UM linebacker Jon Beason is as positive a leader you will ever come across.
Ask him a question that might get him to say something negative about a player, and not only will he avoid it, he'll say something positive. But Saturday, when I interviewed him after UM's 31-7 loss, I could see a different look in his eye. Ditto with defensive tackle Bryan Pata and quarterback Kyle Wright.
While all the focus right now may be on Larry Coker and his leadership and the way the program has fallen from its once immaculate record of 35-3 (from 2001-2003) to 19-8 in its last 27 games, the real blame should fall on the players who aren't standing up and delivering. For all the wrath Coker is getting, the last five recruiting classes that make up this team have all been ranked now lower than 20 by any of the nation's so-called experts. Which means this... somebody on the field is not doing their part.
If you were in the locker room after the game, you could see the leaders of this football team are finally beginning to get tired of losing and are ready to start pointing fingers. And unless the other guys begin to follow, this UM team could either really be in trouble or finally wake up from its slumber.
"Why have you guys lost 4 of your last six?" Pata was asked. "I've got no comment," he responded. "But coach Coker shouldn't be fired. He's not to blame."
Hey, Beason, were you shocked you guys were ready to put them away and they came back on you?
"Football... is not for everybody," Beason as if restraining himself. "If you don't have it in your heart, if your not determined... it's all about what you want. If you don't want to win, it's not going to happen. And that's the attitude everybody in green and orange has to have..."
Hey Kyle, you guys embarrassed?
"It's all nice to go out and jump on somebody's midfield. But if you don't go out there and take care of your business, it's fake hype is what it is. And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of it. Guys want to talk about the U and how much it means to them, and all this swagger this program has. It doesn't mean anything unless you go out and prove it."
UM may not have as many play makers as its had in the past. But Wright, Beason and Pata are no pushovers. They just aren't getting a lot of help. That's a big difference from they don't have any help. While some of the other starters on this team may not be superstars, they certainly aren't performing as well as they can. I don't know if that has as much to do with coaching as it does with their own motivation.
There are basic reasons on the field right now for UM's failure. Some of its the players. Most of it is the coordinators.
It's all starts either way with the offense and the biggest problem -- the offensive line. UM simply cannot handle blitzes, running backs and tight ends included. And right now, everyone is blitzing the Canes with tremendous success. The more UM's offense stinks, the more pressure it puts on this tired defense, which gave way in the second half because (a) they didn't make the necessary adjustments to Louisville's passing game and (b) they have grown tired of UM's offensive woes.
Coker made moves this off-season to fix UM's offensive woes. He brought in "his guys." And if his guys fail, he should be held accountable.
But I think there's no question right now, new offensive coordinator Rich Olson hasn't figured out yet the offense he wants to run simply won't work this season because his quarterback has no time to pass. Olson told us in the preseason the more opponents blitz, the more he'll send out. It's completely backfired on him. UM's running backs cannot handle the blitz. He needs to figure out a way to stop what teams are doing -- which is overloading one side and sending the house, forcing Kyle to throw quickly or -- worse yet -- throw on the run.
All of that is slowing the running game. The only real running back who has the speed to avoid hits in the backfield with that pressure is Javarris James. Charlie Jones, Tyrone Moss and Derron Thomas are good when they have blocking. Right now, they don't. And without a fullback taking on that first linebacker or tackler, the guys who are getting the bulk of the carries (Jones and Moss) have no chance to get more than a yard or two.
Wright is a good quarterback. But he's a pocket passer. And when he is forced to throw on the run, he can't. UM needs to keep more players, perhaps two running backs and a tight end, to block on playaction.
UM's receivers are good. But Darnell Jenkins and Lance Leggett are not ready to assume to role of No. 1 target. The fact this team doesn't have Ryan Moore is hurting them. And the fact no one beyond Sam Shields and Ryan Hill is getting balls thrown their way tells you the backups simply aren't good enough to smell the field. Greg Olsen is a good (not great) tight end. But when he gets double-teamed and bracketed its because his receivers are not opening up the field.
Defensively, UM played great in the first two series. Two sacks, a forced fumble and pressure on Brian Brohm. Then, it all disappeared.
Why? Louisville employed roll outs and misdirection plays. The same thing FSU did in the second half against a UM defense that prides lives off heavy pursuit. How many times did you see Brian Brohm fake a handoff, then roll the other way and hit a wide open receiver? At least six times by my count. Why did that happen? UM was either overly aggressive or someone didn't stay on their coverage assignment.
The few times UM dropped back into coverage, Brohm took off running for a first down. It was the same thing FSU and even FAMU took advantage of.
Also, while Randy Shannon has done a great job with this pass defense the past few seasons, he's taking far too many liberties leaving his young cornerbacks on one-on-one coverage. He doesn't have Antrel Rolle or Jennings out there anymore. All of Louisville's big pass plays were drawn up the same way. Go deep, run a post and beat the corner who has no safety help. Why were there no adjustments? Why on earth did Shannon leave his young corners on an island?
As bad as it all sounds and looks right now, UM fans not should line up to jump off a high-rise yet. This young team has only played three games. And as I said earlier, it now appears the players who lead this team are tired of being a 1-2 team. That's good news if everyone sticks together.
More good news: Houston, North Carolina, FIU and Duke are all teams the Canes can fix their problems with before having to go on the road for the next big one, Georgia Tech. And it is obvious the ACC is winable. Florida State's loss to Clemson, which lost to Boston College, smells of a wacky season in the conference. Which is good news for this team that needs and has the next month to find its identity.
Unless the unity on this team self-destructs, I expect UM to not only win its next four games and find its identity, I can see the Hurricanes bonding together from all this negativity and becoming good enough to win the ACC.