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Analysis: Miami offense puts ACC on notice in win at Louisville

Miami has our attention.

The No. 17 Hurricanes built a two-score lead and kept that cushion the rest of the night as they defeated No. 18 Louisville 47-34 at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.

Miami scored touchdowns on plays covering 75 yards twice and another on a 47-yard pass play in the the second half as the Hurricanes took advantage of a hapless Louisville defense that bit on play-action fakes and was unable to stay disciplined when Miami motioned players across its offensive formations.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes showed they might be the biggest threat to Clemson, the heavy favorite in the ACC.

Let’s dissect the game and what it means for both teams — and the college football landscape.

Rhett Lashlee’s offense owns the night

It’s early yet, and Louisville’s defense is atrocious, but Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is in the hunt for the Broyles Award.

The first-year Miami assistant has the Hurricanes’ offense roaring after a terrible 2019. It helps that he has three dynamic running backs led by Cam’Ron Harris and an upgrade in Houston graduate transfer D’Eriq King at quarterback, but his hurry-up offense has kept the first two opponents off balance.

Louisville busted coverage three times and all three plays led to touchdowns for Miami. You have to blame Louisville for being confused by the eye candy, and being out-leveraged with three receivers against two defensive backs on the final touchdown, but Lashlee deserves huge props for the scheme and designs.

Miami bit on a quarterback-power that turned into a 75-yard touchdown pass to Jaylan Knighton on a wheel route. Louisville’s linebackers and defensive backs all bit on the quarterback run and Knighton busted free out of the backfield for the easy catch and touchdown. By the time the ABC cameras shifted down field to Knighton, no one else was in the frame.

Miami finished with 485 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per play. King was 18 of 30 passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He was buoyed by two easy throws to wide-open receivers for a combined 122 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.

This is a Miami team that couldn’t score a single point against Louisiana Tech in the postseason. Now it’s one of the top offensive teams in the ACC.

Cam’Ron Harris opens up Miami’s offense

Miami running back Cam’Rom Harris is not just an electric runner, but he is also proving to be an effective decoy.

Harris’ numbers in the first half and on his first touch in the second half (75-yard touchdown) pop out on the stat sheet, but what he really did was open up the middle of the field for Miami’s passing offense.

Midway through the first quarter, D’Eriq King faked to the running back to the right on play-action, allowing tight end Will Mallory to slip from the left side behind a Louisville linebacker for a 17-yard touchdown catch.

If not for Harris stretching the sidelines with him high-stepping and skipping through tackles for big gains, we’re not so sure the tight end is open for that touchdown. King threw it to the back shoulder of Mallory as he ran two steps ahead of the linebacker, who had to turn his body after biting on the play-action.

Harris finished with 134 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. He had 57 rushing yards, including a 38-yarder, to average 8.1 yards per carry in the first half.

Louisville’s defense is a huge issue

Forget about Louisville’s defense giving up a pair of 75-yard touchdowns because of busted coverages to start the second half. Yes, those moments were absolutely terrible and God bless the player who will be called out in the Louisville film room this week, but the defense took bad angles and was confused by Miami’s eye candy all night.

The Cardinals’ defense ranked 102nd nationally last season and it looked the part of another bottom-tier defense in the Power 5 Saturday night.

Louisville’s defense was flat-footed the entire night, especially fresh out of the locker room. Miami rolled up 351 yards and 31 points combined in the first and third quarters. The Hurricanes scored two touchdowns on the first two plays of the second half.

Big plays are one thing. Missed tackles are another. Busted coverages? Well, that’s a lack of effort and the coaches could and should be able to make corrections.

Louisville’s offense still potent

Both teams featured some of the better running back talent in the ACC. Louisville showed it has a great one-two punch at running back and receiver, which is not necessarily something Miami can claim.

Running back Javian Hawkins and receiver Tutu Atwell provided bright spots on the first two drives of the second half, completing both possessions with touchdowns.

Hawkins can cut, spin and simply out-run defenders. He accounted for all but four offensive yards on the Cardinals’ first touchdown drive in the third quarter. He rushed for 51 yards, but it was his 19-yard touchdown run that proved incredible. The stretch play to the right was sniffed out by Miami, so Hawkins made a cut, spun and reversed field to the left side for a 19-yard touchdown run to pull Louisville within a touchdown of the Hurricanes.

Atwell, at only 5-foot-9, did the heavy lifting on the second possession with two catches for 37 yards and one touchdown.

The Cardinals will win their fair share of games when they jump early on opponents with these two stars.

Louisville actually out-gained Miami with 516 yards, but because of its terrible defense, the Cardinals’ offense was under pressure to produce on every possession. That just isn’t winning football.

By the way, why did receiver Braden Smith not show up until the fourth quarter with his catch for a 36-yard gain?

Malik Cunningham’s hot-and-cold night

Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham made two big mistakes in the first half, one of which cost the Cardinals a touchdown, but he rebounded in the third quarter to keep the Cardinals within striking distance of Miami.

Cunningham threw an interception late in the second quarter, but it was a 12-play drive that haunted him and the Cardinals. Cunningham short-armed a throw to Ean Pfeifer, who snuck behind the defense and was wide open in the end zone. The ball hit the turf incomplete and the Cardinals had to settle for a field goal to pull within 14-6 of the Hurricanes.

Cunningham made some sharp throws, but he also misfired several times. The Cardinals entered the 2-minute drill and pushed the ball into Miami territory in the final 2 minutes but Cunningham forced a throw to the sideline, where cornerback Al Blades Jr. sped in front of the route and picked off the pass with 1:36 remaining.

He finished with an interception and later fumbled the ball with under one minute remaining in the game. Again, costly mistakes.

He completed 26 of 36 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns against one interception and the fumble.

A kicking upgrade

Miami was missing a lot on offense last season, but on special teams the need for a consistent kicker was also apparent. The addition of Jose Borregales has proven to not only be an upgrade, but also a weapon.

The graduate transfer from FIU hit a 57-yard field goal, a school record, to go put Miami up 20-6 with 5:49 remaining in the first half. To think less than one year ago he was taunting Miami with an upside down “U” hand signal on a night in which he hit three field goals to help FIU upset the Hurricanes 30-24.

Borregales was 4 of 4 on field goals. His 57-yard kick had so much power, it could have easily been good from 65 yards.

Miami was tied for 111th nationally in kick accuracy (60 percent) on field goals in 2019. The Hurricanes will be in the top half nationally this season.

Jose Borregales’ younger brother, Andres, is also a kicker and is set to sign with the Hurricanes out of high school in the class of 2021. He is rated the nation’s No. 3 kicker, according to the 247Sports Composite.

Brandon Marcello is a national college football reporter. He can be followed on Twitter (@bmarcello).

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