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Barry Jackson

Here’s who to blame for ACC Network fiasco. And Hurricanes make a change on special teams

 

A six-pack of Miami Hurricanes notes on a Thursday:

Why is ACC Network — which will carry the next two UM games — still unavailable in more than 80 percent of South Florida homes, a full 14 months after its launch?

I blame the ACC and ESPN (which owns the network) more than I blame the providers that refuse to carry it, including Comcast and Atlantic Broadband locally.

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Here’s why: A Comcast official once told me that Comcast is willing to carry the network on a tier for people who are willing to pay extra for it. ESPN refuses to acquiesce to that, demanding that the network be made available to every subscriber.

ESPN declined to answer this week when I asked why it won’t allow Comcast and other providers to place ACC Network on a tier. But it’s clear ESPN opposes that because it could impact both advertising rates and carriage fee revenue, as well as motivate other cable operators to try to remove ACC Network off a basic package and place it on a tier during their next round of negotiations.

Naturally, it would be preferable if Comcast placed ACC Network on its basic package. But if the options — especially during a pandemic, with limited stadium capacity — would be to pay $9.95 a month for access to the games or have no opportunity to watch the games at all, I’ll take the former.

Mostly, I blame retiring John Swofford — who’s in his final eight months as ACC commissioner — because he should have insisted to ESPN that network penetration must be the highest priority and that ESPN should accept the tier proposal from cable operators that balked at adding ACC Network.

Don’t blame UM; the Hurricanes are innocent bystanders in all of this, without the authority to solve it.

And keep this in mind: These next two ACC Network-televised UM games — Saturday at noon against Pittsburgh and Oct. 24 at 8 p.m against Virginia — likely would have aired either locally on WBFS-33 or Fox Sports Sun in previous years, before ACC Network launched.

This year’s opener against UAB likely would have been on ESPNU instead of ACC Network if ACC Network did not exist.

Every UM game — except an early season contest against an FCS opponent such as Bethune-Cookman — had aired on television (not ESPN3 broadband) in recent years before the ACC Network was created.

So the ACC essentially has taken its product from millions of viewers who would otherwise have had access to it.

Disgraceful.

Against Clemson, UM’s D’Eriq King completed just 2 of 9 passes that were thrown at least 20 yards, with two interceptions.

He’s now 7 of 29 on those 20-plus-yard passes this season, and that must change significantly for NFL teams to have any interest in him as a quarterback.

At this point, King might go undrafted, but it’s unclear if he would consider returning for another season at UM — which is permitted because of the NCAA’s COVID-19 rules.

It’s also unclear if he would consider switching positions as a pro, something broached by Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy.

With Mark Pope foiling two punt returns and Xavier Restrepo nearly botching one in his debut in that role against Clemson, why not use one of the two freshmen running backs — Jaylon Knighton or Don Chaney Jr — as returners?

Special teams coach Jon Patke said that’s being considered.

“Don and Rooster [Knighton] are both elite returners and Knighton is really, really elite; we want to get him back there on kickoff return,” Patke said. “There’s no question we’d like to work him into a game, and I think he’s close to doing that. Chaney would be the next guy back there as well. They’re so mature the way they prepare. They prepare like an older guy. You watch them on offense, special teams, you don’t feel they’re freshmen.”

For the first time, Restrepo this week was listed as the first-team punt returner on the depth chart, ahead of Pope, who remains the first-team kickoff returner.

One question going into the season was whether either striker — Gilbert Frierson or Keontra Smith — was good enough to play ahead of, say, a third safety among Amari Carter, Bubba Bolden and Gurvan Hall.

As it turns out, Frierson has graded out among the best UM defenders all season, and Smith has been solid, though he will be required to sit out the first half of Saturday’s game because of his ejection for targeting against Clemson.

“We feel he’s a special player,” Patke said of Smith. “Gil is playing fantastic right now, the best he’s played since he’s been here, two back-to-back games at a high level, and Keontra the same. I’m trying to get both in there.

“Keontra is a very physical player; he tackled the best running back in the country [Travis Etienne], in my opinion, and had no problem taking him down, had no fear. He’s just a true tackler, sturdy, strong body.”

UM made the final five for Louisiana-based five-star defensive tackle Maason Smith, rated by Rivals as the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country and the fifth-best player overall in the 2021 class. If there’s any player UM desperately needs in this class, it’s Smith.

Georgia, Alabama, LSU and UF are the other finalists. So the competition couldn’t be any stiffer.

Smith has visited Georgia and LSU, but his plans to visit UM, Alabama and UF earlier this year were torpedoed by COVID-19.

“To be honest, I think Miami’s defensive scheme fits me the best out of any school,” Smith told Rivals’ Sam Spiegelman. “The way they let their defensive line attack, attack, attack. They run a consistent four-down defensive line.”

Pittsburgh defensive line coach Charlie Partridge says he sees the Hurricanes emerging as a national power again.

“I’ll give Manny Diaz a ton of credit,” Partridge said. “Manny is doing a heck of a job putting some things in play that make sense for what they’re able to recruit. They’re building their team on speed. They’ve done well defensively in recent times, now have Rhett Lashlee there and Garin Justice. We [he and Justice] worked together at Florida Atlantic; he does a great job with that offensive line.

“Their tempo, the way they’re getting the ball in the hands of guys on the edge with speed really fits with what they’ll be able to build. Because of that you are feeling the Hurricanes emerge as a team that will be a power player nationally.”

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