Hur­ri­canes QB is hard to stop

Hous­ton trans­fer has lived up to billing

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - High School Football - JOHN MCGONIGAL

Eleven years ago, Rus­sell Wil­son gave Florida State fits. Be­fore he was a Su­per Bowl champ and two- time All- Pro, the N. C. State stand­out threw for 349 yards, scram­bled when needed and tossed five touch­downs in a wild 45- 42 loss to the Semi­noles in Oc­to­ber 2009.

That’s all for­mer Florida State quar­ter­back EJ Manuel could think of when asked about Mi­ami star D’Eriq King and the Hur­ri­canes ear­lier this week. Manuel is now an an­a­lyst with ACC Net­work, and as he’s watched the Canes pop off to start the 2020 sea­son, Manuel has “seen a lot of Russ in D’Eriq.”

That should worry Pitt’s de­fense at noon Satur­day at Hard Rock Sta­dium.

King, a trans­fer from Hous­ton where at one point he was a dark horse Heis­man Tro­phy con­tender, has played to that stan­dard through four games with No. 13 Mi­ami. The 5- foot- 11, 202pounder is a big play bound to hap­pen, av­er­ag­ing 274.6 yards per game ( 214.3 pass­ing, 60.3 rush­ing). And those stats would look even bet­ter if not for fac­ing Clem­son’s de­fense last week.

Still, be­hind the Tigers’ Trevor Lawrence, King might be the sec­ond- best quar­ter­back the Pan­thers will face all sea­son. You could make the ar­gu­ment for Notre Dame’s Ian Book and maybe even Bos­ton Col­lege’s Phil Jurkovec. But at the very least, King will cer­tainly be the most ver­sa­tile, op­er­at­ing within a sys­tem built to his lik­ing.

Mi­ami pushes the tempo un­der of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rhett Lash­lee, a na­tional ti­tle run­nerup with Auburn in 2013 and Gus Malzahn’s for­mer pro­tege. The Hur­ri­canes av­er­age 69.5 plays per game but rank sec­ond- to- last in the ACC in time of pos­ses­sion. The last- place team in the ACC is Syra­cuse. That’s be­cause the Orange are bad. Mi­ami’s ig­no­rance of the clock is by de­sign.

Pat Nar­duzzi said the Hur­ri­canes’

tempo re­minds him of how Cen­tral Florida pushed the pace against Pitt the last two sea­sons. The Knights ran 79 plays in a 45- 14 win back in 2018 and tal­lied 76 in a 35- 34 “Pitt Spe­cial” loss last Septem­ber.

So in Satur­day’s case, which re­sult will the Pan­thers get at Mi­ami? A hel­ter- skel­ter win, or a blowout at the hands of a ranked foe? Fol­low­ing back- to- back de­feats in which de­fen­sive lapses were more than preva­lent, it all de­pends on how well Pitt con­tains the Canes’ No. 1.

“He’s a baller,” Pitt de­fen­sive end Pa­trick Jones II said of King. “We’re go­ing to have to bring our A- game.”

Eyes down­field

The ini­tial at­trac­tion to watch­ing King play within Mi­ami’s scheme stems from his abil­ity as a ball- car­rier. Lash­lee’s play- call­ing puts de­fenses in con­flict, al­low­ing King to cap­i­tal­ize. But we’ll get to his run­ning chops a lit­tle later. Be­cause first and fore­most, Mi­ami’s quar­ter­back is, well, a quar­ter­back.

In Manuel’s view, any­one who be­lieves other­wise isn’t look­ing hard enough.

“A lot of peo­ple have the idea that D’Eriq is a re­ceiver or a run­ning back that’s play­ing the po­si­tion

of quar­ter­back,” said Manuel, a pass- first, dual- threat quar­ter­back in his days at Florida State. “Ob­vi­ously his mo­bil­ity gets him out of trou­ble, but he doesn’t use it when he’s not sup­posed to. He re­ally only moves around the pocket when it calls for it. ... I think he’s a quar­ter­back who can play at the next level.”

Manuel com­pli­mented King’s tim­ing as a passer. At 6- foot- 5, the for­mer Semi­nole never had an is­sue with see­ing over his line and scan­ning the field. But

King, six inches shorter, has to be in sync and know where his weapons are at all times.

Aside from the Clem­son game in which he com­pleted only 12 of 28 passes for 121 yards — “He was off- kil­ter a lit­tle bit against Clem­son, but most quar­ter­backs are,” Manuel added — King has had lit­tle is­sue find­ing those play- mak­ers.

In Mi­ami’s 47- 34 win over Louisville on Sept. 19, King logged seven com­ple­tions of at least 15 yards. The fol­low­ing week against Florida State, he

con­nected on eight such passes, all while com­plet­ing 29 of 40 at­tempts.

That ac­cu­racy, es­pe­cially down­field, shouldn’t come as a sur­prise to any­one who watched King at Hous­ton.

In 2018, his 63.5% com­ple­tion rate and 271.1 pass­ing yards per game led the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence. Only nine quar­ter­backs in col­lege foot­ball recorded more than his 14 passes of 40- plus yards; six of them are

on NFL ros­ters, and one of them is Lawrence. And King’s Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus grade of 91.2 was bested by one passer: Heis­man win­ner and No. 1 over­all pick Kyler Mur­ray.

Keep con­tain

Up 14- 0 in Death Val­ley last week­end, Clem­son got caught in the sec­ond quar­ter. On a third- and- 8, the Tigers’ de­fense sent six and tried to pinch the edges, but King saw his open­ing. He stepped up in the pocket, avoided two would- be tack­lers and took off.

King ripped off a 56- yard scram­ble down to Clem­son’s 22- yard line. Right af­ter King popped up from the tackle, the Hur­ri­canes rushed to the line to keep up their tempo be­fore Dabo Swin­ney called time­out for a breather.

King scam­per­ing in the open field has be­come a col­lege foot­ball sta­ple since he broke onto the scene in 2018. The speed­ster has logged at least one run of 20- plus yards in 11 of his last 14 games. It even hap­pened to Clem­son — a de­fense that al­lowed only three runs of 50 yards or more in 15 games last sea­son. And two of them came at the feet of Ohio State’s J. K. Dob­bins in the na­tional semi­fi­nals.

So if Clem­son can give up a run like that to King, Pitt can, too.

How­ever, the Pan­thers should feel good about what they did to Louisville’s Ma­lik Cun­ning­ham a few weeks ago.

Cun­ning­ham, the ACC’s No. 1 im­pro­viser not named King, man­aged only 31 yards and one first down on six scram­bles in Pitt’s 23- 20 win last month. The Pan­thers picked him off three times and brought him down for seven sacks. No­tably, six of those seven sacks were with Pitt rush­ing four. The Pan­thers rarely blitz, but de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Randy Bates fea­tured a linebacker or two at the line of scrim­mage, dum­my­ing pres­sure and in­stead drop­ping them back as spies on Cun­ning­ham.

“We had a lit­tle game plan for Louisville that we wanted to keep him in the pocket and let him throw the ball. This guy for Mi­ami, he can do both,” Pitt start­ing mid­dle linebacker Chase Pine said. “So we’ll mix it up for him. We’ll have dif­fer­ent looks.”

Jones, who had three sacks on Cun­ning­ham, added that if Pitt’s de­fen­sive ends “rush with good eyes” and keep con­tain, they’ll be fine against King. Along those lines, Manuel cau­tioned against the Pan­thers’ pass- rush­ers do­ing too much.

“Pitt plays a lot of man- to- man be­cause they’ve got good DBs. But when you play man- to- man, some­times that quar­ter­back breaks the pocket, and there’s no­body there to tackle him,” the for­mer firstround pick said, be­fore ad­dress­ing Jones and Rashad Weaver. “They just can’t go up­field. That’s where I see a lot of teams get hurt de­fen­sively with these run­ning quar­ter­backs. They lose con­tain, and they’re not hold­ing their edge.

“That’s what Clem­son does a re­ally good job of. When it’s your turn, you make the play for Clem­son’s de­fense. What I mean by that is, we’re not go­ing to get out of our gaps. If we’re sup­posed to con­tain, let’s do that in­stead of be­ing a hero and do­ing some­thing ex­tra that you’re not sup­posed to do. ( Pitt has) got to play 11- man de­fense, not 9- man, 8- man or 7- man. All 11 have to be on the same ac­cord.”

Sup­port­ing cast

Of course, Mi­ami’s of­fense and King alone.

Cam’Ron Har­ris leads a tal­ented back­field with five touch­downs and an av­er­age of 6.83 yards per carry. First- team Al­lACC pick Brevin Jor­dan and Will Mal­lory make up maybe the most ef­fec­tive tight end tan­dem in col­lege foot­ball, though the for­mer — Mi­ami’s lead­ing re­ceiver — is con­sid­ered ques­tion­able for Satur­day’s game. If he’s out, King can look to his re­ceiv­ing duo from Mi­ami Southridge High School: 6- foot- 3 tar­get Dee Wig­gins and 6- foot- 1 pass- catcher Mark Pope.

Jor­dan, Mal­lory, the wide­outs and the sta­ble of backs all con­trib­ute to Mi­ami’s short- range and down­field suc­cesses so far. The Hur­ri­canes’ 45.9% third- down con­ver­sion rate ranks fourth in the ACC, even af­ter be­ing stymied to the tune of 4 of 15 at Clem­son. And among the teams na­tion­ally who have played fewer than five games, Mi­ami’s 11 plays from scrim­mage

isn’t King of 30- plus yards ranks sixth.

Al­low­ing the big play has been an is­sue for Pitt in re­cent weeks. At Bos­ton Col­lege, the Pan­thers couldn’t get a grip on wide re­ceiver Zay Flow­ers, al­low­ing touch­downs of 77 and 44 yards. In its loss to N. C. State, Pitt sur­ren­dered a 35- yard score to Emeka Emezie on top of five other pass­ing plays of 20- plus yards.

Nar­duzzi pointed to the reps Pitt cor­ner­backs Ja­son Pin­nock and Mar­quis Wil­liams have had to play with Da­marri Mathis lost for the sea­son. The coach raised his hand and ad­mit­ted the Pan­thers’ start­ing cor­ners weren’t ro­tated enough, han­dling around 160 reps each in the last two games.

Nar­duzzi hopes spelling Pin­nock and Wil­liams here and there — look for young­sters A. J. Woods and Rashad Bat­tle to fac­tor in — will help keep Pitt’s sec­ondary fresh against Lash­lee’s tempo and per­haps help limit some of the big plays.

“We’re never go­ing to be per­fect. We’re never go­ing to be flaw­less. But it’s those big plays that we’ve got to elim­i­nate,” Nar­duzzi said, re­hash­ing the 31- 30 de­feat to Bos­ton Col­lege. “That’s what we’ve got to do. That’s what great de­fenses do. We were talk­ing a lot about the de­fense, and you guys wanted to eval­u­ate them af­ter three weeks and I told you we’d eval­u­ate them af­ter 11 or 12 or 13 weeks. That’s kind of why.”

Pitt’s de­fense will cer­tainly be tested this week at Hard Rock Sta­dium. King will make sure of that.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Mi­ami quar­ter­back D’Eriq King leaps for a sec­ond- quar­ter touch­down in a 31- 14 sea­son- open­ing win against UAB at Hard Rock Sta­dium.

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