The Hurricanes can certain score points this season thanks to their usual stable of tremendously talented athletes - many coming from within driving distance of the Orange Bowl. In six games the Hurricanes have averaged a 29.8 points per game - good enough for fourth in the league. If you discount an early season blowout loss to Florida, Miami has averaged 35.2 points per contest. What's interesting is the efficiency in which the Hurricanes are putting points on the board so far. Despite ranking so highly in the points per game category, Miami ranks 11th (out of 12) in the ACC in total offense averaging just 289 yards.
Quarterback Robert Marve has been solid, albeit a bit cavalier with his decision making having thrown eight interceptions in just five games including two or more in each of his last three starts. In fact, after throwing a game ending pick against North Carolina in the Orange Bowl with just two seconds left, the freshman has completed just 25-of-59 throws (42.3%) for 196 yards and five interceptions.
Marve's favorite target has been sophomore running back Graig Cooper who has hauled in a team high 13 receptions (all in the last three contests) for 54 yards on dump offs and screen passes. Cooper has also done well on the ground where he's been a workhorse - totaling 83 carries for 412 yards (5.0 yards/carry) and four touchdowns. In the three games against BCS competition in which Miami has been competitive or not attempting to rally from a big deficit (@Texas A&M, UNC, UCF), Cooper has averaged 19.3 carries for 109.3 yards per contest. In short he's a crucial cog in the Hurricane's attempt to establish the rhythm of the game.
Miami boasts a stable of talented young receivers led by freshman Aldarius Johnson a former five star prospect from the class of 2008 and the nation's #7 WR according to Scout. Johnson has been a possession target for much of his early career, hauling in 12 catches for 111 yards and a score. Classmate Thearon Collier, a former three star player, has been nearly as effective as a slot receiver, logging 11 catches for 124 yards and a score in just four games this season. A third new-comer, Travis Benjamin - another three star player in 2008 - has chipped in with eight catches for 129 yards and two scores. Upperclassmen Leonard Hankerson (SO - 9 catches for 86 yards and one touchdown) and Kayne Farquharson (SR - 11/140/2) round out the top of the rotation.
If and when the Hurricanes get into field goal range, Matt Bosher is one of the nation's best. In addition to being the kicker, Bosher also handles the kick-off and punting duties for Miami. He ranks sixth in the league in overall scoring (7.8 points per game) in addition to ranking fourth in punting (40.5), third in field goals (1.5 per game) and fourth in field goal percentage (90.0) with a long of 50 yards.
When Duke Has The Ball:
The Blue Devils will be facing one of the ACC's most talent laden defenses, as well as a dangerous special teams unit that has made a reputation of setting the Hurricanes up with good field position. In six games the Hurricanes rank fifth in the ACC in total defense with opponents accounting for just 279 yards per game. Miami is averaging 2.3 sacks per game while the Blue Devils have allowed 2.0 per contest and multiple hits on quarterback Thaddeus Lewis in each of the team's last two games. It will be crucial for the Blue Devils' offensive line to improve their level from the game against Georgia Tech. If Lewis is given time, he can attack the Miami defense, and Duke should be able to move the ball. Miami ranks last in the conference in preventing opponents' third down conversions (46% success rate), and when rattled they begin to accumulate penalties, surrendering nearly 53 free yards per game to their opponents. However, Duke struggled mightily when it came to getting to manageable third down distances against Georgia Tech, and a similar set of problems on Saturday could spell doom early.
When Duke must punt, it will be imperative that Kevin Jones and the punt coverage team have a good day. Travis Benjamin may very well be the league's most dangerous returner - already breaking off a 44 yard punt return and averaging more than 14.0 yards per attempt. By contrast, Duke's best returner, Leon Wright is averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt (good enough for ninth in the ACC). On kickoffs Benjamin ranks fourth in the league, eating up 27.1 yards per attempt. Jabari Marshall is Duke's counter at 22.1 yards per game.
Top to bottom Miami has more talent on the roster than the Blue Devils. Defensively the Hurricanes are going to force Duke to beat them with someone other than Eron Riley. Again, much of Duke's fate will be determined by the offensive line providing Lewis enough time to check down through his options and deliver the ball. After a tremendous start to the season, Lewis has been slowed somewhat as his windows of time have shrunk due to increased defensive pressure. Miami will bring more of the same and could get to Lewis enough early to impact his accuracy. The Blue Devils have enjoyed a two week preparation period for Miami and the offensive scheme should provide some help against a handful of injured starters on the offensive side of the ball. If Cutcliffe can make the game manageable into the fourth quarter and avoid a track meet, then Duke could pull the upset.
Predicted Final Score: