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Takeaways from Miami's Win over Appalachian State

Takeaways from Miami's Win over Appalachian State

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Ahead of their home opener, the Hurricanes made one thing clear.

They couldn’t allow their Week One opponent – defending national champion Alabama – to beat them twice. Miami’s focus had to be on improving and finding ways to handle a solid Appalachian State team that arrived at Hard Rock Stadium hoping to upset the Hurricanes.

It wasn’t always pretty, but after falling behind in the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes rallied, made the plays they needed to and ultimately, secured a 25-23 win over the Mountaineers on Saturday night.

Afterward, both players and coaches acknowledged the Hurricanes (1-1) need to continue finding ways to improve – especially with a tough non-conference game against Michigan State (2-0) looming.

But, they noted, there were positives to build on, too.

“I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of our resiliency. App State made it tough on us [and] we made it tough on ourselves. I think because of our inability to get points, that kept them in the game,” Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said. “We also gave away 10 points in the kicking game. It was all the things from App State’s perspective that you would want to be able to stay in the game. That’s what they do. It’s App State. They go on the road and they take people down on the road, but they didn’t take us down and that’s because the defense played outstanding all night. They gave them one drive in the fourth and App [State] took the lead, but our offense responded with a great drive to retake the lead. Andy [Borregales] came in with the clutch kick. That was awesome in the fourth quarter.”

Here, more of how the Hurricanes assessed their performance and what they can take from their home opener moving forward.

1. The fourth-quarter fight made a difference

With 5:48 left in what had been largely a back-and-forth game, Appalachian State’s Malik Williams caught a 3-yard scoring pass from quarterback Chase Brice to cap an 8-play, 75-yard drive and give the Mountaineers a 23-22 lead.

Appalachian State wasn’t able to convert on their 2-point attempt and Miami had a chance to retake the lead when the Hurricanes got possession back with just over five minutes remaining.

Miami, FL - September 11th: The University of Miami Hurricanes against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11th, 2021 in Miami, FL.

(Photo by Eric Espada/University of Miami Athletics)

Miami answered with a scoring drive of its own, one that went 10 plays in 55 yards, took 3:36 off the clock and was capped when Borregales converted on a 43-yard field goal that put the Hurricanes back on top.

Then, Miami’s defense got its biggest stop of the night, holding the Mountaineers to just 22 yards on their ensuing drive.

In the span of minutes, Miami’s offense, defense and special teams came together and the Hurricanes closed out their first win of the season.

“When games are close, anything can happen,” Diaz said. “It can come down to one play. Today’s came down to a play and it happened to go our way.”

Added Hurricanes defensive tackle Nesta Jade Silvera, “A win is a win. As long as you can get it out, you’re going to get it out. Of course there’s always things to improve. Credit App State for being a very good team. They fought to the end, but a win is a win to me, any day of the week.”

2. Andy Borregales makes his Hard Rock debut especially memorable

A season ago, former Hurricanes kicker Jose Borregales was recognized as the best in the nation, becoming the first Miami player to win the Lou Groza Award.

This season, his younger brother Andy is looking to continue Miami’s placekicking success.

The freshman kicker was 3 of 4 on field goal attempts against Appalachian State, with two of those kicks coming in the fourth quarter. His 43-yarder with 2:04 left ultimately made the difference in the win – and left his older brother, now a kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, smiling.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Andy Borregales said after Saturday’s win. “I’m kind of just calm, but, yeah, it was the game-winner. My mindset right now is just on to the next kick. I’m focused on getting better, getting one percent better, every day.”


Said Diaz, “To go in there in the fourth quarter like that and to bang out two clutch kicks that we had to have, that is pretty special. We don’t want to put him in that situation often, but we know that if we get in that spot, we have a guy that has the confidence to make it. I think that entire sideline believed that kick was going to go in.”

3. The red zone offense needs to improve

One area the Hurricanes know they need to get better in as the season continues? Their production inside the red zone.

Against Appalachian State, Miami got inside the 20-yard line five times. They came away with touchdowns just twice. Against Alabama, the Hurricanes got in the red zone three times and managed just a pair of field goals.

That has to get better, especially with Michigan State coming to Hard Rock Stadium next week and with ACC play beginning later this month.

“We have to get better in our red zone offense. We have to finish drives with touchdowns,” Diaz said. “These are things that are on us as coaches that we have to get corrected to give us the chance to score the way we think this offense is capable of scoring.”

Added quarterback D’Eriq King, “There are a lot of things we have to clean up, especially offensively. I think the defense played great all night, but we have to play a lot better offensively. Especially in the first half, we didn’t do a lot, so there are some things that need to be cleaned up. We got our first win of the season, so we’re always happy about that. But come Sunday, we have to look within ourselves to see what we can do better to get a better outcome.”

4. The passing game had stops and starts early

As King noted, there were moments on Saturday when Miami’s offense wasn’t at its best.

The quarterback was 20-of-33 for 200 yards, but he didn’t have a touchdown pass on the night and early on, it seemed as if he needed time to get into a rhythm.

After the win, King acknowledged Miami’s passing game needs to be more consistent, particularly early in games.

“You’re not going to complete every single pass and obviously, you don’t want to start off 3-for-8, but we found a way to win. We have to get better, it’s that simple,” King said. “The good thing about playing college football is that you have another game next week, next Saturday. We got a win tonight, which is always positive, but offensively, we have to get a lot better. It starts from me on the offensive side of the ball. I have to play a lot better in the first half and everything else will follow.”

Added Diaz, “It was a struggle in the intermediate passing game. We had a hard time finding open guys in the middle of the field…There were some passes that were batted down. We had some success going to the outside lanes down the field and I thought some guys made some really good catches out there…D’Eriq didn’t feel like he was at his best tonight throwing the ball, but with all that being said, we still marched the ball down the field enough times to put up a big number. We just couldn’t get it done when we got down there.”

Next Up: Michigan State

The Canes continue a four-game September homestand when the Spartans visit Hard Rock Stadium next Saturday followed by CCSU on Family Weekend on Sept. 25 and Virginia in the ACC Opener on Thursday, Sept. 30.

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5. Penalties took a toll

Penalties have at times been an issue for the Hurricanes in recent seasons and on Saturday, those self-inflicted miscues proved costly.

While both Miami and Appalachian State were both penalized six times each, the Hurricanes’ flags seem to come at much more inopportune moments – like when an illegal formation penalty negated a Cam’Ron Harris touchdown run in the second quarter and when back-to-back penalties in the second quarter put the Hurricanes in a 2nd-and-18 situation.

That can’t continue, Diaz said.

“There were some self-inflicted errors in penalties on the short-side of the field,” Diaz said. “Obviously, we had a touchdown called back on a fourth-and-short. These are the things that we need to correct as we get into the rest of our schedule.”

6. Harris carries the load

The Hurricanes came into the season confident that all of their veteran backs – Harris, Donald Chaney or Jaylan Knighton – could be effective runners.

Two games into the season, though, the group’s depth has been impacted.

Before last week’s opener, Miami announced Knighton would not be available for the Hurricanes’ first four games and Saturday, Chaney – who scored Miami’s first touchdown – left the game with an injury.

That meant a heavy workload for Harris and the junior delivered with a team-high 91 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

After the game, Diaz said the initial prognosis for Chaney was “not good” and it seems as if Harris is going to be asked to continue to carry the load for Miami moving forward. And while he feels the run game took a step forward this week, Harris knows the Hurricanes have to keep moving forward.

“The run game is getting better and better. The o-line is blocking their butts off, but App State, that’s a tough defense. They played with great effort,” Harris said. “We’ve got to score in the red zone. We’ve got to help the defense out. Can’t leave them on the field for a long time. We’re going to clean up a lot of things [Sunday] in practice, see what we did wrong and how we can execute the plays going on to Michigan State.”

7. Key’Shawn Smith emerging

After a solid showing against Alabama last week, receiver Key’Shawn Smith stepped up once again for the Hurricanes on Saturday.

The freshman, who made his first collegiate start against the Crimson Tide in Atlanta, finished with a team-high 70 receiving yards Saturday and made one of the more impressive plays of the game on a 36-yard catch in the second quarter that elicited plenty of cheers from the Hard Rock Stadium crowd.

Miami, FL - September 11th: The University of Miami Hurricanes against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11th, 2021 in Miami, FL.

(Photo by Eric Espada/University of Miami Athletics)

After two games, Smith is averaging 13.2 yards per catch and is Miami’s leading receiver with 110 yards on eight catches.

8. A mixed bag on special teams

There’s no doubt Borregales and punter Lou Hedley – who averaged 39 yards per punt and had of his punts down inside the 20 – have been effective in Miami’s first two games.

But against Appalachian State, one big special teams play didn’t go the Hurricanes’ way.

Just after Miami took a 12-7 lead in the second quarter after a 27-yard Borregales field goal, the Hurricanes allowed a 100-yard kickoff return by Mountaineers receiver Jalen Virgil.

As talented as Virgil – a sprinter on Appalachian State’s track team – may be, the Hurricanes know they have to do better on plays like those.

“[Virgil] is a 10.3 second, 100-meter guy. It was a combination of our guys not doing their job and a guy that can really roll,” Diaz said. “Their wideouts are really good. They have three really good wideouts who could have played for just about everybody in our conference. We just happened to kick the ball to one and if you don’t fit it up, that is what’s going to happen.”

9. Tyrique Stevenson steps up

Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, a transfer from Georgia, arrived at Miami earlier this year hoping to make an impact for his hometown program.

In his first game at Hard Rock Stadium, that’s exactly what he did.

The sophomore had five tackles and defended three passes against Appalachian State, with his biggest PBU coming in the game’s final minute.

With the Mountaineers hoping to convert on a 4th-and-6 on their final drive, Stevenson batted down a pass intended for Appalachian State’s Corey Sutton.

One play later, the Hurricanes took over possession and were able to run out the clock to secure the win.

10. On to Michigan State

Saturday’s win over Appalachian State marked the first of four September home games for the Hurricanes, who are now set to welcome the unbeaten Spartans to Hard Rock next week.

Michigan State is receiving votes in the AP Top 25 and is coming off a 42-14 win over Youngstown State. In both of their games this season, the Spartans have scored on 75-yard plays on their first offensive snaps.

The Hurricanes know they’ll have to be sharp from the get-go if they want to pick up another non-conference win.

“We wanted to play a lot better. I have to play a lot better first and foremost,” King said. “Offensively, we have to play a lot better. We have to make a lot more plays.”

Added Silvera, “I feel like there’s always room for improvement. We know we’ve got to improve every week. It’s that simple. We’ll go in and delve into the film [Sunday], watch what we need to correct, watch what we did well and we’ll just go from there.”