Miami enters LSU opener with urgency to deliver big results with top talent
The LSU-Miami matchup not only holds local attention, but national interest as well. It will be center stage for football-crazed college football fans Sunday evening.
Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt is 164-58 overall and 19-7 with his alma mater heading into his third season. He served as a backup quarterback to such luminaries Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde as a player at Miami from 1979-’82.
Ed Orgeron is 15-6 since assuming the reigns from Les Miles, and many believe his program needs a strong start to the season. Richt and his squad want the same in order to justify high preseason rankings.
It’s a matchup featuring a pair of stout defenses that could determine the outcome.
Miami accounted for 44 sacks last season, and the players who return were responsible for 23.5 of them. By comparison, LSU’s defensive returning players have 12.5 sacks from last season.
How good is Miami’s defense? It’s a talented unit with possibly three NFL first round draft picks next spring.
Junior weakside linebacker Michael Pinkney already has 24 starts to his credit. Tremendous quickness made the 6-foot-2, 220 pounder a freshman All American. Pinkney is good in coverage and the most skilled ‘Cane as at his position.
Defensive end Joe Jackson (6-5, 258) managed a half-dozen sacks and five TFLs last fall but he is a projected first round like Pinkney and Johnson thanks to his special potential. Tremendous edge rusher, who use their hands very well are a commodity.
Scouts anxiously await Jackson’s matchup against talent LSU sophomore left tackle Saahdiq Charles. Jackson has been wearing an elbow brace in the preseason so it will be interesting to see if that affects him.
Michael Jackson (6-1, 200), the third projected first rounder on the Miami defense, has been ranked among the top cover cornerbacks in college football.
Senior strong safety Jaquan Johnson (5-11, 200) is not in Ed Reed or Sean Taylor’s category yet, but the preseason All-American is a playmaker. He sets the tone in the secondary. Smart, tough and blessed with superb ball skills, Johnson has 96 tackles and four interceptions in ’17.
Shaq Quarterman (6-1, 240) follows in the line of Hurricanes linebackers like Jonathan Vilma, Michael Barrow, D.J. Williams and Jon Beason. In his 23 starts, the junior has accounted for 167 tackles.
Defensive tackle Gerald Willis (6-3, 295) has local ties. He recorded 36 sacks and 289 total tackles while at Edna Karr before signing with Florida, but transferred to Miami. He had a breakout spring after getting his life in order, sitting out the 2017 campaign.
The top 10 ranked Hurricanes also have strengths of note on offense.
The ‘Canes offensive line has great size, averaging 325.2 lbs. per starter. On the right side alone, tackle Navaughn Donaldson and guard R.G. Hayden each check in at 6-foot- and 350 pounds. One can guess that “run right” will be in Richt’s mind often.
Left tackle Tyree St. Louis (6-5, 312) has 21 career starts but has struggled some with speed rushers and not always played with good balance.
Tyler Gauthier (6-5, 315) has NFL potential as a center. He has 13 of his 17 starts for Miami in the middle and developed into the leader in the line required for the job.
Richt likes what he has witnessed in his senior quarterback Malik Rosier (6-1, 216), considered one of the ACC’s top signal callers behind Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, Syracuse’s Eric Dungey and North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley.
Rosier tossed for 3,490 yards in ’17 with 28 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, completing only 53 percent of his tosses. He has struggled with decisions and forced the ball too often. His head coach feels Rosier has grown as a leader and improved football IQ. We shall see.
Richt has challenged his squad this preseason, expecting them to play with a sense of urgency to re-establish the program as a true title contender. LSU and Miami share that in common, if for different reasons. A season-opening win would mean plenty for either side.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…