Think of linebacker Trent Harris as the Houdini of the University of Miami defense.
Now you see him.
Now you don’t.
Now he’s somewhere else.
In the Hurricanes’ latest win against Virginia, Harris played three positions during one drive.
“It’s amazing,” UM interim coach Larry Scott said Tuesday as the Hurricanes began their preparation for North Carolina (8-1, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), ranked 17th by the Associated Press and 23th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
“You watch the film and say, ‘Huh? He was just the [strong-side] linebacker, now he’s the [middle] linebacker, now he’s the rush [linebacker].’ It’s a testament to him and the way he prepares, the way he applies himself in every meeting, in every walk-through and in every rep.
“He’s a coach on the field. He’s competitive, he’s smart and he’s a leader.”
Harris, a 6-2, 251-pound sophomore from Winter Park, jumped into the middle linebacker’s role from rush end/linebacker when senior captain and former leading tackler Raphael Kirby tore his ACL while running to make a tackle Oct. 17 against Virginia Tech.
Harris ranks third on the team with 42 tackles and is first with five tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. He led the Canes with eight tackles, a sack and tackle for loss against Virginia.
Last season as a true freshman, he had 15 total tackles.
“Awesome,” is how UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio described Harris’ play in the middle. “The kid is phenomenal as far as how he prepares and what he does. He’s really fun to coach.
“If you give him a role and ask him to do something he’s going to work as hard as he can to make sure he does it right. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. He’s the ultimate teammate.”
Harris, who never played middle linebacker before he was pressed into action for the Oct. 24 Clemson game, said Tuesday that it was “fun.”
“It’s a lot more physical with the guards,” he said. “You come downhill on the guards in face and hands and stuff.”
In addition to Kirby, UM lost linebackers Darrion Owens (initially strong side) to a season-ending knee injury and Marques Gayot (weak side) to a season-ending neck injury.
Juwon Young, also in the middle, has been “playing a lot of ball,”
The proliferation of running quarterbacks has necessitated the play of several run-stoppers substituting in and out of games.
“The other guy who has taken the burden a little bit off the Mike position is [safety] Jamal Carter there on third down and nickel. He’s played a bunch for us the last two games,” D’Onofrio said.
Tyriq McCord has played strong-side and weak-side, and even safety Dallas Crawford “has played some [weak side] for us to help spell us,” D’Onofrio said.
North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, who threw for a school-record 494 yards and four touchdowns (and ran for another) in the Tar Heels’ 66-31 pounding of Duke on Saturday, is the ACC’s ninth-leading rusher with 558 yards and six touchdowns — good for 6.64 yards a carry. He’s second in total offense with 297.2 yards a game, behind only Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
“Obviously a good quarterback,” Harris said.
Scott was asked whether there’s any way to truly simulate the type of up-tempo offense that North Carolina runs.
“You have to do it as best you can with your look teams,” he said. “You have to do it by creating an atmosphere in the meeting rooms with quick answers. Everything has to quicken up and everything has to be sharper.
“You do the best you can to create that, but when it’s their offensive system, you never quite get it to the actual speed that it’s going to be in the game.”