As the No.11 Miami Hurricanes enter the second half of their 2020 schedule, the path to the ACC Championship game is apparent, but there are still five more regular season games and Miami will likely need to win all five games if they want any chance of playing for a conference title.
The Hurricanes (5-1, 4-1), who had their second bye week of the season last week after narrowly beating Virginia 19-14, will begin that quest on Friday at North Carolina State (4-2).
Miami starting quarterback D’Eriq King recognizes how important the next month of football is and says he is focused on keeping his team positive.
“Everybody has to stay positive,” said King. “We’re 5-1, only loss was to the No. 1 team in the country, we played horrible that game, but right now, we’re 5-1. I think we’re in a good spot.”
“It’s November. A lot of memories to be made in November. It’s the most important month in the college football season, and the fact that we’re 5-1, still in the hunt for the ACC title game, it’s a big deal for us.”
It’s worth nothing that Miami, a 10-point favorite over North Carolina, is 0-4 in games coming off a bye week in the last two years, since Manny Diaz has taken over as head coach. The Canes lost to Clemson after a bye week earlier this season, but Clemson is the No. 1 team in the country.
“We don’t run from the bye week thing,” Diaz said. “We’re aware of, that but when you look at over the course of the two years, we have struggled more playing against teams that we have not respected, whether that was after a bye or not after a bye.”
While nowhere near as formidable an opponent as Clemson was, NC State presents a respectable challenge. The Wolfpack were ranked in the AP Top 25 poll after three straight wins over Pittsburgh, Virginia and Duke in October, but a 48-21 loss to North Carolina two weeks ago dropped them out of the rankings.
NC State’s starting quarterback Devin Leary suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Wolfpack’s 30-21 win over Duke, so NC State turned to redshirt junior Bailey Hockman and true freshman Ben Finley to replace Leary.
The Wolfpack run a unique 3-3-5 defense, which is a defense meant to combat a fast, spread offense, but can also create an opportunity for the Hurricanes to get back into rhythm with their run game. Miami is averaging 2.8 yards per carry over the last three games, but UNC, who’s run game is not their strongest offensive weapon, ran for 326 yards against NC State.
“They put a lot of pressure on NC State to adjust to [the passing game] which opened up some running lanes,” said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee on UNC’s offense against NC State.
“It’s just something you don’t normally see every week,” Diaz said. “There’s a threat of maximum coverage, and there’s a threat of maximum pressure on every play. One thing they’ve always done a very nice job of is they’re not afraid to bring the house on first-and-10, second-and-10, anywhere on the field. They bring a lot of different pressures.”
NC State head coach Dave Doeren named Hockman, a 6’2, 200 lbs redshirt junior, as the starter for the matchup with Miami. Against UNC, Hockman went 14 for 24 on 215 yards with one interception, one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown. Hockman split time with Finley, who went 13 for 20 on 143 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Hockman has an impressive ability to extend plays with his legs, but is not as strong with passing the ball.
NC State will also have a few players returning from injury, including starting OT Justin Witt, starting safety Tanner Ingle and starting running back Ricky Person Jr, who suffered a concussion during the UNC game.
Miami will also have junior tight end Brevin Jordan back for the game. Jordan has dealt with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the past two games.
The game is set to kickoff on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC. NC State will be wearing it’s all-black uniforms, while Miami will be wearing all-white.