University of Miami

Here’s why LSU and UM should each be concerned about today’s opener (and my prediction)

Miami Hurricanes Mark Richt talks LSU

University of Miami football coach Mark Richt talks to media about the team's upcoming game against LSU and the status of the team.
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University of Miami football coach Mark Richt talks to media about the team's upcoming game against LSU and the status of the team.

Game day at last!

I asked LSU beat writer Brooks Kubena of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (home of the Tigers), five questions (including his prediction) going into tonight’s game.

He asked me five.

Personally, I think UM’s offensive line needs to come through in this game well enough to give Canes quarterback Malik Rosier plenty of time to read the defense and carry out his plays, and his running backs big enough holes to squeeze through. If not, that obviously does not bode well. UM has so much talent on offense, but the line needs to protect well against a strong Tigers defense that has a couple of the best linebackers in the nation.

And of course, the Canes need to hold the ball tight on offense.

Manny Diaz’s defense should be aggressive against a former Ohio State quarterback making his first career start, but one who was highly coveted out of high school and has done very well in his few previous opportunities.

Anyone thinking turnover chain?

Here are my questions and his answers, followed by his questions and my answers (including my prediction).

Susan: Why was Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow chosen as LSU quarterback?

Brooks: Ed Orgeron said the four-man quarterback competition was decided by the grades he and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger awarded the players throughout preseason camp. The grades were literally marked down on a sheet of paper, Orgeron said, and they chose Burrow because he graded out best on their numerical sections on leadership, maturity, handling pressure, work ethic and individual study time. Orgeron also said Burrow was the most consistent quarterback throughout preseason camp, and that it was a very close decision between him and sophomore Myles Brennan.

The other two quarterbacks transferred within the same day of each other in the middle of camp when they figured they weren’t going to start: Justin McMillan (Tulane), Lowell Narcisse (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College). Looking at statistics, Burrow’s victory didn’t come out of much of a horse race. The other three guys had thrown a total of 25 passes in their LSU careers, and their ineffectiveness in spring camp was the reason Orgeron signed Burrow from Ohio State in the first place. There isn’t enough tangible evidence yet to make an educated projection on just how good Burrow will be.

University of Miami quarterback Mark Rosier talks to the media during LSU game week on Aug. 28, 2018.

Susan: Why will or won’t the LSU offensive line protect him?

Brooks: There’s a few concerns that suggest the offensive line will struggle to protect Burrow against Miami. For one, Orgeron said the starting right tackle would be a game-time decision between junior college transfer Badara Traore and junior Adrian Magee, who has started in one game during his career. Traore was the No. 2-rated JUCO offensive tackle, according to 247Sports; but his back-and-forth battle with Magee suggests that perhaps he hasn’t fully made the transition to Power 5 football.

There’s also youth at center with sophomore Lloyd Cushenberry, who played a decent amount last season. The line is stronger at guard with returning senior Garrett Brumfield, and the coaching staff has spoken very highly of junior college transfer Damien Lewis. Even though Lewis lacks Power 5 experience, he’s drawn much more unsolicited praise from Orgeron than we’ve heard on Traore. The line’s most proven piece is sophomore left tackle Saahdiq Charles, who was named the All-SEC Freshman Team last season. The group gave up some pretty high sack totals during the preseason scrimmages, according to Orgeron’s reports, and although LSU’s pass rush is expected to be good, Miami’s is expected to be better.

Susan: No LSU running back has ever scored a touchdown. Who is the best of the bunch?

Brooks: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and it’s easier to give the true sophomore the benefit of the doubt because his low statistic numbers last season really come as a result from sitting behind now-Washington Redskin Derrius Guice, whose 237 carries were the 23rd most in the SEC.

Edwards-Helaire also backed up Guice at Catholic High in Baton Rouge, where Edwards-Helaire eventually became the nation’s No. 5 all-purpose back in the 2017 recruiting class. Orgeron called Edwards-Helaire “electric,” and he’s also listed as LSU’s kick returner. The 5-9, 212-pounder is also a tricky matchup for man defenses when he starts catching passes out of the backfield.

Susan: LSU’s defensive front seven is one of its strengths. Who in particular stands out?

Brooks: Junior inside linebacker Devin White was named the top linebacker in the SEC last year, and this season he may prove himself to be the best linebacker in the nation. A savvy sports fan can also infer that there’s a possibility he leaves LSU early as a high draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft. His 133 tackles were the most in the SEC in 2017, and his combination of size (6-1, 240) and speed (4.49 40-yard dash) enables him to be one of the most versatile defenders in the game.

His back story’s actual a bit of a folk legend. He came out of small-town Cotton Valley, Louisiana, as one of the nation’s top running back recruits, and then he went full linebacker once he got to Baton Rouge. And the guy bought himself a horse this summer. Seriously. It’s in a stable within sight of Tiger Stadium. Hard not to discuss LSU without mentioning White at all.

Susan: Your prediction?

Brooks: Miami 24, LSU 20

*************************************

Brooks: How susceptible is Miami quarterback Malik Rosier to LSU’s rush?

Susan: TheHurricanes’ biggest question on offense is how their offensive line willprotect Rosier and open holes for the running game. However, Rosier has qualitywheels, and he can take off in a hurry. Last year he was UM’s second-leadingrusher with 468 ground yards and five touchdowns on 131 carries (3.6 yards acarry).

UM coach Mark Richt said that in 2017 the pocket collapsed too often.This season the starting five supposedly have been consistent in theirprotection, and holding up well.

UM’s new left tackle, 6-5, 315-pound Tyree St. Louis, shifted from hisright tackle spot from last season and UM’s 6-5, 305-pound right guard HaydenMahoney has only two career starts. The 6-5, 340-pound right tackle NavaughnDonaldson was a freshman All-American who move one spot over. And 6-4,316-pound Jahair Jones played mostly on special teams last season.

There are two backups, one ofthem a true freshman, ready to rotate in, but any injuries to one of the sevenwould spell trouble for the Hurricanes.

Brooks: Do you think this Hurricanes team really has a chance to make the playoffs?

Susan: Yes, but I’ll be much betterequipped to answer that question after the opener. I never imagined the Caneswould get as high as a No. 2 ranking last year in the College Football Playoffstandings after demolishing Notre Dame 41-8 and winning their first 10 games,but I also didn’t think they’d beat (and they didn’t) then-top-ranked Clemsonin the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. This year’s Canes, with a deepreceiving corps and experienced quarterback, could win a lot of games. But ifthey get to the ACC title game again and it’s Clemson… Well, not sure until theseason plays out at that point.

Brooks: What does the Miami defense do well?

Susan: Tackle in the backfield, sackquarterbacks and cause turnovers. At least that’s what the 2017 Canes did well.Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is aggressive and his players are usuallypretty fast. But the tackling is always a major concern for all coaches thefirst game of the season. Players have to get back into the groove and notoverpursue. I asked defensive coordinator Manny Diaz this week what was themost important thing he wanted from his defense on Sunday. “Tackling,’’ hesaid. “If the genie came out of a bottle right now and said, ‘We’re going torun to the ball really hard and we’re going to tackle the guy that has it,’ weprobably [would have] two-thirds of the battle won.’’

One big concern: UM’s two starting defensive tackles from 2017 left asunderclassmen, affecting the depth and experience

Brooks: What part of its offense can Miami be secure about?

The receiving corps. Formerfreshman All-American Ahmmon Richards, who is now a junior and was riddled withsevere injuries last season (including one that necessitated knee surgery inNovember) is back, and he’s a force.

And there are many more, including acouple of outstanding freshmen (Brian Hightower and five-star recruit Mark Popeamong them), some really fast sophomores in the slot (Jeff Thomas and MikeHarley), fully healed (ACL two seasons ago) 6-5, 220-pound redshirt juniorLawrence Cager and 6-4, 235-pound redshirt senior Darrell Langham, who won twogames for UM in the last seconds against FSU and Georgia Tech.

The Canes also have a strong starting running back in junior TravisHomer.

Brooks: Your prediction?

Susan: Miami 24, LSU 17

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