Miami Hurricanes Season Opener: Five Things to Watch
The Miami Hurricanes will kick off their 2014-15 football season Labor Day against the Louisville Cardinals in a rematch of their 36-9 Russell Athletic Bowl loss this past December. Much has changed in just a few short months -- both teams will sport new quarterbacks and many different starters this time around. Both schools saw their QBs from the bowl game head to the NFL, with the Cardinals' Teddy Bridgewater going to the Vikings and the Canes' Stephen Morris playing for the Jaguars.
The game promises to set the tone for the Hurricanes' latest attempt at returning to the pinnacle of college football. A win could catapult the team into the Top 25. A loss would almost ensure Miami's ceiling this season would be an ACC championship -- so a lot is on the line in the opener.
Here are a few things to watch when the Hurricanes take the field for the first time this season.
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1. Just a few months removed from his high school graduation, Brad Kaaya starts his first game in a Miami Hurricanes uniform.
Kaaya is the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Miami Hurricanes since Jacory Harris in 2008, and his quick rise up the depth chart has Canes fans excited to see what the future holds. Coaches and teammates have praised Kaaya for remaining calm under pressure during practices this summer, but Louisville on opening night isn't practice. Growing pains are a given, but can Kaaya avoid the mistakes that have plagued this Hurricanes team at the quarterback position? The future is now under center.
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2. The return of Duke Johnson and the introduction of Joe Yearby.
As mentioned above, the Hurricanes have a fresh-faced kid under center, so a change is likely to come as far as the offensive play-calling to which Canes fans have become accustomed. With Johnson returning from a leg injury and the explosive Joe Yearby in the backfield as well, look for the Hurricanes to take advantage of their clear strength this season -- the running game. This would go a long way to help the field open up for Kaaya in the play action. And it would get the wide-outs a lot more open room downfield as the safeties creep up to account for the Canes' backs' speed.
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3. Sophomore Will Gardner takes over for Miami High School legend and current Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater under center for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals will also roll out the future at QB in this game when Will Gardner takes over for Teddy Bridgewater. Gardner won the job with an eye-popping spring game stat line of 32 of 37 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns, so it's safe to say Miami should assume the Cardinals' passing game won't skip a beat. In mop-up duty for Bridgewater last season, Gardner played in six games and completed eight of 12 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. However, Gardner will be without his top threat, receiver DeVante Parker, who suffered a foot injury in practice.
4. You should watch for Denzel Perryman, but the Cardinals better watch for him.
Denzel Perryman moves to middle linebacker this season, which is bad news for opponents. After racking up 104 tackles as a junior, Perryman returns for his senior season, a season that promises to catapult him into top NFL-pick status and multiple postseason award ceremonies. Perryman is a throwback to Hurricane defenses of old, a no-nonsense-absolute-Mike-Tyson of a knockout artist when the ball is around and a man the offense's wide receivers will no doubt want to avoid when roaming the middle of the field this season.
Perryman's move to the middle should shore up the run defense, and his experience should shore up the communication for the younger players. Keep one eye on Perryman in this game; Louisville's wideouts no doubt will.
5. The time is now for Al Golden; the University of Miami must show signs of improvement.
It's no secret that Al Golden is a loyal man. He's stuck through the bad times with this Hurricanes program. He walked into a mess and didn't run for the first door when the going got tough. Problem is, he might be too loyal, and it may come back to bite him in the ass if his defensive coordinator, Mark D'Onofrio, can't field even an average product this season. Golden declined to replace his friend, even as the Canes' defenses have finished at the bottom of the NCAA the past few years. It will be a huge problem if it happens again. The reality is that Golden can't continue to lose five or six games in Miami. The excuse well has run dry; the fans want a return to the top of college football soon.
Labor Day begins the team's "clean slate" era -- no more sanctions, no more negative recruiting, no more excuses. There's a lot to look forward to in Coral Gables. September 1 will give us our first glance.
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