier Vernon from his six-game suspension, thus ending the first chapter of the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Vernon is currently listed as a backup defensive end behind senior Marcus Robinson, but with the struggles plaguing the Miami front four and the unit as a whole, his role against Georgia Tech’s unique yet undeniably prolific rushing attack may be increased out of necessity.
“It’s a real changeup,” said senior linebacker Sean Spence, who was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week for the second straight week. “But now seeing it for three years, it’s a huge advantage for us. We know what to expect; we’re ready for it.”
After finishing the month of September 4-0 with an average of 630.5 yards of offense per game, the Yellow Jackets’ output over the next three contests fell by nearly 300 yards per game against ACC competition; they totaled just 296 yards in last week’s loss against Virginia. But even with the recent slower pace, their triple-option attack remains worrisome for a defense that has yet to prove it can stop the run.
“I think we’re getting better every time we step on that field,” Spence said. “We did a lot of great things last week but we just have to continue them. You’re not going to be able to play a perfect game; guys are going to make mistakes. It’s part of the game. But at the end of the day you just want to out-execute the other team. Everybody’s playing hard. That’s all you can ask for.”
Head coach Al Golden still sees room for improvement in an offense that boasts a rusher in Lamar Miller averaging 117.7 yards per game and a passer in Harris who ranks in the top 10 nationally in terms of passing efficiency.
Golden is looking for more stability at the left tackle position.The role, previously filled by junior Brandon Washington after he shifted there from guard, is now a battle between Washington and Seantrel Henderson. Golden has not yet decided on a starter, but currently lists Washington’s status as being much at risk.
“He’s one of the best five right now; that’s why he’s a starter,” Golden said. “He’s competing with [Henderson] right now, and Seantrel’s gaining ground. We have to make sure Seantrel continues to improve and hopefully [Washington] continues to compete and improve. It doesn’t matter to me who the five are, I’m just looking for the best five.”