Atlantic Coast Conference play is right around the corner as the No. 15 Miami Hurricanes prepare for a nonconference bout with the South Florida Bulls. The Hurricanes are 3-0 for the first time since 2004, so there is some buzz starting to surround the program.
But Miami has to keep focused on South Florida, because there are a few areas in which Miami can and must improve before the ACC season kicks off for Golden's team.
Head coach Willie Taggart and his 0-3 Bulls do not appear as if they will be a massive challenger to the 'Canes, but taking Saturday's game for granted would be a huge mistake.
Miami has a golden opportunity for its leader to get into a rhythm, and avoiding a certain bug is necessary too.
No More Injuries
Miami's glorified scrimmage against Savannah State was supposed to be a chance for key reserves and younger players to receiver a solid number of snaps.
What wasn't supposed to happen, however, was quarterback Stephen Morris, running back Duke Johnson and wide receiver Herb Waters each leaving the game due to injury.
The bumps and bruises did allow players such as Ryan Williams, Stacy Coley, Eduardo Clements and Gus Edwards extra reps, but the Hurricanes did not intend for the additional snaps to happen that way.
Plus, Duke Johnson has had an injury scare in each of the first three games—a testament to how hard the sophomore back plays. But each injury scare is just that—scary. Whenever Duke limps off the field or is slow to get up, Miami fans hold their collective breath.
And of course, Stephen Morris exited the game with a bone bruise on his right ankle, but he expects to play, according to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald. Morris definitely needs the game action too, as he has thrown for just 404 yards through three games, and for perspective, Morris threw for 404-plus in three games last year.
The 'Canes must leave the South Florida contest relatively injury-free as the pivotal part of the season—conference games—begins the following week.
Find Their Offensive Rhythm
Some of Miami's offensive struggles against Florida Atlantic can be chalked up as first-game jitters, but the Hurricanes starting unit still has not quite meshed.
Morris and Co. showed strides during the first quarter vs. Florida, but the Gators' defense kept the 'Canes at bay for the rest of the game.
Savannah State, as mentioned earlier, was an opportunity for reserves to get more snaps, but the game also provided an outstanding chance for the Miami offense to get on the same page. While the Hurricanes showed no ill effects after Morris left the field, it would have been beneficial for the receivers to work with the senior quarterback in a game situation.
Georgia Tech is the first opponent during conference play, and the Yellow Jackets have played admirably through three games (and two ACC matchups). Paul Johnson's team allowed just 319 yards to Bryn Renner and the North Carolina offense, and although it was raining, the number is quite low for the Tar Heels.
The Yellow Jackets host Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), and that Coastal Division clash is a DVR-worthy game to see where both teams—especially Georgia Tech—currently stand.
South Florida has not been playing awful defense, allowing just 305.7 yards per game which ranks 23rd in the nation, so Saturday is certainly not a "gimme" for the Hurricanes.
Nonetheless, Morris and his receivers must start connecting on a regular basis, and Johnson (101.3 yards per game) needs to continue running the ball effectively.
Dominate the Game
Overall, though, South Florida is bad, you guys.
To understand how far the Bulls have fallen, consider this: Miami was beaten by USF 23-20 in 2010 and clipped a Skip Holtz-coached team 6-3 on a last-second, game-winning field goal.
Last season, the Hurricanes left no doubt who the superior team was by thrashing South Florida 40-9 at Sun Life Stadium.
Fast forward to 2013, and the Bulls were beaten by McNeese State 53-21.
Yes, the FCS' McNeese-stinkin'-State.
Two weeks later, South Florida fell to Florida Atlantic 28-10—a squad this Miami team beat by 28 in the season-opener. But Al Golden refuses to overlook the Bulls and believes USF's offense will be especially tough to handle coming off a bye week, according to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post.
The Bulls' offense hasn't impressed many, ranking 116th in the nation in passing yards, 121st in points scored and 120th in total yards. Golden, however, disregarded the numbers. ... "If you’re going to put any wrinkles in, that’s the time to put them in," Golden said. "I think it’s going to be a great challenge, especially in the first 15 plays. Whatever adjustments they have made, we have to adapt and adjust quickly so we don’t incur any damage on defense."
The 'Canes must now allow this matchup to become a trap game and dominate the 12 p.m. ET contest on Saturday.
As in 2012, Miami must leave no doubt once again and then the team can begin preparing for Georgia Tech and ACC play at full-strength and in rhythm.