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Gameday blog: Canes at Maryland

Al Golden and the Miami Hurricanes will open the season tonight at 8 at Byrd Stadium against the Maryland Terrapins on ESPN. You are invited to join The Miami Herald's live Gameday Blog and participate in our in-game discussion throughout the game.

Lamar Miller Herald Sports Writer Manny Navarro will be here to anchor the blog, answer questions and share his thoughts on both Twitter and our blog. Remember, inappropriate or obscene comments will not be tolerated and will be deleted.

Here are some news, notes and keys to the game before kickoff. FYI, the forecast is calling for a 90 percent chance of rain in the area.

- UM will be without eight suspended players for the opener including five starters on defense: DT Marcus Forston, DE Olivier Vernon, DE Adewale Ojomo, S Ray-Ray Armstrong and LB Sean Spence. Look for several freshman and fresh faces to play a vital role in UM's defense.

- Sophomore middle linebacker Jimmy Gaines, one of three non-freshmen making their first career starts (cornerback Mike Williams and defensive tackle Darius Smith are others), has the responsibility of calling plays with Spence out. Gaines, a standout throughout fall camp, will have to show leadership beyond his years for the Canes defense to have a good day.

- With three starters out on the defensive line, expect to see a lot of freshmen Anthony Chickillo, Olsen Pierre, Jalen Grimble and David Perry -- the second-team defensive line. Chickillo has shown in practice he's physically strong enough to battle with college-caliber players. But it's questionable how all the freshman will do in their debuts.

- UM produced two sacks and two quarterback hurries on Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien, the ACC Offensive Freshman of the Year, in last year's 26-20 come-from-behind win last year at Sun Life Stadium. O'Brien finished a mere 9 of 28 for 134 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT thanks to some solid pass defense. UM had eight pass breakups in the game, seven by the secondary. With safety Vaughn Telemaque the only returning starter back from last year's game -- and questions abound at corner -- it will be imperative for the Canes to create pressure on the quarterback and help Brandon McGee, Mike Williams and freshman Thomas Finnie ease in. Maryland, by the way, finished second in the ACC in points scored last season with 32.3 a game. The Terrapins bring back just five starters on their offense, but O'Brien and three starters on the offensive line are among them.

- Offensively, sophomore Stephen Morris will get the start in place of the suspended Jacory Harris. Of course, last year Morris rallied UM to victory versus the Terps by tossing a 35-yard TD pass to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds left to play. But before his final drive when he went 4 for 4 for 60 yards and a touchdown, Morris struggled versus the Terps, going 14 of 26 for 226 yards and 2 INTs. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has geared the team's offense for Morris and Harris to check down and make safer reads. Expect UM's tight ends, which didn't make a catch last season against Maryland, to be much more involved.

- Two players who can take a lot of pressure off Morris are running backs Lamar Miller and Mike James. Both had big contributions against the Terps last season. Miller ran for 125 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown and had two catches for 20 yards. James had 10 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown.

- UM has new players at three key special teams positions: sophomore Dalton Botts will handle the punts, junior Jake Wieclaw will handle field goals, extra points and kickoffs, and freshman Phillip Dorsett will return punts.

> PREDICTION: On most days, I would take Miami's talent over Maryland's talent. But in this case, the Canes are playing shorthanded -- very shorthanded --  on defense. Only three players who started in last year's win over the Terrapins (Nicholas, Telemaque and Buchanan) are scheduled to start in this year's game. The big losses for me are Vernon (sack last year vs. Maryland), Spence (3 tackles) and Armstrong (5 tackles, INT). It's not that I don't think UM's defense can step up and answer the bell. I think they will play inspired. But you are asking a lot from a lot of guys making their first starts playing on the road, in bad weather conditions and in a hostile environment. There are bound to be lapses and mistakes. I think we'll see a big night from Miller and James again. But it probably won't be enough. Maryland 26, UM 24.

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