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9 posts from September 2006

September 29, 2006

For UM, Houston is a crossroads

On paper, this game against Houston means absolutely nothing. On paper, the University of Miami can lose 57-0 and still win the ACC and go to the Orange Bowl. On paper, win or lose, UM gains nothing and loses nothing Saturday.

But to me, it's the most important game UM has played since it lost to Ohio State in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. Saturday, we find out if these Hurricanes really are a failure, if they really are as bad as Umforumthey've looked and if248 this program is really headed toward a rebuilding project for the next several seasons. Win and it will be the first step in proving a 1-2 start was a result of some tough early scheduling and that this team is really only as good as what we all lost cite of (nothing more than ACC title contenders). My money is on the latter.

Say what you want about what UM has done on the field through three games. They deserve to get booed. By UM standards, their performances have looked about as bad as when the program was on probation in 1997. But I don't buy that this football team is as bad as it looks. To me, this program looks more like an inexperienced 21-year old boxer stepping into the ring for only the second time with a new set of trainers, a new set of gloves and new style of fighting, this after being KO'd in the previous fight.

I know what your thinking, the KO (the 40-3 loss to LSU) was more than 9 months ago and the new trainers have had a long time to make the new style of fighting effective. But be that as it may, had Miami started the season against Houston, North Carolina and FIU, they wouldn't be 1-2. Schedule Florida State, FAMU and Louisville after that instead and they might have gone 2-1.

For starters, I think we've all forgotten the sideshows this program has had to endure in the past nine months. Players the Canes were counting on to be impact players (Willie Williams) have come and gone while others (Ryan Moore) have gotten suspended indefintely, haven't come back as strong as everyone was hoping (Tyrone Moss) or really haven't healed from injuries (Carlos Armour, Glenn Cook, Tyrone Byrd). It all led to a horrible start. The bottomline is this team never really envisioned things getting this bad.

In the preseason, all the talk was "Our offense is unstoppable." "The offensive line looks better than its ever been." "The defense is still one of the best."

Miami was stunned when it lost to Florida State. In that locker room the only things being said were: "We'll be back," "We'll see FSU in the ACC title game, "We still have a shot at the national title, "Our offense will get better -- FSU's defense was tough."

The worse thing that could have happened next to Miami was false hope -- FAMU and the first eight minutes against Louisville. In a sense, the players really believed they had magically repaired everything and the old U was back, ready to play for a national title. 31 Louisville points later, the truth was unleashed: this team is still a rebuilding project.

Teams coming off back-to-back 9-3 seasons who replace assistants that have been around for decades, and lose key players to suspensions and transfers, and believe they are better than they really are, don't just show up and magically beat two ranked teams in the first three weeks of the season. It doesn't matter what color the jersey is or what letter graces the team's helmet.

Change and progress takes time (look up USC and Oklahoma). Nobody was willing to give any time to grow. Not the media. Not the fans. Not the Hurricanes themselves. The fact this program hadn't played for a national title in four years made everyone down here crazy. It's like everybody was expecting Larry Coker to snap his fingers and make this team a title contender again overnight.

Saturday, Houston (4-0) will show up at the Orange Bowl believing it can deliver the final knockout blow to the Canes -- and it can. If the Cougars beat UM here, I fear the confidence in the Hurricane locker room may not come back for several seasons. Opponents' fear of the Orange Bowl will most certainly evaporate. And that's why most of the nation figures to be cheering on the Cougars (No matter what Butch Davis did in cleaning up this program, The U will always be seen as "the dark side.")

But here in lies the crossroads and opportunity for UM to avoid the big debacle South Florida forsees. Here, is where I believe coach Larry Coker's players begin pulling their coach away from the guillotine. Houston has talent. But this UM team has more. For three weeks, it's just been covered up by overconfidence, hype, sloppiness and now the dirt UM fans have begun heaving from the hole in ground their digging for Coker.

Saturday, UM won't beat Houston like it used to crush underdogs in the Orange Bowl. But that's not the point. This UM doesn't need a blowout. It needs a win, the first of four recovery steps in building some much needed confidence -- in themselves and in their coaches. North Carolina, FIU and Duke are the next three dominoes. Easy ones at that.

If it all falls into place accordingly, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech could realistically be next. Not because this UM is great, but because those Yellow Jackets and Hokies aren't either. And because this UM team, void of proven stars until proven otherwise, should find its twinkle, gain its confidence and pick itself up from the canvas.

There's no guarantee it will happen. UM could come out and lose to Houston and finish the season an ungodly 7-5 or 6-6. Most UM fans believe this team is already done. And if you look at what's transpired on the field, you have no reason to believe otherwise.

But, somehow, this UM will find its groove the way Stella did. Greg Olsen will get open. Kyle Wright will throw touchdowns. Lance Leggett will begin catching them. Javarris James will begin to look like his famous older cousin. And the defense, which looked like swiss cheese against Louisville, will get pressure on the quarterback, create turnovers and score touchdowns.

How do I know this will happen? How can I honestly believe this team will respond? Because that's all UM has ever done. UM thrives on this negative energy. And the bottomline is this team isn't that bad. Are they going to win the ACC? Probably not. But they aren't going to lose to Houston and they're not going to fall apart. They've still got too much talent for that. And now, finally, they'll begin playing some teams that will allow them to show it.

September 25, 2006

'Canes recruiting update

In working on my Sunday feature last week, I had an opportunity to speak with Tom Lemming of CSTV.com and Jeremy Crabtree of Rivals.com and got some good insider information as to what they really thought of UM's recruiting efforts and potential recruits.

With some research sprinkled in also from Scout.com, I've compiled a list of who UM is apparently after and where UM ranks for them. I've broken it all down by position along with status categories (commitments, targets, and the also out there). Enjoy.

QUARTERBACKS
COMMITTED
• Nick Fanuzzi, a 6-3, 200-pounder from San Antonio, has been a UM commitment since
March. He's been rated the 94th-best recruit in Texas by Rivals.com. Jeremy Crabtree said of Fanuzzi: "He could be a good one. I don't know if he's going to be a four-year starter type guy. Could be a potential All-Conference type candidate. We don't project him to go to the NFL. I think he'll be true to his commitment, which is what Miami needs. He's a good kid that could add some depth early on."

My hunch: I think UM is content with Fanuzzi and only one QB in this class.

RUNNING BACKS
COMMITTED
• Graig Cooper, a 5-11, 185-pounder from Memphis who signed with UM in February, has looked even better since heading off to prep school. Rivals now lists him as the top prep school player in the nation and expects him to make an immediate impact at UM. His coach at Milford Prep said Cooper "sets up the defense perfectly, then shoots out of a cannon." He compared him to former Iowa running back Fred Russell.
• LeSean McCoy, a 5-11, 204-pounder from Pennsylvania, who signed with UM in February, has shared the same backfield with Cooper at Milford Prep in N.Y. and is expected to join him at UM, but not until the fall. McCoy is apparently a little more behind in school.
TARGETS
• Antwain Easterling, a 5-11, 195-pounder from Miami Northwestern High, has UM in a top five with UF and Notre Dame. Easterling is a local stud and is related to Willis McGahee.
• Lennon Creer, a 6-1, 202-pounder from Texas, is rated the fourth-best back in the nation by Rivals.com. Creer, however, recently listed Tennessee and Texas as his top two with UM back in the pack with Oklahoma and Florida.
OTHERS OUT THERE
• Noel Devine, a 5-8, 170-pounder from North Fort Myers high school, is a player UM fans were hoping the team would go after. But despite his interest in the Canes, UM isn't apparently interested in Devine.

My hunch: Two running backs might be enough here. Tyrone Moss is the only RB UM is going to lose after this season, With Charlie Jones, Derron Thomas, Andrew Johnson, Javarris James, Derron Thomas and Kylan Robinson, tailback isn't necessarily a position UM lacks depth.

RECEIVERS
COMMITTED
• Kayne Farquharson, a JUCO standout from El Camino, Calif., has been a UM commitment and is expected to sign and arrive at UM in January. He is rated the nation's 14th-best JUCO recruit regardless of position.
TARGETS
• Terrance Toliver, a 6-4, 185-pound speedster from Hempstead, Texas, rated No. 1 nationally by Rivals, lists UM in his top five.
• Arrelious Benn, a 6-2, 210-pounder from Washington, D.C., rated No. 2 nationally by Rivals, lists UM in a top five with FSU, Illinois, Maryland and Notre Dame.
• Jay Smith, a 6-4, 200-pounder from Norfolk, Va., rated No. 11 receiver, has supposedly scheduled a visit to Miami in October, but is also being hunted by hometown Virginia Tech. Might be UM's best hope of a top-tier receiver.
• Deonte Thompson, a 6-0, 180-pounder from nearby Belle Glade Glades Central, rated fourth nationally by Rivals, is supposedly taking an unofficial visit to Miami.
• Alphonso Bryant, a 6-0, 190-pounder from Homestead High, listed as the seventh best receiver by Rivals.com, has UM and Florida State as his top two teams. Scout.com rates Bryant 24th.
• Leonard Hankerson, a 6-2, 185-pound receiver from St. Thomas Aquinas, rated the 50th-best receiver in the nation by Rivals.com, was high on Michigan, but it appears the Wolverines aren't as high on him. He know lists UM, Ohio State and Tennessee as possible destinations.
• Lionel Breaux, a 5-11, 183-pound receiver from New Orleans, rated 68th at his position, was expected to be an LSU lock. But now he lists UM as his favorite.
• Taurus McKinley, a 5-9, 163-pound receiver from Belle Glade Glades Central, unranked, lists UM, Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina and West Virgina among his top five.

My hunch: With a real lack of talent and with Ryan Moore and Darnell Jenkins gone after this season, UM needed at least one player ready to play for 2007 and got in Farquharson. While Leggett, Sam Shields and Ryan Hill are going to be there next season, UM needs to land some real talent for the future. Look for the Canes to push hard at receiver and land at least two more recruits in this class. Monsignor Pace's Demarcus VanDyke (a UM commitment) could end up switching to receiver if need be. To me, Jay Smith looks like the next real hope for UM of landing a big-time recruit at this position.

OFFENSIVE LINE
COMMITTED
• Center Harland Gunn from Omaha, Nebraska, a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, says he's a solid UM commitment. Listed as the eighth-best center in the nation by Rivals.
TARGETS
• Anthony Davis, 6-5, 341-pound tackle from Piscataway, N.J. who is rated the No. 3 in the nation by Rivals.com. Recently cut UM out of his top five, leaving USC, Ohio State, Rutgers, Florida State and Florida. Liked UM, but with the coaching instability is cooling off the Canes according to Scout.com.
• Kristofer O'Down, a 6-5, 315-pound guard who is rated No. 4 at his position by Rivals.com, from Tuscon, Arizona who has scheduled a visit with UM for the weekend of Nov. 4.
• Kevin Bryant from Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson, a 6-6, 380-pound, who is rated eighth at his position by Rivals, also lists UM as a suitor.
• Ernest McCoy, a 6-5, 330-pound guard from Belle Glade Glades Central, rated 10th at his position, also has UM among his top five.

My hunch: Gunn could end up being a Wollschlager type player, somebody who takes a few years to crack the starting lineup. Wollschlager and Alex Pou are the only seniors on the roster and the only real losses after this season. Jason Fox and Orlando Franklin could be two solid bookends at tackle for at least the next two seasons. But UM needs help talent-wise and depth and landing at least 2-3 solid players on the line would help.

DEFENSIVE LINE
TARGETS
• Martez Wilson, a 6-4, 230-pound weakside end from Chicago, rated tops at his position by Rivals.com, has scheduled a UM visit. Tom Lemming said Wilson is a legitimate NFL-type talent.
• Chris Perry, a 6-3, 319-pound four-star recruit from Keller, Texas, was once a solid commitment but has now opened up his options again following UM's struggles.
• Luther Davis, a 6-4, 255-pound end rated from West Monroe, Louisiana, has reportedly scheduled a visit with in November. Davis is rated the fifth-best end in the nation by Scout.com.
• Kerry Murphy, a 6-5, 315-pounder from national power Hoover in Alabama, is rated the fifth best defensive tackle in the nation according to Scout.com and lists UM along with Alabama as his top 2. Does not, however, apparently have a UM offer.
• Adewale Ojomo, a 6-4, 217-pound defensive end rated 31st nationally, from Hialeah. Has supposedly setup a visit with UM in December.
• DaJohn Harris, a 6-4, 266-pound tackle from Gardna, Calif., lists UM, USC and Michigan as his top schools.
• Marvin Austin, 6-2, 291-pounds from Washington, D.C. whom rivals rates as the No. 1 tackle in the nation. Other suitors include Florida State, Illinois, Maryland and USC. Has scheduled a November visit to USC.
• Joseph Barksdale, a 6-6, 323-pound standout from Detroit, rated the third-best tackle in the nation by Rivals. Has UM even with FSU, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and USC. Already has three visits scheduled, but none include UM.
• Derrick Morgan, a 6-4, 260-pound strongside end from Coatesville, Penn., rated 8th at his position, is scheduled to make one of his five official visits to Miami.
• Devon Still, a 6-6, 251-pound strongside end from Wilmington, Delaware, is rated the 10th best at his position by Rivals. He lists UM and Ohio State as his top two choices. Could also end up playing offensive line.

My hunch: Canes will be losing three players after this season -- Bryan Pata, Baraka Atkins and Kareem Brown. Calais Campbell and Eric Moncur appear to be the future at end, but tackle is a spot where Miami could use some more help. Landing a guy like Austin would be great for UM.

LINEBACKERS
TARGETS
• Jacksonville Forrest's Brandon Hicks, a 6-3, 205-pound outside linebacker, who lists UM among a top three that includes Florida and Michigan. Hicks is rated the nation's No. 6-ranked linebacker by Rivals.com.
• Darran Kinsey, a 6-1, 235-pound middle linebacker from Gulliver Prep, has offers from Kansas State, UM, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and UCF.

My hunch: Unless something unexpected happens -- like Jon Beason leaving for the NFL -- UM should return its linebacking corps intact in 2007. Either way, the future -- Darryl Sharpton, Eric Houston, Colin McCarthy and Spencer Adkins are all young and have at least two seasons left after this one. Getting 1 or 2 players here to add depth appears to be the goal.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
COMMITMENTS
• Damien Berry, a 5-11, 197-pounder from Belle Glade Glades Central, who is rated the nation's No. 11 safety by Rivals.com and the No. 23 safety by Scout.com. His father Kenny played at UM.
• Phelon Jones, a 6-1, 185-pound cornerback from Mobile, Alabama who is listed as the nation's 10th best by Rivals and the 24th best by Scout.com. Rivals editor Jeremy Crabtree likes Jones a lot and feels he can be an immediate impact player for UM. Has strong bloodlines in football with his older brother, Tiger, having played for Louisville. Has a cousin who plays for the Redskins.
TARGETS
• Major Wright, the No. 7 safety in the country, from nearby St. Thomas Aquinas lists UM among six potential destinations. Tom Lemming says Wright is the best safety in the country and likens him to Ronnie Lott.
• Chad Jones, the No. 2 safety in the country according to Rivals, from Baton Rouge lists UM and LSU as his top two schools. Jones is 6-2, 220-pounds. Scout.com rates Jones as the No. 11 safety in the country.
• Joseph Nicholas, a three-star recruit from Homestead, who is listed at 6-3, 198 pounds claims to have offers from UF, UM, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.
• Eric Berry, a 6-0, 194-pound cornerback from Creekside High in Georgia, is listed as the No. 1 corner in the country by Scout.com. Rivals recently reported Berry cut UM from his list because they did not contact him in the fall. Recently listed USC, Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio State as his top four.

My hunch: As talented as UM's secondary has been the past several seasons, the Canes could certainly use some help. The only player UM will lose after this season is safety Brandon Meriweather. Filling his spot with Anthony Reddick or Lovon Ponder won't be a problem. But in 2008, replacing Kenny Phillips (if he leaves for then NFL early) could. Getting a talent like Major Wright to join a pair of solid commitments from Damien Berry and Phelon Jones would give UM a solid class yet again in the secondary.

ATHLETES
COMMITMENT
• Demarcus VanDyke, a 6-0, 161-pound standout with 4.3-speed from Miami Pace has been committed to the team since June but said recently he will begin taking trips.
TARGETS
• Doug Wiggins, a 5-11, 180-pound corner/receiver from, North MIami Beach. Also has interest from Michigan, Georgia, Viriginia Tech, Auburn, Florida, Boston College Oklahoma and Louisville. With that much interest he told me he's likely to take an unofficial visit to Miami. Rated 19th best athlete in country by Rivals.com.
•  A'Jami Guyton, a 5-10, 179-pound receiver-type from Homestead High. Only rated a 3-star recruit by Rivals.com, but he's a tremendous athlete. A Roscoe Parrish type.
OUT THERE
• Marquis Rolle, a 6-1, 181-pound receiver from Orlando Olympia with 4.46-speed in the 40. Rolle has been high on UM since the summer.

My hunch: I got a feeling VanDyke will stay with UM and give them either a solid receiver or corner. He's a tough, fast player. UM would still like to land a guy like Wiggins who is just a flat out playmaker. Guyton, who reminds me of Roscoe Parrish, could be that third or fourth receiver Miami ends up getting in this class.

September 19, 2006

Blame game should include assistants, players

UM linebacker Jon Beason is as positive a leader you will ever come across.

Beason 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?

Wright "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.

September 16, 2006

For UM: Time to Stand and Deliver

If you're a Canes fan, what makes you feel UM can beat Louisville today?

Is it the Canes' 5-0 record when the underdog under Larry Coker's tenure?

Is it their defense?

Or is it because this is the U we're talking about?

One look at this roster, from my perspective, and there are so many question marks, so many reasons to worry.

I'm not saying Miami can't win. I'm saying, what makes you believe they can?

Is it their quarterback, Kyle Wright, who has yet to cement his name among UM's great quarterbacks with a signature drive or a huge game in which he led the team to victory?

Is it the running game, which ran for 2 yards against Florida State and 339 against a Division I-AA opponent?

Is it the receivers, who have yet to catch a ball longer than 27 yards down the field?

Is it the tight end Greg Olsen, who hasn't caught more than 3 passes in a game in his career, other than last year's 8-catch, 137-yard phenomenon against FSU?

Is it the defense, which has produced one sack, one forced fumble and one interception the past two games?

Or is it just faith that somebody is going to stand up today and deliver for a team that needs to be saved?

September 12, 2006

Passing game still short & sweet

For those of you expecting more than sophomoric comedy about an offensive lineman putting on another guys boxers in my last post, I apologize. But heck, does this blog always have be serious talk about the doom and gloom Larry Coker has brought The U with a 13-10 loss to Florida State?

Come on guys, laugh a little. You all could use it.

Anyway, now that I've had a day off and some time to reflect on the FAMU game, here are my thoughts. OK, so now that the Canes have proved they can run for 300-plus yards against I-AA FAMU does that mean all of the offensive woes are fixed? Hardly.

I don't know about you, but I still saw the same short n' sweet passing game the Canes tried to beat FSU with. Not to be a Coach Rich Olson hater, but it would have been nice to see the team work on something deeper than 10-yard curl and out routes -- especially against FAMU. In search of answer, since assistant coaches usually aren't available until after practice on Tuesdays, I spoke at length with receiver Darnell Jenkins (the most honest guy on the team) about what the game plan was.

Jenkins said the team goal all of last week to run, run, and run some more. Jenkins said Coker and Olson both kept reminding the team of the 2 rushing yards it ran for and even kept the offense out an extra half hour for at least two practices practicing the rushing plays that were busts against the Noles. If your a UM fan, you should be happy I guess the Canes are working hard on the running game. But personally, I'd like to see Kyle prove he can get the ball down the field.

While there were at least six catches of 10 or more yards in the game, most of the big gainers were short passes turned into big gains. Tight end Greg Olsen's 24-yard gain came after Wright stepped out of the pocket and found him wide open in the middle of the field. Javarris James'  21-yard touchdown catch was a swing pass. While we did see more crossing routes that went about 10-15 yards deep, this offense is going to have to prove it can do more than survive on short passes to win big games.

Jenkins told me to expect those deep passes against Louisville this week. For the record, Louisville's pass D is currently ranked 86th nationally among 117 I-A Teams according to NCAAsports.com. Last year, the Cardinals were 46th nationally, but produced only 9 INTs. The U had the nation's top-ranked passed D and produced 14 picks.

As for the other pressing story lines this week, it's going to actually be interesting to see what Coker does as far as playing time in the backfield. As I said last week, Javarris James is quickly climbing the depth chart and looked like the best back against FAMU. Still, as much as Coker may say this week James will get loads of playing time, I expect James to play in the shadows of Tyrone Moss and Charlie Jones at least for the first half. With as much as the Canes have on the line with Louisville, I'm sure Coker wants to try to at least go with a veteran first. If that fails, expect to see James. Either way, it will be something interesting to watch.

As far as the defense is concerned, I wouldn't worry too much about what Coker called a bad performance against FAMU. The truth is Randy Shannon got a boatload of young players into the game early and often. Most of the successful quarterback runs FAMU had were on scrambles where linebackers who were dropping back into pass coverage were having to rush up and make plays. Plus, there's the focus factor. Do you honestly think the guys were up to stop FAMU? Expect UM's D to turn up their intensity against Louisville.

That's it for now. But I should have something else for you after tomorrow's press conferences at The U.

September 09, 2006

New meaning to a comfortable victory

Still here at the OB post UM's 51-10 belting of FAMU and couldn't leave without getting this bit of news up on our site immediately.

In the postgame lockerroom I was in the middle of interviewing center Anthony Wollschlager when guard Derrick Morse, who was just getting back from the shower, realized Wollschlager was getting dressed in his locker.

"Dude, this is my locker," Morse told Wollschlager.

"Oh man," Wollschlager said. "Oh man, this is your underwear."

Yes, Wollschlager, apparently distracted by my intense questions accidentally put on Morse's boxers. After some lobbying to give it back, Wollschlager decided to keep them.

To hear the whole funny exhange, click here Download wollschlager_cut.mp3

How much Kyle? How much Kirby?

I'll be leaving for the game soon enough, but before I go, I'd like to know how much playing time you think backup quarterback Kirby Freeman should get tonight.

In my opinion, Larry Coker needs to let Kyle Wright play long enough to stack up substantial points, gain some confidence and get a good feel for his offense. What Coker shouldn't do, as he did against Temple, is leave Wright in there with reserve offensive linemen, risking another injury (last year he sprained his thumb when Chris Rutledge allowed a sack). Tonight, Rutledge is supposed to be starting at left tackle, so that's backup enough for me.

Kirby Freeman should play a lot tonight and get some confidence of his own. Keep in mind who he is playing against. But still, can't you just see debates all over the place if Freeman were to have a great game?

I wonder how many fans will show tonight, given that it looks like it's about to pour. Enjoy the game, wherever you are. Next week will be a load, for sure.

Susan

September 07, 2006

Forget FSU... yeah right

Went out to UM today (the only day players will be made available to the media before Saturday's FAMU game) and have to say it was funny hearing coach Larry Coker and the Canes say they had moved on from Monday's loss and were no longer going to talk about FSU.

One of CokerCoker's first statements was that he had instructed players not to talk about Florida State anymore. Coker's company policy didn't last long, although I have to give him and his players credit for trying.

Defensive tackle Kareem Brown started his segment with the media strong by answering a question about why UM was unable to sack Drew Weatherford with this response: "I'm on FAMU right now, man. We got a long season left. We got to take it one game at a time. We put Florida State behind us."

Ten minutes later, Brown was asking teammate Baraka Atkins -- albeit playfully with another reporter's recorder -- why UM's defense faded in the second half. To which UM media relations master Mark Pray answered, "I thought you weren't talking about FSU." (To hear the exchange check out Baraka's interview Download sept6_atkins.mp3)

Truth be told, no matter what the company line is, Coker and his players were expecting a lot more from themselves against Florida State. And the fact the entire team underachieved stings, no matter what they say. The Hurricanes knew they had an opportunity to bury that ugly 40-3 sore with a win over Florida State and blew it. Coker himself said Wednesday that Brandon Meriweather's interception before the half was UM's opportunity to put FSU away. Instead, a penalty -- and some weird play-calling -- pushed the Canes back out of field goal range and into Jon Peattie pooch territory.

At the half, FSU made all the adjustments it needed to stop the only thing working for UM -- a short, quick passing game -- and UM failed to make the open field tackles (Glenn Cook on Lorenzo Booker's big 30-yard swing pass) that ultimately doomed them.

But that's history right? Onto FAMU where I think you can expect to see UM pour it on the Rattlers for at least three quarters before pulling back the reigns a bit. The real game Miami is preparing for is next week at Louisville.

That's why you shouldn't expect to see a few key guys to play much if at all -- namely left tackle Reggie Youngblood (who is now wearing a boot after tweaking his ankle) and running back Tyrone Moss (who is coming off his suspension and a season-ending knee injury a year ago).

Expect to see a lot of Javarris James. Coker admitted for the second time this week he (maybe really Rich Olson) erred in not getting James into the FSU game sooner. Jones may not have gotten a lot of help from the offensive line in struggling for 27 yards on 12 carries and 1 touchdown. But I get the sense James' quick ascent through the depth chart is attributed to his ability to do something it appears nobody else in the backfield can -- explode. While some players including Jon Beason and Anthony Wollschlager are excited about Moss' return (likely against Louisville), I get the sense the coaches see James becoming the star in this backfield as the season progresses. Why else would Coker move him up so quickly?

FoxAs for guys moving on up quickly, Jason Fox appears to be the real deal at right tackle. Coker said nobody needed to lend the true freshman a hand against FSU and when Coker was asked if he thought Fox would start against FAMU, Coker responded, "without question
[he'll continue to start]."

The real fear for Canes fans should be Reggie Youngblood's ankle. Chris Rutledge and Cyrim Wimbs are two players who have been part of this team for three years, yet both were surpassed by Fox. Now, they're the guys battling to protect Kyle Wright's blindside against FAMU. The Rattlers are one thing, but what if Youngblood's injury is worse than anticipated? It could prove to be pretty scary.

Coker said there might be a few other lineup changes this week, but it remains to be seen if any of those are drastic. We don't expect any.

As for the defense, which gave up one yard rushing and in all honesty did enough for UM to beat FSU, one interesting point raised Wednesday is the fact the Hurricanes are no longer getting the big defensive plays they used to. Sure, Meriweather got the big pick and it should have produced points, but one look at the stats over the last six seasons and a few numbers jump out at you.

While Randy Shannon's defense has continued to be among the nation's best year in and year out (never falling further than 22nd in points and 8th in pass defense since 2001), the team isn't getting the scoring it used to when UM put together a 35-3 run from 2001-2003. UM scored 17 defensive touchdowns during those years. The Hurricanes have only had three in the last 2+ seasons combined. That's the same number Sean Taylor had himself in 2003.

Obviously, it takes a lot to ask a defense to not only stop the other team and score, but the way this offense looks right now, the defense may have to resort to its old ways of scoring itself for UM to win tough games against Louisville, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Kbrown_1Kareem Brown and Baraka Atkins are the only current defensive players on the roster to score TDs. Both talked a lot about trying to get to the quarterback and force fumbles. Both missed a few sacks on Drew Weatherford Monday and were still smarting over them. Trouble was Florida State wasn't holding onto the ball too long. Weatherford had a lot of three-step drops and got the ball out quickly. Coker also noted while his team has practiced striping the ball, there weren't too many opportunities against the Noles.

Now, UM's defense just needs to make sure there are the rest of the way. Every little bit of help they can give the offense -- including a few long fumble or interception returns -- will help.

September 05, 2006

A case of Deja' Vu against FSU

Just got back from the Orange Bowl and have to say I feel like I just spent four hours watching an instant replay of last year's FSU-UM game.

What happened to UM's new offense? Where was the scoring? Where was the deep passing, the running game?

UM fans are sure to bomb the radio waves today asking these questions and more -- and rightfully so. One look at the statistics and you see FSU was limited to one yard rushing the entire game. One yard. So how did UM lose despite giving up only one yard on 25 attempts? By rushing for only two yards themselves.

FSU's defense may turn out to be one of the nation's best. But last I checked, weren't the Seminoles supposed to be replacing 7 starters and four first round draft picks on defense? As good as the Seminoles 'D' might turn out to be, the reality is UM's offense -- right now -- is worse than a year ago. And the sad part is there may not be much improvement.

Miami's 132 yards of total offense (17 yards and only 1 first down in the second half) was worse than any performance last season -- including the 40-3 pasting LSU put on UM in the Peach Bowl when the Hurricanes produced a season-low 153 yards.

So what went wrong? After spending sometime in the locker room after the game chatting with offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, quarterback Kyle Wright, receiver Darnell Jenkins and running back Charlie Jones, I'll try to breakdown the offensive breakdowns.

The protection: For all the heat UM's offensive line took for giving up nine sacks in last year's 10-7 loss in Tallahassee, giving up only three sacks on a sloppy field with a freshman starting at right tackle and only one real experienced starter back shows me real improvement.

Sure, FSU disrupted UM's passing game with blitzes in the second half and held UM to two yards rushing, but the line's play didn't turn out to be as disastrous as most expected. Fox especially. Cristobal said he didn't make the decision to start Fox until moments before kickoff, replacing sophomore Tyrone Byrd, who came into the fall as the projected starter before a knee injury. Byrd didn't end up playing at all -- apparently because Fox, who became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line since Richard Mercier (1995), played so well.

To hear Cristobal talk about the line's play Download sept4_cristobal.mp3

The passing game: When I first met with new offensive coordinator Rich Olson the talk was UM's new plan was going to be to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers, something Coker said the team didn't do enough of last year with Sinorice Moss.

UM accomplished getting the ball into its playmakers, somewhat. Kyle Wright completed 18 passes on 27 attempts to seven different receivers -- including a span in the first half when he hit on 11 of 13. But truth be told, most of those completions were high percentage (less than 10 yards down the field) passes.

After attempting a bomb on the game's opening play to Darnell Jenkins, Olson pulled the reigns in tight and began dinking and dunking ball to Jenkins, Lance Leggett and Sam Shields. Jenkins and Leggett were the only players to catch a pass deeper than 10 yards down the field. When the fall began, Jenkins and Wright said they thought Wright would be throwing the ball deep (25-yards plus down the field) at least five times a game. It didn't happen Monday. UM ultimately only completed two passes longer than 19 yards.

Part of why UM struggled throwing the ball deep -- aside from the pressure -- was because tight end Greg Olsen, who was supposed to be the team's best offensive player, only caught 2 passes for 8 yards. When Olsen has been effective, he's pulled safeties his way and freed up receivers down the sidelines. He didn't do any of that, mostly because he was being bracketed by a safety and covered at times by the strongside linebacker and middle linebacker.

As for passing to the running backs. Olson said they would be much more involved. Not a single UM running back caught a pass, unless you want to lump H-Back Chris Zellner into that mix. He caught one pass for one yard. Zellner was really nothing more than a tight end, who occasionally lined up in the back field before moving in motion and lining up to block.

The running game: The 2 yards rushing as a team can be somewhat misleading. Kyle Wright was given -20 yards on eight attempts, plays that realistically were the result of scrambling and protection breakdowns.

Either way, the numbers starter Charlie Jones produced weren't pretty. Jones ran for 27 yards on 13 attempts (2.1) and had a long of 12. He didn't play at all in the fourth quarter and was spelled by freshman Javarris James. Jones said afterward it was "a coaches decision," and that he wasn't "the least bit tired." James didn't fare much better, finishing with only 4 yards on 3 carries (and a fumble he later recovered).

Part of UM's struggles on the ground could ultimately go back to the fact the team no longer employs a fullback. Olson got rid of that, hoping to run more two-tight end and three receiver sets. It will be interesting to see if the fullback makes a comeback in the coming weeks.

But ultimately, the fact James was the team's primary running back in the fourth quarter of a game UM trailed 13-10 should tell you something. Olson probably doesn't believe Jones or anybody else James passed on his way up through the depth chart is really capable of becoming the next gamebreaker UM sorely needs.

Which brings me back to my ultimate point on UM's offense and why it may not improve much this season -- the real talent on this team is young, freshman young. The fact UM had a true freshman starting at right tackle, a true freshman in the backfield in the fourth quarter and two true freshman in the top four receiver spots (one that was moved from corner in the past two weeks) is because the coaches know what the "other guys" aren't as special.

Truth be told, no true freshman would have smelled the field against FSU three years ago. UM was loaded with talent then. Look at the list of names at receiver Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne; running back Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore; tight end Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Shockey and Bubba Franks. All of these guys are starters or stars in the NFL.

When you look at the list of names to come out since, as UM's offense has steadily declined, the only offensive star has been Sinorice Moss (who came on in his senior year). One look at UM's current roster and there isn't an upperclassmen (junior or senior) you can honestly say other than Olsen who has the credentials right now to become a star in the NFL. And Olsen as big and as talented as he is, hasn't caught more than three passes in a game since last year's eight catch, 137-yard performance against FSU in the season opener.

So, I guess what I'm saying is before you rip UM's new offensive coaches to shreds, take a look at what they're working with. It may take a while before the real, future offensive stars of this team -- Shields, James and Hill -- start making the big catches in the fourth quarter, the consistent big runs the team needs, and help return UM's offense to what it once was (one of the nation's best). For now, the recent, same old mediocrity -- albeit with a new, three-to-five step drop -- might be all the Canes' offense is capable of in the games that really matter.

Anyway, I'm sure I didn't catch everything. Tell me what you think of UM's offense and what they need to improve immediately. Hey, you never know if one of your suggestions might make it back to the guys calling the plays.