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 Canes 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 safety 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 decent 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.