No. 8 Hurricanes ready to prove preseason hype isn’t just ... hype

With the Hurricanes just days away from starting the season, Jaquan Johnson initiated a discussion with fellow senior Malik Rosier.

“We had like a five-minute talk just about, ‘Are we ready? Is the offense ready? Is the defense ready?’” Rosier said. “For me and him being the two captains, we feel like we are ready.”

Ready or not, No. 8 Miami will open the season against No. 25 LSU on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., ABC) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

After opening the past three seasons with lesser opponents like Bethune-Cookman in 2017 and 2015 and Florida A&M in 2016, the Hurricanes will be tested immediately this year. It’s a test Miami is expected to pass as a 3.5-point favorite over LSU.

In fact, the big gap between Miami and LSU in the rankings indicates the Hurricanes should probably win by more than just three points. The No. 8 spot is Miami’s highest preseason ranking in the AP poll since starting the year at No. 6 in 2004.

“I haven’t heard anything about that at all,” Johnson said when asked about the possibility of underestimating LSU. “I’m not into the media. But the guys in the locker room, we’re not underestimating them. 

“We think they think they’re going to come in and just bully us around and run the ball and catch deep balls and do whatever they want to us, basically, just because they’re an SEC opponent.”

That’s exactly what happened the last time the Hurricanes faced the Tigers. LSU dismantled Miami 40-3 in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30, 2005, as the Tigers finished with a dominant 272-53 edge in rushing yards.

The Hurricanes hope that ugly memory paired with the three-game losing skid they ended last season on has been enough to keep them looking past the preseason accolades.

“A little bit,” Hurricanes offensive coordinator Thomas Brown responded when asked if he worries about players getting caught in the hype surrounding the program. “I think it is kind of natural for, I would say, most of the young guys, than the older guys. The older guys should be able handle it, block it out. The new guys, everything is new for them.”

And there’s quite a few new guys expected to play for Miami in Sunday’s opener. Freshmen Brevin Jordan and Bubba Baxa are slated to start at tight end and kicker, respectively, and other members of the talented 2018 recruiting class such as defensive tackle Nesta Silvera, wide receivers Mark Pope and Brian Hightower, tight end Will Mallory, defensive end Gregory Rousseau, and cornerbacks Al Blades Jr. and Gilbert Frierson could also see snaps against LSU.

“The big thing is, there’s going to be a lot of young guys playing,” Rosier said. “So, I think the big thing is to get them calmed down, especially Brevin Jordan because he’s going to get his first start versus an SEC defense. And he’s going to be a guy that’s going to make plays for us. Just taking these young guys and kids that haven’t experienced games like this and calming them down and let them know they’re great, they’re going to make big plays for us.”

The uncertainty extends beyond the freshmen in this matchup, though. LSU’s side has plenty of it, with a new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, new running back and entirely new receiving corps. Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow, the son of Ohio University defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow, was named LSU’s  starting quarterback on Monday.

“We just go in and practice what we think they’re going to do,” Johnson said of preparing for a new-look Tigers offense. “It’s the first game so anything can happen. They can come out in a totally different formation. We just practice our scheme and whatever happens on Sunday we’ll adjust to it.”

Even with all of the unknowns surrounding this game and most season openers, the Hurricanes hope they make one thing clear Sunday: They deserve their preseason top-10 ranking.

“We’re not elite until we win enough games to say we’re elite,” Hurricanes coach Mark Richt said. “If people want to say we’re pretty good, top 10 … Who knows? We’ll find out once we play ball.”

[Hurricanes defensive tackle Gerald Willis ready for fresh start after year-long absence]

[Manny Diaz discusses Miami Hurricanes’ defensive plan vs. LSU]

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