December 5, 2021

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

UM’s offensive line, formerly hit by COVID, better for Duke

The last time the Miami Hurricanes played a football game, they were close to not having the seven scholarship offensive linemen needed to participate.

Apparently, that won’t be the case Saturday at Duke.

“We’re probably the most healthy we’ve been since [the opener against Alabama-Birmingham] line-wise,’’ offensive line coach Garin Justice said Tuesday. “We had a little bad luck streak right before the Virginia Tech game. We’re probably the healthiest we’ve been overall.

“You always want to plan for the worst but expect the best.’’

Because of the University of Miami’s COVID-19 outbreak, the Hurricanes (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) only had eight healthy scholarship offensive linemen available Nov. 14 at Virginia Tech, though one of them, senior guard Navaughn Donaldson, has not played at all this season as he recuperates from ACL knee surgery.

“You always have contingency [plans] as far as people have to cross train,’’ Justice said. “I know Navaughn was the guy we had targeted as the sixth man. [Guard] DJ Scaife knew he had to bump out and play tackle if something were to happen to one of the tackles because Navaughn could play guard. And guard Ousman [Traore] knew he had to play center if something happened to Corey [Gaynor].”

In the Virginia Tech game, 13 Hurricanes were unavailable, including linemen Clark, John Campbell Jr., Cleveland Reed Jr and Jalen Rivers.

“When you’re teaching your guys, you’ve got to teach the overall picture not just what you do on your job as one guy,’’ Justice said.

Justice said Traore, a redshirt sophomore transfer who filled in at left guard, “who came off injury’’ and was cleared two days before the game in Blacksburg, Virginia. “He essentially played a game without practice,’’ the coach said. “All things given, we’re pretty proud of the effort Ousman gave.’’

Navaughn Donaldson status

Donaldson, listed as 6-6 and 350 pounds, was an All-American when he played at Miami Central High School. He got cleared to play “a week-and-a-half, two weeks ago,’’ Justice said. “We’re trying to be as careful as we can with Navaughn. His rehab has been going well.

“We’re in a good place with him right now. Like anything, it’s going to determine how you do in practice as far as whether he starts or not. It would probably take him just totally blowing away the guys and killing it this week. He’s a guy that I would like to slowly mix in the games… We don’t want to put all the load on him and now we start back at square one.”

When asked if the Canes were thinking of getting any linemen from the transfer portal, Justice deferred to head coach Manny Diaz but said in general coaches would “never turn down a great player.’’ He added that it’s not something they are necessarily trying to do now and that they “kind of look at Navaughn like a portal guy’’ because of his known talent and he because he hasn’t yet played this season.

Run blocking vs. pass protection

Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King was sacked six times at Virginia Tech. UM, which allowed 51 sacks last season in 13 games, has allowed 25 so far this season. The Canes have rushed for 167 yards a game this season, compared to 118 in 2019.

“The thing that really still needs to take off is the run game,’’ said Justice, who pointed out that UM has been up-and-down at different times of the season in run blocking and pass protection. “We’ve shown flashes, but really we’re not as consistent as we need to be at in any phase.’’

Jarrid Williams future

Justice said he hasn’t talked with fifth-year senior right tackle Jarrid Williams about his plans after the season ends. But he suspects that Williams, who, like King, transferred from Houston, will enter the NFL. The 6-6, 308-pound Williams could elect to come back because the NCAA is allowing players to return next season without losing a year of eligibility.

“Jarrid was an old senior as it was,’’ Justice said. “He’s been playing quite a while.’’

Profile Image of Susan Miller Degnan

Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.

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