King-led Miami opens up with UAB

Field Level Media

September 09, 2020 at 8:47 pm.

The Miami Hurricanes, led by dazzling transfer quarterback D’Eriq King, will open their season Thursday night against the visiting UAB Blazers.

UAB (1-0), led by coach Bill Clark, went 9-5 last season, losing its final two games, including a 49-6 blowout to Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA championship game.

Miami had a far more embarrassing finish, especially considering its national-championship pedigree. The Hurricanes went 6-7, losing their final three games, including two against C-USA teams — 30-24 to Florida International and 14-0 to Louisiana Tech.

But Miami, in its second season under coach Manny Diaz, has been energized in training camp by the arrival of King from the University of Houston.

King in 2018 was responsible for 50 touchdowns — 36 throwing and 14 running — to lead the nation while also setting a record in the American Athletic Conference. He isn’t very big at 5-11 and 200 pounds, but the Texas native is fast and accurate, and he is the key to the new Miami offense.

“He’s electric,” Hurricanes new offensive line coach Garin Justice said of King. “Our guys have a lot of confidence when he’s behind center.”

Rhett Lashlee, Miami’s new offensive coordinator, has installed a high-tempo attack, and Justice has rebuilt an offensive line that was among the worst in college football last season.

Miami lost two major playmakers to the 2020 NFL Draft: its leading rusher (DeeJay Dallas) and its leading receiver (K.J. Osborn). But tight end Brevin Jordan returns, and he is a possible first-rounder in 2021. Cam’ron Harris, who rushed for 576 yards last season, ascends to the No. 1 running back spot, and freshmen Jaylan Knighton and Donald Chaney Jr. arrive with stellar reputations.

The top Miami wide receivers are senior Mike Harley and junior Dee Wiggins, who combined for 820 receiving yards last year.

UAB will try to stop Miami’s offense with players such as senior linebacker Kris Moll, who is a candidate for Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors. Moll, who led UAB with 104 tackles last season — including 16 stops for losses and nine sacks — is confident the Blazers will be successful on Thursday.

“We can compete against anybody,” said Moll, who made first-team all-league last year. “I feel like we have a great team.”

Indeed, the Blazers have finished top 10 nationally in defensive metrics in each of the past two years. Last year, UAB finished eighth in pass defense, 11th in sacks and 14th in tackles for losses.

In UAB’s 45-35 win over Central Arkansas on Thursday, the Blazers’ defense wasn’t as bad as the score indicates. For starters, one Central Arkansas touchdown came on a fumble recovery. Secondly, Central Arkansas’ final two touchdowns came in the last six minutes, after UAB led 45-21 and put its reserves in the game.

As for the matchup between UAB’s offense and Miami’s defense, the Hurricanes will try to shut down seniors such as running back Spencer Brown and wide receiver Austin Watkins, the latter a cousin of NFL wideout Sammy Watkins.

Brown is UAB’s career rushing leader with 3,249 yards. That includes the 127 yards Brown gained against Central Arkansas.

Watkins averaged 19.2 yards per catch last season, totaling 1,092 yards. Against Central Arkansas, he caught seven passes for 72 yards.

Miami’s keys on defense include end Quincy Roche, who had 26 sacks the past three years at Temple; end Jaelan Phillips, formerly the nation’s overall No. 1 recruit while at UCLA; and senior linebacker Zach McCloud, who has made 32 career starts at Miami.

The Hurricanes are also confident they have fixed their kicking game with the arrival of senior transfer Jose Borregales, who made 50 of 65 field-goal attempts the past three years for Florida International.

One other note that could impact Thursday’s game: UAB, which has won 19 straight home games, was just 3-5 away from Birmingham last year. Miami went 4-2 at home last year.