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ACC Spotlight: Louisville vs Miami

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Caldwell previews Louisville and Miami.

The rankings may be misleading because they don’t include Big Ten or Pac-12 teams at the moment. But whether each team is ranked like they are in the polls this week or not as they were last week, the showdown between Miami and Louisville is the most highly anticipated ACC matchup of the weekend.

With both programs coming off major wins against a Group 5 opponent, each aims to begin the conference season on a high note. If it’s anything like last year’s affair, fans are in for a high-scoring seesaw matchup.

Miami and Louisville played for just the second time as ACC opponents last fall. They weren’t supposed to square off again until 2025, but the nearly all-ACC schedule in 2020 changed that.

The Hurricanes ran away with last year’s matchup, scoring 52 points in what at the time gave them a three-game winning streak. But Miami didn’t win another game after that, ending the season 6-7. Louisville rebounded from the double-digit loss at Miami to go 3-1 down the stretch.

In that matchup, the Cardinals committed three turnovers and 14 penalties for 121 yards. They outgained the Hurricanes from a yardage standpoint, 496-449, and controlled the time of possession, but those mistakes allowed Miami to cruise to victory.

Obviously, eliminating those blunders is a must for Louisville to avenge last year’s embarrassment against Miami. The Cardinals only committed three penalties in Week 1 but lost the turnover battle with two giveaways against Western Kentucky last Saturday.

Slowing down the Hurricanes ground game is important too. Miami exploded for 495 yards against UAB last weekend behind 337 yards on the ground -- the most for the Hurricanes during a game in six years. Miami averaged more yards per rush than pass in the 31-14 win.

Hurricanes junior running back Cam’ron Harris led the way with 134 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. Three other Miami backs also had at least eight rushing attempts and posted more than 6.0 yards per carry.

After years of struggles behind center, Miami also appears to have found an answer at quarterback. D’Eriq King, who became somewhat of a controversial figure in 2019 after choosing to sit out the remainder of the season to save his last year of eligibility and transfer, played well in the season opener. He has tremendous upside, so much so that ESPN analyst David Pollack said “there is nobody that scares the bejesus out of me (more) in college football than him.”

The Louisville defense is expected to be better this season than 2019, but how much better this early in the season will greatly impact this Saturday’s outcome. The Cardinals allowed nearly 206 rushing yards per game last season, which was the second-most in the ACC.

If Miami’s ground game explodes again, Louisville will count on junior quarterback Malik Cunningham to keep pace on offense. Cunningham played very well in the season opener, posting 343 passing yards and four total touchdowns -- three through the air -- with one interception.

It won’t be a surprise, though, if the Cardinals struggle to move the ball or convert the yardage they do accumulate into points, as Miami finished second in the ACC in both run and pass defense during 2019. Plus, only three teams in the conference forced more takeaways.

However, Miami is playing this season without its star defensive end Gregory Rousseau. He led the team with 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last year. Rousseau along with several other key members of last season’s Hurricanes defense, particularly in the pass rush, are gone. Whether their replacements are truly ready to fill the void will be tested essentially for the first time against Louisville.

Prediction: Miami 27, Louisville 20