With the season quickly approaching, Alabama is set to take on the Miami Hurricanes in Atlanta for the annual neutral site opener that has become a staple of the Nick Saban era. The Hurricanes come in ranked 14th in the nation after a generally impressive season in 2020, though big losses to Clemson and North Carolina knocked them out of being in the true upper echelon of college football.
The Hurricanes return almost all of an offense that scored 34 points per game last year, and 6th year senior QB D’Eriq King is viewed by many as one of the best QBs in the nation (and Vegas agrees... He’s 8th overall in the Heisman odds).
King was spectacular for Miami in 2020 after graduate transferring from Houston, throwing for 2700 yards and 23 touchdowns with only 5 interceptions, and adding another 500 yards rushing. He’s one of the best rushing QBs in the nation and combines that with veteran leadership, aggressive and mostly accurate downfield passing, and tremendous moxie to make throws while being blasted by a pass rusher.
Unfortunately, King tore his ACL in the bowl game at the end of 2020. By all accounts, he’s fully recovered and ready to go, but half a year is a short amount of time. Will he be as electric of a runner in game 1 as he’s been his whole career? That’s ultimately the question that will have to be answered for the Hurricanes to have a chance in the opener.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee returns for his second season, and he’s instilled an offense that takes many concepts and elements of the Gus Malzahn offense we saw for years at Auburn and removes a lot of the power rushing in favor of a more spread out wide receiver group and a focus on downfield, sideline passing.
The rushing game is largely read option based, with D’Eriq King being the #1 threat. Running back Cam’Ron Harris led the team with 600 or so yards last year, and looks to be the starter yet again. Harris is a nice, balanced back who can eat up a quick 8-9 yards and knock a defensive back down if the defense bites on the read option fake, but he’s not the kind of running back who can carry an offense or make plays happen in tight spaces.
Last year, slot receiver Mike Harley led the team with 800 yards, and was exceptionally dangerous on those RPO slant routes that Alabama has made so popular the last few years. On the outside, Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins mostly worked the sidelines as deep threats. Both have the speed to burn a defensive back off the line of scrimmage and decent ability to make tough catches, but lack any real threat of getting yards after catch.
With that said, sophomore Key’Shawn Smith, who only had 2 catches last year, has supplanted Pope as one starter, and Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo has taken over Wiggins’ job. Rambo was a big play threat who had a huge season in 2019 as one of Jalen Hurts’ favorite targets, but saw his production drop drastically in 2020. He’s got the speed to take any catch to the house and the versatility to play most any receiver spot.
At tight end, Will Mallory caught 22 passes for nearly 350 yards as the backup TE last year, and is projected to pick up the extra production as the full starter and be one of the best in the ACC. He was a major threat running seams and sneaking behind the linebackers, and displayed the ability to elude a tackle if a defender didn’t come in cleanly to attempt a tackle.
Along the offensive line, Miami returns most of what was a below-average run-blocking unit and an above-average pass-blocking unit from 2020. Will that extra chemistry and veteran status help them to elevate to the next level?
When it comes down to it, this offense will go as King makes huge plays. He’ll get a few on the Tide by hitting a quick slant or seam as he’s getting blitzed, but I fear he won’t quite be confident in himself enough to be the rushing and scrambling threat that he was last year. As such, Alabama will totally shut down the Miami running game, and any deep shots or sandlot plays will be limited.
Without that extra level of threat, the Tide will be able to sit back and contain him, and ultimately hold the Hurricanes to 17-20 points.