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September 25, 2013
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TEAM: University of Miami
LOCATION: Coral Gables, Fla.
2012 RECORD: 7-5 (5-3 Atlantic Coast)
CONFERENCE: Atlantic Coast
HEAD COACH: AL Golden (3rd year - Miami- 16-11;)
KICKOFF: 12:04 PM ET Saturday, September 28 at Raymond James Stadium - ESPNU
The Miami Hurricanes come to Raymond James Stadium with a Top 25 ranking (15th), a five-game winning streak dating back to last year and every reason to believe 'The U' is back.
"They're back," said USF head coach Willie Taggart during this weekly press conference. "They are not a tropical depression any more. They're a full-fledged Hurricane."
Third-year coach Al Golden has dealt with the cloud of uncertainty of an NCAA investigation that has dragged on longer than most TV series. Golden has remained positive and continued to restock the Miami program with local talent - like RB Duke Johnson from Miami Norland.
Miami has never lost to South Florida in Tampa - in fact, the 'Canes haven't lost in Tampa since Richard Nixon was President.
Last year's 7-5 team began to gel offensively, scoring 30 or more points in the last three games and has continued with an average of 44 points this season.
The biggest question is how healthy is Morris. Some reports say he sprained his ankle against Savannah State last week in a 77-7 victory - while Golden says it's a 'bone bruise.'
Whatever it is - Morris has to be mobile for the offense to work.
Canesport editor Gary Ferman said he believes the offense could be a little compromised on Saturday depending on how healthy Morris is and what game plan the Hurricanes choose to deploy.
"It is week four and I am not sure we have seen the REAL Miami offense yet as coaches have kept things pretty close to the vest," Ferman said. "Undoubtedly looking ahead to games against Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Florida State - which will shape the season.
Johnson has 302 yards rushing and Morris has 402 yards passing. Balance is the key for the 'Canes, something USF is lacking. Behind Johnson is freshman Gus Edwards - who has 132 yards on the ground and three touchdowns in two games.
The offensive line is solid with all five starters from 2012 returning. In fact, the offense pretty much has ten of 11 starters back.
The line starts with the interior - where center Shane McDermott , guards Brandon Linder and Jonathan Feliciano protect Morris, having given up only two sacks while opening up holes for the running game to generate an average of 225.7 yards per game.
Statistically speaking, however, Miami struggled against the only tier-1 defense it has faced - Florida - generating only 50 yards rushing, 10 first downs and 162 yards passing.
One thing the 'Canes did against the Gators incredibly well - and it's USF's key weakness - is force turnovers. The defense forced five turnovers for the Gators - something Miami has done consistently throughout the three games.
Going into this season, the 'Canes had serious questions - but they've been answered with three games into the season. Nine starters return from a defense that finished dead last in the ACC against the run.
Led by DE Anthony Chickillo - a Tampa native, the line has generated pressure on opposing quarterbacks - forcing ten take-aways and 11 sacks. Six of the ten take-aways have been interceptions.
In the linebacking corps is led by Denzel Perryman in the middle. Perryman is a run-stopper and patrols the middle very well.
According to Ferman, "How much we see Saturday will probably be determined by how well South Florida plays. But there is no question that Miami is vastly improved on defense. The team had a great off-season conditioning program that has paid huge dividends for the defensive linemen and linebackers in particular."
"Miami is a much tougher team to run against now and if South Florida is going to have any success on Saturday, I think the Bulls will have to be able to throw the football."
Miami is a team on the rise. Ten freshmen started at least one game in 2012 and the trend is showing well. Johnson is the key to the offense if Morris isn't 100 percent.
The 'Canes struggled to establish a run game against Florida - and if USF can force Morris into passing on a gimpy ankle, it could be an interesting game.
That being said, Miami will bring pressure on Bench and company and wait for a mistake. The Canes have been very opportunistic, and stingy on third down - giving up only a 30 percent conversion rate.