Injuries hurt depth for No. 24 Miami ahead of Michigan St. game

The No. 24 Miami Hurricanes, unimpressive in both of their games this season, will look to reverse that trend on Saturday afternoon.

Miami (1-1) will play host to Michigan State (2-0), whose have beaten Northwestern and Youngstown State to start the season.

Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz has high praise for the Spartans, who have scored on their first play from scrimmage in both their games. Kenneth Walker III had a 75-yard run against Northwestern, and Payton Thorne fired a 75-yard TD pass to Jayden Reed on the opening play against Youngstown State.

“Michigan State is playing as well as anybody in the country,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “It’s going to be a great challenge.”

Miami is a 6 1/2-point favorite despite getting blown out by Alabama, 44-13, in its opener and then barely escaping Appalachian State, 25-23, this past Saturday.

Led by quarterback D’Eriq King, the Canes have an experienced team. King will be playing in his 48th career game, and he has veteran targets such as running back Cam’Ron Harris, tight end Will Mallory and receivers Mike Harley and Charleston Rambo.

But the Hurricanes have some issues, including their questionable depth behind Harris. Backup Donald Chaney Jr. was ruled out for the season on Monday due to a right knee injury. Jaylan Knighton, Miami’s other proven backup, has to serve two more games of a suspension for violating team rules.

Touted freshmen Thaddius Franklin Jr. and Cody Brown are expected to get carries on Saturday. Brown, so far, is running with the second team.

“It’s not just as easy as running the ball. You’ve got pass protection involved,” Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We’re working hard to get them ready.”

Miami also lost starting linebacker Keontra Smith to injury during the Appalachian State game, and he won’t play for several weeks.

Fifth-year junior Waynmon Steed is next in line to replace Smith. Third-year freshman Avery Huff is also in the mix.

Michigan State, meanwhile, ranks third in the nation in rushing yards per carry (8.0). That’s in stark contrast to Miami’s running offense, averaging just 3.5 yards.

In addition, Miami’s defense has produced just two sacks while the Spartans have six.

Some of this may have to do with Miami opening with top-ranked Alabama. Even so, the Spartans have some legit weapons.

Thorne is completing 65.2 percent of his passes this year for 465 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. The third-year sophomore is 2-1 in his three career starts, losing only to Penn State last December.

Walker gained 1,158 yards and 17 TDs in the past two years at Wake Forest before arriving at Michigan State in January. This year, Walker has 321 yards, a 10.7 average and five touchdowns.

Reed had four catches for 181 yards and two TDs in the win over Youngstown State.

Three other Spartans to watch are backup running back Jordon Simmons (131 yards, 6.2 average), speedy receiver Jalen Nailor and safety Xavier Henderson (team highs with 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception).

Spartans coach Mel Tucker said there’s a reason why his offense is flowing so far.

“(Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson) is an experienced play-caller,” Tucker said. “The game is called during the week, and then we make adjustments (on Saturday).”

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