Breaking Down the Opponent: Miami

Terps face Canes without Harris, Berry in even matchup.

The Terps will face arguably their biggest test of the season Saturday in Miami, as three-time Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the week Danny O’Brien faces off against the conference’s top-ranked pass defense.

Coming off a game where the Terps put together a 62-point effort against the Demon Deacons, the offense will have to prove they can be flexible. Like that of Clemson, the Hurricanes defense will be physical and contest every pass.

“It’s going to be harder to throw the quick passes that we’re able to do because they’re going to challenge every throw,” head coach Ralph Friedgen said, comparing the physical, press-man coverage to the defenses fan by Mickey Anders with Florida State. “They do a great job of tipping the ball and getting interceptions.” This season, Miami has 15 interceptions, the most in the ACC.

During the Terps’ two-game winning streak, O’Brien has utilized the short passing game to fill in for the running game and improve the third-down conversion rate. During the first six games of the season, the team converted just over 25 percent of their third downs; in their last two, that rate has more than doubled to 51.6 percent.

“They’re big, fast, strong, athletic at all positions so they can play a lot of man-to-man. That leaves you with single coverage. All of the throws are going to be contested this week so I’m going to have to be that much more accurate on all my throws just knowing there are going to guys in the vicinity every play,” O’Brien said.

Offensive coordinator James Franklin estimated the defense plays in man coverage 75 percent of the snaps. Taking four to six shots deep could create big plays for the Terps offense, but also could open up the underneath passing game.

“You’re going to have to be ready and get used to the fact that every catch is going t o be contested because they play press-man all the time. You’re not going to get the ‘free-access’ throws – the unimpeded throws and catches where they’re playing a soft cover four or soft cover three, and just allowing you to throw the speed out or the hitch,” Franklin said.

“That’s why people play man coverage is to get an extra guy in the box to load the box up to stop the run and take the easy throws away. But you better be good enough to do it because like anything it is high risk, high reward.”

Playing without Jacory Harris, Damien Berry

The Miami offense will be without their quarterback and leading rusher for Saturday, according to the Miami Herald. But the Canes’ depth has the Terrapins preparing the same.

The offense will be piloted by true freshman Stephen Morris, who will be making his first start after impressing head coach Randy Shannon during a late-game comeback in their game against Virginia last week. Morris threw 162 yards and two touchdowns, as well as a rushing score in the team’s loss.

“Morris is athletic, he can scramble, he can get himself out of trouble, move in the pocket. He has a very strong arm,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “During the course of that fourth quarter you kind of saw him grow up.”

This will be the third consecutive week the Terps will face a first-year signal-caller. One common theme for Brown’s defense – blitzing. And so far so good; in the last two games, Maryland has held opposing quarterbacks to 347 yards passing and two touchdowns while amassing six packs and four interceptions.

It’s a trend Brown hopes will continue against Morris.

“Hopefully we can mix our looks, give him some things to think about and maybe slow him down in his decision-making process. In his situation, it’s: manage the game, don’t turn the ball over, distribute and make all the throws that he needs to make.”

Despite Morris having been named this week’s starter, the Terps refuse to believe Jacory Harris will not make an appearance Saturday. Their similar playing style, however, offers the team some flexibility.

“They’re not going to run a totally different offense with one guy in. It’s not like one quarterback is Danny O’Brien and one quarterback is Jamarr [Robinson] They’re very similar athletes and [have] very similar skill sets,” linebacker Alex Wucjiak said. “They’ll probably try to run the ball more with Morris in the game. But other than that, they run the same offense, same routes, same plays.”

Damien Berry leads the Canes with 721 yards and four touchdowns on the ground this season. His absence, however, provides no ounce of relief for the Terps, as Friedgen was preparing his team for a collection of running backs regardless.

Friedgen said Miami’s set of rushers are all similar in size and effectiveness. Berry’s 4.9 average per carry is bested by Graig Cooper at 8.3, Mike James at 5.9 and Lamar Miller at 5.5. And when the news of Berry reached the head coach, he replied simply: “plug in the next guy.”

Their depth extends to the wide receiving core; six different Canes wideouts have caught touchdown passes this season, including Leonard Hankerson who has nine. Hankerson also leads the team in receptions and receiving yardage, with 44 catches for 681 yards.

Pressuring the quarterback, however, will once again be essential.

“They’re making big plays down the field. The big thing for us is trying to get pressure on the quarterback and try to force bad throws,” Wujciak said.

News and Notes:

Out for the game: Desmond Kearse, Gary Douglas, Dave Stinebaugh

Friedgen: Kearse is a “ways away” from returning, still dealing with high ankle sprain and shin injury

Douglas could be back for next week’s game versus Virginia. He can run and cut, but not at full speed.

Stinebaugh is beginning to cut better, and also could be back to face Virginia.

Miami possesses one of the most NFL-ready rosters in the entire country. Five players, according to ESPN, are top 150 professional prospects, including Allen Bailey, Orlando Franklin, Brandon Harris, Colin McCarthy and Leonard Hankerson.

Twitter: @samspiegs

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