LSU and Miami continue the first week of the 2018 college football season with a big-time matchup on Sunday night in Arlington, Texas. While these two programs are among the best in the nation, the overall momentum surrounding Miami and LSU seems significantly different going into Sunday night’s game.
The Hurricanes enter coach Mark Richt’s third year at the helm primed to contend for a spot in the CFB Playoff after a 10-3 record last fall. Thanks to a standout defense and a plus-13 turnover margin, Miami opened 10-0 in 2017. Richt’s team stumbled late by losing its last three contests, including a 38-3 defeat to Clemson in the ACC Championship. Despite that late-season setback, this program is clearly trending up. Richt is recruiting well, and the return of 13 starters and a promising group of freshman and sophomore players provide optimism this team can reach double-digit victories once again.
LSU has been one of the biggest wild card teams in the SEC in recent seasons. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for the program, but the Tigers have yet to put all of the pieces in place on offense. Coach Ed Orgeron is hoping he has LSU on a path to elevating this unit among the best in the SEC. New play-caller Steve Ensminger plans to open up the offense, and Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow is a promising option under center. As usual, defense won’t be a problem in Baton Rouge. However, even if Orgeron’s team figures things out on offense, a brutal schedule doesn’t provide a favorable path to match last year’s nine wins.
LSU holds a 9-3 series edge over Miami. These two teams have not met in the regular season since 1988. The Tigers and Hurricanes played in the 2005 Peach Bowl, with LSU scoring a 40-3 victory over Miami.
Miami vs. LSU (Arlington, Texas)
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Miami -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU New Offense and QB Joe Burrow
LSU’s offense is easily the biggest mystery surrounding this game. With a new offensive coordinator, quarterback and receivers on the outside, this is a completely revamped unit. And if that wasn’t enough, the Tigers don’t have Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice back to handle the workload at running back.
So what should be expected out of this unit on Sunday night? Considering LSU’s defense isn’t likely to give up much on the scoreboard, the Tigers won’t need 40 points out of their offense to win. Instead, there’s likely to be a little bit of an acclimation period for Burrow. The junior has good mobility and played well in limited action with the Buckeyes. However, he never had the opportunity to play in meaningful snaps and will be facing a Miami defense that is loaded at all three levels. When Burrow drops back to pass, he has a talented receiving corps at his disposal. Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles is a candidate for All-SEC honors, and true freshman Terrace Marshall is a potential breakout candidate. Sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire and senior Nick Brossette are expected to handle most of the work in the backfield on Sunday night.
LSU’s offense does have one factor working in its favor: The element of surprise. With Ensminger revamping this unit and hoping to shift the offense more to the pass, Miami hasn’t quite seem this scheme or gameplan in action. The Hurricanes are led by one of the top linebacker units in the nation, while safety Jaquan Johnson was an Athlon Sports All-American for 2018. Under coordinator Manny Diaz’s direction, Miami thrived on creating havoc against opposing offenses last fall. This unit recorded 44 sacks and 32 forced turnovers over 13 games in 2017.
All eyes will be on Burrow on Sunday night and how well he performs in his first start. However, don’t overlook the battle of Miami’s front four against the LSU offensive line and ground game. Can the Hurricanes force Burrow into long-yardage situations all night? Or will Burrow do just enough in the passing game and limit the mistakes to give the Tigers the right mix to put 24-30 points on the scoreboard?
2. Miami’s Offensive Line Against LSU’s Defense
Much of the pregame focus for this matchup centered around the quarterbacks and the two standout defenses squaring off on Sunday night. However, one area that deserves a closer look is Miami’s offensive line.
Last season, the Hurricanes surrendered 29 sacks and rushers averaged only 3.9 yards a carry in ACC contests. Needless to say, Richt wants this group to play with more overall consistency on a week-to-week basis and improve off last year’s performance. Sunday night will be a good barometer test for Richt’s offensive line, as left tackle Kc McDermott and guard Trevor Darling expired their eligibility after the Orange Bowl. The line brought back three starters, including rising star Navaughn Donaldson at tackle and center Tyler Gauthier.
If Miami’s offensive line hasn’t improved since 2017, that’s a major problem against LSU’s defensive front. Glen Logan, Breiden Fehoko and Rashard Lawrence are listed as starters here, with linebacker Devin White anchoring the next level. The Tigers allowed only 3.9 yards a carry last season and ranked third in the SEC in rush defense. A deep and athletic front is poised to cause plenty of problems for Miami’s offensive line. Can the Hurricanes give quarterback Malik Rosier just enough protection to throw downfield? And can running back Travis Homer find running room?
Miami’s chances of a win on Sunday night are likely to hinge on how well its front five perform.
3. Miami QB Malik Rosier
Miami’s chances of winning aren’t going to rely solely on Rosier’s arm, but the senior hopes to begin 2018 on a high note after a disappointing end to ’17. Rosier tossed five interceptions over the final two contests and did not throw for more than 210 yards in a single game over the last six matchups. After completing only 54 percent of his passes last fall, it’s clear Richt wants to see Rosier show more consistency in his second year as the starter.
While Rosier’s level of play has to get better in 2018, the senior does have one of the top receiving corps in the nation at his disposal. A healthy Ahmmon Richards will make a big difference on the outside, and Lawrence Cager, Jeff Thomas, Mike Harley and Mike Pope round out a talented group of weapons. Miami’s receivers will be challenged by an excellent LSU secondary, headlined by All-America cornerback Greedy Williams. This unit got deeper over the offseason, as Kristian Fulton was ruled eligible after serving a suspension in 2017, and Terrence Alexander joined as a graduate transfer from Stanford.
The two quarterbacks in this game are under the spotlight. LSU’s Joe Burrow is making his first career start for a program that is looking to jumpstart its offense. On the other sideline, Rosier hopes to prove the end of last season was a fluke and better performance lies ahead for 2018.
Rosier doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in order for Miami to win. The senior simply needs to be efficient, limit mistakes and make a couple of big plays. Will the senior pick up where he left off in 2017? Or will Rosier deliver a clutch performance and help the Hurricanes to a 1-0 start?
This matchup is a hard game to get a read on, so nothing on Sunday night would qualify as a surprise. LSU’s revamped offense is a mystery, especially with a first-time starter at quarterback. Miami’s defense is a standout unit, but question marks remain about Rosier and its offensive line. If LSU’s defensive front is disruptive all night and prevents Rosier from getting on track or forces a couple of turnovers, this game will swing heavily in favor of Orgeron’s team. The Tigers are underdogs here, but perhaps a Miami team with concerns up front is getting too much credit in Vegas. It’s a tough call, but the guess here is Richt has his team ready to play and wins a close one in Arlington.