Miami Football: Hurricanes Cannot Afford to Look Past South Florida on Saturday

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2013

Sep 21, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA;  Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden on the sidelines in the second quarter of a game against the Savannah State Tigers at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes don't want to get washed out before they've even started conference play.

On Saturday, they travel to Tampa to take on the South Florida Bulls. It shouldn't be a tough test for the Canes, if they go out and play up to their potential. With Georgia Tech up next week, it's important Miami takes this game seriously.

When you look at the rest of the Hurricanes' schedule, it's not crazy to think they could finish the regular season undefeated. The toughest tests will be against the Yellow Jackets and then a road game against the Florida State Seminoles on Nov. 2. The only time Miami would have to face Clemson is the ACC Championship Game.

At the very least, the Canes should be unbeaten when they make the trip to Tallahassee.

You see it quite often, though. The week before facing a tough conference opponent, a ranked team will take its foot off the petal, and sometimes pay a massive price.

According to Vegas Insider, Miami is a 16.5-point favorite. That's a heavy line, but South Florida isn't so bad that the Canes can simply sleepwalk through Saturday's game and come away victorious.

Sep 14, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; South Florida Bulls quarterback Steven Bench (2) throws the ball against the Florida Atlantic Owls   at Raymond James Stadium. Florida Atlantic Owls defeated the South Florida Bulls 28-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TO
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Bench completed only eight of his 23 passes against Florida Atlantic two weeks ago for 128 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't good numbers, and you wouldn't expect him to do much more against a defense that ranks sixth in passing efficiency defense.

A transfer from Penn State, Bench will only get better the more he adjusts to South Florida's offense. With another week to learn the playbook, the sophomore signal-caller should at the very least show some improvement. According to 247 Sports, Bench was a 3-star QB coming out of high school. He's not without talent and could give the Canes a scare.

Marcus Shaw has run for 398 yards through USF's first three games, including 94 against Michigan State. He could help take some pressure off Bench and keep the Canes defense on the field and tire it out.

Sep 21, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris (17) after a touchdown in the first quarter of a game against the Savannah State Tigers at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

On the other sideline, there are also some question marks regarding Miami's quarterback. Couple in the injury to Stephen Morris last week with the fact that he hasn't seen a lot of game action since Sept. 7, you've got a QB who may take a little bit to get going. In that time, South Florida could have snatched a touchdown or two that gives its players the necessary belief to win the game.

Sep 7, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson (8) scores a touchdown as Florida Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison (3) defends during the second half of the game at Sun Life Stadium. Miami defeated Florida 21-16.  Mandato
Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Let's be clear. This is a game Miami should win and win handily. However, if the Hurricanes leave the door open a little bit for South Florida, the Bulls could kick it open. Al Golden needs to make sure his players are focused for this game and not looking toward the Yellow Jackets instead.

It's important for Miami to build that momentum going into ACC play. As Bleacher Report's Chris Bello pointed out earlier in the week, the Hurricanes are no stranger to watching their season go up in smoke against a conference foe.

The onus is on Miami to prove itself a genuine national title contender. Until it can get through its conference schedule unscathed, nobody is going to truly believe the Canes are back.

Beating South Florida isn't the kind of game that will look great on the resume. Dominating the Bulls is, however, necessary to continue working toward ascension to an elite level again.