Got to admit it's hard putting together a list of the five most important things UM's football team must accomplish to beat 23rd-ranked Maryland following the murder of defensive tackle Bryan Pata.
Football is football. The Xs and Os will eventually take over. But it's hard to imagine how UM's football team is going to play when they have something so hard like the murder of a teammate on their minds. Personally, it's been a tough week on all of the sports reporters who cover the Canes locally. We've all poured in countless hours between gathering reaction, talking to investigators and oh by the way covering not only the football team but the two basketball teams that are playing this weekend. It's a lot to wrap your mind around, especially when you also feel terrible about the loss of a young life. I stayed up for hours yesterday talking with a few other writers about Pata. We all tried to play the role of CSI investigators, wondering why and who would want to kill him. I'm sure all of you are wondering too.
Anyway, I'll try to get back to what this blog is supposed to be focused on: this upcoming game against Maryland. Since UM is already 5-4 and really has nothing more to play for other than qualifying for a bowl game, one would think UM is probably not going to win this game. The Canes are broken hearted and reeling from back-to-back losses. As it is, Maryland is 7-2, playing well and at home. And UM will be without countless key players -- safety Kenny Phillips, left tackle Reggie Youngblood, quarterback Kyle Wright, linebacker Tavares Gooden and of course Pata, a starting defensive tackle and emotional leader. How are the players honestly going to be up for this game when so much is already against them?
Anyway, here are the keys:
1. UM MUST TRY ITS BEST TO STAY EMOTIONALLY IN CONTROL: There's no question the Canes are going to come out pumped up on behalf of their teammate. Somebody in the lockerroom is going to use his passing to get the Canes juiced up for the beginning of this game. But sustaining that emotion is probably the biggest key to this game. The moment something goes wrong on the field, the players may shut it down altogether. That's why UM can't get too high and can't get too low. They've got to try and put Pata's death out of their mind for 4 hours and play the game as even keel as possible.
2. THE RUNNING GAME MUST CARRY THE LOAD: Considering Kirby Freeman will be making his first start, UM's running game must try to take as much pressure off him as possible. Maryland's defense ranks 96th against the run in Division I-A. Tyrone Moss, Javarris James, Charlie Jones -- all three along with Freeman are going to need to run the ball well and give UM's defense as much of a break as possible in light of their losses.
3. WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE: UM had three turnovers in last week's loss to Virginia Tech and only produced 1. As good as UM's defense is likely to play, UM's offense can't give the ball away deep in their own territory and give away points. That will only demoralize the defense more and possibly shutdown the heart of the entire team.
4. KEEP KICKING WELL: Jon Peattie booted a 55-yard field goal last week and appears to be past his woes. Miami's offense will probably move the football against Maryland. Missing field goals would kill the spirit of the 'O'.
5. NO DROPPED PASSES: Kirby Freeman is going to need all the help he can get. He's sure to get pressure. UM's receivers need to come through for him. If he starts to feel like a one-man show, he's going to take off running and the passing game will not be successful.
My prediction: UM 19, Maryland 17. I think UM is going to win. Why? They've been through so much already, they are bound to shock us and win a game nobody expects them to win. Peattie will kick four field goals including the game-winner as time expires. There you go. Maybe my judgement is clouded. But it is my take.