Louisville hosts Miami on Saturday night in college football’s must-see game for Week 3. The Cardinals opened the 2020 season with a 35-21 win over WKU, while the Hurricanes dispatched UAB 31-14 last Thursday. Even though it’s early in the year, the ACC’s 15-team format makes every head-to-head battle important. And with both teams projected by most to finish in the top half of the conference, this matchup could be critical for positioning or tiebreakers in December.
Miami coach Manny Diaz hit the reset button after a disappointing 6-7 mark in his debut last season. The Hurricanes brought in three new assistant coaches this offseason, including offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. The roster also received reinforcements thanks to the arrival of a handful of key transfers. Quarterback D’Eriq King, end Quincy Roche, offensive lineman Jarrid Williams and kicker Jose Borregales are all slated to play huge roles for the ‘Canes in 2020. While there’s a long way to go this season, the opener provided good signs for Diaz. Miami’s offense ran for more than 300 yards, King was steady under center, and the defense allowed only 14 points in the victory over the Blazers.
While Diaz had his share of ups and downs in his first year in charge, it was a different story in Louisville. Scott Satterfield won ACC Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Cardinals to a six-game jump in wins in his debut season. Satterfield’s impact on offense was noticeable right away, and Louisville finished 2019 by averaging 33.1 points – up from 19.8 the previous year. The Cardinals started the 2020 season with a win over WKU, but the schedule gets tougher with matchups against Miami, Pitt, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame in the next four weeks.
Miami owns a 10-3-1 series edge over Louisville. The Hurricanes won 52-27 last season. However, these two teams have played only twice as ACC foes, with each program winning once.
Miami at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Louisville -2.5
When Miami Has the Ball
Miami quarterback D’Eriq King entered 2020 as one of the ACC’s most intriguing players. The Houston transfer was a much-needed upgrade for the Hurricanes under center after the offense struggled to find consistency at quarterback and overall production last fall. King recorded 50 overall touchdowns in a monster 2018 campaign with the Cougars and showcased his talent in the opener. The senior threw for 144 yards on 16 completions and added 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground. King’s mobility can help extend plays or allow him to scramble when things break down in the pocket. That’s a huge asset for an offense still searching for the right pieces in the trenches.
While King’s mobility is an x-factor on Saturday night, the strength of the ground game still rests with running backs Cam’Ron Harris, Jaylan Knighton and Donald Chaney. Harris ran for 134 yards in the opener, with Knighton (59) and Chaney (52) each flashing potential. After running for 337 yards against UAB, this trio of backs (along with King) will be a stiff test for Louisville’s defense. This group ranked 13th in the ACC against the run last fall. The Cardinals held WKU to just 119 yards on the ground and registered 10 tackles for a loss. Can Satterfield’s defense win the battle up front and get Miami into long-yardage situations?
As expected due to the unusual offseason, Miami’s passing game is a work in progress. King averaged only six yards per attempt versus UAB and did not complete a pass longer than 15 yards to a wide receiver. Tight end Brevin Jordan grabbed a 25-yard reception last week, but the Hurricanes need to connect on a couple of deep passes for the offense to take off. Louisville should focus on slowing Jordan, while making receivers Mike Harley, Dee Wiggins, Mark Pope and Jeremiah Payton win the one-on-one battles on the outside.
Louisville’s defense surrendered 33.4 points a contest last year and entered 2020 looking to take a major step forward. How far has this group improved since last season? This test against Miami on Saturday night should provide more insight than Week 1.
Related: Predictions for Every Game in Week 3
When Louisville Has the Ball
Big plays fueled Louisville’s offense in the win over WKU last Saturday. Behind quarterback Micale Cunningham, the Cardinals had four plays of 40 yards or more and averaged 6.8 yards a snap. Cunningham has thrived under Satterfield’s watch, as he finished 2019 with 2,065 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also ran for 482 yards and six scores. The junior was projected to be among the ACC’s top quarterbacks in 2020, and as evidenced by last week’s win over WKU, is on his way to living up to those expectations.
Cunningham headlines an offensive trio that ranks among the best in college football. Running back Javian Hawkins ran for 1,525 yards last fall and posted 71 on 19 carries in the opener. Cunningham’s top target in 2019 was Tutu Atwell, and they connected seven times for 78 yards in the opener. But Louisville’s supporting cast is much more than just those two players. Dez Fitzpatrick and junior college transfer Braden Smith each caught four passes for 110 yards versus WKU, and tight end Marshon Ford is a breakout candidate. In other words, Cunningham has no shortage of weapons and his ability to move around in the pocket or roll out to the edge to throw will create plenty of challenges for Miami.
Despite losing 52-27 in last year’s game, Louisville averaged 7.8 yards a snap versus Miami. The Hurricanes held UAB to just 4.7 yards a play last week and only one drive extended beyond 34 yards. However, stopping the Cardinals (as evidenced by last fall) is going to be a much tougher test for Diaz’s defense. The strength of Miami’s defense starts in the trenches. Roche, Jaelan Phillips and Nesta Jade Silvera will test the Louisville offensive line, which allowed 10 tackles for a loss and a sack in the opener against WKU. Getting to Cunningham and generating pressure is going to be crucial with a thin group of cornerbacks on the outside.
Even though both teams won last week, there’s still quite a bit of mystery going into Saturday night’s matchup. Can Miami connect on more big plays through the air to complement its ground game? Louisville’s high-powered offense already seems to be finding its rhythm, and big plays by Cunningham, Atwell and Hawkins could be there if the offensive line holds up. Special teams could play a key role in this matchup. Louisville had two issues on punts last week, while Miami lost a fumble on a return. On paper, this matchup is relatively even, so small things like special teams, big plays or turnovers could be the deciding factor. This one is a tossup, but a small edge goes to the Cardinals.