Five Takeaways from Miami's Second Scrimmage of 2020
MIAMI – After Miami’s new high-powered, up-tempo offense put up big numbers in the Hurricanes’ first scrimmage of preseason camp, head coach Manny Diaz dryly quipped that no team, ever, had secured itself a championship parade by playing well in a scrimmage.
Those game-like exercises are a rite of passage every year, an opportunity for teams to gauge new plays and schemes, evaluate young players and learn more about themselves as they continue preparing for the season that awaits.
On Saturday night – with their opener against UAB now less than three weeks away – that’s exactly what the Hurricanes did when they held their second scrimmage of the preseason.
There were positives, of course.
Tight end Brevin Jordan, who dealt with a foot injury late during the 2019 season and did not play in Miami’s first scrimmage, looked like his old self. Quarterback D’Eriq King continued to show his ability to make plays with both his arm and his feet. And Miami’s defense was able to make keep the offense at bay early and force a handful of key turnovers.
But, the Hurricanes walked off the field Saturday knowing there are still things to work on before they host the Blazers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 10. That’s one of the things Diaz said he hopes his players take from their latest practice under the lights.
“It was much, much too sloppy of a scrimmage, much sloppier than the first scrimmage, which was kind of a strange deal,” Diaz said. “Way too many penalties, some things that we’re going to have to sternly address this week in practice.”
Here, five quick takeaways from the Hurricanes’ second scrimmage in seven days:
1 – Miami’s defense is making progress
The Hurricanes were without some of their top defensive playmakers last week, with safety Amari Carter, defensive end Quincy Roche and defensive tackle Jon Ford all sidelined during Miami’s first scrimmage.
The trio was back Saturday night and they helped lead a defense that stymied Miami’s offense and held it without a score for the better part of the first quarter. The defense also forced three turnovers, with safety Brian Balom leading the way on that front.
The freshman had an interception, forced a fumble and collected seven tackles. Defensive end Jahfari Harvey, meanwhile, added six tackles. Redshirt freshman linebacker Avery Huff had five tackles and two sacks, sophomore Te’Cory Couch had a pair of tackles and an interception and freshman linebacker Corey Flagg had two tackles and recovered a fumble.
That was more along the lines of what Diaz wanted to see from his defense.
“In the first half, I thought the defense really took it to the offense,” Diaz said. “You could see the addition of some of the guys coming back on the defensive line and that added an overall edge to their play.”
2 – Cam’Ron Harris is emerging as an offensive force
Junior Cam’Ron Harris entered preseason camp knowing that as one of the veterans on the roster, he’d be called on to not just lead a talented group of Hurricanes running backs, but provide a spark to the offense as a whole.
Saturday night, Harris showed what he’s capable of as Miami’s lead back.
Harris had a scrimmage-high 13 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown and showed his ability to catch passes in the backfield, with two of his receptions leading to touchdowns.
More than once, he bulldozed his way into the end zone, showing his power-running ability in short yardage situations. In one third-quarter series, Harris was called on multiple times, and each time, he delivered. One of his five carries on that drive – a 17-yard scamper – put the offense in the red zone. A handful of plays later, he scored again, this time on a 5-yard run.
That performance earned him plenty of sideline high-fives from his teammates – and a good amount of praise from his head coach.
“Really set the tone. The first touchdown [of] the first half, he caught a ball in the flat, about eight yards from the end zone and had three guys that really had him, to get him on the ground, and he ran through all three tackles for the touchdown,” Diaz said. “Very impressive to see that Cam’s making an older-guy type of play.”
3 – The defensive ends made their presence known
Neither of them played a down for Miami last season and maybe they’re still building their chemistry early in camp, but make no mistake – Jaelan Phillips and Roche have the potential to be a dominant duo for the Hurricanes’ defensive line.
The two ends showed that Saturday on back-to-back plays that resulted in losses for the offense. First, Roche – who finished the day with four tackles – managed to bring Harris down in the backfield for one of the running back’s rare negative plays.
One play later, Phillips – who had a pair of tackles and a sack in last week’s scrimmage – got to King and notched his second sack in as many weeks.
But it wasn’t just Phillips and Roche that made an impression Saturday.
Harvey was pretty active too, collecting six tackles, a number that ranked second among all Miami defenders on this night.
That bodes well for the Hurricanes – and may give ACC quarterbacks nightmares down the line.
“Quincy and Jaelan were both very disruptive. Getting Jon Ford back … just a lot of guys creating havoc there in the backfield and creating some negative plays,” Diaz said. “We had very few negative plays in the first scrimmage. It seemed like there were a lot more tonight.”
4 – The youngsters keep coming up big
In Miami’s first scrimmage, more than a few freshmen stepped up to make big plays.
That trend continued Saturday.
Receiver Xavier Restrepo had five catches for 79 yards with a touchdown, while fellow receiver Keyshawn Smith had three catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was 5-of-6 for 205 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Balom led the defense with a scrimmage-high seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
And for the second straight week, running backs Jaylan Knighton and Donald Chaney, Jr. impressed, with Knighton posting 12 carries for 43 yards with a touchdown and Chaney adding eight carries for 48 yards and a touchdown.
“They again got better, the freshmen running backs, as the scrimmage went on,” Diaz said. “I think after their big plays a week ago, sometimes, you have a tendency to want to hit a grand slam with no one on base. I felt that early on they were trying to bounce things that weren’t there. Once they started trusting their cuts and just sticking and becoming north-south runners, once they clear that front line, now they can use their explosion.”
5 – The Hurricanes showed their ability to handle a challenge
In last week’s scrimmage, there were moments the offense was able to move the ball nearly at will and the big plays and points followed.
That wasn’t the case early Saturday and that, Diaz said, led to a different kind of test for the offense, one the unit showed it was able to handle when it bounced back in the second half to put some scoring drives together.
“As crazy as it sounds, we wanted some adversity because last week, I think, was so simple,” Diaz said. “We wanted to see how guys responded and did we get sad and in our feelings or did we have some gumption about us to kind of fight back when we got backed in the corner? And it seemed like they did.”
But Diaz doesn’t want Saturday’s scrimmage to be the extent of the camp challenges his group faces.
With the opener against UAB creeping ever closer, the coach said a week of solid practices in what are expected to be some tough South Florida conditions could go a long way in helping Miami continue to improve.
“We’ve got to be able to extend these drives, especially in the heat. During training camp, we were going in the evening a lot. We’ve got to get on Greentree,” Diaz said. “We need a hot week of practice and we’ve got to continue to push our guys through this week and make it really, really hard on them, make it really difficult on them. … This is pretty much the last week we’ll have to really find out who we can count on to go compete against UAB.”