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14 posts from October 2006

October 29, 2006

What now?

Georgia Tech basically ended UM's season Saturday with its 30-23 victory.

The same things I told you would happen did. Miami played tough. But ultimately a late turnover by this offense doomed them yet again. And the defense, which played great and evened the TD output of the offense with a score of its own, went home a loser yet again because UM's offense cannot run when it needs to and cannot punch it in the red zone.

But instead of lamenting on the loss, why don't we speculate on what the Hurricanes should strive for the rest of this season.

So, what now Canes fans? Should Kirby Freeman be given a shot at quarterback? Should some of the freshman and sophomores who haven't played yet get their shot too? Or should UM try and salvage a 9-3 season and a trip to the Gator Bowl?

Let's get your thoughts.

October 27, 2006

5 Most Important Things vs. Georgia Tech

Since the Louisville debacle my pre-game blog entries have focused on goals UM needed to meet to show the kind of improvement needed to win games like Saturday's against Georgia Tech and next week at home against Virginia Tech. For the record, UM went a combined 8-5 in the goals I set for them in their last three games.

GtechSo, anyway, now that we've finally reached the point where they are playing those big games I'm debuting a new theme to preview each of UM's remaining games: 5 Most Important Things. These are the five most important things I think the Canes needs to either achieve themselves or stop the other team from achieving to win. Each week, I'd like to hear what you guys think are the 5 Most Important Things before kickoff. Then, we can go back and see if we were right or wrong. Now, for this week's 5 most important things.

1. HOLD GEORGIA TECH TO FEWER THAN 20 POINTS: It's no secret UM's offense has been lackluster this season. The defense itself has asked for the UM offense to "Just give Us 21 and We'll Take Care of the Rest." This week, the defense can't back down from that promise or the Canes won't win. I would also include limiting Calvin Johnson from making big plays. But it won't matter if the Canes can hold G-Tech to fewer than 20 points.

R01_canes_spts_add 2. UM'S DEFENSE MUST CONTINUE TO PROVIDE TURNOVERS AND GOOD FIELD POSITION FOR THE OFFENSE: Miami's offense hasn't driven 80 yards down the field for a score this season more than once in a single game except against FAMU. I don't want to set a fixed number of turnovers the UM defense must produce, but I think its going to need to be somewhere around 3 for their offense to have a better chance of eclipsing 21 points.

3. UM's OFFENSE CANNOT TURN THE BALL OVER INSIDE ITS OWN 30: The defense is already going to be working its tail off. If the offense gets careless and gives Georgia Tech great field position and easy scores, the enthusiasm of UM's defense will quickly fade and the Yellow Jackets will be on their way to an easy victory.

4. ESTABLISH A RUNNING GAME: For the past three weeks, UM's running game has gone from very good to mediocre to flat out terrible. If UM can't pick up yardage on the ground and Kyle Wright is forced to throw on nearly every big play, UM will not win this game.

5. DO WHAT IS ASKED ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Jon Peattie cannot miss field goals and the special teams cannot pick-up any stupid penalties that kill field position. Getting a big play in this game would obviously be a plus. But making a mistake would be far more costly.

MY PREDICTION: Georgia Tech 23, UM 20. As badly as the Hurricanes have played this season, I can't see them showing up to Bobby Dodd Stadium and playing any worse than they already have. UM usually plays better on the road in tough ball games -- just look up last year's road trip to Virginia Tech. I would go with the flat out upset here because I really don't think much of the Yellow Jackets. But considering how much UM's running game has struggled of late, that to me will ultimately be why the Canes will lose this game. In last year's big road win at Virginia Tech, UM ran the ball soundly. Unless we see Javarris James running all over the Yellow Jackets on Saturday, I fear this game will end up being decided by a late offensive blunder.

October 26, 2006

Duke, Butch and much Moore

Considering I didn't make the trip up to Duke (Herald budget constraints) and we're sort of in the in between stage between Duke and Georgia Tech and since there's been so much news around UM in the last few days, I've decided to go with a hodge podge of topics.

Dsc00025First off, though, got to share with you where I was during the Duke game: in Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights (cool time and I recommend folks young enough to appreciate it to check it out, the chainsaw guys are awesome). Anyway, the only reason I bring up my weekend getaway is because my wife and I happened to see a ton of folks wearing UM gear all over the park Saturday night. Not sure if that was because UM fans wondered if wearing Canes gear would add to the fear factor (maybe the guys carrying chainsaws wanted a piece of the Canes) or if they thought Saturday might be the first time in a long time to flex UM pride because UM was supposed to crush Duke.

Either way, we all know now UM inflicted plenty of fear into its fans Saturday by blowing a 20-2 lead before salvaging a 20-15 squeaker against a team that hasn't beaten a Division I-A opponent in nearly 20 games. Coach Larry Coker said he was happy to pull out the victory and proud of the way his team played considering they were short 13 players.

23 But since UM's last horror flick (THE LOUISVILLE MASSACRE) I know I'm not the only one that feels like this team really hasn't improved. While the Hurricanes have taken steps forward in some areas (Kyle Wright and the passing game has improved), they've taken steps back in others (the running game has gotten worse week-by-week). There's nothing that convinces me that UM can win this week at Georgia Tech except for one little thing: this team has yet to really play at its best.

With 13 returning players including three big ones -- safety Brandon Meriweather, tight end Greg Olsen and guard Derrick Morse, there's a chance this week a near fully-loaded UM team could pull off the upset. After all, this is a road game at Georgia Tech we're talking about, not USC, Notre Dame or Ohio State. The Yellow Jackets are good, but are they really all that better than last year's version which "upset" Miami in the OB 14-10? I'm not convinced, especially not after seeing the way Clemson mauled them. So, while I plan on coming back and providing keys to the game this week on Friday, I will go back to reviewing what happened against Duke hitting on the latest news, Ryan Moore, etc.

But first, a look back at Duke and the goals I set for the Hurricanes before the game.

07_21. KEEP CHASING DOWN THE QUARTERBACK AND CREATING TURNOVERS: Passed. UM only had two sacks, but forced five turnovers including three picks by the guy I'm calling team MVP thus far, sophomore safety Kenny Phillips. The Hurricanes defense ended up surrendering plenty of yardage in the fourth quarter including 13 points, but the secondary at least had an excuse. They were gassed. There were only six guys playing Saturday and when the offense can't move the football and your out there for 10 of the 15 minutes in the final quarter fatigue becomes a factor. The bottom line as I said a few weeks back, this UM defense is going to continue to have to produce turnovers for this team to have success. Without it, UM has no chance against any of the ACC's best teams.

2. RE-ESTABLISH THE RUN AND DRIVE THE FOOTBALL (Eclipse 120 yards on the ground and get Javarris James back on track with at least 75 of them): FAILED. Let's see, 26 rushes for 30 yards. That's not going to cut it against Southwest High. I said this earlier, but I'm going to repeat it. If UM can't run the football and control the football, they aren't going to beat teams like G-Tech.

053. HAVE A BREAKOUT PASSING GAME (Throw for 275 yards and at least two TDs): PASSED. Kyle Wright looked great -- in the first half. He showed he could throw down the field to his receivers, connecting with Sam Shields twice for touchdowns and with Lance Leggett six times for 131 yards. Heck, Rashaun Jones even played well and looked like he could be a solid third option. But what Wright and the UM offense did in the second half was ugly. 3 points and the fact they couldn't move the ball in the fourth quarter against Duke proved yet again this offense has no identity.

4. PLAY SOUND ON SPECIAL TEAMS: PASSED. Only reason I gave this a passing grade was because Jon Peattie did what he was supposed to do. He made his two field goal attempts. Yes, Daren Daly did have a ball go over his head for a safety. But if Brian Monroe is back there, and he will be this week, that doesn't happen.

OVERALL GRADE: C. Individually, the defense gets a B+; the passing game gets at C+; the running game gets an F and special teams gets a B. Considering 5 key starters were out and the secondary was short-handed, you have to grade this game a bit on a sliding scale. I liked what I saw from the passing game and defense yet again and the play from Peattie was encouraging, but needing a Willie Cooper goal line interception to beat a team Duke simply isn't good enough to warrant serious praise.

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Now, onto Ryan Moore. First off, while the decision hasn't been made as of now, I'd be surprised if he didn't play this week. Coker said in Tuesday's press conference he thought a 7-week suspension was more than enough punishment for Moore, UM's top returning receiver this season.

A few weeks ago I asked you if you thought Moore should be allowed to return. You gave me mixed reviews. At this point, with all this team has been through already, I think it doesn't really matter anymore if Moore returns or not. I say let him back on the squad and see what he can do, maybe he can be one of the positive turnarounds for this team.

Now, as for Butch Davis wanting to return to coaching. I know in Susan's article (READ HERE) he tried as hard as possible to stay away from commenting on UM or even the UNC job, but let's get real here. If Butch didn't want to say "Hey Guys I'm Here if You Need Me," he wouldn't have given an interview to a Miami reporter much less said how he's itching to get back into coaching.

With that said, I'd like to get your thoughts on Davis, Moore and the rest of what's happened at The U since the brawl. Fire away.

October 20, 2006

FIU recap and look ahead to Duke

As promised, here is my strictly football follow-up to the FIU game and a look ahead with keys to victory/the keys to real progress for UM against Duke on Saturday.

03Let's start off by reviewing the UM performance against FIU. Again, unlike other blogs where writers may take a look at what UM must accomplish to win a particular game, keep in mind the keys/goals I've set since the Louisville game have been with an eye on how UM must show improvement to pass its bigger tests -- at Georgia Tech next week and at home versus Virginia Tech the week after. In other words, if UM passes these tests, I feel they really show they're ready to give Georgia Tech and V-Tech a challenge.

With that, I'll begin by revisiting the goals I set for UM against FIU.

09 1. PROTECT KYLE WRIGHT AND THE FOOTBALL (No more than 2 sacks allowed): PASSED (Barely). After being sacked only once against Houston and North Carolina, quarterback Kyle Wright found himself running for his life in the first half against FIU. Javarris James had a first half fumble, but in all-in-all you have to say UM is protecting the ball better. Only one turnover in its last eight quarters. And Kyle Wright hasn't been picked off since the first half against Houston.

2. KEEP PLAYING STELLAR ON 'D' (Allow no more than 300 yards total offense, 14 points and produce at least 2 turnovers): PASSED. UM held FIU to 114 yards total offense and recorded its first shutout since beating Louisiana Tech 48-0 in 2004. The Hurricanes also had two first half interceptions and produced a fumble that led to a touchdown in the third. FIU's offense wasn't much of a test, but you got to give the Hurricanes D credit for continuing to show it can put the offense in situations to succeed. Kenny Phillips interception in the end zone in the first quarter was a big play and stopped FIU from getting its only points after James fumbled inside UM's 30.

073. KEEP RUNNING STRONG (Run for 175 yards, 2 TDs and get at least 50 yards from somebody other than Javarris James): FAILED. Canes only ran for 90 yards against FIU and scored its only rushing touchdown in garbage time when it was already 28-0. The bad sign was that when James, who fumbled, struggled, Miami proved it really couldn't run with anyone else. James finished with 36 yards on 11 attempts and while Tyrone Moss made a return, he finished third on the team with 24 yards on 10 carries. Not exactly the kind of stuff that proves UM's running game is successful unless James is running strong.

4. SUSTAIN MORE THAN ONE LONG SCORING DRIVE AND PUNT LESS THAN FOUR TIMES: FAILED. Despite having great field position throughout the game, UM's offense proved yet again it could not sustain a scoring drive longer than 39 yards when the game was still in doubt. UM punted four times in the game, but was turned away inside the FIU 6 in the first quarter and missed a field goal on the only meaningful offensive drive, a 9-play, 55-yarder that ended with Jon Peattie going wide left. All three of UM's first three touchdowns came because the defense or special teams put them in great field position. The first two touchdown drives began at the FIU 39 after a bad punt and a blocked punt and the third TD drive began at the FIU 15 after UM recovered a fumble.

065. FIND THE RECEIVERS AND PRODUCE (AT LEAST 10 RECEIVER RECEPTIONS, 1 TD CATCH): PASSED. Wright completed 14 of 22 for 117 yards and three TDs and his receivers -- Lance Leggett and Sam Shields -- both had big days. Leggett caught 7 passes for 77 yards and two scores and Shields caught 6 passes for 88 yards. It was nice to see both become involved in the passing game. But something to take note of here is that Greg Olsen was out with a concussion and didn't catch a single pass. You can look at that two ways, Wright was forced to find his receivers and two, it made it even tougher without Olsen in the middle and credit should be given to Wright for what he accomplished. Either way, there were still a few drops. Leggett had one and Khalil Jones had another.

6.  GET A BIG PLAY FROM SPECIAL TEAMS (Blocked kick, big return, something): PASSED. After spending most of the season in a comatose state, the special teams final broke through with its biggest play of the season when freshman linebacker Colin McCarthy blocked an FIU punt that led to UM's second touchdown. That was an encouraging sign as was the punt returning of Rashaun Jones, who fielded two and returned them for a total of 37 yards. The bad sign? Peattie missing yet another field goal. After "correcting his mistakes" against North Carolina and going 2-for-2 against the Tar Heels, Peattie missed his only chance from 43 yards. Hate to say it, but Peattie's inconsistency is probably going to end up costing UM somewhere down the road.

OVERALL GRADE: B-. Individually, the defense gets an A; special teams gets a B; running game gets a D; and the passing game gets a B. As much as FIU can beat its chest for being in the game through the first half, I thought UM would struggle in the first half against FIU's defense anyway. What was encouraging to see was that for the second straight week UM's offense found the end zone before the half, the defense dominated for four quarters and the special teams came through with a big play. What was disheartening was Peattie's missed field goal and the struggling running game. Bottomline, UM showed some improvement, but still likely not enough to win a tough road game at G-Tech.

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DukeWith that, let's look ahead to Duke. Don't kid yourself. The Blue Devils are a bad team. Obviously, the suspension of 13 players hurts UM's depth. But Duke makes so many mistakes on its own, UM should be able to survive this game easily. Besides, there are only five real starters who are out -- Brandon Meriweather, Derrick Morse, Brian Monroe, Jon Beason and Greg Olsen.

With that said, UM still needs to be able to show it can win a game like this the way it should, because it has superior talent. With Georgia Tech on the schedule next week, the Hurricanes need to continue to play strong defensively and the offense needs to prove it can run the football again with its final tune-up for the Yellow Jackets.

Thadlewis 1. KEEP CHASING DOWN THE QUARTERBACK AND CREATING TURNOVERS (A minimum of five sacks and three turnovers created): Now that the defensive line has begun not only stopping the run, but getting to the quarterback on a regular basis, UM needs to prove this week it can remain consistent against inferior opponents. Duke has given up 26 sacks this season (4.3 a game) and has a freshman quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis who has really struggled in all but one of his starts, when he put up 305 yards and a touchdown in a 14-13 loss to Wake Forest. With five defensive backs out and a six-man rotation in the secondary, UM needs its pass rush to be effective so corners and safeties aren't running around all day. If that happens, they'll continue giving their offense good field position. Look for Calais Campbell to continue to play well.

2. RE-ESTABLISH THE RUN AND DRIVE THE FOOTBALL (Eclipse 120 yards on the ground and get Javarris James back on track with at least 75 of them; also establish at least one long scoring drive): Duke's run defense isn't half bad. The Blue Devils Run D actually ranks 35th nationally (110 ypg). But with how inconsistent UM's passing game has been this season and with Olsen likely out for this game (still bothered by the concussion), UM needs to reestablish it can run the football, even against tough run D's. Besides, if the Canes can't run against Duke, how are they going to run against a Yellow Jackets run defense that ranks 7th nationally and only gives up 71 yards a game on the ground? They got to get rolling at Duke.

Shieldstd_13. HAVE A BREAKOUT PASSING GAME (Eclipse 275 yards passing and throw at least two TDs): Aside from All-ACC corner John Talley, Duke's pass defense lacks real talent and has looked porous this season. The Blue Devils rank next to last in the conference in Pass D and give up an average of 226.5 yards a game. For Wright, who finally connected with his receivers, its important to continue to show he and his receivers are on the same page. With Olsen likely out and UM playing likely without an H-Back, Wright will get a chance to show he can throw in four-receiver sets. I've noticed all season he's struggled throwing the ball downfield. If he's going to be able to do that against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, he needs to prove he can do it against lowly Duke.

4. PLAY SOUND ON SPECIAL TEAMS (Create another big play *return or block,  and stay away from special teams mistakes): The real losses of the suspensions come on special teams for the Canes who lost a lot of guys who had important roles. Daren Daly will start at punter for Brian Monroe and must make sure to continue to provide solid field position for the Hurricanes. More importantly, though, Peattie has to get back on track with his kicks. If he struggles again, it's going to be hard to have confidence in him should UM need a big kick in one of its next few games.

My prediction: Miami 37, Duke 6. Vegas has the line at 17 1/2. But I think UM will bounce back from its suspensions and continue to play strong on defense even without Beason and Meriweather. Duke is a team that has killed itself with turnovers and UM's defense should be able to put enough pressure on Lewis to create plenty of turnovers on Saturday, giving Wright and the offense enough chances to collect big points. I think this is the game UM finally shows from start to finish it is capable of dominating the teams it is supposed to. Wright will be the offensive MVP with over 250 yards passing and three TDs and Calais Campbell will have two sacks and a forced fumble.

Talking hoops

Before things got crazy on Saturday night at the OB, I promised UM basketball fans a report on the first practice. Unfortunately, I never got around to it -- or the football evaluation of the FIU game. I still plan to do both, but will start with hoops first since it's fresh in my mind after Wednesday afternoon's hoops media day at the BankUnited Center.

Katiemeier First off, got to say coach Frank Haith and Katie Meier have been super cool people to deal with thus far and I'm kind of rooting to see them surprise some people this season. There's no doubt the rest of the country doesn't think these UM basketball teams -- men or women -- will be able to survive the tough ACC. But as bad as some of the magazines (Street & Smith, Athlon, Lindy's, Sporting News) project both squads doing this season, I think both of these teams will finish in the middle of the pack in the ACC like the last few UM teams have. Well, at least the men, who may not have a go-to scorer yet, but certainly have the makings of a really talented athletic, young squad in my opinion (READ MY STORY).

Collins_1 First off, I'll talk about what I saw with my own eyes. liked what I saw from freshman forward Dwayne Collins, who looked like the man in Saturday's practice (CHECK OUT THE VIDEO). He had a couple nice dunks and used his 7-4 wingspan to pluck down rebounds left and right. I also was impressed with sophomore guard Jack McClinton, the transfer from Siena, who looks more than ready to be a serious contributor on this squad. Those are the new guys that really caught my eye during the 45 minutes of scrimmage I caught Saturday. The old guys that looked pretty good were forward Jimmy Graham, guard Denis Clemente and small forward Brian Asbury. Clemente looked like his shooting has improved. He was making threes consistently and looked more in control of his game.

That's what I saw anyway. What coach Frank Haith has been saying is that the two most improved returning players are Asbury and Graham. Haith said Asbury has made tremendous strides with his shooting and confidence and when I talked to Asbury on Wednesday, I got the sense all the things Haith was saying was true. Asbury told me how without Rob Hite and Guillermo Diaz, he feels like he can "do his thing." At South Miami, Asbury ran the point his senior season and loved creating baskets off the dribble.

Oops. Before I get into talking about positions and starters, I'll start with philosophy. First of all, UM is not going to run the 3-guard set anymore. Haith says he has too much height and athleticism not to push the ball up the floor with a traditional college lineup: two guards, a wing and two posts.

AsburyNow, back to Asbury. Having said all that, it looks pretty much like a lock Asbury is going to be the starting small forward on opening night against FIU Nov. 11. With Adrian Thomas nursing an abdominal strain (and likely out at least another week) according to Haith, and freshman Lawrence Gilbert still a little too green, its basically Asbury's job to lose. The only other guys who will likely see minutes there are 6-11 JUCO transfer Fabio Nass, who Haith says is a tremendous shooter but needs to pickup speed; and Raymond Hicks, who at 6-7, 238 is meatier than any other projected small forward. Hicks told me he really hasn't practiced too much at small forward. But if Haith wanted to go really big, Hicks would most likely be a third post with Asbury moving to shooting guard.

As for the guards, Anthony Harris told me Jack McClinton has spent the most time of any player at shooting guard since practice began. The way Haith and McClinton's teammates have talked about him, I've got a good feeling he's going to start on opening night. McClinton, a transfer from Siena, averaged 13.6 points per game there two years ago and is one of only two players on the team (Anthony Harris being the other) to average double digits in a college season.

Antharris As for point guard, Clemente and Harris have spent the majority of time practicing there. While Clemente started some games last season, Haith made a few comments Wednesday that made me feel like he wants more from Denis. He mentioned he wanted Clemente to put in more time off the court watching tape to make adjustments. That being said, Haith praised the work ethic of Harris and said the team usually plays its best when Harris is healthy and at his best. Either way, all three are going to play the majority of minutes at the two guards spots.

But in summation, right now anyway, it looks like Harris at the point, McClinton at shooting guard and Clemente as the first one off the bench to spell any of the two. As for the fourth guard, freshman James Dews has been hampered by a foot injury and like Thomas will likely be out another week. Dews was a big time scorer and shooter in high school and is likely only a sub at shooting guard. He told me he's more of a shooter than a slasher. And as I said before, Asbury could see some time at guard too.

Onto the post, where there is no question two-year starter Anthony King will be a starter at the five. It's the No. 4 spot that is probably going to be the best battle. Haith already said he believes Collins will get plenty of playing time, but both Harris and King said Collins is playing well enough right now to take the starting job. Both Anthonys said they expect a big battle between Collins and Graham and Hicks for the starting four spot over the next two weeks. My gut tells me, though, even if Collins doesn't start on opening night, he will eventually find himself in a starting role. The sheer fact he has a 7-4 wingspan, can jump out of the gym, hit 15-foot jumpers with regularity and play defense might make him too good not to keep on the floor.

Haith himself admitted Wednesday Collins was better than he first thought. If that ends up being the case, I can foresee Graham being sort of the perfect sixth man to come off the bench and provide plenty of energy. Plus, that will allow him to save some of his fouls, which last year, he spent so much time giving away. Haith said he and the team have been working plenty with Graham in practice to try to stop his foul tendencies. But until we sit in a game, we really won't be sure.

Well, that's it for now. I'll be back with some more news as it becomes available. By the way, to hear Umaudioall of the audio interviews I have with players and coaches throughout the season, click on our interview link on our UM homepage. All interviews I do are usually recorded and posted on the web the night I do the interviews. That goes for practice, games, whatever. It's something I know not to many other media outlets offer. Same deal with the video.

Also, if there is something you would like me to ask a player or coach or question I might be able to answer, feel free to leave it here on the blog and I'll try to get to it ASAP. Maybe what I'll do once a week is select the best questions you leave for me and answer them in a blog entry.

October 18, 2006

National media has been unfair

I find times of trial and tribulation like the one UM is going through right now as moments that define character.  Having the eyes of the nation fixated on this brawl the last few days has been interesting to say the least. I've found myself observing the situation not only as a journalist, but as a native South Floridian.

24

Let me start off by saying I'm not going to get into things like 'Was the discipline UM handed down enough? Or, 'Does the University of Miami need a new coach and was this another sign of a program out of control or whatever?' That's a whole 'nother topic. No, this blog about the way I feel the national media has mishandled this situation.

As a journalist, I can understand why this is a big story. One of the country's top college football programs that has been tail spinning of late gets into an ugly fight with a crosstown rival and it all gets caught on tape with a hometown announcer and former player egging it on. Juicy. Just the kind of fodder that makes for eye-grabbing TV replays that draw viewers, hot radio talk that draws callers, and enough of a hot topic for columnists to feel holier than thou and say all the things they're expected to say and more and have their mailboxes flooded with emails.

And some have already said plenty of stupid things like: "Give the program the death penalty"; "These players have always been and always will be nothing but thugs."

There's nothing wrong with having opinions. Journalists, TV and radio hosts get paid to have them. And there certainly is nothing wrong with condemning a bench-clearing brawl between college football players. I'm not condoning anything UM or FIU did Saturday as right. But when journalists attack the character of individuals they've only seen on tape and never spoken to in their lives, much less made the effort to hear their side of the story, I find something morally and journalistically wrong with it.

Tuesday morning there were more than a dozen TV crews at the University of Miami and other journalists I had never seen attend a UM press conference. On most Tuesdays, the only people at a UM press conference are your local media -- basically beat writers from local papers and a few TV cameras. Ultimately, it's not the new interested parties around UM I'm disappointed in as a journalist. They're trying to do a job and at least making the effort to go out and ask questions. It's the other guys who don't always do their jobs responsibly.

Like the out-of-town radio show hosts (who shall remain nameless) who asked me to go on their show then ripped me and called me a homer because I disagreed with their opinion about UM players being thugs. Or the national TV network that asked me to come in and talk about the way the University of Miami "has lost control again and is being overrun with thugs."

As a South Floridian who has gotten to know and written plenty about most of the players on both teams that were involved in the brawl Saturday (I was a high school writer for five-plus years), I can say I was disappointed by their actions. It hurt me to see a guy like Anthony Reddick, a guy whose high school coach at St. Thomas Aquinas has always had nothing but great things to say about him, swing a helmet at another player. It stunk to see a guy like FIU receiver Chandler Williams, a kid from Miami High, swing and kick and take a cheap shot at Carol City's Kenny Phillips.

26 But one bad night, one gigantic moment of stupidity that got way out of control shouldn't define who these kids are. I'm not an apologist. I just think more needs to be said. What FIU and UM did was wrong and stupid. Derrick Morse didn't need to body slam an FIU player. Amod Ned didn't need to come out swinging with his crutches. And Brandon Meriweather didn't need to stomp on anybody. But, last I checked, how many of you were ever in a scuffle as a teenager or in your early 20s and thought to yourself as it was going on: 'Well, I'm not going to kick the guy who just tried to attack me and my boys because I'll do 5 to 10; I'll just push him away and go back home.' When did you have the restraint to take a verbal and physical beating from somebody for 2-3 hours and just turn the other cheek? Would you honestly have let a guy slam a teammate, a guy like Matt Perrelli (who looks a bit helpless), to the turf and not run to his defense and try and return the favor?

Somewhere in all this, I think we forgot a few things. Like, one this is football, a violent sport where brawls have happened before (if this type of violence broke out at a golf or tennis match then it would be incredible). Two, in a heated moment when you try to defend somebody or fight them off, you aren't exactly thinking about how not to fight. And three, these 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year old gladiators who kicked, punched and acted the fool for five minutes Saturday night are the same 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year old gladiators who have worked, bled and done what it takes to earn those uniforms and scholarships. They've done what's been asked of them in the classroom and out of it.

When I think of the word thug, I picture a person who doesn't work hard, a guy who carries a gun, sells drugs, steals, cheats and lies to get ahead in life. Most of these kids at UM and FIU survived neighborhoods with all those elements to get where they are now. Could some of these kids end up reverting to those bad things? Yes. But most of them will not. Just like everywhere else in this country.

The University of Miami has had its share of "bad boys" in the past -- and present. But the fact is the number of thugs pales in comparison to the successful student-athletes this university and town has produced. I think I can count on my hands the number of guys from UM who have gone on to a life of crime and thuggery. Yet, that's what The U is known for. That's what South Florida players are all about in the eyes of the nation.

And that bothers me. The truth is we can't keep track of the number of successful, talented people who have come out of this university and from South Florida because there are too many and that number is growing every year. Last I checked, doesn't the University of Miami lead the NFL with the most players and first round picks in the last decade? Last I checked, doesn't South Florida lead the nation in producing the most NFL players? Somewhere in there, something positive has to be happening around here doesn't it?

I don't want to spin too out of control here and dwell on the past. I'm not going to change the nation's opinions here about UM or South Florida high school football players -- nor am I trying. Honestly, it won't ever change. No matter how much cleaning up this program does, the national media will always have those video tapes of Randall Hill dancing in the Cotton Bowl, UM players fighting on Bourbon Street and now, The Brawl to make their case "stronger."

But at the very least, I hope, as South Floridians we've all seen the way the national media portrays this school and our local football players. I think we've all learned it will never change.

EXAMPLE: All the stories in the papers, TV stations and radio stations nationwide, are sure to have Anthony Reddick's prepared speech somewhere in their coverage tomorrow next to a title that won't be too far off of Helmet Swinging Safety Apologizes For Antics.

But nowhere in those stories does there figure to be any description of what Reddick looked like before he delivered his speech. Nobody will say how he looked down at the floor in real disappointment as he walked toward a collection of TV cameras and unknown faces to tell people he doesn't know he's sorry he ran to the defense of his teammates and instead of grabbing a jersey, swung a helmet at another guy who was coming after one of his buddies. Nowhere in the story will there be anything remotely describing the thought process Reddick put into it his letter, how the piece of paper he typed his forgiveness letter on was covered with ink with words crossed out and new ones added on in pencil and pen.

No. All that will be replayed over and over again as Reddick speaks is the video of him flinging his helmet at the back of an FIU player, the worst decision he's probably made in his life. And when its all said and done some guy in Oklahoma, Alabama or Washington is just going to shake his head and tell his buddies "I knew those UM guys were thugs." Then, his buddy is going to tell him, "All those people down there are like that."

And that's not totally right or fair. Somewhere in there, guys like Reddick deserve a little more than that. These schools deserve a little more than that. And our hometown deserves to been known for a little more than one bad night.

October 15, 2006

Time to go to the tapes...

I was all set to return to this blog and talk about UM's offensive ineptness against FIU when it all became moot with 9 minutes to play in the third quarter.

Fiumbrawl While I still plan on evaluating UM's performance later this week, I've got no choice but to stick TO what clearly has become The Story in UM's 35-0 victory against the Golden Panthers: the big brawl. Anyway, in order to do that, everyone should get a chance to review the tapes (like the ACC and UM will soon). So, to see the best video highlights I've found on the net so far, follow this link to YouTube (Beware, though, some of the commentary on the message board is a little colorful). Once you check it out, come back and fire off your thoughts. NOTE: *Credit should be given to Rusty98UM who obviously had a connection to CSS.

Anyway, before you do that or after, I wanted to give you a sampling of some of the opinions already formed on some of premier UM fan message boards at Canesport and CanesTime.

Here are some examples of what the chorus was singing late Saturday night and the varied tones of it all:
-- "I'm embarrased. The U should be ashamed of itself. Larry Coker lost control and should be fired."
-- "I loved it. This was the most heart I've seen out of the team in years."
-- "FIU started it. UM shouldn't be penalized."
-- "I think Anthony Reddick and Brandon Meriweather should both be kicked off the team. Reddick swung his helmet and Meriweather pounded on a guy's helmet. Its inexcusable."
-- "The suplex by Derrick Morse is one of the best moves I've ever seen him make."

While I'd love to hear some commentary on this blog about the fight, all UM fans should know the suspensions are far from over. The ACC figures to hand down its own out on Monday, which should make the Duke matchup a lot more interesting next week. I expect Anthony Reddick, Brandon Meriweather and possibly Lance Leggett to be on the list for further suspension.

Personally, all I want to point out is that anybody who thinks the coaches could have stopped the brawl know little about these players nowadays. Respect is the name of the game where the majority of FIU and UM players come from. And there was plenty of disrespect to go around all game. All it took for a fight to start was a lighter. When FIU's linebacker took down UM's Matt Perrelli, that was the sparkplug needed. There was nothing UM or FIU coaches in my opinion could have honestly done to stop it. Now, the cops, the riot police, that's a different story. But the coaches really shouldn't be given the blame. Vince Lombardi wouldn't have been able to tame these kids. Why? Because he would have quit the job before putting up with their actions on a day-to-day basis. It is the players that need to take responsibility for it. And they will.

Now, with that, check out the video and fire back your own thoughts on some of these topics: 1. What action do you think UM should take internally? 2. What was the highlight or lowlight of the brawl? 3. Should the FIU-UM series be stopped?

October 13, 2006

Can FIU really challenge UM?

OK, so the time has come to play the game. The battle for South Florida bragging rights is on. So, does FIU really have a chance to win?

FiulogoMiamihurricanesI'd say only if UM reverts to playing the way it did against Louisville, which means only with a ton of turnovers and sloppy play. UM has more talent than FIU does. But it's not the type of gap one would assume like the old days, say, five years ago when UM was competing for national titles and FIU was just starting out. FIU has players. And UM doesn't have as many great ones as it used to. Either way, I don't see this game being a cakewalk for the Hurricanes. I've got two reasons: 1) UM's offense still really hasn't gotten going and 2) FIU has a pretty good defense and has played better on special teams than UM.

AntwanbarnesOK, so FIU is 0-6. But five of those losses have come by a combined 14 points to pretty decent teams (Middle Tennessee State 7-6, South Florida 21-20, Bowling Green 33-28, Maryland 14-10 and North Texas 25-22 in 7 OTs). OK, so UM would have likely beaten all of those teams. But the way the Hurricanes have struggled offensively this season and on special teams, would any have those "guaranteed wins" been blowouts? Probably not.

The Golden Panthers will stay in this game behind their defense, which by the way ranks 32nd in the NCAA in total defense, 12th in pass defense and leads the nation in tackles for loss (by comparison, UM' ranks 15th in total defense, 61st in pass defense and 8th against the run). FIU has solid I-A players in Antwan Barnes, Alexander Bostic and Keyonvis Bouie (all locals) that could all probably be starting for UM.

But the reason UM will win Saturday is two-fold: One, FIU has its own problems on offense; two, FIU's weakness on defense is defending the run. And running the ball is the one thing UM has been able to do consistently since its 2-yard output against FSU.

So, with that, here are some goals/keys to the  game I think the Hurricanes need to accomplish to not only beat FIU, but win comfortably enough for Hurricane fans to breathe easy and see some real improvement heading into the bigger showdowns against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Boston College down the line.

1. PROTECT KYLE WRIGHT AND THE FOOTBALL (No more than 2 sacks allowed): FIU has a strong pass rush and has a knack for getting in the backfield. UM, which has only given up one sack in its last two games, can't allow for the Golden Panthers' biggest play makers to not only get sacks but lay the wood on Wright like UNC did early last week. FIU loves to run stunts and figures to give UM's offensive line a good challenge to begin with. So, getting protection from the backs will be key. Last week, Javarris James picked up a blitzing North Carolina linebacker who looked like he was going to drill Wright for a second time. James picked him up and flattened him. Now, the rest of UM's backfield -- Charlie Jones and Tyrone Moss -- will have to do the same. If UM doesn't allow more than 2 sacks, then consider it a victory for the Canes. Last week, by the way, was also the first time in a while UM didn't turn the ball over. It would be nice to see the Hurricanes establish some consistency in protecting it.

2. KEEP PLAYING STELLAR ON 'D' (Allow no more than 300 yards total offense, 14 points and produce at least 2 turnovers): UM's pass defense isn't as good as year's past, particularly the cornerback play and coverage downfield. Until that gets corrected, UM's front seven is going to need to continue to stop the run and create pressure on the quarterback. Last week, defensive end Calais Campbell and tackle Teraz McCray had one of their best games as Canes. Having them along with a few others getting into the sack business this week would build more confidence for a unit that really started slow and is now picking up steam. Since FIU's running game ranks 111th out of 117 and likely won't be very effective Saturday look for quarterback Josh Padrick to be slinging the ball plenty. If UM gets to Padrick like they did UNC's quarterback last week, Miami should meet all of these goals and possibly exceed them.

3. KEEP RUNNING STRONG (Run for 175 yards, 2 TDs and get at least 50 yards from somebody other than Javarris James): UM finished with 144 yards rushing against North Carolina last week and scored twice, but got most of its production on one play -- a 62-yard Javarris James TD run. This week, UM needs to show it can not only continue to run with James, but get production out of Charlie Jones and Tyrone Moss.

4. SUSTAIN MORE THAN ONE LONG SCORING DRIVE AND PUNT LESS THAN FOUR TIMES: Last week, the only time UM found the end zone on a long scoring drive was right before the half. The other two scores came on a trick play (Lovon Ponder's 37-yard touchdown pass) and James' long run. The big plays were great and so was the drive before the end of the half. But for UM's offense to win tough games, its going to need to know and show it can drive down the field every now and again. The Canes did it on the opening drive against Houston two weeks ago, but struggled offensively thereafter. Same deal against Louisville. Also, while Brian Monroe has improved with his punting, I don't think that's the only stat Larry Coker wanted his team to be leading the conference in at this point in the season. UM needs to keep Monroe off the field as much as possible and at the very least get into field goal range.

5. FIND THE RECEIVERS AND PRODUCE (AT LEAST 10 RECEIVER RECEPTIONS, 1 TD CATCH): I'm not asking for the world here. But considering only one receiver has caught a touchdown (Sam Shields) this season and only three combined for five catches last week, UM's receivers need to start making themselves a presence on the field. Wright and Lance Leggett only hooked up for two passes last week. Same the week before against Houston, although, both of those were much bigger plays. Either way, sometime this year, Wright is going to need to establish chemistry with somebody other than Greg Olsen. These next two games would be a perfect time to start.

6. GET A BIG PLAY FROM SPECIAL TEAMS (Blocked kick, big return, something): Sure, Monroe is punting better and Peattie appears to have corrected his kicking problems. But UM has yet to have a real big play on a kickoff or punt, whether its creating a block, fumble or big return. Last year, Devin Hester bailed the UM offense out plenty by providing good field position. Every now and then UM's offense needs to know it doesn't have to go the length of the field to score points. The defense has done its part (at least last week with a few turnovers) but now the special teams needs to show it can do provide a boost.

My prediction: UM 34, FIU 13. FIU keeps it close in the first half, 10-6, but eventually fades as UM piles up more than 200 yards rushing and gets TDs from Javarris James, Tyrone Moss and Charlie Jones. And as a special bonus, the UM defense produces its first TD of the season. FIU scores late on UM's second team defense and covers the 27-point spread.

October 12, 2006

Should Ryan Moore return?

Just got out of practice and had an exclusive with coach Larry Coker (to listen to the interview click here) on the Ryan Moore situation.

RyanmooreAnyway, as Susan reported in her story, Moore is likely to face criminal charges in the next two weeks but since he has no criminal history is likely to get off with only some counseling. Coker heard about it from Moore's lawyers last night and said if that's the case, he'll feel better about Moore returning to the team this season.

It is obvious UM's depleted receiving corps would receive a huge boost with Moore back. Last week, Lance Leggett, Ryan Hill, Sam Shields and company combined for only five catches, 73 yards. And with Darnell Jenkins now likely out for the season, Moore's return would add some much needed depth and leadership.

But how do you feel about it? Should Moore be allowed back on the team even though the police report released by the Coral Gables Police Department after the incident said Moore kicked in a car door, grabbed a woman by the neck and pushed her onto the ground at about 2 a.m. near the campus Rathskeller? Let's hear your thoughts.

Hoops season on the horizon

Stopped by Barnes and Nobles today and did a little college basketball magazine shopping to see what the experts think of the Hurricanes' chances this season before getting a look at them Saturday when they have their first practice of the season.

So what did Street & Smith’s, Lindy’s, The Sporting News, Athlon Sports and the ACC Handbook say? Basically, it’s going to be a long year for the Hurricanes. None of the magazines picked UM to finish higher than 10th in Atlantic Coast Conference (Athlon had UM dead last) and none had Miami even reaching the NIT this season. All cited the losses of guards Rob Hite and Guillermo Diaz, one of the programs most prolific scoring combinations ever, and the improvement of the conference as a whole as the reason. Makes sense on paper. UM had nobody on the Preseason All-ACC list in Athlon, The Sporting News, Street and Smith or Lindy’s. Only power forward Anthony King was named to the preseason all-conference third team in the ACC Handbook.

FrankhaithSo are the Hurricanes in for a long season? Rob Hite doesn’t think so (I spoke to him at Heat camp, you can see the video clip here) and neither does coach Frank Haith. Me and two reporters from the other local papers had lunch with coach Haith a few weeks ago (a UM tradition by the way) and he seemed real optimistic this Canes team can be a postseason threat.

While we didn’t interview Haith because this was an invitation to lunch and not a press conference, he did provide some extra insight into what the team has been doing in the off-season and the progress he has seen. Before I get to that, though, I’m letting you know I plan on coming back here and filling you in on how Saturday’s first practice went. But for now, in my first basketball blog of the preseason, I’ll try and hit on a few questions fans may have and discuss some of the stories fans should be keeping an eye on as the season begins.

1. Who is going to replace Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite as the team’s go-to scorers?

By far the biggest question mark heading into this season will be who Haith gets to replace the 33.6 combined points a game Diaz and Hite provided. As it stands, UM finished last in the ACC in scoring last season and 182nd in the NCAA with 67.9 points a game. The first way to answer this question is by telling you there will be a whole new philosophy this season with UM’s offense. Instead of playing the three guard set Haith has employed the past two seasons, this UM team will play a more traditional style – a point guard, shooting guard, wing forward and two posts.

Anthonyking Naturally, the first guys Haith says he’ll likely look to for points at least early on this season is senior guard Anthony Harris and senior big man Anthony King, the teams top two returning veterans. Harris, who missed the first seven games of last season with an injury, is the most experienced scorer with a 9.5 average a year ago. King, seen as more of a defensive player, averaged 8.8 points a game last year. But Haith said he needs to improve his aggressiveness down low, asking for the ball and trying to score even if the play isn’t designed to go his way. Haith said that’s something King has worked on in the offseason and hopes will translate into games.

Clemente Eventually, though, anyone could emerge as the leading scorer. Raymond Hicks and Jimmy Graham could do it by becoming great garbage collectors under the boards. Denis Clemente, who led the state in scoring twice at Miami Calusa Prep but shot only 33 percent from the field last season, could find his stroke at the point. Then, there’s sophomore Brian Asbury, who has the talent to become the most balanced small forward, and true freshman Lawrence Gilbert, who is loaded with scoring talent. And Hite’s top pick, Siena transfer and guard Jack McClinton, who despite sitting out last season, dominated during practice and earned the nickname of “The Man” from his teammates last season. So the short answer… who knows right now.

2. Which freshman/newcomer will make the biggest immediate impact?

Collins Haith said former Miami High forward Dwayne Collins was the one freshman he thought had come along the most so far and could make an immediate impact. Haith said Collins, a 6-8 big man with a 7-2 wingspan, was pulling rebounds off the rim left and right in offseason conditioning drills and dunking them with ease. The problem is Collins will begin the season as the fourth option in the post behind Graham, Hicks and King and won’t necessarily put up huge enough numbers unless he can prove he can dominate early.

As far as the other freshman are concerned, James Dews and Lawrence Gilbert will likely need a little seasoning before hitting the floor. Dews, a 6-3, 200-pound guard, might make it on the floor a little quicker if Clemente, Harris or McClinton have trouble hitting shots from the outside. Dews averaged 27.7 points a game as a high school senior in Cincinnati and comes in with big reputation after being named a top-100 national prospect.

Gilbert, meanwhile, who fled his native New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and played his senior season in Houston, is probably the most complete small forward the team has. Asbury is seen more as an offensive player and Adrian Thomas’ strength is defense. While Gilbert could eventually surprise, he’s likely to start out behind Asbury who will be given a shot to improve his shooting percentage of 20 percent.

The team’s other big newcomer, 6-11 junior college transfer Fabio Nass, a native Brazilian, could start the season at small forward according to Haith. Nass, a junior, has a nice shooting touch and could start at small forward if Asbury and Thomas aren’t getting the job done.

3. How tough really is the ACC going to be this year?

Real tough. After having only four teams make the big dance last year and none reach the Final Four for only the fifth time since 1981, this year the conference could have as many as eight make it to the dance. North Carolina, led by consensus Preseason Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, was tabbed No. 1 in the conference each of the magazines I picked up. A few picked them to beat Florida in the National Title game next year.

After that, Duke, Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Maryland are expected to qualify with Virginia and Virginia Tech possibly being bubble teams. The only teams that UM ranked ahead of in a few of the preseason rankings were Clemson, Wake Forest and N.C. State, teams that either have new coaches or lost top players to graduation and the NBA Draft.

4. Is UM done with recruiting for the Class of 2007?

Pretty much -- unless someone drops out of a commitment unexpectedly.

Guard Edwin Rios, who was at Hollywood Chaminade last year, has transferred back to Miami High and will play for the team he led to a state title two seasons ago. Rios, once considered one of the nation’s top 10 recruits, has slipped a little with a few shaky AAU seasons but likely will make an impact once he gets to Miami.

UM’s other local college commitment, 6-9 center Freddy Asprilla, is no longer local. He has moved to Wisconsin where he will play high school ball this season. Asprilla, who played for the Miami Tropics this past season, was expected to play for Calusa Prep.

Finally, Julian Gamble, a 6-9, 240-pound power forward from Durham, North Carolina, is also locked in. Gamble averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds last season. Haith did tell us he always leaves one scholarship open – just in case a transfer or late signee wants in.

Well, that’s it for now. As I said, I’ll have more after I see the team practice Saturday and again after media day next Wednesday. Please send me any questions you might have (football or basketball related) and I’ll try to get answers for the next blog.

October 11, 2006

Nabbing of Garcia a victory for FIU

FIU 1, University of Miami 0.

PetegarciaThat's what the scoreboard at the Orange Bowl should say before the Hurricanes and Golden Panthers hook up Saturday night for their first football meeting ever. Tuesday afternoon, FIU made its biggest move on the gridiron ever when it inked former UM associate athletic director Pete Garcia to be its next athletic director. (To see the video interview I recorded with Garcia just click on our link of UM videos or click here)

In its first five years, FIU has never beaten UM to a single football recruit the Hurricanes have wanted. But that may start changing soon because the guy FIU got not only knows how to recruit, but he knows how to build champions. He helped Butch Davis rebuild UM following UM's NCAA violations into the national title contender it was early on in this decade.

Garcia then left with Davis to begin a new franchise with the Cleveland Browns in 2000. He never got to enjoy UM's national title in 2001. Nor did he get much credit for it because he wasn't here. When he finally returned to Miami last September when he was hired as Senior Associate Athletic Director, there were many in the UM family who envisioned Garcia not only helping UM halt its slippage, but some saw him eventually replacing Paul Dee as the school's athletic director. Some thought it might even happen sooner than later after UM's sluggish start this season.

But Garcia likely won't end up as part of UM's future now because FIU president Modesto Maidique seized the moment and nabbed Garcia for his own school's future. Pistol Pete was happy Tuesday. And it was more than the fact he was getting a 5-year contract worth over $200,000 a year. It was because he's getting the chance he's always wanted to build a winner.

UM coach Larry Coker said during Tuesday's morning press conference Garcia had very little to do with the Hurricanes' last recruiting class, which included four studs who already making impacts (Javarris James, Sam Shields, Jason Fox and Ryan Hill). Coker said all Garcia did with last year's recruiting class was lend a hand when he was shorthanded with coaches by reviewing tapes of players and feeding Coker and company his advice. Nothing more.

There are two ways you can look at that. Maybe Coker needed Garcia to be involved more. After all, when Garcia was the recruiting coordinator for Butch Davis, UM enjoyed its best run on talent. The proof can be found playing on Sundays. And yet now, it is UM's recruiting struggles that have put the Hurricanes pack into the pack with the North Carolinas, Houstons and Georgia Techs of the college football world.

People have asked why Garcia left UM if he was supposedly next in line to put his fingerprint on the program? He won't likely ever answer that directly. But put two-and-two together and you have to imagine someone told him he was likely was not  going to get that chance for a while. And for a guy like Pistol Pete, who can't stand to sit around and watch things happen around him without helping, a future like that is not worth having. So, he bolted for FIU where the opportunity awaits.

And if you look at it, FIU really has a bright future. They've got a new on-campus stadium and new facilities on the way, an alumni base that reaches over 100,000, a city that produces more NFL talent than anyone else in the country and a president that clearly has made a move to build a winner. Last I checked, the only things UM had among those was the fact it was still in the same city and a president that says she wants to build a winner.

Tuesday, Garcia said his goal was to "wake up a sleeping giant" at FIU. Maybe, if Canes fans are lucky, Garcia's move to FIU will do the same for his former employer. Maybe this will finally get UM to think about building its own stadium and upgrading its own facilities.

Then again, maybe, Tuesday was the start of something else -- like the day FIU began closing the gap on UM. Only time will tell and FIU still has a long way to go before it reaches UM's stature as a football power. But as of Tuesday, the future says: FIU 1, UM 0.

October 09, 2006

Offense still not where it needs to be

I know the tendency around The U is to compare all Hurricanes teams to the ones that won national titles or just missed them, but I'll start this blog entry by saying I'm not going to do that with this team. Why? Because it's obvious this team is no where near that caliber.

What I will base my thoughts on, though, for the rest of this season is what this team still has a chance to accomplish -- win an ACC title. And going by those standards, this UM team is still not good enough offensively to do that. Was Saturday's win a step in the right direction? Yes.

But I still don't see this team accomplishing enough when the ball is in its hands to beat the likes of a Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech, much less reach the ACC title game and beat a team like Clemson. I set three goals I thought UM's offense had to achieve Saturday against a pitiful North Carolina 'D' to show it was taking steps forward and the Canes only achieved one: No. 3, Make A Field Goal.

Goal No. 1 -- Reach 200 yards rushing and score three touchdowns on the ground. FAILED. The Jonesoutat1_1Canes ran for 144 yards and scored twice, but UM got 62 yards on the ground on one play and thanks to Javarris James' talent. That means UM ran for only 82 yards on the other 30 carries (2.7 average) on a defense that was giving up 217 yards a game on the ground coming in. Translation -- Baby J is the only one cutting it right now.

Goal No. 2 -- Throw for 200 yards and have a receiver catch a touchdown. FAILED (Albeit by a little). OK, so UM threw for 180 yards and had finally a receiver catch a touchdown. But the touchdown didn't demonstrate Kyle Wright developing any better chemistry with his receivers. It was Shieldstdsafety Lovon Ponder who threw the touchdown to Sam Shields. Oh by the way, Shields' catch was the only one he had on the day. Wright and Lance Leggett only hooked up twice for 9 yards. And if not for an amazing Ryan Hill sliding catch for a 22-yard gain (Hill had 2 catches for 27 yards), Kyle wouldn't have completed a pass longer than 6 yards to any receivers. As it stands, Hill, Leggett and Shields only combined to catch 5 passes for 73 yards. I know what your thinking, that's because Kyle was throwing to Greg Olsen (8 catches for 95 yards). Yes, he was. And Olsen deserves plenty of credit for finally looking like the tight end everyone expected him to be (at least for one day). But in my opinion, UM's pass offense still has a long way to go. Wright (13-21 for 143 yards on Saturday) is going to need to find ways to complete passes downfield to receivers if UM is going to take pressure of James and the running game. If UM can't develop that chemistry, opponents will simply stack up the box and stop James and company -- like UNC did for all but one play Saturday.

Goal No. 3 -- Make a field goal. PASSED. Like Olsen, it was good to see Jon Peattie get back to what he's supposed to do (split the uprights). Peattie made both field goal attempts (39, 40 yards)  -- something he hadn't been doing in his 1-for-4 stretch run. One thing that didn't make our notebook was the fact Peattie said he discovered the reason he was missing kicks was because he wasn't following through with his left arm. He says the incorrect follow through was forcing him to kick wide left. Now that it's been corrected (again at least for one game), UM can move forward believing it can at least make the field goals its supposed to. And considering how tough it is for UM to find the end zone these days, Peattie is going to have to be on top of his game if the Canes are going to be the tougher teams left on their schedule.

OVERALL GRADE ON THE OFFENSE: C+. Here's what was good -- Olsen, Peattie, the big plays and a Jamestddecent job by the offensive line (only 1 sack). But considering how pourous North Carolina's defense was, UM certainly should have scored more than 27 points and produced more than 14 first downs (UNC had 17). If not for the two big plays (Ponder's trick play pass and James' long run) UM would have only produced 13 points on drives. That's not enough -- especially when the defense prdocued three turnovers and gave UM excellent field position most of the game.

Speaking of the defense, hats off to Randy Shannon and company for looking pretty good on Saturday. The three tunrovers were the most the team produced against a I-A opponent since Week 9 last year when the Canes picked off three passes in a 47-17 win against Wake Forest. Unfortunately, unless the offense begins producing in the next two weeks, its likely going to be up to Shannon's defense to produce similar results (3 turnovers plus) for UM to have a shot at winning its stiffer tests.

October 06, 2006

It's time for the offense to produce

Hate to bust out the watch on UM, but this week has to be the week the offense finally starts showing real improvement. I wrote last week it was going to take some time for UM to regain its confidence, find go-to-players and start producing. But seeing how bad North Carolina is on paper (115th in scoring defense, 114th in rushing defense, and 104th total defense) and how it is already the fifth week of the season, it is time for this UM team to begin scoring points.

As it is, UM ranks 81st in scoring offense in the NCAA with an average of 20.50 points per game. But if you throw out the 51-10 blowout of FAMU and UM has only Miamimvpsscored 31 combined points in three games against I-A competition. That would be 31 points against an FSU scoring defense that ranks 26th, a Louisville scoring defense that ranks 8th and a Houston scoring defense that ranks 51st. Translation: maybe offensive coordinator Rich Olson has an excuse for the first three I-A games, but this week he has to start seeing results or the problem may be him.

Olson and coach Larry Coker both pointed out how UM out gained Houston 420 to 276. But 14 points won't cut it against anyone. Sure, penalties hurt Miami against the Cougars (10-90) and another missed Jon Peattie field goal didn't help, but UM still killed themselves with key drops (Greg Olson) and Kyle Wright still didn't look like he was totally in sync with his receivers.

With receiver Darnell Jenkins out (possibly for the season) and running back Tyrone Moss expected to miss time with his ailing knee, this really will turn into the freshman show with Javarris James, Sam Shields and Ryan Hill.

James had a great game last week, but I don't expect an encore even if North Carolina's run D is horrible. James was obviously banged up after last week's 21-carry, 148-yard performance. Banged up not because he really hurt himself. But banged up because he carried the ball 21 times and got licked by college players for the first time. While James should still be the number 1 guy on Saturday, Charlie Jones and Derron Thomas figure to get plenty of carries. And with Reggie Youngblood back at left tackle and Jason Fox back at right tackle, UM's offensive line should be at full strength. Translation -- UM should be able to run the ball successfully no matter who is carrying.

The real test though will be for the passing game. Last week against Houston, UM got the big pass plays it needed from Leggett (the 45-yarder in the first quarter to set up Javarris James' touchdown run; and the 27-yarder on 3rd-and-forever to setup the game-winning pass to fullback James Bryant). But with tight end Greg Olsen struggling, I'm thinking teams are probably going to start keying on Leggett, which means Shields, Hill and junior Khalil Jones (who made a nice play near the end of the Houston game) should begin seeing some balls thrown their way.

Wright_1One thing I think that's held some of these receivers from succeeding in the past has been route running. Quarterbacks coach Todd Berry told me Thursday said there have been many times this season when Kyle Wright had the time to find receivers, but couldn't because they were on the wrong side of the field. With Coker and Olson both saying UM will go to a more simplified offense (a smaller playbook) for the next couple of weeks it might be exactly what guys like Shields, Hill and Jones need to begin making catches downfield and big plays in Miami's passing game. Once they get the basics down, UM can start adding more plays to playbook.

Olson said he would like to attempt as many as six deep passes a game. Don't know if you've noticed, but the 45-yarder to Leggett followed up four deep pass attempts by Wright against Louisville. UM hit on three of those passes for big gains.

So here's my checklist of what UM needs to accomplish to have a successful day offensively against North Carolina.

  1. RUN FOR OVER 200 YARDS AND 3 TOUCHDOWNS: UNC's run defense already gives up 217 yards a game. Running is UM's strength. If the Hurricanes can't sustain that type of output against a team horrible against the run -- even without Javarris James carrying the ball everytime, then this offense really is terrible. Heck, last year, Tyrone Moss had four touchdowns by himself against the Tar Heels.
  2. PASS FOR OVER 200 YARDS AND TOSS A TOUCHDOWN PASS TO A RECEIVER: Considering Kyle Wright has only two touchdown passes this season (both to running backs) and has only thrown for more than 200 yards once (Louisville) this season, it's time to start seeing him develop some chemistry with his receivers. North Carolina's pass defense gave up 310 yards to Furman. Can the Canes at least achieve two-thirds of that?
  3. MAKE A FIELD GOAL: If not for the three points, for the confidence. Jon Peattie is 1-for-4 and needs to start putting this kicking funk behind him once and for all.

If you have your own goals you think UM needs to achieve this week against North Carolina, feel free to provide some feedback.

October 01, 2006

A Satisfied U, but are you?

Couldn't help but notice the difference in UM's post-victory lockerroom last night. Different because in year's past, a 14-13 victory against a 16-point underdog at the Orange Bowl wouldn't have satisfied anyone in a Hurricanes jersey or polo shirt.

Yet, the Canes were beaming. There was joy, relief and satisfaction. Most Canes fans probably see it as a negative. And needing a gutsy fourth-down conversion to beat a team like Houston does show how far the program has fallen since it won the national title in 2001. But instead of focusing on the negatives (Greg Olson's loss of confidence, Jon Peattie's continued struggles and Kyle Wright's inconsistent passing), Canes fans should start to become a little more realistic as far as the 2006 season and the future is concerned and begin focusing on some of the positives.

UM finally found a playmaker -- RB Javarris James, finally showed some heart (rallying in the second half and from 10 penalties) and finally created big plays on defense (four sacks and a key turnover in the third quarter to swing the momentum). And oh by the way, the o-line didn't give up any sacks. Canes fans of course demand perfection and only would have been satisfied with a perfect game. But this team is taking baby steps and by current standards, last night's win should be considered a leap forward.

Miami had zero confidence coming into Saturday's game. Now, they have a little. With North Carolina, FIU and Duke still remaining on the schedule before the real tests (Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech) that's still plenty of time for the other problem areas to improve. We all knew before the start of this season, UM wasn't going to contend for much more than the ACC title. We knew it was going to take time for the new coaching staff to begin seeing results. We knew there was some young playmakers (Sam Shields, James) and it was going to take them some time to begin contributing. So far, that's what is happening.