Kelvin Cain is one of the many Hurricanes who'll be out of action on Labor Day.
I know fans were split on the preference of Miami's suspensions - some wanted the entire team decimated, others wanted to face a complete Miami team to make sure a potential win couldn't be tainted. No matter which side you were on initially, the rulings have been given and Maryland must play the hand they were dealt. All they can do now is win the game.
Although, if you were a part of the "suspend them all" camp, what a sweet hand it is.
The recent round of suspensions leaves the Hurricanes without eight players, six of which are starters, two of which were the best players on the team, three of which were the stalwarts of the defensive line. But that's not all, remember - the Canes had a host of suspensions back in spring, plus the requisite early season injuries. All told, the Hurricanes will be missing nine presumed starters and sixteen total players. Let's survey the damage.
Jacory Harris, starting/backup quarterback: We already know the rap on Jacory, so Iwon't go too deep into it. Stephen Morris is the for-sure starter at QB now, and that's just about all this says. Unless Morris gets injured - in which case his backup is the uninspiring Spencer Whipple - this won't have much an impact on the game.
Seantrel Henderson, starting left tackle: With everything else going on, people keep forgetting about Henderson's absence. He was suspended for the first game anyway, but now he's dealing with a potential season-long injury, too. That's a huge loss for them: even though he was only a sophomore, he's still playing the most important OL position and had the ability to be elite. Happily, the Canes will start Joel Figueroa at LT instead, whom TN says "cannot move" and 7th Floor described as a "disaster" at RT last season. I'm not sure which side David Mackall will line up on regularly, but if he isn't across from Figueroa, I'll be seriously disappointed.
Travis Benjamin, starting wide receiver: For all intents and purposes, Benjamin is the closest thing to an heir to the Devin Hester legacy at the U. He's not as consistently spectacular as Hester, but on a good day he can be near as electric. His 79-yard punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State is proof enough of that. He was second on the team in receptions last year, but his sublime 17.3 yards per catch average was pretty easily tops. With Leonard Hankerson now with the Redskins, Benjamin was actually the returning leader in catches and was expected to become the primary target. You'll probably remember him well from last year's game, when he had a career-high 127 receiving yards on just five catches. Laron Byrd, the third-leading receiver from last year, will step up to be the #1 guy, but after him will be Allen Hurns, a sophomore who played in six games last year and doesn't have a reception to his name.
Blake Ayles, starting tight end: Ayles is a USC transfer who's yet to play for the Hurricanes, and he won't play his first game on Monday. He's out for the game, with what sounds like a concussion.
Dyron Dye, reserve tight end: Dye was suspended twice, actually - first in May, then again by the NCAA. He's not a big loss - despite his high standing out of HS, he was a bust on the defensive end and has since moved to tight end, where he did little except add depth. Then again, with Ayles out he almost certainly would've gotten a snap or two in Miami's two-TE sets.
Corey White, reserve tight end: This will only have an impact if Ayles remains injured and a few more Canes at TE go down. That is, it shouldn't effect the Maryland game. White is a reserve TE who has all of one catch to his name.
Olivier Vernon and Adewale Ojomo, starting defensive ends: Now we're getting to the real damage. Vernon started 11 games last year, notching 6 sacks, which was good for second on the team. Ojomo started four games, recording 5 sacks. Together, they represented what was expected to be one of the better defensive line bookends in the conference. Instead, the Canes will be trotting out Marcus Robinson, a senior DE who's admittedly been an important reserve in the past, and Andrew Smith, another senior who started eight games during his sophomore year before returning to a reserve role last season. There's experience there, but there's a reason neither of those guys were held onto starting roles.
Marcus Forston, starting defensive tackle: Another loss on the defensive line, this time on the inside. Forston has huge talent - he was the #1 DT in the country out of HS - and was starting to come into it. He was second on the team in tackles for loss, behind only Spence, and had three sacks. Like almost everyone on this list, he had a laundry list of honors: he was on almost every Freshman All-American team two years ago, and was named to the Lombardi, Outland, and Nagurski watch lists before this year. Darius Smith will start in his stead, and that's some mighty good news to me: Smith is a JuCo transfer from Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania, and this is his first year in the program. If I had to pick someone to go against walk-on Josh Cary at guard, it'd probably be someone like Smith.
Curtis Porter and Luther Robinson, reserve defensive tackles: Both are out with injury. One of them was almost certain to replace Forston, were they healthy. Instead they'll be relying on newcomer Smith. What's more, now there's almost no depth at DT. If Maryland's up-tempo offense is as up-tempo as Gary Crowton would have us believe, then perhaps the quick pace can tire out the big linemen and force even lesser players to sub in.
Sean Spence, starting linebacker: Spence is arguably the best player on Miami's team. He was last year's MVP for the Canes, a 2nd Team All-ACC selection last season, preseason All-ACC this year, started every game last season, was fifth in the ACC in tackles, had 16 TFL ... you get the idea. Spence is a classic Miami defensive playmaker: undersized, absurdly athletic, and just makes stuff happen. Starting instead is Jordan Futch, a senior with 16 career tackles who has never made a serious impact. This is like taking Kenny Tate off Maryland and replacing him with, oh, say, Austin Walker. Exactly.
Kelvin Cain, starting linebacker: Cain, a sophomore, started four games last season, recording just 12 tackles but drawing plenty of praise. He was expected to be a starter this year, but was suspended for the season opener back in May. In his place? Sophomore James Gaines, who has played in six games and made an assist on a single tackle. Yikes.
Shayon Green, reserve linebacker: Injury. Green provided depth at middle linebacker, but little more. He was a starter for a short time in spring practice last season, but that stopped and now he's a special teamer and does little more than back up others. Then again, with Cain and Spence out, Miami could use that depth.
Ray-Ray Armstrong, starting safety: Armstrong, a former five-star prospect and physical freak, was really starting to come into his own. He was 2nd Team All-ACC at safety last season, was voted to the Preseason All-ACC Team this year, and made this season's Thorpe Award watch list. Physically, he's absurd: big and athletic, he can play up near the line of scrimmage or drop back into coverage and ballhawk. In response to his absence, they're moving JoJo Nicolas, usually the starting CB, back into safety and moving junior CB Brandon McGee, who's started one game in his career, into the starting role. Again, it's sort of like removing Tate from last season's team.
Keion Payne, reserve cornerback: A redshirt freshman, Payne was suspended with Henderson, Cain, and a few others back in May. He likely wouldn't have seen too much of the field, but the absence of Armstrong meant he would've at least been a contender to add depth at CB.
And this isn't even counting Travis Williams, Storm Johnson, and Devont'a Davis, all of whom transferred from the program in the spring, presumably as a result from their earlier suspensions. After all, Maryland had their fair share of transfers, too (Zach Kerr, for one). Still: carnage.
That's pretty gruesome. The damage is especially harsh on the defensive side, particularly on the defensive line. The loss of their three top returning pass rushers plus Spence means they probably won't have much of a pass rush to speak of. Given that offensive line is still a weakness for Maryland (does Edwin Williams have any eligibility left?) that's especially encouraging and should give Maryland the all-important advantage in the trenches. That'll make the entire offense, shiny and new though it may be, tick smoother: O'Brien will have more time, Davin Meggett will have bigger holes, and so forth. If Maryland can exploit Miami's weakness along the line, this game should be there's.
Likewise, if David Mackall is lining up against noted bust Figueroa, we could see his breakout performance at DE. And the absence of Travis Benjamin should lighten things up on the inexperienced, kinda-revamped, not-too-great secondary.
But the game isn't in hand. Miami's ground game torched Maryland last year, and it remains mostly intact. Lamar Miller, who rushed for 125 yards last year, is back and starting. Mike James, who rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries, is, too. And All-ACC center Tyler Horn is still All-ACC. Containing the ground game will be a key, as it's Miami's best, last hope at coming away with a favorable result. Control the clock, the tempo, and the game by successfully running the ball, and the other flaws are less important.
And let's keep in mind that this is The U. That is, there's still plenty of talent to go around. Sure, the depth chart lists Robinson and Smith as the starters at defensive end, but that doesn't mean Anthony Chickillo, a five-star true freshman, won't get playing time and potentially look like his ranking. There's depth like that almost across the board - players like A.J. Highsmith and Denzel Perryman, who aren't listed as starters but have impressed and are impressive.
Given the home advantage Maryland has and the decimation Miami just took, it has to go down as a disappointment if Maryland can't win, especially given that they nearly took down a better Hurricane team in Miami last season. There's still plenty to look out for - running game in particular - but I'm thinking the Terrapins should be the favorite at this point.