Boston College - Miami Preview
The Miami Hurricanes will come to Alumni Stadium for the last time as a member of the Big East Conference on Saturday. The Eagles have not beaten the Canes since 1984 despite playing several close games on Alumni Stadium turf. In November of 2001, the Eagles were a mere nine yards from ending Miami's 17 game winning streak and spoiling their National Championship hopes when a lucky bounce resulted in a Canes touchdown and an 18-7 Miami win. In 1999, the Eagles blew a 28-0 late third quarter lead and lost 31-28. In 1997, Tom O'Brien went for a curious two-point conversion in the second overtime which led to a 45-44 win for Miami. BC lost 17-14 in 1995 and 19-14 in 1991. All of those games were at Alumni Stadium. This season the Eagles will face a Miami team that does not look as sharp as the Hurricane teams of the past three years that went a combined 35-2.
When BC passes
As you would expect from a rookie quarterback, Quinton Porter has had his ups and downs early in the season. At times he's been very sharp, such as the first quarter against Penn State. At other times he's looked like a guy who had thrown only 20 passes in his college career prior to this season. This week he'll face a Miami secondary that was the best in the country a year ago and returned all of its starters. This season, they have been slightly more vulnerable as opposing quarterbacks have completed 62% of their passes for an average of 186 yards per game. Miami has incredible talent in the secondary where three of the four starters were All Big East first teamers last year: Junior Free Safety Sean Taylor who has already accumulated 20 tackles and 2 interceptions this season, Senior Strong Safety Maurice Sikes who had 80 tackles and 3 INT's last season and Junior Cornerback Antrel "Esther" Rolle who had 66 tackles and 7 passes broken up last year. This unit did not allow a single team to pass for more than 191 yards in any game last season. Analysis: This has the potential to be a disaster for the Eagles. The Miami secondary is better and faster than anything that Porter has seen this season. BC will not feature the pass, but they can't run the ball every play either. Porter will have to challenge the Miami secondary at times so his decision-making will be critical.
When BC runs
If Miami has a weakness on the defensive side of the ball, it is certainly their defensive front four. Miami lost all four starters from a year ago, including NFL first round picks DE Jerome McDougle and DT William Joseph. The top new starter is Junior Right Tackle Vince Wilfork who has collected three of Miami's nine sacks so far this season. Another potential star is Sophomore Left Tackle Orien Harris, who is third on the team with 17 tackles. At linebacker, the Canes are led by returning All Big East first team Middle Linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Vilma led the team with 133 tackles a year ago and already has 20 tackles this season. He is also the rarest of all things - a Miami Academic All American. Senior D.J. Williams is also a force at Outside Linebacker. He made 108 tackles (12 for lost yardage) and even had eight passes broken up in 2002. Analysis: Miami's defensive front four is talented but is nowhere near as good as it has been in recent years. Miami opponents have rushed for average of 4.0 yards per carry this season and I expect that Derrick Knight and Horace Dodd can better that number.
Advantage: Boston College
When Miami Passes
Like Quinton Porter, Florida transfer Quarterback Brock Berlin has had his ups and downs in 2003. He has completed 59% of his passes for 5 touchdowns, but has also thrown 4 interceptions. Berlin's top receiver this season has been Redshirt Freshman Ryan Moore who has caught 10 passes for 127 yards. Senior Wideout Kevin Beard was expected to pick up the slack for the departed Andre Johnson, but has caught only 8 passes for 177 yards. Beard caught 23 for 262 yards a year ago before an ACL injury ended his season. 6'5" Tight End Kellen Winslow Jr. has not lived up to his enormous potential yet this season. He caught 57 balls for 726 yards and 8 TD's a year ago and was a force in the Fiesta Bowl loss. He has only 10 catches for a scant 86 yards this season. Analysis: Berlin has run hot and cold this season. He was terrible early against Florida but brilliant in the comeback victory. What does this all mean? It means we don't know what to expect from Berlin. BC's secondary has been stingy with the yards but their pass rush has been inconsistent. They will need to keep the pressure on Berlin to keep Miami's speedy receivers in check. Mathias Kiwanuka and Tom Martin need to repeat the great performances they had at Penn State.
When Miami Runs
Last year, Willis McGahee tore the Eagles apart with a 17 carry, 135 yard evening. McGahee's replacement is Sophomore Frank Gore, who was expected to be the starter last season before tearing an ACL. This year, Gore is averaging a solid 126 yards per game with a 5.5 yard per carry average. Gore rushed for 134 yards on 24 carries against East Carolina, but that is not overly impressive given the fact that East Carolina came into the game with the worst run defense in the country. The Eagles will also have to contend with the explosive Jarrett Payton (son of Walter) who has rushed 18 times for 160 yards this season. Blocking for Gore will be an offensive line that returns three starters from a year ago, including 6'5" 287 pound Junior Guard Chris Myers and 6'6" 307 pound Senior Tackle Carlos Joseph, a second team All Big East selection a year ago. Miami's offensive line averages 6'5" and 309 pounds mainly thanks to Guard Vernon Carey's 355 pounds. Analysis: It is early in the season but based on what I have seen, Frank Gore is no Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis or Edgerrin James. Gore was spectacular in limited action in 2001 so it might be the ACL injury that is slowing him down. Even if Gore is a step down from McGahee this remains a disadvantage for the Eagles.
Miami is always dangerous when it comes to kick returns and this year will be no exception. Antrel Rolle and Roscoe Parish have split punt returning duties. Rolle took a punt 66 yards for a touchdown against Louisiana Tech. Devin Hester and Sean Taylor will return kickoffs. This unit has returned eight kicks for a 36.8 average and a touchdown this season. Miami's kicker, Redshirt Freshman Jon Peattie, has made 4 of 5 fields goals this season. Hurricane Punter Brian Monroe is averaging a weak 34 yards per kick this season. Analysis: Miami's team speed is always a problem for BC and one of the places where this is most evident is on special teams. This is no doubt an advantage for the Hurricanes.
Despite their 3-0 record and gaudy stats, I don't feel that Miami is the dominant team that they have been for the last three years. Berlin may have loads of talent, but his overall performance does not, at this time, compare to the offensive surgeon Ken Dorsey. Frank Gore does not look like the All American candidate that most Miami fans expected. He's not as quick as I expected and he doesn't possess McGahee's size. Miami's back seven remained in tact, but their defensive line has played well below the performance of Miami's 2002 front four who were all drafted by NFL teams. BC's key to the game will be ball control. Miami is a team that wears down its opponent over the course of the game as evidenced by their 44-3 fourth quarter advantage this season. The Eagles will need to run the ball consistently (4 or more yards on the majority of their rushing attempts) and keep their defense off the field. More time of possession means fewer Miami drives. Fewer Miami drives also means fewer chances for their kick return specialists to make big plays. Needless to say, BC must avoid turnovers and big plays by Miami on defense. BC must also cut down on penalties that plagued them against Wake Forest and UConn. It goes without saying that BC cannot make big mistakes and expect to beat Miami. On the defensive side of the ball, BC's defensive line could be a key to the game. They need to put pressure on Berlin and force him to make mistakes. It is hard to imagine BC winning if they cannot score at least 10 points off of turnovers. Unlike past years, I don't see Miami head and shoulders above BC in any single category. But, even a slightly watered down Miami is tough to beat. The string of losses to the Hurricanes in close games at Alumni Stadium will continue on Saturday.
Final Score: Miami 30 Boston College 24