Saturday is arguably the most intriguing matchup for the Michigan State Spartans thus far in 2021, as MSU heads south to take on the No. 24-ranked Miami (FL) Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium. The game kicks off at noon (Eastern Time) and can be watched nationally on ABC.
To help us learn more about Miami’s 2021 squad, we spoke to Cam Underwood, a Michigan native, and the managing editor at State Of The U — SB Nation’s excellent website for in-depth coverage of the Miami Hurricanes.
Why has Miami struggled at the start of the season? What should the Hurricanes be most worried about from the Spartans? Cam gives his answers to these questions and more.
1. So far, it looks like the Miami Hurricanes have underachieved a bit after getting dominated by Alabama and then winning a close game against Appalachian State. What has this team done well so far, and what does it need to improvise upon moving forward?
Cam: Yeah, it hasn’t been a strong start to the season for the Canes. Most people probably turned off the opener against Alabama when the Crimson Tide went up 27-0, then everybody was dialed in all game last week when Miami barely escaped Appalachain State. So for a casual or non-Miami fan, there’s understandably not much to like.
To the question, Miami has been better on defense than offense. The secondary has been a strength, which is by roster design as the safety position is among the strongest units you’ll find anywhere. Transfer cornerback Tyrique Stevenson has been the clear best player at that spot. And joining them, the defensive line has had some solid (and sometimes spectacular) play from defensive ends Jahfari Harvey and Chantz Williams, and defensive tackles Jon Ford, Nesta Silvera and Jared Harrison-Hunte.
The offense has had moments, but they’ve been very very inconsistent. The drop issues that plagued the Canes last year started to come back last week with four costly drops against App State. And moreover, the passing game, even with the plays that have been made down the field, has been quite pedestrian. This isn’t the only offensive area struggling, as Miami is averaging only 3.54 yards per carry on the ground, and that’s INCLUDING some explosive playson the ground by quarterback D’Eriq King as a scrambler. Not great, Bob.
Miami’s kicking game with kicker Andres Borregales and punter Louis Hedley has remained elite. The kick coverage and return units, however, continue to struggle. App State kept it close last week due in large part to a kick return touchdown Miami allowed. That has to get addressed, as do the rampant penalties that Miami has committed this season as well.
2. How do you see Miami finishing the season (record, potential division or conference championship, bowl game berth, etc.)?
Cam: I was a staunch “10-2, win the Coastal Division, and go from there” person before the season, but...I’m not so sure at this point. Miami is more talented than every team that remains on the schedule, but the Canes have seldom played to the level of the talent on the roster in the last 15-plus years.
I hate to say it, but unless we see drastic — and I mean DRASTIC — improvement from the team as a whole, this season seems destined for yet another 8-4, no Coastal Division championship, no ACC championship, lose a mid-tier bowl game type season. Which, trust me, I would NOT be pleased about. At all.
3. What is the best way for the Michigan State offense to attack the Miami defense? On the other side of the ball, what do the Spartans need to do on defense in order to stop the Hurricanes’ offense?
Cam: The best way for MSU to attack the Miami defense is with a power run game and play-action passing. And a bit of off-schedule trickeration or vertical throws to try and lessen Miami’s defensive aggression and mitigate Miami’s speed on defense would be wise.
On defense, MSU would be wise to get pressure from the front four, have a clear plan to patrol the areas frequented by Miami’s passing game, particularly the routes that are coupled with Miami’s RPO (run-pass option) series, play tight coverage with the defensive backs and dare Miami to beat them over the top.
4. What worries you most about this Michigan State team?
Cam: More than anything schematic, it’s my history of watching MSU be very competitive and/or win games like this (or bigger). Short backstory: I grew up in Detroit...as a Michigan fan. Yeah yeah yeah, I hear the boos. I get it.
My point is while rooting for Big Blue, I was always aware of what Sparty was doing. And over the past 30-35 years, I’ve seen Michigan State play well against or beat “more talented” or “better” teams they weren’t supposed to compete with. Whether that be Michigan, Wisconsin, Drew Brees led Purdue, Penn State, Ohio State (THANK YOU SO SO SO SO SO MUCH FOR RUINING MULTIPLE POTENTIAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASONS FOR THOSE DEGENERATES), or other, I’ve seen MSU play very well against top competition.
And that history of performance is what worries me. I worry that Miami is nowhere near the team the talent on the roster indicates they should be, and MSU is gonna put together a strong, physical game that in the end could add Miami to the above list of teams that most people thought were better than Sparty that ended up losing when the Green and White took the field against them.
5. Outside of the obvious D’Eriq King, is there one player on offense for Miami who MSU fans should watch out for? What about one player on defense to keep an eye on?
Cam: On offense, the player to watch out for this week is wide receiver Key’Shawn Smith. While fellow receivers Mike Harley and Charleston Rambo (the Oklahoma transfer) have made more plays in their college football careers, Smith looks like he’s stepping into his own as a super freshman as Miami’s most talented receiver. They can all hurt you, but Smith can be a difference maker even more dynamic than the others, so that’s why he’s my pick here.
On defense, I’m going to cheat and give you two players: cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and safety Bubba Bolden. Both are the best players on the roster at their positions, and with their play, should contend for All-ACC accolades at season’s end.
6. Bonus Question: Score prediction?
Cam: While I was very confident in Miami winning a close game when the schedule came out, and more confident in Miami winning this game when I watched.....whatever Sparty tried to pass off as competitive football last year, I think this is gonna be a dogfight.
In the end, I think Miami will have JUST enough to get by, and the noon kickoff will have an effect on MSU’s conditioning that Miami is used to and will be able to navigate to the end of a tough, physical game.
Final Score: Miami 30 Michigan State 27
A huge hank you to Cam for answering my questions and providing his thoughts and analysis about the Hurricanes. You can follow Cam on Twitter, and to keep up with the Miami news, follow State Of The U as well.
For my answers to Cam’s questions, head over to State Of The U for our conversation there.