Have to admit this has to be one of the busiest/craziest times for me ever covering this university. This week, we have the final game at the Orange Bowl against Virginia on Saturday, the 1-year anniversary of Bryan Pata's murder (Wednesday), the Robert Marve situation, the start of the basketball season this week, the fallout from the N.C. State loss and the release of the information regarding season-ticket sales next year at Dolphins Stadium.
Did I miss anything? Is anything else going to happen this week? I'm not complaining. After all, this job is a lot of fun. But, man, my head feels like scrambled eggs these days. So much to talk about. So much to think about. So much to share.
Let's start with Saturday and my thoughts on the N.C. State loss. First of all, I didn't think UM would win this game easy, but the last thing I thought was the Canes would actually lose. We all knew Kirby Freeman was limited, but his final numbers -- 1 of 14 with three interceptions -- blew me and just about every member of the media away. I'm not going to call anybody out, but I'll share this gem. When I walked off the field at the OB Saturday, I asked a potential recruit if he could do better than 1 of 14. His response after shock and laughter when hearing Freeman's final numbers was "with my eyes closed."
Freeman, for all of his heart and passion for UM (I have a lot of respect for him as a person) is someone who simply cannot handle pressure and can't be called upon to play quarterback if the Hurricanes hope to win. There is just no other way to put it. He had his moment against FSU. But his confidence is completely shot. You can't be nervous in a game like this. And I'm not sure he will ever recover. The Canes' hopes the rest of this season rest on the injured ankle of Kyle Wright. And even though he practiced last week and Randy Shannon said Wright was making progress -- I'm not convinced Kyle is really anywhere near 100 percent. And I think he'll have to play injured the rest of this season.
Getting back to the game. The biggest thing that hit me in the postgame locker room were two things -- seeing the pain in the face of Derrick Morse and a conversation with receiver Darnell Jenkins about pressure. I spoke of being a REAL HURRICANE a few weeks ago, but it becomes most fresh again and more apparent on Saturdays like this past one. As I did my postgame interviews, I looked over to see where Morse was after I had finished speaking to him. He was still sitting in his locker more than 20 minutes after the media was first allowed in the lockerroom and way after coach Randy Shannon was done speaking his mind. Morse was fully dressed in uniform, just staring into the ground. I'm not saying everyone in that locker room wasn't depressed. There was plenty of pain and anger to go around. But there are certain guys, leaders of this team who are shell shocked and really can't believe what their team is going through. That doesn't mean they are better teammates or better Hurricanes. But to me, they're just more of what you as fans have come to understand what UM greatness was once about. Morse epitomizes that feeling, that losses just aren't meant to be accepted. Unfortunately, there really aren't a lot of guys on this roster like Morse.
One of those key ingredients is being able to handle pressure. I spoke to Jenkins about that very subject Saturday. One of coach Randy Shannon's major sticking points this season has been about having to compete for your job every week. Jenkins told me offensive coordinator Patrick Nix reminded players on offense of it last week. While Jenkins said it drove him to get even more excited for the game, he said obviously had the adverse affect on Freeman. He said players were trying to calm Freeman down all game, giving him pep talks. Now, I'm not saying Shannon's approach is wrong. But what it has done is obviously proven who are the guys that can handle that pressure and who can't. And unfortunately for UM, there are just a lot of guys on this team who can't handle pressure.
Shannon said Sunday he felt bad for his seniors, felt many of them deserve a trip to a bowl game. And he said he hasn't given up on winning the ACC championship -- which now requires a cobweb of upsets (Virginia Tech losing to FSU, North Carolina losing and UM taking care of business the rest of the way). But I honestly can't see UM winning any of its remaining games except Saturday against Virginia. For those of you without a ticket, the game will be televised on ESPN2. UM's next road game, at Virginia Tech, will be a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC.
The rest of these will be quick hits.
** Regarding the situation with freshman quarterback Robert Marve and his arrest last Wednesday for punching in a mirror and then running away from cops in Coconut Grove, I've been told Marve could end up speaking to the media Tuesday about what has been troubling him. I've been told most of it has to do with family troubles and that Shannon is being understanding about the situation. For the record, Marve practiced last Thursday -- after Shannon became aware of the situation. If Marve is disciplined, I don't expect it to be something too extreme.
** Today, I attended athletic director Paul Dee's press conference concerning the new ticket packages and seating arrangements at Dolphins Stadium next season. Seems like the West End Zone Crew -- made up of general admission and family zone ticket holders -- are getting the short of the stick. They're being moved upstairs to the 400 section. GA to the West, FZ to the East. The UM student section will now be behind the west end zone. Dee basically told me he didn't feel to bad about it because the renewal rate of season ticket holders in the West End Zone was about 17 to 18 percent on a yearly basis. UM has the task of trying to fit its 48,000-plus lower bowl seats at the OB into a space of 27,000-plus at Dolphins Stadium. UM is hoping most of those folks in the lower bowl will try to eat up the 10,000-plus club level seats.
** In other tidbits, Dee said UM is likely to announce its first home opponent in December and it will likely be a conference opponent. UM plays North Carolina, Wake Forest, Florida State and Virginia Tech at home next year and still has an out-of-conference opponent it is trying to find.
** Also, the Hurricanes will be forced to play on the dirt infield the Marlins play on through the 2010 season. UM is the only major Division I-A program in the country who will have to play on dirt.
OK, now to our participation portion on this week's blog... With the anniversary of Bryan Pata's death this week and the end of an era at the Orange Bowl, I figured I'd leave you a forum to write on either subject this week. I'm going to create a blog where you can pour your hearts out. Feel free to fill them with your words.
FYI, tomorrow night's live Q&A is going to take place from 8 to 9 p.m. at Canespace.com. But I'm warning you, I'm planning on attending tomorrow night's basketball game at The BankUnited Center while its happening. So please be patient with me.