University of Miami football coaches know it won’t be the real thing.
But they also know the first fall scrimmage Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium, closed to the media and public, will be their initial indication of which young Hurricanes can handle the fire when they open the season on Sept. 2 against LSU.
The opener, billed as the AdvoCare Classic, will be nationally televised at AT&T Stadium the Sunday night before Labor Day, and Canes coaches said they’ll be looking extra carefully Saturday at how the youngest Hurricanes perform in their first game-type situation since fall camp began last weekend.
“I want to see how they handle the spotlight,’’ offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said. “I want to find out if against LSU, guys can handle pressure. Obviously, you can’t simulate that environment. But you can really see who’s going to fold and who’s not going to fold.
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“You’ll also be able to tell who can process information, who’s in their playbooks and studying, and [who will] definitely earn the right to be able to play. You’re not just going to be able to play because you’re talented. We can’t play that many guys.’’
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the preseason scrimmages are the “best chance’’ to help determine who is capable of playing and who isn’t.
“We don’t get a preseason game’’ like in the NFL, Diaz said. “Those [scrimmage] are our preseason games. You want a little bit of the butterflies ... to really try to get that feeling of, OK, does a guy who has great technique out here all of a sudden lose his technique? Does a guy that out here [on the practice field] doesn’t bust, all of a sudden start busting?
“We can’t recreate running out in Jerry’s World,’’ Diaz said of AT&T Stadium, “but [the scrimmage] is as close as we can [get].’’
The freshman Hurricanes, and a couple of transfers, have been put behind the veterans all week, even if they’re expected to surge and eventually bypass the older players. Coach Mark Richt hasn’t released a depth chart, but the value of this scrimmage will mostly be in determining the backups in a UM system that regularly rotates players, especially on the front lines.
The offensive line has had its share of struggles the past few years, and cementing a viable rotation is paramount to excelling in the running and passing games.
“I’m just hoping to build unison,’’ redshirt junior and first-team right guard Hayden Mahoney said Thursday of his goals for the scrimmage. “First, second, third team, just create three solid lines and good teamwork. Everyone is battling. Everyone is competing.
“Don’t think. Just hit somebody and play ball,’’ Mahoney said he told the younger linemen.
Mahoney indicated he was impressed with 6-3, 300-pound freshman guard DJ Scaife — a former consensus four-star prospect out of Miami Southridge — and 6-5, 310-pound freshman tackle John Campbell out of Orlando Dr. Phillips. Earlier in the week, Thomas said Scaife “is definitely pushing to possibly be the sixth guy in that rotation.’’
Another promising lineman is 6-3, 306-pound Tennessee transfer Venzel Boulware, who struggled with the Miami heat and humidity the first couple days of practice, but has been progressively adjusting.
The defensive line will get its first game-type look at Illinois graduate transfer Tito Odenigbo, who during practices has backed up fifth-year senior tackle Gerald Willis. “He’s strong,’’ Willis said. “Tito’s going to do good work.’’
Some of the freshmen on defense who Diaz said have impressed include tackles Nesta “Jade’’ Silvera and Jordan Miller; end Greg Rousseau, cornerback/nickelback Al Blades; cornerback Gilbert Frierson and DJ Ivey; and safety Gurvan Hall. All will be watched carefully during the scrimmage.
The standout freshmen on offense include tight ends Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory and elite young receivers Mark Pope and Brian Hightower. Pope, a five-star prospect from Miami Southridge, did not play in the spring and will certainly be given ample opportunity on Saturday.
And, of course, backup quarterbacks N’Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon and freshman Jarren Williams will continue to get reps, as all four are expected to play — along with fifth-year senior starter Malik Rosier — at some point this season.
Richt said Thursday, the last day of practice before an off day on Friday, that Saturday’s scrimmage, as is usually the case, will be controlled so that coaches can replicate game situations.
“It’s first-and-10. It’s third down. It’s red zone. It’s short yardage. It’s a one-minute drill,’’ said Richt, who noted that the first-string players will go against the second-stringers Saturday, and the third-team players will go against each other. “In the scrimmage you have to play all situations,’’ Richt said. “We have to find out what kind of ballplayer you are.’’
Richt, who will talk to reporters after the scrimmage, said he intends to see ‘Who’s close enough to say, ‘He’s either on the plane or he’s going to play or he’s a starter.’’’
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