After a lackluster 25-23 win over Appalachian State last weekend, the now No. 24 Miami Hurricanes are looking to obtain a marquee non-conference victory over the Michigan State Spartans this Saturday.
“They’ve had two outstanding performances to start the year,” Miami head coach Manny Diaz said when asked about Michigan State’s defense. “I think the first thing you see is toughness, physical, really well coached.”
On defense, the Spartans are a very disciplined unit. Their linebackers do a phenomenal job at shedding blocks, filling gaps, and making tackles in the open field.
Given this, Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will have to do a much better job scheming up a more explosive rushing attack, as the Hurricanes currently sit at second-to-last in the ACC in rushing yards per game.
“I think the run game being effective helps you score more,” Lashlee said. “We need more consistency.”
The Hurricanes will be without one of their leading rushers in freshman Don Chaney, Jr., who was diagnosed with a season-ending ACL injury last game.
“It’s really disappointing for [Chaney Jr.],” Lashlee said.
Miami is expected to turn to freshmen running backs Cody Brown and Thad Franklin to replace the injured Chaney, Jr. in the backfield. Junior running back Cam’Ron Harris, meanwhile, will shoulder additional load despite having already rushed for 91 yards, 12 of which capped off a six-play scoring drive in the third quarter versus Appalachian State.
“Both of those guys are talented,” Diaz said when asked about the dynamic freshmen duo in Brown and Franklin. “We’re happy both of those guys are at Miami.”
The Hurricanes had their fair share of struggles in the passing department, as redshirt senior quarterback D’Eriq King has only thrown for one touchdown through two games this season.
Despite King’s struggles, senior wide receiver Mike Harley continues to praise the star quarterback, saying, “[King’s] being him, being a leader, and doing everything right in practice.”
This could be a “get right” game of sorts for King and the rest of Miami’s passing offense, as the Spartans’ secondary is exploitable. Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns in its Sept. 3 season opener against the Spartans.
On the defensive side of the football for the Hurricanes, a top priority must be to slow down junior running back Kenneth Walker III, who has a whopping 321 rushing yards and five touchdowns through two games.
Walker III is a tremendous running back who has the vision to see the gaps his offensive line creates for him, and he has the athleticism to burst through these gaps and rack up huge chunks of yards for Michigan State’s offense.
“This is a different challenge this week because of the explosiveness of [Walker III],” Diaz said.
At quarterback, the Spartans will be starting redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne, who’s latest 15-for-21 performance accounted for a career-high four touchdowns in a 42-14 win against Youngstown State last week.
“He was actually impressive last year at the end,” Diaz said in regard to Thorne. “[The Spartans] do a good job of moving him around, a lot of play action concepts to routes in behind.”
Miami will be looking to apply pressure onto Thorne and increase their lackluster sack numbers, as they have only collected two sacks throughout the first two games of the season.
Sophomore defensive lineman Jared Harrison-Hunte is confident that the Hurricanes’ pass-rush will improve: “We’re going to get to the QB.”
Kickoff from Hard Rock Stadium is scheduled for noon on Saturday.