After a 20-day hiatus from football, the No. 10 ranked Miami Hurricanes will finally return to the field tonight.
Covid-19 hit the Hurricanes hard and after their one-point victory over Virginia Tech on Nov. 14, Miami’s remaining three games on the schedule were cancelled. Head coach Manny Diaz contracted the virus, but it was never revealed which players had it.
For two weeks, players and coaches remained home and the practice facilities closed. Miami was originally scheduled to play Wake Forest on Dec. 5, but a week ago from today, that game was postponed because of positive tests within the Wake Forest program.
A day later, Miami (7-1, 6-1) announced they would be traveling to Durham, North Carolina to play Duke in the place of Wake Forest. So with less than a full week to prepare mentally and physically, the Hurricanes got right to work, but with plenty of challenges.
Duke was not on Miami’s original schedule, so game planning happened quickly. Quarterback D’Eriq King said him and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee were texting and planning for Wake Forest when they had to switch gears and starting focusing on Duke.
Conditioning is another challenge the Hurricanes will have to deal with, especially for a team that plays fast and uses an up-tempo pace to wear teams down in the second half of games. Some players were able to work out over the two weeks, while others weren’t.
“If 50-something odd guys get in the game, that could be 50 different levels of conditioning,” Diaz said. “We’ve had some guys that have been fine, that have been able to condition the whole time. Some guys got back to full speed Monday. Some guys will be back to full speed Friday. There’s a lot of different levels … And part of it, you have to get back in the game and see how guys feel.”
Although Duke is 2-7 (1-7 ACC) this season, the Blue Devils have beat Miami the past two years and Miami will undoubtedly be dealing with the rustiness of not only not playing a game in nearly three weeks, but only having a week to practice and prepare before tonight’s game.
Miami may not have all players available for the game, something Diaz is aware of.
“Everyone [out of quarantine] is practicing,” Diaz said after Wednesday’s practice. “Not everybody’s practicing full speed. We’ve been picking up maybe five players a day that have been granted access to be able to play full speed and then everybody else is just getting their reps in more of a walk-through, jog-through type of environment.”
Duke is led by Clemson transfer Chase Brice, who has 166 completions on 310 pass attempts this season, with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. As a defense, Duke is allowing 35 points per game to opponents, with an average of 158.6 rushing yards allowed and 227.3 passing yards.
The key for Miami will be to get back into an offensive rhythm in both the pass and run game. The Blue Devils are prone to turnovers in the passing game, so Miami’s defense shouldn’t face too much difficulty stopping Duke’s offense in the air. The Blue Devils’ strength is in the running game with running back Mataeo Durant averaging 91.6 rushing yards per game. Durant has 642 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Regardless of what happens in Wade Wallace Stadium, the Hurricanes are thankful they get to play a football game after a whirlwind of the past couple of weeks.
“You don’t even know with what we’ve been through and what we see going on across the country, so the fact that us and Duke are able to play Saturday…I think shows two things,” Diaz said. “I think one it’s the ability to adjust to whatever presents, but two to be thankful this year for what we have because it’s not promised to us.”
The Hurricanes kickoff against the Blue Devils at 8 p.m. in Durham, North Carolina. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.