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Miami Hurricanes vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers Preview and Prediction

Brad Kaaya

Brad Kaaya

For the first time, the Miami Hurricanes and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will meet on the gridiron with an ACC team making a rare trip to Boone, N.C. This will be Miami’s first road game of the 2016 season and it will take place in one of the toughest venues for a visiting team to win at in college football.

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Appalachian State is 77-15 in its past 92 games at Kidd Brewer Stadium, which is nicknamed “The Rock.” The stadium usually seats 30,000, but the school is expecting a record-setting crowd when the Hurricanes come to town on Saturday.

This will be the first time Appalachian State has hosted a school from a Power Five conference. After falling 20-13 in overtime to Tennessee in Knoxville to open the season, the Mountaineers got their first victory by beating Old Dominion at home.

Miami will enter Saturday’s game at 2-0. In their last game, the Hurricanes defeated the FAU Owls 38-10 behind running back Mark Walton, who rushed for 155 yards and four touchdowns.

Miami at Appalachian State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17, 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Miami -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Brad Kaaya
Coming into the 2016 season, Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya received a lot of praise from scouts and analysts as some said he was one of the top two quarterback prospects in the nation. After the first two games of the season, Kaaya certainly hasn’t played like one of the best players in the country.

Against FAU, Kaaya probably had his worst collegiate game, going just 17-of-31 for 191 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. He had a 20.4 total quarterback rating and a completion percentage of 54.8, which was the third lowest in any game he has played at Miami.

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Head coach Mark Richt said earlier this week that he isn’t worried about Kaaya’s play two games into the season.

“I think part of it is not being 100 percent sure what they were going to do,” Richt said. “We ran the ball well last week, and I’m sure they (FAU) wanted to hold up against the run without being in kind of a two-deep type of look, which they do quite often. I think we’ll look at that film but either the ball or the protection or, there will be something in the pass game that kept us really being sharp and having some big numbers.”

If Kaaya’s struggles continue, look for Miami to rely more on running the football, much like it did in the second half of the FAU game.

2. Appalachian State defense
Despite being a smaller school from the Sun Belt Conference, Appalachian State has a very physical and athletic defensive line. The Mountaineers gave Tennessee’s offensive line everything it could handle in the season opener.

Appalachian State gave up only 127 yards rushing on 43 carries against Tennessee. The Mountaineers also sacked Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs twice and recorded five tackles for a loss.

Appalachian State’s defense features plenty of experience with nine returning starters. The player that the Hurricanes will need to keep their eye on is strong-side defensive end Antonius Sims. In two games, Sims has seven tackles, three sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Miami also will need to account for Caleb Fuller, who has two tackles for a loss and a sack.

3. Hurricanes' defensive line
Miami's 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has already paid dividends. Through the first two weeks of the season, the Hurricanes are No. 1 in the FBS with 10 sacks. The team also leads the nation in tackles for a loss with 28.

The Hurricanes are currently the stingiest defense against the run, allowing just 34.5 yards per game on the ground. Appalachian State’s leading rusher is Marcus Cox, who has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in each of the first two games. Cox’s running room could be limited against Miami’s physical and athletic defense.

Final Analysis

This game will be by far the biggest ever played in Boone, N.C. Tickets for the game are the priciest in the history of Kidd Brewer Stadium.

College Football Top 25: Miami

Considering how closely Appalachian State played Tennessee, the Hurricanes should not take this game lightly. The Mountaineers have the players and athletes to hang with the Hurricanes. In the end, Brad Kaaya and the Hurricanes’ deep, talented backfield will do just enough to avoid the upset.

Prediction: Miami 34, Appalachian State 30

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.