With the Canes set to begin ACC play this week, I figured it was a good time to reflect on the first month of the season and what happened during the non-conference schedule. I've found some interesting tidbits by looking through the stats alone -- numbers that will open some eyes (check out the o-line). My goal is to give some overachievers some credit and underachievers some heat. But beyond grading, rewarding and reminiscing, I want to have a little fun and look back at what we were thinking/predicting before it happened. And when it calls for it, what was being said by Miami's coaches and what we -- the Eye on The U Crew -- were thinking about certain decisions.
*But before that... PROGRAMMING REMINDER: Tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. at Canespace.com I will be fielding questions live. Feel free to tune it or leave me some questions here. On with the program...
Let's start with the hardware before we breakdown each position.
Offensive MVP: The line -- Jason Fox, Andrew Bain, John Rochford, Derrick Morse, Reggie Youngblood, Chris Rutledge and Orlando Franklin. See below.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Tavares Gooden. A lot was expected from Gooden when Glen Cook went down. He's held his own, leading the team in tackles with 34.
Rookie of The Month: Linebacker Colin McCarthy. Say what you want about Graig Cooper, McCarthy has been the most valuable of the new starters in my eyes. Second on the team with 30 tackles and a handful of big plays already.|
Overachievers: Safety Willie Cooper and defensive lineman Vegas Franklin. Cooper has filled in nicely at safety for the injured Lovon Ponder and has 16 tackles to go with two big fumbles forced against A&M. Franklin is tearing it up on the defensive line (see below).
Disappointments: Defensive back Randy Phillips. Was supposed to be counted on to be the team's No. 1 corner. Got exposed against Oklahoma before being moved to safety.
Quarterbacks: Before the start of the season everybody wanted to know who would end up being named Miami's starting quarterback. We all had an opinion. I thought Kyle Wright was going to get it. Then, Randy Shannon and Patrick Nix picked Kirby Freeman the Tuesday before the Marshall game saying he gave the team the best chance to win.
- What The U Crew thought: They agreed. Kirby Freeman got 49 percent and the majority of the vote in the Eye on The U pre-decision poll question on August 27. Kyle Wright got 39 percent of the vote.
- What happened: Freeman started two games before being pulled in the second quarter of Miami's 51-13 loss at Oklahoma. Wright gets the job in Week 3 and cements his role a week later by beating 20th-ranked Texas A&M at home with a stellar 21 of 26 performance for 275 yards and two TDs last Thursday.
- Eye On The U Grade: D+. Before Kyle Wright broke loose and Miami recorded its biggest win of the season last Thursday against Texas A&M, this unit alone was one of the worst statiscally in the country. Miami's passing game moved from 115th to 103rd after its 275 yard outbut. Not a giant improvement. But it brought enough optimism in me to raise the grade from failing to a solid below average grade.
- Bonus: HEY SOUP! How's this for a reminder? You responded to my Should Kyle Start vs. OU blog earlier this month this way: "Manny... I know what you are up to and it may just work! My answer is NO to Kyle! I have said it a thousand times... let Kirby play the whole season and then judge not just the opening game." Just messing with ya SOUP!
Running backs: We all remember Randy Shannon's goof before fall practice started when he called Javarris James and Graig Cooper 'Butt Buddies.' We heard all about how they were going to become a great tandem in the backfield and share the load peacefully.
- What's happened: So far, so good. The Canes rushing offense, which ranked 84th nationally and averaged 116 yards a game last year, has picked it up. Miami's rushing offense currently ranks 52nd in the nation and is averaging 160.8 yards a game. James has 265 yards and three touchdowns on 61 attempts and is on pace to finish the season with 794 yards. Cooper has 240 yards and two touchdowns on 48 attempts and is on pace to finish the season with 720 yards. Pretty equal. More successful.
- Eye On The U Grade: B. Cooper and James have proven to be a solid combo, but they were held in check against Oklahoma and were held to 127 yards against A&M. They need to have big days when UM needs them most.
The Big Boys Up Front: We all heard how Miami's offensive line was going to be improved. John Rochford was named the surprise starter at center. Coach Jeff Stoutland talked about how he was going to rotate players along his offensive line and how it would make the unit better as a whole.
- What's happened: The Canes offensive line rotation has worked well. Chris Rutledge, Reggie Youngblood and Jason Fox have all split time at tackle while Orlando Franklin has spelled Andrew Bain at left guard. Miami's running game has not only improved, but the o-line has only given up five sacks, a 1.25 average that is good for 26th nationally. Rochford, meanwhile, has had just one bad exchange -- with Kirby Freeman in the season-opener.
- The eye-popping stat: The line itself has drawn just six penalties for 40 yards of Miami's 27 penalties for 218 yards this season. Don't believe me, I went play-by-play! Here it is: Orlando Franklin was flagged for holding against Marshall, nullifying a big Javarris James run. Chris Rutledge was flagged for holding against Oklahoma in the first quarter. Against FIU, Derrick Morse was hit for a false start in the first quarter before Rutledge was flagged for an illegal shift and false start in the second quarter, and Youngblood jumped offsides in the third quarter. And finally, UM's line went error free against Texas A&M. Freshman receiver Leonard Hankerson has been flagged twice for illegal blocking on his own.
- Eye On The U Grade: A. Without a doubt, the best unit on the offense. I'm not sure Miami is even close to being 3-1 if this unit wasn't as good as it has been.
Receivers: Miami's receivers have gotten a lot of heat for their poor production in recent history. Heading into the season, most figured the receiver woes weren't over. Most pointed to talented sophomore Sam Shields and Darnell Jenkins, who had a great camp, to be the leaders of the receiving game.
- What's happened: According to the stats, Miami's receivers have had just four drops this season. Still, most observers would consider what the receivers have accomplished thus far to be underachievement. Before he caught 6 passes for 117 yards in the win over Texas A&M last Thursday, Shields had just one catch for seven yards. Jenkins, meanwhile, has turned into Miami's go-to man for big plays. He leads the team with 12 receptions for 178 yards, including 11 that have gone for first downs -- including six on third down. Lance Leggett has six catches for 151 yards and a score, but a big chunk came from that 80-yard TD catch against FIU. Ryan Hill has four catches for 42 yards and score. Meanwhile, the rest of Miami's receivers -- Leonard Hankerson and Kayne Farquharson -- have combined for three catches for 29 yars. Not great support.
- Eye On The U Grade: D+. Same scenario as the quarterbacks. Simply not enough production and without the A&M effort it would have been an F.
Tight Ends: Were expected to have a drop off with the departure of Greg Olsen.
- What's happened: On paper it looks far worse than most expected. Starter Dajleon Farr has one catch for one yard and one touchdown. Third-stringer Chris Zellner has three catches for 17 yards and a touchdown, Dedrick Epps two catches for 20 yards and Richard Gordon one catch for 8 yards. That's a total of 7 catches for 46 yards and two scores. After four games last season, Olsen had 8 catches for 90 yards and no scores. Hey, maybe they're not doing so bad after all.
- Eye On The U Grade: C. This group wasn't expected to do a lot. The good news is they haven't been penalized yet. That gets them the C.
Defensive line: This unit was expected to do big things before the start of the season. Calais Campbell was targeted as the team's best player. I thought Eric Moncur would lead the team in sacks. Line coach Clint Hurtt said Teraz McCray, Josh Holmes and Antonio Dixon would provide a solid trio up front at tackle.
- What's happened: Miami's d-line has produced plenty of pressure on the quarterback including 9 sacks -- two more than UM's d-line had last year after four games. Some have been knocking Campbell for having only 1.5 sacks after four games. But he had only one sack at this time last year. Despite injuries to their three best defensive tackles, Miami's defense has still been one of the stingiest in the country against the run and rank 32nd overall (106 ypg). Moncur is second on the team in sacks with 2.5.
- The surprise: The stellar play of Vegas Franklin, who leads the team with 3 sacks and shares the lead with Campbell at 3.5 tackles for loss. Franklin is a player who was expected to fill in at both tackle and at end. He's done great at both.
- Eye On The U Grade: A-. There's no doubt this unit has played as good as advertised. Watch for Campbell, who has three QB hurries to lead the team, to pick up some more sacks soon.
Linebackers: This unit was seen as an area of inexperience even before Glen Cook's injury forced Randy Shannon with a tough decision. Shannon moved Tavares Gooden to middle linebacker and put sophomore Colin McCarthy alongside Spencer Adkins.
- What's happened: Gooden has turned out to be a pleasant surprise at middle linebacker. He leads the team with a combined 34 tackles and a had big interception that got Miami's offense rolling in the season opener. McCarthy, meanwhile, has held up just fine. He's got 30 tackles, two for loss, a sack, an interception and two pass breakups. Adkins has done OK himself. He has 15 tackles, two for loss and had a big sack and hit against Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee. But his fame thus far has come from getting beat by Trenard Turner for FIU's only touchdown two weeks ago. The backups, meanwhile, have been virtually non-existant. Darryl Sharpton has five tackles. Allen Bailey has four. Eric Houston three.
- Eye on The U Grade: B. Linebacker was a cause for concern, but so far, they've played better than average. Each starter has one interception. And the shutdown of A&M's vaunted running game was impressive.
Secondary: With Kenny Phillips back at safety and Randy Phillips back at corner, most expected whoever started opposite them to keep Miami among the nation's best pass defenses.
- What's happened: Despite getting lit up by Oklahoma for 6 TDs and 295 yards, Miami's pass defense has kept itself among the upper echelon of units in the country. The Canes rank 30th Pass D with 181.75 yards a game. In fact, if not for the OU fiasco, UM's secondary has only given up two other passing TDs -- a fluke 65-yarder against FIU and the end of the game grab by Martellus Bennett against Texas A&M. The secondary, meanwhile, has four interceptions -- three more than Miami had after four games last season. Kenny Phillips, third on the team with 28 tackles, is the only player in the secondary flagged for pass interference. And as unit, UM's DBs have drawn just two penalties for 15 yards.
- Eye On The U Grade: B. Despite the ugly showing against OU, UM's secondary has more than survived in the early going. Willie Cooper has been a solid fill-in for Ponder. Freshman DeMarcus Van Dyke did a decent job when he was in there. And Carlos Armour, Bruce Johnson and Chavez Grant have made good plays when they've been on the field.
Special teams: New kickers, new return men were the call of the day before the start of the season. Tight end Richard Gordon was tabbed as one of the surprise kick returners with the explosive Graig Cooper handling punts. Francesco Zampogna, a sixth-year walk-on, was given the kicking duties. Daren Daly kickoffs and sophomore Matt Bosher the punting duties.
- What's happened: Only Zampogna and Cooper have worked out. Zampogna has been solid, converting on 8 of 11 field goal attempts including a season-long 45-yarder. Cooper has looked on the verge of breaking one and has an average of 6.8 a return. But the Canes have drawn quite a few penalties on special teams, nullifying some of his bigger returns. Gordon, meanwhile, is no longer returning kicks. The trouble is more on the punting end where Bosher's 35.6 average is way below the 40.2 average opponents have against Miami.
Eye on The U Grade: C. Still now big plays from the special teams as a whole. Zampogna has been good, but not great. And the punting needs work.