The Hard Rock Stadium crowd rose to its feet, arms shot skyward and what once was collective anger at Miami’s home team turned into gratitude.
As fun and satisfying and fan-igniting the Hurricanes’ 43-yard, game-winning field goal proved to be last weekend, the Miami Hurricanes would rather avoid the theatrics Saturday (ABC).
That’s when the Big Ten’s Michigan State Spartans descend on the Rock (noon, ABC) with their mascot Sparty, prolific running back Kenneth Walker III and 2-0 record.
And that’s when the No. 24 Hurricanes (1-1) hope to ignite an offense touted, yet still unproven in 2021, as its strength.
“Honestly, we’re just one play away,’’ UM receiver Mike Harley said. “We’ve had some drive-killers, penalties... dropped balls, missed reads. Just like one down away. It’s up to one person making the play, and then we’ll get rolling.’’
Last year it was the Hurricanes’ defense causing turmoil and breakdowns by the end of the season. Now, though only two games through and the first against the top college team in the universe, the offense needs to awaken quickly.
Keeping in mind the opening-game Alabama factor and that the NCAA statistics are only two weeks old, the Hurricanes — as of Thursday favored by six points — were ranked 111th in scoring offense (averaging 19 points a game), 110th in total offense (320.5 ypg) and 98th in red-zone offense. They have reached the end zone eight times against Bama and Appalachian State, and have yielded two touchdowns and four field goals.
Quarterback D’Eriq King, coming off a torn ACL and reconstructive knee surgery in January, was 23 of 30 (76.7 percent) against Alabama for 179 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions. Against Appalachian State, King was 20 of 33 (60.6) for 200 yards and no touchdowns. He has 28 carries for 89 yards and no touchdowns, which includes the 38 yards lost after being sacked six times.
King didn’t speak to the media this week, but said after UM’s 25-23 win against the Mountaineers that “there are a lot of things we have to clean up, especially offensively.’’
The Spartans, who defeated Northwestern 38-21 in their opener on the road and FCS opponent Youngstown State 42-14 last week, are ranked 69th nationally in total defense (352 yards allowed a game) — 75th against the run and 71st against the pass.
But offensively, behind Wake Forest transfer Walker III, Michigan State is rolling. The Spartans are sixth nationally in rushing offense, averaging 299 yards a game. Walker, a fourth-year junior, leads the country in rushing yards per carry (10.7). He’s second nationally with five rushing touchdowns and fourth in rushing yards per game and total rushing yards (321).
MSU has scored 75-yard touchdowns on its first play from scrimmage in both games this season.
“This is a different challenge this week because of the explosiveness of the back,’’ Diaz said. “It’s really, really hard to play great defense without being good versus the run, and these guys will challenge you throughout the day with some really good schemes.’’
The Spartans’ quarterback, redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne, is 30 of 46 for 465 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions.
UM’s defense, especially against the run, has improved, the numbers nonetheless skewed because Alabama put 44 points and 501 yards of offense on the Canes. But UM starting weak-side linebacker Keontra Smith is out for at least a month with a knee injury sustained last Saturday, and fifth-year redshirt junior Waynmon Steed will start in Smith’s place. Miami’s best defensive stat is tackles for loss (11th nationally with nine per game). The Canes have only two sacks.
Canes defensive tackle Jared Harrison-Hunte was asked about the Spartans’ veteran offensive linemen, who have allowed only two sacks and are fourth nationally by allowing only four tackles for loss.
“To be honest, that O-line is really good,’’ Harrison-Hunte said. “But they haven’t seen anybody like us yet. It’s going to be a challenge for them, too.’’
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker, who last season came to East Lansing from Colorado, has had a long career as a defensive assistant at major college programs like LSU, Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama, as well as with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. He was the defensive backs coach at OSU when the Buckeyes beat Miami in double overtime at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (2002 season) for the national title.
“I’ve known Manny for a long time,’’ Tucker said this week. “He’s a darn good football coach, and he’s going to have his guys ready to play.’’
If Diaz doesn’t, the UM fan base will go out of its mind after its meltdown on social media over the narrow win last week.
“They’re exposed to it probably more than we are because their world is so much more centered on social media than ours is,’’ Diaz said Wednesday, when asked how the players and coaches block out the outside noise. “Our battle cry here is play the next play. That’s what we have a chance to do — play the next play. Because whatever the last result is, it’s over....
“The thing in sports is we do have a chance to control our performance. But if our minds start to attach past results, whether they’re positive or negative, then you’re not present and you’re going to do bad either way. We preach that all the time here, and we all preach what we need to hear ourselves, that’s us as coaches — everybody.”
“...It is our pathway to victory.’’
Harrison-Hunte echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We don’t really listen to the outside world,’’ he said. “We know what we’re doing, that we put in that work. We know who we are. As long as we know who we are, we’re fine with that.’’