Mike Bakas: "Offensively, it will likely come down to how well the offensive line plays. Stephen Morris is a very good quarterback when protected. Duke Johnson is a very good running back when he has running lanes. Elite defenses changed that last year. Florida could on Saturday. Defensively, Miami has to create turnovers. They were terrible in creating pressure and turnovers last season. The pass rush part seems to be much better. However, if they can't create turnovers, forget about it."
Do you have confidence in Miami at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense?
Mike Bakas: Yes on offense. It's a big, strong, tough, talented, and experienced group. On defense, it remains to be seen. I'm not sure how good Florida's offensive front is. Miami is much better than last season but it wasn't really tested in the opener.
How do you feel the front seven of Miami will be able to match up in run defense against the Gator's Offensive line?
Mike Bakas: It has a chance. The Canes have four new faces along the defensive line this season that have helped create a pass rush. Can they hold up against the run? One of the top three guys wasn't here last season. Another one barely played because of injuries. We'll find out a lot Saturday.
Watching Miami, it seemed like they have great talent with Duke Johnson and some of the skilled positions. Lots of big plays waiting to happen. Do they have the players in the trenches to compete against legitimate SEC teams?
Mike Bakas: Yes. Brandon Linder (65) is one of the best interior guys in the conference. Shane McDermott (62) makes all the calls and is a rock solid center. The outside guys are the key. Seantrel Henderson is the 6th man, and he was a former five-star kid and a future NFL guy. The talent is there. The experience is there. They struggled against elite fronts last season, so this will be a huge challenge for them.
UF has hung it's hat on being able to beat a team in the fourth quarter the last two seasons since the hire of Jeff Dillman. How does Miami compare in depth and conditioning, I.e. can they rotate enough guys to stay fresh and on their toes late in the game?
Mike Bakas: Miami lacks ideal depth, so it could be a major concern against teams like Florida. What helps is that this is the best conditioned Miami team in several years. They likely won't wear down late but depth could be an issue, especially if a few guys get banged up.
If we are able to effectively shut down Duke, what is their next move?
Mike Bakas: Air it out. Duke Johnson (8) is Miami's best player. If he can't find any running room, Miami will be forced to air it out. That will give Florida a major advantage from a pass rushing standpoint. Miami needs balance to win. If Duke gets shut down, Miami will likely struggle to sustain drives – although they will find a way to hit a few big plays with the passing game.
How do you see the secondary stacking up for Miami? Do they play a lot of man to man?
Mike Bakas: A big key will be the health status of sophomore safety Deon Bush (2). He was probably the team's best defensive back returning from last season. He had sports hernia surgery over the summer, however, and didn't play in the opener. If he can't go, it's a big hit. The Canes were limited on the edge last season and played a lot of zone. This year things are a bit different, although the FAU game plan was very vanilla.
Is the defensive backfield disciplined enough to be counted on tackling and going against some of our bigger receivers like Burton/Fulwood/Robinson.
Mike Bakas: If Bush can't go, it's a major blow. He's the most physical guy back there. His replacement, Kacy Rodgers (22), is a senior who can run the defense but is limited physically. The corners can tackle, something that Miami coaches hard during the offseason. Miami does not have a lot of size at corner, however.
Who has the edge in special teams here?
Mike Bakas: I'm not sure what Florida's group looks like. Miami's is very good. Their kicker, Matt Goudis, is in his first year but has shown flashes of being very good and has a strong leg. He is physically capable of connecting from 50+ but he's never played in this type of game. Pat O'Donnell is a senior punter, a transfer from Cincinnati. He's an NFL-caliber punter. The return game remains a question mark. Duke Johnson was one of the best in America last season. However, because of his increased role on offense this season, he's no longer in the return game. The Canes have a lot of speedsters but no difference makers in the return game behind Duke.
Give us 2-3 young players on Miami's team to keep an eye out for on Saturday that we're maybe not so familiar with name-wise but that you could see having an impact in the game's outcome. Thanks!
Mike Bakas: Stacy Coley (3) at wide receiver. He was the state's most heavily recruited receiver last year, and came in and made a big splash in fall camp. He is probably Miami's most talented receiver. He dropped two touchdowns in the opener so he might have the jitters out. He can separate from a lot of people. On defense, Quan Muhammad (98) is probably the team's best pass rusher. He was a prep All-American from New Jersey, and will play in nickel situations. Linebacker Alex Figueroa (36) was very lightly recruited last year but is a gem. He has all the tools, and coaches are very excited about him. He's a co-starter at one of the outside linebacker spots. He has been all over the field.
Mike, how confident is Miami that they can put up huge numbers/points against this defense?
Mike Bakas: That's a good question. They have the pieces in place to be very confident against anyone. However, they struggled against elite defenses last season (Florida State, Notre Dame, etc). That was with an offensive coordinator who is now in the NFL. So I'd guess the answer to be somewhere in the middle. They're able, but unproven.
Can you give us the top standouts on defense?
Mike Bakas: Olsen Pierre (91) is the best defensive lineman. He's very active inside. Denzel Perryman (52) is the most active linebacker. Deon Bush (3) is the best defensive back but his playing status is still up in the air as he returns from injury.
Also, what level of importance is Miami placing on this game?
Mike Bakas: Al Golden's philosophy from day one here has been to be the same guy every day. A psychology major, he believes the best teams treat every game the same. He's done a good job of preaching that his first two years. All the players seem to be buying into it. However, a lot of that will change at the opening kickoff – especially since so many of these kids know each other. Florida will likely be one of the two best teams on Miami's schedule this season. However, it's not a conference game and that remains Miami's number one goal this season – to win the ACC. It'll be a huge game, but still won't match the importance of when they travel to Tallahassee (as an example) later in the year.
How do you see the game unfolding?
Mike Bakas: It's going to be fun because it's a matchup of strengths. Miami's offense is their strength. Florida's defense is theirs. Miami's defense is trying to improve. Same with Florida's offense. I think turnovers will be the key. If Miami can't force any on defense, Florida will likely win. If they can get Florida to cough up a few, Miami will likely have a good chance to win the game.
Has the NCAA just given Miami a pass or will there ever be punishment? The former Gator (Aubrey Hill) got sucked into that vortex and it has killed his college coaching career and he is the ONLY one who has paid a price. Just the fact that Shapiro had that kind of access to the program (the Nathan Shapiro weight room) should have been enough.
Mike Bakas: No one knows. It's been over two years now. It's amazing how well Al Golden and his staff have recruited with this cloud hanging over their heads. But again, no one knows. What is known is that no one in the football building (players or coaches or staffers) was here when this stuff was taking place. They need closure, and will likely get it soon.
Why do most Miami fans piss and moan about our out of conference schedule and about not playing Miami annually?
Mike Bakas: The same reason Florida fans "piss and moan" about a lot of things regarding the Canes. It's part of what makes college football so fun to watch.