What a difference a week makes. After looking like the 2007 Hurricanes last week against UCF and for the first half against Duke, Miami's young football turned a corner in my eyes this past Saturday. That clicking moment we kept waiting for from the receivers finally happened. And nobody deserves the credit more than Jacory Harris, who brought life, energy and leadership to an offense that sorely needed it.
Coach Randy Shannon said Saturday and reiterated it Sunday that the starting job is still Robert Marve's to have. He's said Marve will start this week against Wake Forest. His reasoning, though he won't really say it, is simple. The last thing Shannon wants is for the quarterback job to become a weekly contest, a focus to take away from his team concept. Starting is one thing, and finishing is another. Harris has obviously done that the last two weeks. He won ACC Rookie of the Week Monday for the second time this year. He earned it. And the truth he's playing like the better quarterback right now. I believe putting Marve back into the starting role sends the wrong message when all you preach is competition. But that's a decision Shannon will have to live with for now. He proved smart by playing Jacory for a few series each game this year when most of U disagreed with it and said it was disrupting the offense. Shannon proved to be right then. He may prove to be right again with this week's decision.
Now, to the progress report. I was busy writing a story this afternoon on high school coaching for the paper and didn't get to my usual progress report until late tonight. My apologies. My grading system system, in honor of the Canes, should be familiar for you guys by now: National championship material (excellent), BCS worthy (good), MicronPC Bowl here we come (average), Coker-esque (poor) and Scout Team reserve (the bottom of the barrel).
Quarterback: There's no other way to put it -- Jacory Harris was the man Saturday. Yes, he threw two interceptions, including one that put UM down 24-14 in the third quarter. But he proved to everyone why Shannon made it a point to play him in every game this season. He led UM on six consecutive scoring drives and finished 18 of 28 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He also was the team's second leading rusher with 53 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in pass from Travis Benjamin. Marve did throw a costly interception (again) and sat out for the rest of the game (again). But it still was only one mistake. He wasn't doing a bad job, just not a great one. He finished 4 of 7 for 64 yards and a touchdown. All in all, when you put up 49 points, you've done a good job. This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy. For the record, I believe Jacory should be starting this week. But that's probably why only play the role of coach on Madden.
Running backs: The story coming in was the return of Javarris James. He never got going (3 carries for 13 yards) and neither did Miami's running game. A lot had to do with being down 24-14 and needing to throw the football. But 10 rush attempts between Graig Cooper and James is unacceptable. Shannon pointed it out in his press conference Sunday and its the truth. Miami's not going to win a lot of games in the defensive-minded ACC if its two best backs only get 12 touches (Cooper had 2 catches). This week's progress report says: MicronPC Bowl Here We Come. These guys get held to a higher standard because I consider them UM's best unit. Still, 154 yards rushing on 29 attempts isn't that bad.
Receivers/tight ends: I've got one thought: Finally. The talented trio of freshman receivers -- Aldarius Johnson, Travis Benjamin and Laron Byrd -- had the kind of performance you thought they could but were only hoping for until this week. They didn't just make plays, but the tough acrobatic catches this offense has sorely needed for years. Dedrick Epps included with that key fourth down catch. Johnson had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown and proved to be the go-to man for Jacory when the tough got going. It looks like a role he'll have going forward, one we all kind of knew he would grow into. Benjamin, meanwhile, was once again the steady big play threat. They'll obviously have to develop consistency. But Saturday you got a great peak at what the future holds at UM and why Shannon was so excited about the receivers he signed. This week's progress report says: National Championship worthy All I kept thinking about with Aldarius (Andre Johnson), Benjamin (Santana Moss) and Byrd (Michael Irvin) was how much they reminded me of the Canes' glorious receivers of the past.
Offensive line: The Canes gave up two sacks this week, but once again I didn't think any were really the line's fault. They looked more like coverage sacks. Miami didn't run the ball a lot, but averaged 5.3 yards a carry and opened up the running lanes for Harris on the quarterback draws. I also loved the fact left tackle Jason Fox was mixing it up after the whistle. It shows toughness and heart we already knew Fox had. This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy.
The Front Seven: Duke had a lot of success running the football early and the defensive line only produced one sack from Adewale Ojomo. But the adjustments at halftime were made and although UM didn't get to Thaddeus Lewis much, it was enough to make the Duke offense sputter. Duke ran the ball 44 times and only averaged 3.2 yards a carry. That's not a bad average at all. Darryl Sharpton, Glenn Cook and Sean Spence once again played a ton of minutes and combined for 23 tackles on defense and deserve to be commended for it. This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy. Not enough pressure. But still a good day stopping the run.
The Secondary: No interceptions, two pass breakups and thankfully a ton of drops by the Duke receivers helped UM once again cover up what could have been a shaky day for the secondary. Duke finished with 191 yards passing and two touchdown catches. Freshman Brandon Harris had a few shaky moments of his own again. What can you say other than he looks like a freshman. The positive? Senior Anthony Reddick led the team with 12 tackles and didn't miss many. This week's progress report says: MicronPC Bowl Here We Come.
Special Teams: Matt Bosher continued his MVP performance with a 75-yard punt to bail UM out of bad field position. He shanked another punt again. But he's still doing what he has to do for a guy handling all the kicking duties. Bosher had four touchbacks on kickoffs. Shannon has talked about getting Jake Wieclaw into action soon. But if Bosher keeps it up, there will no need to. As for the return game, Benjamin once again had a good day putting UM into good field position. He's bound to break one soon. This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy.
Coaching: By far the best performance of the season since the Texas A&M game if you only count the second half. Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix made the proper adjustments in the second half going to the no-huddle and calling plays for Jacory that worked. Bill Young also corrected the problems UM had stopping the run in the first half. Shannon also was 2 for 2 on rolls of the dice on fourth down. They were huge plays and led to important scores, especially the one right before the half. This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy. You make the right adjustments, rally from a 24-14 deficit, win, score 49 points and you get props.