Tigers hoping to stand their ground against Hurricanes

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Updated: 9/18/2013 11:06 am

Miami Gardens, FL (Sports Network) - After enjoying a bye week, the 16th- ranked Miami-Florida Hurricanes will try to get back in the swing of things when they entertain the Savannah State Tigers on Saturday evening.

Savannah State's season did not get off to a promising start, as the FCS team fell on the wrong side of a pair of blowouts at Georgia Southern (77-9) and at Troy (66-3). Fortunately, the Tigers were able to bounce back last week in their home opener by defeating Fort Valley State, 27-20.

Miami-Florida managed to take care of business against its neighboring program Florida Atlantic in the season opener (34-6), but it's big statement came in a Sept. 7 matchup with nationally-ranked Florida, where it put together an outstanding defensive performance on its way to a 21-16 victory.

"We've been through a lot," Miami head coach Al Golden said. "(The Florida win) was almost cathartic, to be honest with you. I'm proud of these guy. We couldn't handle this setting a year ago. It was a good hard-nosed football game, physical, and I'm just real proud of our guys' mental toughness, conditioning and resiliency."

This marks the first-ever meeting between these two football programs.

Savannah State has failed to get much going offensively this season, scoring just 13.0 ppg. Of its lackluster yardage total (191.0 ypg), just 17.3 yards per game come via the run.

Four quarterbacks have combined to toss just three touchdowns paired with six interceptions, and none of them have completed more than 46 percent of their passes. Antonio Bostick missed the first two games due to academic issues and returned last week with 226 passing yards, two scores and two picks, and his return should be able to bring some stability to the offense.

Simon Hayward leads the team in both receptions (eight) and yards (178). He is followed closely by Cantrell Frazier (seven receptions, 102 yards).

Lereginald Veals has 15 rushing attempts and amazingly has only amassed only one yard. Sheldon Barnes' 23 rushing yards is tops on the squad.

The Tigers' defense has performed just as poorly as their offense, allowing teams to put up 54.3 ppg behind 535.7 ypg.

John Wilson is one of the team's few bright spots, as he has picked off three passes already. Trevion Ashford (28 tackles), Justin Dixon (27 tackles) and Marquis Smith (26 tackles) have had ample opportunity to rack up the stops.

Miami's offense hasn't been on the field much to start the season, averaging just over 24 minutes per game, but the unit has taken advantage of its limited chances (27.5 ppg, 357.5 ypg).

Stephen Morris is off to a slow start under center. While he has three touchdown passes, he's averaged only 161.0 ypg and has completed fewer than 52 percent of his passes with a pair of interceptions.

Luckily, Morris has the luxury of handing the ball off to Duke Johnson, who has helped relieve the pressure with 245 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson has 40 carries in two games, with no other Hurricane player toting the rock more than six times.

No receiver has registered 100 yards yet. Allen Hurns is Morris's top target, corralling nine passes for 94 yards.

The biggest reason for the Hurricane's splash on the national radar has been their stout defense, which ranks 11th in the FBS in surrendering just 11.0 ppg. The unit tightens up deep in its own territory, as it ranks second in the country in red zone defense, allowing just one touchdown and three field goals in eight trips inside the 20.

The defense stepped up in the marquee matchup with Florida, forcing five turnovers.

"I've been saying it since spring -- I think (the defense) has grown up," Golden said. "We're so much stronger, bigger up front."

The defense has racked up seven sacks, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries through two contests. Denzel Perryman has a team-leading 19 tackles to go with two pass break-ups and a forced fumble. Anthony Chickillo has a pair of sacks, and Thurston Armbrister has three TFL.

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