Another week, another Canes come-from-behind victory. Trailing 10-3 at the half, the Canes came back to beat Wake Forest 16-10 at rainy Dolphin Stadium in yet another important ACC showdown for UM. The win allows the Canes to stay in the race to reach the conference title game in Tampa. These were the highlights and my thoughts as the game progressed...
UM's 1ST DRIVE: The Canes start the second half with some trickery when Travis Benjamin fields the kickoff and pitches it back to Sam Shields, who runs it up the middle and returns it past midfield before getting pushed out of bounds. Shields then draws an additional 15 yards when he gets hit out of bounds by a Wake Forest player on the bench. It gives UM a first down at the Wake 30. After Robert Marve scrambles for five yards on the first play from scrimmage, Alton Curry smacks him down for a 9-yard loss back at the 34 to bring up a 3rd and 14. Marve's third down pass to Aldarius Johnson nearly gets intercepted by Alphonso Smith. Matt Bosher then drills a 52-yard field goal with yards to spare with 13:10 left. Wake Forest 10, UM 6.
WAKE's 1ST DRIVE: Wake starts at its own 22 and goes right back to the running game with its big fullback. But the Canes are ready for it. And on third down, safety Ryan Hill comes through with a big stop. Miami gets the ball back at its own 35 with 11:47 to play in the third.
UM's 2ND DRIVE: The Canes get good field position and give Baby J a carry then call their second time out of the second half after some miscommunication with the sideline. Let's hope it doesn't come back to haunt them. Robert Marve completes a short pass to Laron Byrd then runs for a first down out to midfield. Two plays later, Marve nets the Canes' second-longest run of the season with a 43-yard sprint draw, faking a handoff to Graig Cooper, making an ankle-breaking move and rumbling down to the Wake's 3-yard line. Two plays after that, Marve plunges into the end zone on a 1-yard sneak to give UM its first lead of the game with 8:03 left to play in the quarter. UM 13, Wake Forest 10.
WAKE's 2ND DRIVE: The Canes try trickery on the ensuing kickoff when Bosher pushes through a good, slow roller onside kick. But the Canes are unable to land on the football. UM though survives giving up the good field position at their own 48 and stop Wake on three consecutive running plays and the Demon Deacons are forced to punt.
UM's 3RD DRIVE: The Canes start at their own 20 and start moving down the field with two huge plays by Travis Benjamin, who runs for 10 yards on an end around and then makes a beautiful catch along the sideline on third down. Two plays later, Sam Shields makes his first big play on offense in a long time with a nice catch and run for a first down. UM drives all the way to the Wake 28 yard line, but on fourth down and 1, the Canes go for it and fail when Graig Cooper gets stopped shy of the marker.
WAKE's 3RD DRIVE: Wake Forest picks up one first down on the ground, but then turns the ball over when Adewale Ojomo gets around the corner and hits Riley Skinner. Defensive tackle Antonio Dixon falls on the loose ball at the Wake 45.
UM's 4TH DRIVE:The Canes start with great field position and keep their drive alive when Aldarius Johnson hauls in a third down pass for a first down at the Wake Forest 30. But after Curry drops a near interception, Marve is forced to tuck the ball and run out of bounds on third down. It leads to a Matt Bosher 43-yard field goal with 12:09 to play. UM 16, Wake Forest 10.
WAKE'S 4TH DRIVE:The Demon Deacons start at their own 33 and quickly pick up a first down and move to the UM 46 on an 8-yard Brandon Pendergrass run. but the play gets wiped out with a holding penalty. On third and 15 at their own 39, UM returns the favor. Skinner, scrambles, then throws a pass deep downfield that draws a pass interference penalty on DeMarcus Van Dyke. It gives Wake a first down at the UM 46-yard line. Wake drives down to the UM 23 and sets up for a 40-yard field goal. But Shane Popham's kick sails wide right with 5:47 to play. Now the story becomes, can UM run out the clock?
UM's 5TH DRIVE:Jacory Harris replaces Marve at quarterback as the Canes try to run out the clock. Graig Cooper helps him out early with an 8-yard run. But on third and two, Harris' pass to Aldarius Johnson gets batted away with 4:30 to play and the Canes will have to punt. And the Canes will find themselves in trouble after Matt Bosher gets off a punt off the side of his foot, a 27-yarder. With 4:24 to play, Wake will have the ball at its own 42. Why didn't we see Javarris James or Graig Cooper run the ball there? That might be the question Shannon has to face if Wake comes back and wins this game.
WAKE'S 5TH DRIVE:Wake can't move the football and Skinner's third down pass falls incomplete, forcing the Demon Deacons to punt. UM takes over at its own 25 with 3:13 left.
UM's 6TH DRIVEL The Canes go back to Robert Marve -- and then catch a huge break when on second down, Aldarius Johnson appears to catch the ball, gets stripped and the ball rolls backward out of bounds at the Canes 15. But the play gets overturned and ruled incomplete, moving the ball back to the 25. On third and 10, Marve makes the best of his opportunity, scrambling and finding Thearon Collier for 30-yard gain to midfield, eating up valuable clock. On the next play, Cooper runs the ball for a minimal gain and Wake Forest calls a timeout with 2:23 left. But instead of running out the clock on the next play, UM offensive coordinator Patrick Nix calls a pass play and Marve completes a 9-yard gain to Thearon Collier to bring up a 3rd and inches. On the next play, Marve sneaks ahead for the first down to ice the game with 2:12 to play.
WAKE'S 1ST DRIVE: The Deacons take the opening kickoff right down the field on 10 consecutive runs and take an early 7-0 lead on a 1-yard Mike Rinfrette plunge, becoming the first team this season to score on UM on the opening possession of the game. Wake Forest 7, UM 0.
UM's 1ST DRIVE: It fizzles quickly with two dropped passes and the Canes are forced to punt after a quick three-and-out.
WAKE's 2ND DRIVE: After getting smacked around on 10 straight runs on the opening drive of the game, UM's defense stands up and stops Wake Forest on a quick three-and-out to get the ball back.
UM's 2ND DRIVE: The Canes needed a big play on offense and got it -- a 57-yard hook up from Robert Marve to Travis Benjamin, the longest pass completion of the year for the Canes. UM settles for a 37-yard field goal from Matt Bosher, who is now 10 of 11 on the season. Wake Forest 7, UM 3.
WAKE'S 3RD DRIVE: The Demon Deacons still haven't thrown the football and are exposing Miami's run defense, which we all thought was better than this. Wake has 118 yards of total offense on 20 carries. Riley Skinner hasn't even thrown a pass yet. Amazing. When the second quarter starts, Wake has the ball on the UM 10 with a 2nd down and 5. UM linebacker Glenn Cook is finally able to stop the Deacons when he tackles Brandon Pendergrass on third down a foot short of the first down marker. Wake kicker Shane Popham comes on and although his field goal attempt is partially blocked, it still goes through for three points. Wake Forest 10, UM 3.
UM's 3RD DRIVE: Another three and out for the Canes, who are unable to pickup the first down when Robert Marve's third down pass gets thrown a little too hard and goes right through Kayne Farquharson's fingers. For a second it looks like Miami might catch a break when DJ Bolding fumbles a 39-yard punt from Matt Bosher. But Sam Shields is flagged for kick catch interference giving Wake at their own 38.
WAKE'S 4TH DRIVE: After 23 consecutive runs, Wake is finally forced to throw the football and Glenn Cook and Allen Bailey get enough pressure to lead to an incompletion forcing Wake to punt. UM will take over at its 15 after the punt. Jacory Harris is set to replace Marve at quarterback.
UM's 4TH DRIVE: Baby J comes through with his first big play since coming back from injury when he catches a quick dump-off pass and picks up 13 yards and a first down to keep UM's drive alive on third down. But one first down is all UM can pick up. Jacory Harris tries to scramble on third down, but gets tackled at the line of scrimmage and UM is forced to punt. Bosher gets off a 47-yarder and Wake will take over at its 20 with 8:45 remaining.
WAKE'S 5TH DRIVE: I picked Darryl Sharpton as a key for UM and he already has five tackles in what has become a busy day. But just when you thought UM was going to force Wake on another three-and-out, DJ Boldin pops a 45-yard catch and run on a screen down to the UM 33. UM missed several tackles on the play. After two runs net one yard lost, Wake faces a third and 11 and this time fails to pick up the first down when Skinner's pass falls short to Richard Belton. It brings up a fourth down and Wake goes for it. But the drive ends when Adewale Ojomo breaks through with a big sack back at the UM 40.
UM's 5TH DRIVE: Welcome back Kayne Farquharson. Facing a third and 5, Jacory Harris runs playaction and finds Farquharson for a 19-yard gain down to the Wake 36-yard line. On the next play, Harris hooks up with his high school buddy, Aldarius Johnson, for an 7-yard gain to the Wake 29. After a failed sprint draw, UM faces a 3rd and 6 and Jacory goes deep to Davon Johnson but overthrows him. The Canes go for it and like Wake, fail to pick up the first down when Harris gets smacked down at the line of scrimmage.
WAKE'S 6TH DRIVE: Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass have been a thorn in the Canes' side all day today and already have a combined 119 yards. Facing a 3rd and 9 at the Wake 46, Skinner finds Adams for a 4-yard gain before Sean Spence makes a nice open field tackle. UM calls time out with 24 seconds left -- not sure why. Travis Benjamin then fields the punt at the 5, gets marked down at the 6. UM decides to run the clock out.
PREGAME THOUGHTS, KEYS TO THE GAME AND MARKET WATCH
Today's game is important in the sense a victory might finally show that this program is really on the way back up and not still in the midst of mediocrity and growing pains.Wake Forest, which won the ACC title two years ago, has been among the most elite teams in the conference the past several seasons. The Demon Deacons (4-2, 2-1 ACC) were ranked in the nation's Top 25 until they lost 26-0 last week to Maryland, but still are one of the best veteran teams (33 players who are in their fourth, fifth or sixth year in the program) in the ACC with one of the top turnover producing defenses in the country and a quarterback that knows how to win in Riley Skinner.
Wake seems to have a Magic Number when it comes to winning games -- 24. When The Demon Deacons score at least 24 points, they are 40-13 -- including 17-1 since 2006 -- under coach Jim Grobe. When Wake scores fewer than 24 points, the Deacons are 10-28.
With that, we'll go to my Keys To The Game for a Canes victory...
1. Do not feed Wake Forest's turnover machine: Only three teams are better in the country at protecting the football and taking it away than the Demon Deacons -- Virginia Tech, Minnesota and Florida. Wake's defense has created 20 turnovers this season (10 INTs, 10 fumble recoveries) while the offense has only given the ball away 11 times (four INTs, 7 fumbles). Wake's offense, which ranks 103rd in the country, survives off it. Of the 112 points the Demon Deacons have scored this season, 44 have come off of turnovers. So, this key for UM is simple -- don't do what you've been doing all year (give the ball away and not take it away). In seven games this season, UM has created 9 turnovers, but given it away 13 times. Amazingly, UM has managed to win its last two games despite losing the turnover battle. But Duke and UCF probably aren't on the same level as the Demon Deacons. Miami QBs have thrown at three interceptions in each of UM's last three games. The Canes are going to want to stay away from Wake cornerback Alphonso Smith (Pahokee grad) who has 17 career picks.
2. Bring the heat on Riley Skinner: Wake Forest's offense isn't great, but when Riley Skinner has time to throw he can pick apart defenses. Skinner leads the ACC in total offense and passing yards and is the heart of this offense. Both Maryland and Navy -- the two teams that beat Wake -- did a great job doing that. Navy sacked him three times and collected all four of Skinner's interceptions in their win. Maryland didn't get any picks, but they did sack Skinner four times and create plenty of pressure. UM's defense had five sacks against UCF two weeks ago and needs a similar effort this week to keep the Demon Deacons' passing offense off balance. Wake will have a new starter at center and likely a freshman at left guard. UM must take advantage.
3. Take advantage of every scoring opportunity: Wake Forest's defense has been one of the best in the country, but so has UM's red zone scoring offense. Miami leads the ACC in Red Zone offense, scoring at a 93.1 percent clip. Wake Forest, meanwhile, like UM (last in the ACC) is one of the worst in Red Zone defense allowing teams to score at a 93.3 percent clip. The key is, though, Wake has allowed the second fewest trips inside their red zone of any team in the ACC at 15. So, when UM gets inside the 20 today, Robert Marve and Jacory Harris have to be very careful with the football and make sure UM comes away with points.
> Darryl Sharpton and Glenn Cook, linebackers: Few guys have been turning up their intensity lately quite like Sharpton and Cook, who rank third and first on the team in tackles and are creating what little pressure Miami does get in the backfield. With a defensive line that isn't creating much pressure these days, both of these guys could ultimately be the only weapons who find much success in creating Key No. 2 for today's game -- pressure on Skinner. According to UM's coaching defensive stats, Cook leads the team with 12 tackles for loss. The Canes are going to need these guys to be flying around today.
> Graig Cooper and Javarris James, running backs: Call it a hunch, but after combing for only 12 touches last week at Duke something tells me Patrick Nix is going to make sure these guys get plenty more work this week after Shannon himself said UM didn't run the ball enough against Duke. Considering how many INT's UM's quarterbacks have thrown in the past three weeks (9) and how much Wake feeds off it, this smells like the day Coop and a healthier Baby J carry this football team. Wake's front seven led by No. 59 Aaron Curry is very good, but not as good as that secondary, which starts three read shirt seniors and a fourth-year junior.
On The Bubble
> Robert Marve, quarterback: There's no two-ways about it, coach Randy Shannon has been in Marve's corner all season and has said he'll be his starter no matter what. But the last two games, Marve has watched Jacory Harris finish the game for the Canes. He may be watching him more and more from the sidelines if he continues to turn over the football. We know Wake Forest is great at creating turnovers and so has Marve, who has been picked in each of his last five games and has nine on the season versus six TDs. Jacory Harris hasn't attempted as many passes as Marve, but has six fewer picks and more touchdowns (5) than he's had lately. Miami needs Marve to play better this week if it hopes to win and Marve needs to play better if he hopes to keep playing.
> UM's secondary: Despite having pretty good back-to-back weeks statistically, even UM's secondary knows it hasn't been playing well and has been getting away with mistakes because other teams are not taking advantage of it. Nothing can cure this group more than a good day against the ACC's passing leader (Skinner) and top receiver, DJ Boldin. Nothing can make it more sick either.
>Any Canes receiver who isn't a freshman: It's become quite apparent who is now making the plays in UM's passing game -- the guys who just started arriving 10 months ago. Sam Shields hasn't caught a pass in three weeks. Kayne Farquharson has caught 1 since the North Carolina game. Leonard Hankerson has been injured and hasn't caught a pass since the FSU game. Khalil Jones has been MIA since the North Carolina game. And Jermaine McKenzie, who finally got into a game last week against Duke, hasn't caught a pass all season. They should be watching Laron Byrd, Aldarius Johnson and Travis Benjamin get the majority of the work again today.
> PS, I won't be at Dolphin Stadium today. I've been up in Atlanta helping our NASCAR writer Sarah Rothschild since Thursday with a few stories for next month's race in Homestead as well as tomorrow's ACC Basketball Media Days in downtown Atlanta. But I'll be watching today's game from my hotel room. For those of you without ESPNU, the broadcast will be on WQAM.com and GameTracker.