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30 posts from October 2008

October 30, 2008

Canes debut at 16; injury report

Frank Haith said Monday the only good thing about being ranked in the preseason was its effect on recruiting. We'll find out soon enough if that true (especially in the case of Durand Scott, one of the New York City's and the nation's top shooting guards, who has UM in his top three with Connecticut and Pittsburgh).

Frank_haithThe Canes, who have continued their climb up from when they were in the ACC cellar two years ago, received their highest preseason ranking in school history Thursday morning. The ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coach's poll has the Canes 16th heading into their season opener on Nov. 15. Only once before -- when UM opened 25th in the Associated Press poll in 1999-2000 -- has a UM team entered the season ranked in the Top 25. This year's AP preseason poll comes out on Friday.

What impressed me most was who UM is ranked higher than in the ESPN poll. The Canes are actually ahead of Georgetown (18th), Florida (19th) and defending national champion Kansas (23rd). Potentially, UM could end up facing three of the Top 5 in the regular season. We know for sure UM will play No. 1 North Carolina twice (Jan. 17 there and Feb. 15
at home) and No. 5 Duke once (over there Feb. 7). But UM could see No. 2 UConn as early as the third game of the season and the second game of the Paradise Jam tournament on Nov. 22. Then, No. 21 Wisconsin could be waiting the next game in the same tournament.

> As usual, the Canes released their injury report Thursday heading into Saturday's noon kickoff against Virginia. And, as usual, there was a surprise or too.

Quarterback Robert Marve (leg) was listed on the probable list alongside running back Lee Chambers (foot) and safety Jojo Nicholas (leg) who have missed the past few games. This is the first time this season Marve has been on the injury report. My guess is whatever he's feeling probably came when he got smacked on one of those sprint draws. Marve is going to play.

But what is of more concern is linebacker Daryl Sharpton (leg) who is listed as questionable. Sharpton has had a pretty good season, starting all eight games at strongside linebacker and ranking second in tackles (49)_ and tackles for loss (5.5) behind Glenn Cook. Senior Romeo Davis spelled Sharpton some last week and was effective with five tackles. What's kind of funny is Arthur Brown is listed as Sharpton's backup. Could this be the week we finally see him at linebacker for real?Receiver Leonard Hankerson (leg) hasn't played since the Florida State game and will likely miss his fourth consecutive game being listed as doubtful.

GETTING TO KNOW THE U with Mollie Rose... This week, we catch up with Canes' receiver Kayne Farquharson. Check out the video below, including last week's interview with Chavez Grant in case you missed it.

October 29, 2008

Canes need o-line, RBs to step up

Before the season began, UM coach Randy Shannon said the strongest units on his team were the offensive line and the running backs. Through eight games, that hasn't been the story. The Hurricanes aren't getting the type of effort they thought they would from those guys.

The numbers don't lie. Through nine games last season, UM was averaging 175 yards a game on the ground. Through eight games this year, the Canes are averaging nearly 50 yards less (127). While UM's passing Coopergame is averaging 10 more yards a game than it was last year, the line has been giving up more negative plays than it did a year ago. Last year, UM gave up 10 sacks in its first eight games. This year, the Canes have surrendered 17 in the same amount of time. Miami also surrendered 47 tackles for loss in 2007. This year, they've given up two more than that number. The only real area of improvement for the offensive line has been penalties. In '07, Miami was flagged for holding eight times and called for false starts seven times through their first eight games. This year, the Canes have been only flagged four times for holding and six for false starts.

"We definitely had higher expectations than what we're getting done," said 6-3, 300-pound junior A.J. Trump, who has started the last four games for UM at right guard. "We've been up and down. We played some good games here and there, not as good as some others. We're trying to gain some consistency and run the ball a little bit better. We're trying to get better."

Miami needs to be better at both running the football and protecting the quarterback -- and quick. Virginia leads the ACC in sacks with 23 this season. Clint Sintim, a 6-3, 254-pound senior outside linebacker, has been the menace. He leads the ACC with 10 sacks this season. Shannon said in Tuesday's press conference Miami will run the football more this week. Since Javarris James came back from his ankle injury against Duke, he and Graig Cooper have been stuck in quicksand. They've combined for 28 touches and 128 yards. There should be an opportunity to run this week against Virginia, which ranks 10th in the ACC in run defense and gives up 147 yards a game.

Not only that, but this week will mark the first time freshmen quarterbacks Robert Marve and Jacory Harris will see a 3-4 defense. Nobody in the ACC other than Virginia runs it. Robert_marveBoth Marve and Harris talked Tuesday about how confusing it can be when eight guys drop back into coverage. Last week, was the first time since the Florida game neither quarterback threw an interception. "The 3-4 changes it up a little bit," Marve said. "They can cover more with the eight man drop. It's more recognizing where everyone's at. The 3-4 defense goes a lot off formations. It's more understanding your formation and what they've shown on film compared to what you're going to show. It's a little cat and mouse game."

Said Harris: "It's a very difficult defense to scheme because they can also drop eight and it basically ruins your passing game. We got to try and pound the ball until they bring everybody in the box and then that's when the air attack should start."

The good news for the Canes is the 3-4 won't be as new to its offensive line. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said the Canes face it in practice every week because they usually see it a lot on third down. "We work the 3-4 all year, I don't care who we're playing. I have what I call `Musts.' So in practice I work on a head-up nose guard even if we're not playing a team with a head-up nose guard. Everybody we play plays a 3-4 - on third down they play it. So we work on it every single week so when you get to the 3-4 defense it's not like a brand new deal."

> Stoutland talked with me and a few other reporters for about 10 minutes about the good, the bad and the ugly with his unit this season after Tuesday's practice and even challenged me to hit the pads. We got a good laugh out of it. Stoutland, though, isn't laughing as much about the play of his line. It's been a roller coaster year for his guys and he knows it.

Stoutland said he keeps a chart of how many times his unit runs the perfect play. He focuses on assignment, Jeff_stoutland
technique and effort. "o get a perfect play, if you count up all the plays - if there's 80 plays in a game -- you're trying to get 55 percent or better perfect. You're humming if you're 55 percent or better, and I chart that all the time. We've got to be at that number. It tells you how well you're executing together as a group. Every single day that's what we're trying to do. We look at things, say `Hey, maybe we have to minimize some things, maybe add some things. But that's kind of how we decide our game plan for what we're going to do."

Stoutland said the line has been humming at times, but not enough. But he's encouraged by the improving health of his team. Reggie Youngblood, who went down with a knee injury last month as is playing hurt, is getting healthier by the week. Chris Barney, who went down in fall camp, is starting to progress and might be able to contribute more than just on extra points and field goals. And he said Tuesday he feels like sophomore Orlando Franklin is starting to come on. He also praised Chris Rutledge saying "he didn't grade as high this game, but in the past he's really come on. I'm proud of him for what he's done."

Truth be told, Miami's line may have been miscast as the strength of this team before the season. Aside from three-year starters Jason Fox and Youngblood at tackle, UM had to replace its entire interior starting lineup. And as Stoutland said Tuesday, opponents have been "throwing the kitchen sink" at the line this season to try and rattle the Canes young quarterbacks, who obviously haven't struck enough on those deep passes to keep defenses off. Stoutland said the long run Marve made against Wake was the perfect remedy because it keeps defenses honest.

"Their mission is to break the quarterback's will," Stoutland said. "Get him confused, break his will, get him discombobulated. Our young quarterbacks have made some big plays now. That play Robert pulled and ran it - they're running a game on the back side of that thing and we hit it perfectly. That was a perfectly executed play. When you start to do that, people start to get a little nervous - `Whoa, hold on.' The more we can crack it when people are doing that, the more plays we can make, the more people back off. They'll try you. Last week you see them stemming the whole line back and forth, trying to get you to come off with a false start. I thought our guys handled that really well."

> For those of you wondering if center Xavier Shannon is ever going to bring those high snaps down, don't bet on it. Stoutland said while he's been bothered by the high snaps Xavier Shannon has been releasing lately, he isn't trying to over coach it. "I don't like to over-coach it, because when you start to over-coach it, start go nuts on it, then it goes all over the place," he said Tuesday. "The shotgun snap is a very delicate issue. We monitor that, check it at practice if it's going to the right or left. I don't go overboard with it, though, because I used to do that and then it went haywire. It shouldn't be a bullet snap, just get it back to the quarterback."

> While UM has plenty of veteran lineman this season, we know that won't be the story going forward. We Ian_symonette
know UM is trying a strong push to land offensive lineman and are in the chase for some of the country's best with their next recruiting class. Stoutland gave us an update on how the guys here are doing now and how he's working to bring them along. "A name that hasn't been mentioned in a while is Ian Symonette. He's starting to come on. I've been working with him, having individual meetings and trying to get him. I'm looking forward to working with him to the point where he can compete for a job. He's been here long enough, let's go," Stoutland said. "Tyler Horn last week was unbelievable. Harland Gunn had a really good day. The defensive coaches let me know what they're doing and I'm hearing good things."

Stoutland said Symmonette, a 6-9, 351-pound sophomore, has to focus on his change of direction. "A lot of that comes down to knowing what your doing," Stoutland said. "It's all about angles. But if you don't know what angle to take, it's not going to look real good."

Stoutland said he's also spending extra time with freshman Ben Jones, who has worked his way back from injury to the scout team. "He's going to be a very good player. I do some stuff with him after practice to bring his development along. He's like in the minors. I'm trying to bring him on faster - I haven't had a chance to coach him that much because he was injured."

> Speaking of the injured, linebacker Darryl Sharpton, who was nicked up in the Wake Forest game, should be fine for Saturday's game at Virginia. So, should running back Javarris James, who said he's closer to being 100 percent. "I'm starting not to think about," James said of his ankle injury. "My first week back it was in my mind a lot. It's something hard to overcome. I finally feel like I'm almost all the way back. They said there would always be some type of pain the rest of the year and it's just something I got to deal with."

> Count Randy Shannon as a fan of Dancing With the Stars -- especially now that Warren Sapp is involved in the competition. Shannon said he exchanges text messages with Sapp, who is still in the running for the top spot. "I'll tell him `Great move, but you have to get more pizzazz.'," Shannon said Tuesday. " He's always been one of my funniest guys. I knew that it would be great because Sapp really has great feet and is truly a great athletes, has great dance moves."

> As usual, I've uploaded a ton of audio interviews. Feel free to check them out on our UM audio page.

October 27, 2008

Wake Forest progress report

Three wins in a row for the Canes including what I now consider the most impressive win of the season. In all honesty, while wins against Duke, Charleston Southern, UCF and Texas A&M all obviously count, this was the first time this season I felt Miami beat a good team. Wake Forest doesn't have much of an offense and doesn't score a bunch of points. But the Demon Deacons are still a formidable foe with a very good defense, a group of experienced starters and backups, and a quarterback that up until last Saturday was leading the ACC in passing.

Like I said in Saturday's postgame analysis, Miami got pounded for a quarter by a veteran team. But, then, the Canes turned the tables and played like the more physical team for the better part of the final 2 1/2 quarters. That was impressive. Now to the progress report. My grading system system, in honor of the Canes, is the usual: 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: For the second week in a row, it was one of UM's young quarterbacks and not their veteran running backs who rallied the troops. Robert Marve wasn't spectacular with his arm, Robert_marve completing 11 of 20 passes for 153 yards. But he did something he hadn't done since his first start at Florida -- he was turnover free. And, he made the biggest play of the game, turning the momentum for good in Miami's favor when he faked on the Wake defense with a 43-yard run to setup the game-winning touchdown. It was the second longest TD run by a QB since 1983 and maybe the most important play of the season for Marve, who showed us all why Randy Shannon gave him the starting job in the first place. He made good throws for the most part Saturday and showed the leadership of a champion. Jacory Harris, meanwhile, didn't regress. He just stepped aside for Marve, finishing 4 of 8 for 41 yards. This week's progress report says: Gator Bowl Here We Come. It wasn't quite BCS worthy, but not MicronPC bad either. 2.5 stars.

Marve impressed me with his speed on the long run, but even more on that long completion to Thearon Collier on third and long late. It's the kind of plays he should be making more often.

Running backs: I know Halloween is just around the corner, but can someone please tell Graig Cooper and Javarris James to stop dressing up like impostors? Coop and Baby J can't force the ball out of Robert Marve's hand for handoffs or steal the playbook from Patrick Nix, but they can do a better job running the football when given the opportunity. They had eight more chances (18) than last week, but finished with 41 combined yards. Wake Forest's defense was very good, and UM's offensive line wasn't, but at some point I want to see these guys make the highlight runs we thought they could. Or, dress like the Coop and Baby J we thought they were. This week's progress report says: Coker-esque. Last week they didn't get enough chances. This week, they didn't earn more.

Receivers/tight ends: Start engraving the offensive MVP trophy for this season and put Travis Benjamin's name on it. It seems like every week he has a key play in a win. He led UM with four Travis_benjamin catches for 72 yards -- including the long one that setup the first field goal. He also made a nice catch racing out of bounds on a late drive and a nice 10-yard run on a reverse (take notes Baby J and Coop). The rest of the Canes' receivers didn't have as nearly as good-a-day. Thearon Collier had a nice catch late, but Aldarius Johnson had a couple drops and Laron Byrd had another bobble. I love those guys. But they show themselves to be freshman more often than Benjamin. Before I forget, how about a thumbs up for Sam Shields? He made his first catch in weeks and made a nice move to pickup a first down. Maybe, it is a sign of things to come.This week's progress report says: Gator Bowl worthy.Benjamin gets 3 stars. The rest of the receivers get 2. That's another 2.5 rating.

Offensive line: It's time to start ripping into this unit. Jason Fox, you have the right to leave the room. I'm not sure why we were told this unit was the strength of the team (I remember, they have the most experience next to the running back), but it's quite obvious this unit is quite pedestrian. Two weeks in a row of not getting enough push up front to open up holes for the running backs and two sacks allowed against a Wake Forest defense that eight on the season coming in. Not good. And will someone please tell Xavier Shannon to stop hiking the ball to Shaquille O'Neal? Marve is 6-1 my man -- not 7-2. This week's progress report says: MicronPC Bowl Here We Come. It wasn't quite Coker-esque, but it was dangerously close.

The Front Seven: When a team runs the ball 24 consecutive times, there's a reason. Adewale_ojomoWake felt it could win the battle up front and did for the first quarter and a half. But little gold stars go out this week to guys like Romeo Davis and Adewale Ojomo, who manned up and rallied UM's front seven. Wake finished with 195 yards rushing on 52 attempts, but ad 135 yards at the half. Normally, defenses wear down. UM's got tougher. The Canes also got a nice rush on Riley Skinner, forced a key fumble and sacked him twice. I already gave Ojomo a game ball for that. This week's progress report says: Gator Bowl worthy. I wanted to make them BCS worthy, but getting physically beat for a quarter and a half demoted them.

The Secondary: Wake Forest only attempted eight passes and completed three of them despite having the top passer in the conference. Aside from one long catch and run by DJ Boldin, the secondary also did a nice job wrapping up when the catches were made. Safety Ryan Hill had a nice pass breakup on third down and for the first time this season, teammate Anthony Reddick got to relax. This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy. Hard to grade this unit considering Wake only attempted eight passes. But they still only gave up three completions. Shocking as it might sound, UM's pass defense now ranks 16th in the country. That's not a typo.

Special Teams: Matt Bosher continued his campaign for MVP -- he's got my vote -- with another great day with his toes. Bosher booted a career-long punt last week at Duke. Saturday versus Wake, he absolutely crushed a 52-yard field goal -- another career long. He was 3 of 3 on attempts that included a 36 and 43 yarder and is now 12 of 13 on the season. He shanked a punt -- not a weekly tradition. But he finished with a 47-yarder and 36-yard average. Not bad. The unit also scored major points with their trick play -- the Benjamin to Shields flip which led to UM's first points of the second half. This week's progress report says: National Championship worthy.Randy Shannon and Joe Pannunzio tag-team coaching this unit. There's no question special teams is the honest-to-god strength of this team.

Coaching: This week, the we need to get Patrick Nix out-of-here campaign picked up again because UM was unable to generate much of a running game -- save for the Marve run -- or a passing Randy_shannon_vs_wake game -- save for that long Benjamin catch. But I'm not with it. Wake Forest has a good defense and although UM couldn't sustain much, Nix still found ways to at least get in scoring position. Bill Young, meanwhile, put the clamps on Wake's running game when he needed to and he somehow figured out the best way to beat Riley Skinner was to make Wake believe its best not to throw. Shannon, meanwhile, rolled the dice twice on fourth down and didn't get it and went for an onside kick that was good, just not executed. But I like his style. I thought they were good calls. This week's progress report says: Gator Bowl Here We Come. Notice a theme yet?

De'Quan Jones: 'I want to be an all-utility guy'

Just got home a little over an hour ago from trip to Atlanta and UM's Basketball Media Day and want to start this blog by telling you I'm still going to keep my promise and provide you with my usual football progress report later today. So, you football guys that are on the verge of going nuts know I haven't forgotten about you.

But I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't share with you what I learned from today's basketball media day -- especially considering how much better this program is now than it was before. UM men's coach Frank Haith and Katie Meier addressed the media for about an hour Monday inside the Hurricane 100 room at BankUnited Center and then we got a chance to talk with each of the players on the team. I've got enough material for about 20 blogs. But I'm not going to share it all now. If you die-hards want to hear everything that was said, check out our UM audio page where I always share all of the audio interviews I collect.

Dequan_jonesBut for now, here's part of the Q&A session we had with highly-touted freshman De'Quan Jones, whom Haith said Monday is likely the most highly-touted and athletic recruit he's signed in his five years at UM. Jones (6-6, 190) impressed me with how polished he was answering questions. He already appears to me to have that star appeal. Cyrus McGowan gushed when asked how good Jones was saying he can jump out of the building. We all remember Jones' YouTube slam dunk from high school when he literally flew over a defender -- ala Vince Carter.

Q: People have some pretty high expectations for you. How do you feel going into your freshman season?
A: Expectations are going to be high. I feel like if I just come in and do the smart intangibles, I'll be fine. If I do what they're recruiting me for, rebounding, running the floor, finishing, I'll feel pretty confident.

Q: How high can you jump?
A: I think this summer they recorded me at a 41-inch vertical.

Q: Who have you been compared to?
A: I think my dad kind of compares me to Lebron [James] a little bit. That's a lot of pressure. That's a lot to live up to. That's probably the only comparison I've heard.

Q: How are you meshing with the guys here?
A: The chemistry is great. I think that's the reason I chose Miami because of the chemistry of my teammates. Me and the guys get along great. On the court, off the court. We do everything together. A lot of teams talk about that family atmosphere. But it's really here amongst us.

Q: How about the chemistry in terms of style of play?
A: I think the beautiful thing about our team is that everyone's game compliments everyone. Jack [McClinton] is an excellent shooter. He's surrounded by guys that can get in the lane and drive and dish. I think on the court the chemistry meshes pretty good.

Q: Where do you think you can contribute the most?
A: I just want to try and be like an all utilities guy, rebounding, defense, just whatever the team needs any given night, whether its scoring, rebounding, assists, whatever.

Q: How do you think you can improve your game defensively?
A: I think I can fight through ball screens better. I think that's probably the biggest transition from high school to college. Of course, there's the speed of the game. But it's just the small things if you want to make big plays at this level.

Q: They have an established team, how do you see yourself fitting in?
A: Whatever the team needs. Every team needs the guy that goes out and does the small things.

Q: What was your impression of Jack?
A: Jack is Jack. He's funny. He's been like my big brother. If there is any advice I need, I always hit him up. All the guys are just funny, down to earth. They've really helped me with the transition.

Can you talk about the main reason you wanted to come to Miami?
Q: The main reason was Coach Haith and just the environment. Miami is a beautiful city. I just wanted to come down and choose an environment that best fits me. Plus, my teammates, we get along great. We have great team chemistry and coach Haith is another good reason.

Q: This is a veteran team, how much does that help you in making the transition?
Q: I think it's a great thing. I think that's one of the best attributes of our team. We're a veteran team. They help me out a lot as far as the plays. I think that's one of the best attributes.

Q: Can you talk about the dunk on YouTube and the excitement that created? And are we going to see a little of that here?
A: Hopefully [laughter]. I didn't really notice it until after about week that it was already up a week later when my coach calls me. I still get texts and phone calls from people that say I've never seen that before. It was something that just happened I guess.

Q: What's the story behind the dunk?
Most of the talented players tell you some stuff is done instinctively. It wasn't anything premeditated. It was just a spur of the moment thing.

Q: Coach talked about defense being the one area you need to focus on, but do you feel comfortable offensively?
A: Offensively, for the most part, there's still a lot of things I need to work on like ballhandling and creating opportunities for my teammates off the dribble. But for the most part, I feel comfortable.

Q: Where do you see the program going?
A: I think Coach Haith's biggest thing is he wants to recruit talented players, but also great people. I think great teams require great people. I see nothing but good things happening for the program if we just continue working hard.

Q: Jack said a couple weeks ago he wants to contend for a national championship. Do you see that as a real goal for this program while you are here?
A: Yes sir, I do. I think we just keep working hard and stay focused on the goal overall, I definitely think [a national title] is possible.

I'll keep the rest of the notes brief:

> Haith started his press conference by trying to temper some of the excitement created last week when Jack McClinton told us UM's goal was to win a national title. While he said he believes the Canes have a very good team, he doesn't want anyone getting the wrong idea that the Canes "beating their chests." I think Haith realizes how much the hype Canes are receiving and simply wants everyone to realize his team is still a ways away from getting to that level.

> James Dews has put on eight more pounds to make sure he can handle the bumping and grinding it takes in not only guarding bigger guys in the ACC, but taking the ball to the basket. Dews (6-3) weighed 202 last season and is now up to 210.

> Dwayne Collins says he's taking it as a personal challenge to become more consistent by making sure he plays just as hard in practice as he does in game. "You play how you practice and I don't want to be that guy anymore," Collins said. That guy he's referring to is the guy who lit up Duke, but then finished the season in a slump. That's Mr. Inconsistency. Collins believes he is done with him.

Adrian_thomas> It's hard not to feel bad for Adrian Thomas and happy for him at the same time. After suffering a season-ending sports hernia injury two years ago and then a season-ending torn ACL last year, Thomas said he was all set to return last spring when he developed a cyst in his injured knee. It cost him the summer. He's been back in action for two months now and says while he no longer has the explosion he used, he really believes he can help the Canes by being "a lockdown defensive guy and someone hits on those outside jumpers."

> If you spot a little old man running up and down the court this season, don't worry. That's probably just Edwin Rios. The 6-foot backup point guard showed up to today's media day sporting a beard and a baldspot on his head. The beard will likely go before the start of the season and so will the struggles he hopes. Last year, Eddie shot 53 percent from the free throw line and 37 percent from the field. "I'm a different player now. I have my confidence again," Rios said. "I believe I'll be a lot better."

> I know some of you have asked about the new practice facility being built at UM. I saw it today and its still in the midst of construction. But it's being built. No word yet on when exactly it will be ready.

> No word either yet on highly-touted '09 recruit Durand Scott, who visited UM this past weekend. I was told by a few other writers today Scott hasn't been answering his phone since his visit. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Check back after 8 for that progress report.

October 26, 2008

Haith not letting hype distract team

ATLANTA -- Frank Haith put together a winning formula last season for the Hurricanes -- and it doesn't appear he's going to change it much. Last year, he helped the Hurricanes develop an emotional edge before games with the nobody believes in us, we have to prove people wrong battle cry. Miami started 12-0 and went from being picked to finish last in the ACC to finishing fifth in the conference, a 23-11 season and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Frank_haithAll season long, Haith kept telling his team to believe they could finish in the top half of the conference. And they did. Sunday, UM was picked to finish fourth at the end of the 2008-09 season. While expectations have obviously been raised and the Canes have morphed from the hunters to the hunted, Haith's message remains the same: Play with an edge and finish in the top half of the conference.

It won't be easy. The ACC is tougher. Last year, 65 percent of the conference's starters returned. This year, 73 percent of them are back -- including all five at likely No. 1-ranked North Carolina and a very young and talented Wake Forest team which is on the rise. Four, meanwhile, are back at UM, but also at Duke and Virginia Tech. There are plenty of other dangerous looking teams, too.

AccFlorida State was picked to finish 10th Sunday by the media after finishing 19-15 last season and losing three backcourt stars. But the Noles look a lot like UM did two years ago when injuries ravaged their team, nobody picked them to do anything and they came out and stunned a lot of people the following season. FSU has one of the conference's top guards in Toney Douglas, a big frontcourt and a 6-9 swingman in Chris Singleton who was the player of the year in Georgia. The point is, any team in the ACC can be dangerous on any given night and nearly every team in the conference has a player that can win a game on his own.

As much hype as the Canes will receive over the next few weeks, you can worry about it getting to their heads. But the reality is, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. Hungry and humble are the words Haith and his players kept uttering Sunday. And it looks like they mean it.

All right. I knew I said I wouldn't have anything else for you from the ACC Media Days. But I lied. Here are some more notes I just don't want to get stale.

> Frank Haith not only will have the most experienced team he's ever coached at UM this season with four seniors (Jimmy Graham, Brian Asbury, McClinton and Lance Hurdle) and a roster featuring a combined 226 starts, but probably his most talented and deepest team ever, too. Aside from the seniors, he has junior big man Dwayne Collins (40 career starts), junior guard James Dews (33 starts), junior forward and Arkansas transfer Cyrus McGowan, redshirt freshman center Julius Gamble, redshirt junior forward Adrian Thomas, sophomore point guard Eddie Rios and freshman swingman DeQuan Jones who are likely ready and able to play this season. That's a group of 11, not including freshman power forward Reggie Johnson (6-9, 290) who like Gamble will likely need a season to adjust physically to the college game.

Jack_mcclinton_2Haith said Sunday he'd like to rotate nine and promised "Jack McClinton is not coming off the floor." Who the other eight are remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure its a safe better Graham, Hurdle, McGowan, Collins, Dews, Asbury and Gamble will all play. While Haith said Jones (6-6, 190) is going to play, he said his star recruit swingman still has a long way to go to get better on defense. Haith, whose defense improved to second-best in the ACC last year in field goal defense, isn't going to put someone on the floor if they can't play defense.

> Meanwhile, Haith keeps telling us yet again how improved Adrian Thomas is -- especially shooting. In a scrimmage Saturday night, Haith said Thomas made 7 of 10 three-point attempts and said he envisions Thomas in a role where he can play in the post and step out and shoot the three. Haith said Thomas' two-years on the sidelines contributed to his better shooting. "When all you can do is shoot," he said. "You are going to get a lot better at it."

> Haith said ultimately the two biggest keys to his team's success going forward are the point and the post. "If Lance continues to grow and we can continue to get consistency from Dwayne Collins production wise, the sky is the limit for this team," Haith said.

> Haith said Sunday Dwayne Collins has had the best preseason he's ever had at UM and is in the best physical shape he's ever been, too. He said he's been stressing consistency to Collins all summer and he's responded. He said if Collins can become a go-to double-figure scorer in the post "it would help our team immensely."

> Hurdle missed last week's practice with an ankle injury and is expected to miss another week this week and likely UM's exhibition opener. Haith said Hurdle's injury wasn't a bad high ankle sprain "just a small sprain." "The thing I love about Lance is he can guard people," Haith said. "If we can just avoid the foul trouble, then he'll really be able to help us. He'll have taken another step up."

Jimmy_graham> As for Jimmy Graham, expect him to be in the starting lineup at the start of the season for the Canes but for Haith to closely monitor the situation. Haith said he loves the energy Graham brings off the bench and could eventually move him back into a sixth-man role. "He's scoring more and finishing more around the basket, which is what we really like," Haith said. "He's always been a great defender and I think that's what we want him to understand who is."

> Look for Haith to try tinkering with his lineup plenty early on including going big at times with McClinton at the point alongside Jones, Asbury, Collins and Graham.

> The Canes play one of the country's most challenging schedules this year with a trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam, a December trip to Kentucky, a home date with NIT champion Ohio State and the usual tough ACC matchups including a trip to likely No. 1 North Carolina on Jan. 17 (I'm told it will be the first ESPN College Gameday night game of the year). There will be plenty of big TV appearances. Haith said Sunday there could be plenty more in 2009-2010. He said there have been some early talks with Tennessee for a home-and-home series and "a few other Top 25 teams." He said he would also like to renew a series with St. John's. UM likes to recruit the New York City area.

Collins_hurdle> If you find yourself wondering this season why Lance Hurdle, Julian Gamble, and Dwayne Collins look a little different this season, there is an explanation. Haith told his players this off season he wants them to look more presentable and each has responded on their own accord by getting rid of their cornrows/braids. Both Hurdle and Collins grew out their hair this summer and trimmed it to a more modern-looking fade cut. They aren't the only guys sporting new looks. Sophomore point guard Eddie Rios, who went with the Mr. Clean look last season, has grown his hair back and is likely to sport a beard this season.

> The ACC is making a strong push for the NCAA to pass legislation that would limit the amount of time college basketball players have to decide if they are going to enter the NBA Draft or return to school. Currently, college players have been allowed to enter their name into the draft, participate in NBA sponsored workouts for almost two months and still have time to come back to school.

The ACC believes the rule should limit that time to between 7 and 10 days after national signing day in April. There are several reasons -- one because the NBA spends the entire college basketball season scouting and two because the extra period of time puts college programs in a recruiting pickle. If a player doesn't decide for sure he's leaving until the last minute in June, coaches are usually left without a player to fill that scholarship.

"10 days?," Boston College guard Tyrese Rice said when posed with the idea Sunday. "That's a tough process. You want to sit down and think about it and talk to as many people as you can, get as much feedback as you can. I just don't feel like 10 days is enough to take care of that kind of business."

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton was part of the ad-hoc committee put together by the ACC, along with associate commissioner Karl Hicks to discuss the proposed plan. Hicks said Sunday the earliest it could go into effect is not until the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season.

> As many of you probably know by now, the NCAA has moved the 3-point line back in men's basketball from 19-feet, 9-inches to 20-feet, 9-inches in attempt to open up more space down low. As Canes fans, there is no need to worry about Jack McClinton. He's hit some in the past from 25-feet out. The guys you should probably worry, according to Boston College's Tyrese Rice, are the big men, who step out and try to hit threes.

"I don't think it changes anything for guards," Rice said. "If you can hit it from 19-9, you can hit it from 20-9. I think it will affect the bigs that shoot the trailer three, things like that. Because that one step is like five steps back for them."

> Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn't been able to get the Blue Devils past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 2005. But don't think for a second its wearing him down. Sunday, he talked at length about how reinvigorated he's become since leading the United States to the gold medal in Beijing this summer. "I'm not basketballed out," Krzyzewski said. "I'm not tired at all. I'm more excited to teach."

Coach_kDuke returns ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Singler and should be better in the post with the addition of 6-10 freshman forward Miles Plumlee and the development of 7-1, 260-pound center Brian Zoubek. Last year, Duke was often dominated in the paint and had to win its games by shooting well from the outside. Gerald Henderson said Sunday Duke won't be that team anymore.

As for Kyzyzewski, he talked about the rise of the Canes and gave all the credit to Haith. "He's an outstanding coach. But he's also a good guy and a team player," Krzyzewski said. "I think Frank is a guy kids would really like to play for. He's putting his stamp [on the program]. He's a really good hire for Miami. The school itself is a really good school. But he has one of the better teams in the country right now. He understands he was developing a program and not just building a team for a season."

> OK, enough basketball for now. You'll get your football fix tomorrow with my Wake Forest progress report.

Canes picked to finish fourth in ACC

ATLANTA -- ACC Media Day just wrapped up here at the Marriott Marquis and your Miami Hurricanes have been tabbed to finish as the fourth-best team in the conference this year. Last year, UM was picked last and surprised everyone but coach Frank Haith in finishing fifth at the end of the regular season. UM completed a 23-11 season by losing to Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Now, the expectations are much higher. I've got tons of interviews with various players and coaches I'll Jack_mcclintonupload later tonight. But the most intriguing thing I took away from today was just how much of a superstar Jack McClinton has become. No, North Carolina's golden boy, Tyler Hansbrough, wasn't here. And yes, he was once again tabbed the ACC's Preseason Conference Player of the Year. But nobody might have gotten more love today than McClutch, who along with Hansbrough, Boston College's Tyrese Rice, UNC's Ty Lawson and Duke's Gerald Henderson were selected to the Preseason All-Conference Team.

McClinton has made a lot of friends in the ACC and impressed a lot of coaches and opponents with what he's been able to accomplish in his two years at UM. Maryland guard Greivis Vazquez who said he used to hate McClinton because he would kill the Terps, but said Jack and him have become close friends after being roommates at Chris Paul's summer camp and now calls Jack "my favorite player in the league." Rice told me he was blown away with McClinton's work ethic when they two attended several camps together. "I thought I worked hard," Rice said. "But this guy will never choose party time or chill time if he can be out on the court getting better. He's so focused, he's not going to let those guys slip no matter what their ranked."

McClinton was his usual humble self when we talked to him this morning about the expectations being placed on him and the team. It's my thought that as long as he stays healthy and doesn't lose his voice, you won't see a drop off with this team. He simply won't let it happen.

Anyway, I don't want to drown you with basketball talk considering the football Canes are hot right now. I'm not sure many of you would care to talk hoops. But I'll have more basketball to share with you as we get closer to the start of the season on Nov. 15. Besides, UM's Basketball Media Day is tomorrow -- and I don't want you to already get sick of a basketball second-helping.

Here's how the 40-writers voted for the preseason teams.

Predicted Order of Finish: 1. North Carolina (40 first place votes) 480 total points; 2. Duke (436); 3. Wake Forest (354); 4. Miami (344); 5. Clemson (306); 6. Virginia Tech (298); 7. Maryland (192); 8. Georgia Tech (186); 9. N.C. State (179); 10. Florida State (145); 11. Boston College (123); 12. Virginia (77). Manny's ballot: 1. UNC; 2. Duke; 3. Miami; 4. Wake Forest; 5. Virginia Tech; 6. Clemson; 7. Florida State; 8. Maryland; 9. Georgia Tech; 10. N.C. State; 11. Virginia; 12. Boston College.

Rookie of the Year: Al Farouq-Aminu, Wake Forest (18); Sylven Landesberg, Virginia (4); DeQuan Jones, Miami (2); Tony Woods, Wake Forest (2); Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech (2); 7 others tied with one vote. Manny's ballot: DeQuan Jones, Miami.

October 25, 2008

UM-Wake Forest thoughts

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't a dominant performance. But Saturday's 16-10 win against Wake Forest at Dolphin Stadium was the third consecutive victory for this young University of Miami football team, which is starting put the struggles this program has endured over the last three to four years in the rear-view mirror.

Last week, it was backup quarterback Jacory Harris who keyed UM's turnaround against Duke. This week, it was the other side of the quarterback partnership who ignited the Canes, starter Robert Marve. The red-shirt freshman finally got the offense going in the third quarter with a 48-yard run that setup the go-ahead touchdown. UM's defense, which was shredded on the ground to the tune of 116 yards in the first quarter, buckled down in the second half and didn't allow Wake to move the football with regularity anymore. Meanwhile, kicker Matt Bosher (with the exception of one hiccup) had an exceptional day. It all added up to a third straight victory for the Canes, who beat an experienced team that has won plenty in this conference the past several seasons.

Robert_marve> PLAY OF THE GAME: Marve's 48-yard third quarter run. Until he faked the handoff to Graig Cooper, turned the corner, juked a defensive back and raced up field, Wake Forest had basically kept the Canes in check. Marve's long run setup his own 1-yard plunge and go-ahead touchdown with 8:03 to play in the third quarter.

> IT WAS OVER WHEN: With UM leading 16-10 and trying to run out the clock, Marve scrambled on third and 10 and found Thearon Collier open downfield for a 30-yard gain to midfield. All UM had to do was pick up one more first down to run out the clock.

Offense - QB Robert Marve:
For all the struggles he had coming into this game, Marve rebounded by making the play of the game, the clincher and scoring UM's only touchdown. He finished 11 of 20 for 153 yards and ran for 56 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Honorable mention: WR Travis Benjamin. The Blur led the Canes with 72 yards receiving on four catches and his 52-yard catch in the first half setup UM's first field goal. He also hauled in a key third down pass in the second half along the sideline.

Defense - DL Adewale Ojomo: The redshirt freshmen is starting to fill in nicely for the Adewale_ojomoinjured Eric Moncur. Last week against Duke, he had UM's only sack. Saturday against Wake, he had six tackles, 1.5 sacks and an important forced fumble which led to UM's last field goal. He also shared a huge sack in the first half when Wake Forest was driving and he stopped their drive at the UM 40 by bringing down Riley Skinner on fourth down. Honorable mention: LB Romeo Davis. Romeo hadn't played much in a while, but was a key cog in stopping the run in the second half for the Canes. He finished with five tackles and made some punishing tackles as Wake tried to run the football up the gut.

Special Teams - K Matt Bosher:Yes, he shanked a punt in the fourth quarter and averaged only 36 yards a punt, but he made all the kicks he had to -- including a career long 52-yard field goal which had yards to spare. Bosher finished 3-of-3 on field goal attempts and made his extra point. ]

> Shannon has shown himself to be quite the gambler this season. Today, it didn't payoff. But I liked the chances he took. After UM scored to make it 13-10, he called for an onside kick and Bosher delivered a beauty. UM just didn't recover it even though it should have. He also decided to go for it on fourth down twice. The Canes couldn't convert.

> Sam Shields is starting to make plays for this team again. Not only did he make a nice catch and run in the third quarter, but he likely had the second biggest play of the game on the second half kickoff. Shields took a backwards pitch from Travis Benjamin and raced up field to the Wake Forest 45. He then took a shot on the sideline that drew an extra 15 yards to give UM great field position and to give the Canes a sense of momentum.

> After getting just 10 combined carries last week at Duke, Javarris James and Graig Cooper got eight more chances Saturday, but didn't produce a whole lot. The duo finished with a combined 41 yards and couldn't generate enough movement.

> What also impressed me a ton today was how physical UM played after getting whipped in the first quarter at the line of scrimmage. Wake Forest was the older, more experienced team. Yet, it was Miami that was handing out the licks in the second half. Laron Byrd had a catch where he took a shot, bounced off it and left linebacker Alton Curry on the grass writhing in pain. So much for the idea Miami was weak in the weight room. They were much more physical than team, older and more experienced than them.

Gameday blog: UM 16, Wake Forest 10 (F)

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.

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.WakeforestlogoWake 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.

Rileyskinner 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.

Buy' em

Glenn_cook> 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.

Sell 'em
>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.

October 23, 2008

Freshmen have officially taken over

When I first met Kayne Farquharson two years ago when he was signing with the University of Miami out of El Camino Junior College, I knew the Hurricanes were getting someone who loved the limelight. One of the first things Kayne asked me was how soon he might be able to find his way onto the front page of the Sports section.

KayneFast-forward to Wednesday and Kayne was asking the same question again after seeing the front-page story our Susan Miller Degnan wrote regarding the record true seven freshmen who have found their way into the end zone this season. Kayne tried his best to plead his own case for a front-page story: "I look good on front of The Herald," he told a group of reporters. "Put me in front of the Versace Mansion on Ocean Drive, the only mansion on Ocean Drive. I could just stand in front of the gates like this [striking a pose] with my Hurricanes jersey on. There could be a drop-top Phantom with 24s, an orange one with big rims. Yeah, I like that."

Truth is Kayne, I'm not sure you'll ever find your way back onto the front page. The face of this team -- Kayne_farquharsonwhether the veterans like it or not -- has slowly become the monster freshmen class brought in to replace you. Over the past three weeks, we've seen the transformation. It started with Travis Benjamin and Sean Spence's big days against Florida State, continued with Brandon Harris' move to the starting spot at corner, Aldarius Johnson's 8-catch performance and Jacory Harris' magical second-half rally against Duke. Think about this for a second. Since Robert Marve's last-second heave skipped off Kayne's fingers and was intercepted by a North Carolina defensive back, UM's sophomore, junior and senior class has combined to account for 25 catches for 163 yards and 1 Chris Zellner touchdown. The freshmen? 30 catches for 379 yards and 7 TDs. Take away sophomore Graig Cooper (12 catches, 37 yards) from the veterans and the gap in production between the vets and young guys is even wider.

The good news is there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of jealousy. And that means Kayne (1 catch for 23 yards since he's near-heroic catch against UNC) still gets to be Kayne. Or, as I'm now going to start referring to him, Kayne Ocho-Dos. Farquharson once again put on a show for the media Wednesday in what has become his weekly ritual in an attempt to play the role of attention-starved receiver (the Canes' version of Chad Ocho-Cinco or Terrell Owens). I got to admit, I laughed at some of Kayne's antics. But I'm sure the coaching staff might get in his ear for being too silly. At one point, he even asked UM SID Kerwin Lonzo when he might get his own show. Lonzo basically ignored him. At least it was entertaining. If you want to listen to the exchange, click on the audio link here.

> One of the best emails I got this week was from loyal Eye On The U reader Chris Cox, who asked me why the media is stressing how the Canes are ranked 102nd in total offense (307.9 ypg) instead of pointing out how UM's scoring offense is ranked 30th nationally (32.6 ppg) and second overall in the ACC. After all, all coach Randy Shannon has ever said throughout his career is that all he cares about is scoring more points than the other team. It got me to doing some homework.

While UM would obviously like to pile up more yardage and do better on first downs (they currently rank 10th in the ACC at a 34.3 percent conversion clip), there are plenty of examples of teams with higher-ranked total offenses and fewer wins than UM. Southern Miss (2-5) is ranked 17th in total offense with 444 yards a game. 0-7 North Texas? They're 50th in total offense. On the other side of the coin, there are about four good teams who have an offense that produces less yardage than UM -- Virginia (4-3) is 104th, Auburn (4-3) is 107th, Virginia Tech (5-2) is 110th and Vanderbilt (5-2) is 118th. Meanwhile, there isn't a team with a losing record or even .500 ranked higher than UM when it comes to scoring points.

> Injuries obviously always play a big role week-to-week and one you might not know about heading into Saturday's game happened to Wake Forest center Trey Baily, who suffered a broken ankle against Maryland
last weekend and has since undergone season-ending surgery. The injury has forced the Deacons to shuffle their offensive line including moving left guard Russell Nenon to center and true freshman Joe Looney to left guard. If Looney starts against UM Saturday, he would become the first true freshman to start for Wake Forest since Oct. 22, 2005.

> As for the Canes' injuries, look for linebacker Jordan Futch, defensive tackle Josh Holmes and cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke to return this week. All three have been listed as probable. Receiver Leonard Hankerson is likely to miss his third straight game. Also doubtful is sophomore safety Joseph Nicholas. Running back Lee Chambers has been ruled out.

October 21, 2008

QB drama starting to irk Canes

In his five years at the University of Miami, offensive lineman Chris Rutledge has not been someone to make a whole lot not of noise when it comes to dealing with the media. The big 6-5, 311-pound right tackle has been more like a big teddy bear -- quiet and cuddly. But it should tell you just how tired it appears this UM football team is becoming with the quarterback drama developing publicly about Robert Marve and Jacory Harris when even Rutledge is voicing his displeasure with the questions being asked of his QBs.

Jacory_harris2Sitting about 20 feet away from where reporters were interviewing Harris after practice Tuesday, Rutledge started his mockery of the media: "Hey Jacory are you tired of being the backup to Robert Marve?," Rutledge shouted. "Jacory shouldn't you be starting? Jacory do you get mad when you go back to the bench? Hey Jacory? Jacory?" A collection of teammates sitting next to Rutledge got a nice chuckle out of the whole performance. But the truth is, this quarterback drama is going to become a lot like a tired joke if it isn't already.

UM coach Randy Shannon started fielding questions about his quarterbacks during his Tuesday press conference before he basically reached his limit and told reporters he was going to put the questions to rest with one long answer (below). He followed it up by telling the media "You all can call their parents, too. I don't care. Do what you got to do to get your story."

Robert_marveShannon doesn't like the questions, but he has to realize they are going to keep coming as long as Marve and Harris share the position. While he's obviously nowhere near reaching a decision as to who will eventually be THE GUY in the future, we at least got some insight as to how he feels about the drama being stirred up by the media -- and how happy he feels no one is questioning him anymore as to why Jacory was getting playing time in the first place.

"Early in the season people were talking about Robert, don't play Jacory when Marve is doing well," Shannon said Tuesday. "But it's like I said before, this is a partnership of two quarterbacks that are going to help us to win games. I told you before we're going to play Jacory because we're going to need him.

Randy_shannon"To me, this is no different than Javarris James and Graig Cooper, Laron Byrd and Aldarius Johnson, Davon Johnson and Travis Benjamin, Allen Bailey and Andrew Smith. They are all in the process of helping us win games at the University of Miami, are young guys, are going to make mistakes, but if we all in this football program understand what we're doing with this football team we'll be fine. People outside want to make a controversy here, a controversy there, but there is no controversy. This is where we're at with this football program."

Jason_foxFor their part, Jacory and Marve really are putting the team first. Their coaches aren't just saying it, their teammates are too. Offensive tackle Jason Fox told me Tuesday he was worried after the Duke game Marve might be upset with seeing the bench for the second consecutive game, but was pleasantly surprised to see Marve happy the Canes had won. "I just wanted to make sure he wasn't down or anything because you know that's just the natural reaction, Fox said. "But he was excited we won the game. He just said I have to go back and work harder. The coaches still have all the faith in him and so does this team and he's still going to play and do a great job for us."

Across the board, other teammates backed Fox's claim. Receiver LaRon Byrd admitted Tuesday he worried there would be problems when he first arrived at UM, but says Marve and Harris have made the most of it. "I thought there was going to be a battle, but they're like brothers," Byrd said. "They watch film together. They study together. They teach each other things. Marve has been here a year longer and he'll teach Jacory things. Jacory will then come to us and say this how you to need to run things, your routes, things like that. So we all work together. I don't think its going to be a problem. LSU did it with Matt Flynn and Ryan Perriloux and they won a national championship. Why can't we do it here?"

Marve was pressed on the QB issue plenty Tuesday. So, was Harris. Both keep tossing out the company line. Marve said "As long as we keep winning I'm down for it." Harris said: "We're just trying to win games and whoever is in and taking control and helping us win games, we're both satisfied with that. We just want to win. We just want a ring to have on our finger and just have fun and live life."

Jacory_harrisWhy is it so hard for us to really believe that? Harris probably said it best Tuesday. "I understand what people are saying because before coming in I used to think like that, this is nothing but a competition, I want to start, things like that," Harris said. "But as you come in and see that your playing with somebody that can also lead this team to victory, you also humble yourself, you notice that your not bigger than the team. You aren't the only person that can do the job for the team. And that's how I kind of learned me and Robert, we can do this together. And that's what we basically began doing."

The question ultimately is if Marve and Harris will finish it together. The odds are long and stacked against them, especially for two guys as competitive as they are. But for now, here's a plea from me to the rest of the media to just let these guys play out their freshmen seasons. Nobody is going anywhere right now. Let's worry about it when the season is over. The questions are starting to become about as bad as a tired joke.

> Saturday against Duke, Miami's receivers caught more passes than they had in any game this season and probably had their best day as a collective group too. The reason? They're growing up and they aren't giving away their routes anymore. Last week, offensive coordinator Patrick Nix said of UM's young receivers like Travis Benjamin were lifting their shoulders and giving "tells" to defensive backs about the routes they were running. It appears Nix and receivers coach Aubrey Hill have made breakthroughs in the film room.

Laron_byrd"We realized it every Sunday when we'd come in and watch film," Byrd said. "We'd sit down and say man I'm not getting no catches, the quarterbacks are not throwing me the ball. But then, we'd sit down and focus in on ourselves we'd realize I ran this route wrong, I could have had a catch on this route. Coach Shannon would tell us y'all think your open, but your not, you need to get some separation. The defense would tell us the same things like 'you guys are good, but we're still on you. 'We were kind of sloppy on the little things. Finishing the top of the route, bursting off the route, little things like that. We still have to work on them."

> Shannon said Tuesday he likes the fact the Canes do not have a go-to receiver and a different guy every week who emerges as a lead target. But there's a reason freshman Aldarius Johnson now leads the team with 20 catches for 195 yards. He's not only physically imposing at 6-2, 205 pounds and probably the best receiver at squaring his shoulders to make the catch on the team, but Miami's offense has been tailored to his strength -- those short passes where UM receivers have to muscle their way to the ball and for yardage.

Aldarius_johnsonThe Hurricanes simply aren't throwing the ball very deep downfield. Aside from Graig Cooper's 51-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin, Miami's longest completions of the season have been a 36-yard catch and run by Dedrick Epps, the 29-yard strike Kayne Farquharson hauled in late against North Carolina, the 26-yard TD pass Thearon Collier scored on against Texas A&M and the 27-yard catch and run Aldarius Johnson had late against FSU. The rest of UM's completions have been 20 yards and under.

"I know that nobody can really stick [Aldarius] unless they know he's running the go route and they're playing off," Jacory Harris said Tuesday. "Aldarius is not that fast, but on the other hand, Aldarius is the guy that is going to make that for sure catch. He just knows how to adjust the ball."

> That being said, "Glue Hands" has still been balling lately. Despite going without a catch against UCF, he's had 13 catches in his last three games. Shannon said Tuesday he's taken another step up in his development and Hill said its because he's now learned how to fight for balls -- something he excelled at in high school -- at the college level. Shannon said Johnson, who has often been compared to former Cane Andre Johnson for his physical play, size and soft hands, is probably "a tad step slower" than the former first round pick was when he was a freshman. Johnson took a page from Denver quarterback Jay Cutler (who said he has a better arm than John Elway) and said he believes he'll be faster than Andre when he's a junior.

Andre_johnsonThe good thing is, Aldarius will get plenty of encouragement from Andre to be better than him. Aldarius met Andre when he was in the seventh grade when he used to come to UM to watch him practice and the two have maintained a friendship for awhile. Aldarius said Andre will often call him on gameday to give him words of encouragement. "He calls me and tells me to have a great game," Aldarius said Tuesday. "He called me the week before against Central Florida. He just calls me his little brother, that's it."

Word of advice, feel free to go out and buy AJ's No. 4 jersey. He said while he wanted to wear No. 5 like Andre when he first got to UM, he's going to stick with No. 4.

> Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said in his Tuesday press conference the team is likely to get its best offensive weapon back for Saturday -- kicker Sam Swank, the school's all-time leading scorer and one of the nation's top placekickers and punters. Swank has missed the last two games with a quadriceps strain. He's definitely a game-changer in the field position battle and a tremendous asset for Wake if he plays.

> I got the sense from Jason Fox Tuesday one of the biggest hurdles for sophomore left guard Orlando Franklin has been keeping down his weight. Franklin (6-7, 334) has been seen several times this season with the oxygen mask on between series. He might be able to play more when he gets in even better shape. "When he keeps his weight down he's able to fly around and really crush people," Fox said. "He's really been picking it up lately... he's actually a pretty intelligent player. It's nice when you can play next to a big physical guy, who is also intelligent."

> Even though UM ran the no-huddle effectively against Duke, don't expect for the Canes to employ it into their offense permanently, at least if you believe what Shannon said Tuesday. "Everyone would like to say let's run no huddle, run two minute. But [defenses] make changes," Shannon said. "When that happens and you don't see the changes and start to get some blitzes, coverage, you can't relay it back to the guys. They're gone, and that's what gets you in a little trouble with that."

> Shannon explained the reason Javarris James (3 carries for 13 yards) got very few carries was "because his foot was numb." Look for more JJ this week against a good Wake Forest defense.

I know there was a lot to digest in this blog, but if you have room for dessert, I've uploaded all the audio interviews I collected from Tuesday. Among the features on the menu. We got safety Ryan Hill talking about how the switch from receiver to starting safety has gone. We got safety Anthony Reddick chiming on just how cool a dude Hill is (he's got a Dodge Magnum tricked out with Canes colors inside and on his rims (black and orange). Marve and Jacory fielding those tough QB questions. Byrd, Travis Benjamin and Aldarius on turning the corner. Jason Fox on everything -- and more.

> By the way, I'm not sure if you guys saw last weeks first episode of Getting To Know The U with Jason Fox, but Herald.com reporter Mollie Rose and I will have a sitdown with Chavez Grant tomorrow to talk about his life off the field. Let me know what you thought of our first take.

October 20, 2008

Duke progress report

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 Jacory_harris_2Marve'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 progLaron_byrd_versus_dukeress 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 Aldarius_johnson 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 Darryl_sharpton 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 Chavez_grantreceivers 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 Randy_shannonthe 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.

October 18, 2008

Gameday blog: UM 49, Duke 31 (F)

Huge, huge, huge, huge win for the Canes today. Trailing 24-14 in the third quarter, the Canes score 35 unanswered points behind freshman quarterback Jacory Harris, who finished 18 of 28 for 182 yards, four touchdowns and 2 INTs.

Jacory_harris2> There's no doubt the big story now becomes does coach Randy Shannon send Jacory back to the bench in favor of starter Robert Marve. Shannon has said all along Marve would be the starter all year. But the facts are facts and Jacory is the reason UM won today. What is your take? Should Jacory replace Marve as the starter? I believe he should. He's playing better right now than Marve.

> That's one story. The other: Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix had the bounce-back game he was sorely looking for. Despite a shaky first half, he made the proper adjustments and even threw in a few wrinkles to get the offense going. The no-huddle attack in the second half was huge and set Duke back. Do the Canes now go with the no-huddle from here on out? And, is Nix now free of the wrath of Canes fans? Well, maybe for a week.

> Go-to receiver? How about freshman Aldarius Johnson. He caught 8 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown and definitely showed why he and Harris were such a great tandem in high school. Their chemistry was amazing and basically fueled UM's comeback.

> How about UM's defense? They made the key stops when needed in the second half. Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis made some plays in the first half, but the defense stepped up big-time in the second half and got the pressure it needed to knock Lewis and his receivers off their game. They also were good on third down, stopping Duke on 11 of 17 attempts.

> On a side note, UM improved to 1-2 in the ACC. Also good news, North Carolina lost to Virginia to fall to 1-2 in the conference. That's the help the Canes needed to try and leapfrog the Tar Heels in the division. Virginia Tech (2-0) and Georgia Tech (3-1) are still ahead. But UM controls its own fate against those teams as well as Virginia (2-1). All the Canes need is for the Hokies to drop a game tonight to BC and UM can win its way into the ACC title game.

DukeIn case you didn't know, I was not on the travel squad for Duke. Susan Miller Degnan and Jeff Shain will be there for us today. But I was out at the BankUnited Center this morning with about 150 fans and a few other reporters for the Hoopfest. Here's a link to the audio interviews from today with Frank Haith, Katie Meier, Jack McClinton, Dwayne Collins, Brian Asbury and Jimmy Graham.

A couple of quick notes from today's Hoopsfest:
Jack_mcclinton> Jack McClinton talked about winning a national championship. McClinton really believes the Canes can make a deep run with this team. Jimmy Graham told me McClinton is even better than last season. "I feel like Jack can just continue what he did last year and just do it the whole season from the beginning tip down in that tournament that we have to go to and the NCAA tournament," Graham said. "Those last couple of games, he was penetrating a lot more and doing his little flutter deal a lot more. I feel like your going to see a lot more of that this year because people are playing his shot. He's going to take what they give him this year."

Jimmy_graham> As for Graham, he wants to be lighter this season. He said he's starting this season at 250 pounds instead of 265 so he can be more athletic. We asked him if UM will be OK this season replacing Anthony King and Ray Hicks with Cyrus McGowan, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson. "Julian Gamble is a big man. He's got a big wide body, attacks the glass," Graham said. "Cyrus McGowan is going to be a great player. He's a 6-9 guy who can shoot the three. He plays defense like I do. It's fun playing with him. King and Ray were great players for us. Cyrus is definitely going to help fill that gap and so is Julian. I feel like we have the same strength as last year, if not a little better."

> The Canes have been practicing for two days and a few guys are already banged up. Collins strained his groin Friday and bruised his hip with a fall Saturday. Guard James Dews had to be given an IV by Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue after he cramped up Saturday. He came back and did sign autographs for fans. Redshirt freshman center Julian Gamble was injured Friday and was on crutches Saturday. Haith said he doesn't believe the injury will be extensive.

Dequan_jones> Freshman swingman DeQuan Jones is receiving high praise from his teammates. Collins said he's having fun playing above the rim with Jones, who was called by McClinton and Asbury as a great finisher around the basket. "DeQuan is a beast. He's real athletic. As a freshman, he dunks a lot," Collins said. "You know me. I'm into dunking. That's all we do. He's mainly on my team in scrimmages. Yesterday he threw me an alley-oop. I returned the favor and threw him one."

October 17, 2008

Duke Keys to the Game, Market Watch

I won't be at Wallace Wade Stadium for Saturday's game against the Blue Devils, but I'll still leave you with a preview of the game with the keys to victory for the Canes and of our market watch.

> Get pressure on Thaddeus Lewis:
One of the reason's UM was able to escape with a win last year against ThaddeuslewisDuke was because the Canes sacked Lewis nine times including on fourth down with Duke at the UM 30-yard line and the game on the line. We all know UM's front seven has played well against the run for the most part (except that FSU game) and ranks 16th overall nationally. The two problems with Miami's front seven has been giving up big plays to scrambling quarterbacks and not getting to the quarterback enough. The Canes had five sacks last week and appear like they're doing a better job with a healthy Allen Bailey. But this week, it's going to be imperative for Miami to not only get to Lewis, but to make sure he doesn't sneak away for first downs and big gains when he decides to run. In its 27-0 loss to Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets did a great job shutting down Lewis and the Duke passing game and getting off the field on third down. UM can't revert to what it did against FSU and North Carolina and expect to win. Duke has given up 11 sacks this season, a little over two a game.

> Establish the running game: When Miami has run the football successfully this season, Javarrisjamesthey've won. The numbers don't lie. In wins, UM has averaged 37 attempts and 170 yards on the ground. In losses, 28 attempts for 82 yards. Duke returns 10 of 11 starters on its defense from a year ago, but the weakness is its run defense, which ranks 81st nationally (161.2 ypg) and next-to-last in the ACC. Javarris James will be back this week and will help a UM running game that sorely needs someone to provide support for Graig Cooper. If James can, then Miami can win this game.

> Win the turnover battle: Robert Marve's seven interceptions in his last three games have been well documented. What hasn't is that UM still isn't creating turnovers on defense. Miami recovered a key fumble on special teams and blocked a punt last week, but dropped a pair of possible interceptions. Ultimately, this defense has made just two interceptions this season (Sean Spence and Bruce Johnson) and recovered three fumbles -- the other two were on special teams. Duke, meanwhile, is a team that thrive on turnovers. In their three wins, the Blue Devils have recovered four fumbles and picked off six passes and won the turnover battle convincingly.

Buy 'em
> Javarris James, running back:
Baby J isn't 100 percent, but could be the hero in this game for the Canes, who have sorely missed his running between the tackles. Before he got hurt, JJ was looking as good as he ever has a Cane. Miami sorely needs someone to take pressure of the Canes' quarterbacks. Graig Cooper and JJ are those guys.

Chavez_grant> Chavez Grant, cornerback: Nobody might know Thaddeus Lewis better than Grant, who was his teammate for years in Pop Warner ball and as freshmen at Booker T. Washington High. Grant has a 5-0 record going up against his old buddy (between high school and college) and has emerged as the real leader in Miami's secondary. Although he's been moved to the slot at nickelback in favor of freshman Brandon Harris, Grant is likely to be the guy pointing out where Duke's offense will be going in the passing game most of the afternoon. Last week, Grant called out UCF's final play before it happened and it helped Darryl Sharpton, who batted the pass away on fourth down. Duke will often line up leading receiver Eron Riley all over the field. Look for Chavez to be the guy who draws him the most often.

On The Bubble
> Robert Marve, quarterback: Mr. Marve has had major struggles lately and needs a bounce back game in the worst way. His last two outings against FSU and UCF produced these numbers -- 25 completions on 59 attempts, 196 yards, 1 TD and 5 INTs. UM has been throwing the ball 49 percent of the time since Javarris James went down compared to the 58 percent it was when he was healthy. Look for fewer throws from Marve, especially safer ones. If not, we may see Jacory Harris in the game again in the second half.

> Patrick Nix, offensive coordinator: Speaking of bounce back games, Nix needs one maybe even worse than his quarterback. His old team, Georgia Tech, laid the blueprint on how to beat the Dukies two weeks ago. It's called run the football effectively and have it set up the playaction pass. Duke is an improved team. But the Blue Devils don't nearly have the speed and talent North Carolina and FSU has. Miami's offense can't be bad on third down again and can't send Matt Bosher out to punt 11 times again like it did a week ago.

Sell 'em
> DeMarcus Van Dyke, cornerback:
Last week, I listed Sam Shields here after his costly interception against FSU basically took him out of the receiver rotation altogether. Here's to hoping the same thing happens for DVD. Shields bounced back with a big fumble recovery on special teams against UCF. DVD isn't making the plays right now in the secondary, dropping an interception against FSU and getting beat for the winning touchdown against UNC. Shannon told us he's basically only in there on Dime situations. Not what the Canes were hoping for after what looked like a promising freshman season.

> Jermaine McKenzie, receiver: I don't think he'll ever see the field this year at this point.

> My prediction: I don't have one this week. I really am completely torn. It smells so much like the Blue Devils are due their big win against UM, especially after coming so close the past two years and considering how bad UM has looked even in its win last week at UCF. Honestly, this game could go a lot of different ways.

Hoopfest '08 on Saturday

Call it Morning Madness, not Midnight Madness.

Jack_mcclintonThe University of Miami men's and women's basketball teams will kickoff the start of practice together Saturday at BankUnited Center with a 30-minute open session for fans between 10 a.m. and noon. Hurricanes Hoopfest '08 will feature an autograph session in which fans will be able to meet players and have the opportunity to select their seats for both the women’s and men’s basketball seasons.

Head coaches Katie Meier and Frank Haith will address the crowd and every fan in attendance will receive an exclusive Hoopfest poster and will have the first look at BankUnited Center’s new court design.

The men return four starters including All-ACC First Team selection Jack McClinton from a team which went 23-11 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. Saturday will be the first opportunity for fans to see highly-touted newcomers DeQuan Jones and Reggie Johnson. The team's first exhibition game will be Nov. 1 against Florida Memorial.

The women’s basketball team brings in a top-25 recruiting class this season, which includes a total of five newcomers. Captain LaToya Cunningham, who is the top returning scorer from a year ago, will lead UM against an impressive ACC schedule that features eight teams that played in the postseason and six that advanced to the NCAA tournament.

> I'll be there tomorrow to cover the event -- and not in Durham with the football team. I'll also be in Atlanta next week for the men's ACC basketball meetings. So, no gameday blog from me this week or next week. I'll watch the games on TV and provide you with my thoughts afterward.

> As for the preseason hype surrounding the men's team, it looks more and more like they will begin the season ranked in the Top 25. Here's a look at some preseason rankings from the experts: Dick Vitale's Top 40 (UM is 21st), Andy Katz (UM is 12th) and the Sporting News (UM is 14th).

October 16, 2008

Whose eating at Bailey's? Not me

What goes good with possum? Well, if you ask Canes defensive end Allen Bailey, he'll tell you just about anything.

"It has its own taste - you can't really describe it, have to taste it for yourself," said Bailey, who got his first taste of quarterback last Saturday with two sacks in a win against UCF. "I'd eat it usually with collard greens and rice at home."

Allen_baileyBailey (6-4, 285) isn't quite like any other defensive end I've ever met at The U. By now, many of you must know his story. Bailey grew up on Sapelo Island, a tiny island off the coast of Georgia. He used to have to take a boat each morning to get to school. He grew up hunting animals for dinner, things like alligator, raccoons and wild hogs. Physically, he's a freak. If you walk into the UM weight room, it's Bailey's picture that leads all lineman (offensive and defense) in strength, speed and vertical categories. His body fat percentage is a word lean.

Cooking_with_possum_2And up until last Saturday, Canes fans had been eagerly waiting for him to do something for the team. It looks like he's finally on his way to having the career Canes fans have hoped for. After spending his freshman season at linebacker, Bailey told us Tuesday he wished he would have made the switch to defensive line quicker. Instead, he waited until last spring. Once he did, it looked like he was headed to being the game-changer Miami sorely needed on defense. Then, he tore his pectoral muscle in offseason conditioning. He missed most of fall camp. But now, he appears ready to help this football team.

Miami certainly needs him. Before last Saturday's five-sack output, the Canes defense wasn't applying nearly enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The secondary was getting picked apart. Against UCF, Bailey got to the quarterback several times and made hits even though the ball got away. "My pec is fine," Bailey said Tuesday. "I've got about 85 to 90 percent of my strength back in my arm. I felt very comfortable last week coming off the injury and everything, felt it was about time for me to have a breakout game."

Where he ends up playing on the defensive line in the future remains to be scene. With Marcus Forston injured last month, Bailey moved inside to defensive tackle on several third downs against Texas A&M. When he is in the middle, his size and speed is overwhelming. It's the same story on the outside. "He's a big guy, massive," said tight end Dedrick Epps, who lines up against Bailey on occassion. "You just know you have to bring it all or you'll end up on your back. He's just all-around big. Big arms, broad shoulders. He stands about 6-4. He looks at me eye-level and outweighs me by about 30 pounds. I know when I line up against him, I got to be quick off the ball and come with all my strength."

Bailey's legend could grow at UM quickly, especially if he keeps feasting on opposing quarterbacks. But there are some legends -- about his past -- he talked to us about Tuesday we can now confirm as either true or false.

The first, did he kill an alligator with his bare hands? Partially true. "Mama had told me to go outside and kill [the alligator] because it was in a ditch outside and my cousins and nephews were outside," Bailey said. "I shot it. [Laughter] I didn't do all that."

What about snakes? "No. That's not true." How about the hunting? "A few wild hogs," Bailey said. "Those taste different. The meat tastes different, its more wild."

Bailey has already brought a few teammates back home with him during summer and spring breaks. No word yet if anyone has tried the possum or wild hog. But you can count Dedrick Epps and myself as two guys who would politely decline. "Where I'm from we see possums running sewar holes and stuff like that," Epps said. "I wouldn't be the one to try it. But if that's him, that's him. I'd help him hunt it for the joy of hunting. I don't know about eating it."

Javarrisjames> Count Javarris James as one of the many believes on this UM team who knows Duke is a much improved team. When asked for his assessment of the game on Tuesday, this is what Baby J had to say: "Those guys are a lot better they've been in the past. This isn't the same Duke team everyone used to push over and run over back in the day. We're not taking these guys lightly. We know its going to be a tough game going to their place. We're getting prepared just like it's a Florida State or a Florida game."

> Miami's No. 1 recruiting Class in 2008 is already paying dividends this season. There are 11 true freshman on UM's two-deep chart. Two, linebacker Sean Spence and receiver Travis Benjamin, are already on their way it seems to All-American status. Both were selected at the halfway point of the season to Rivals.com's Freshman All-American team.

Shannon_defeated> UM coach Randy Shannon talked Wednesday about how close he came to actually signing with Tennessee and not the University of Miami. Shannon was actually recruited to Tennessee by Duke coach David Cutliffe, who was an assistant at Tennessee at the time. Cutliffe told reporters in his press conference this week Shannon impressed him when he saw him dunk a ball from the foul line. I asked Randy if he could still dunk today. "I'll pull a muscle today and go on injured reserve," Shannon responded. When asked if he might be able to give the Sun-Sentinel's Shandel Richardon a game -- Shandel's the best baller among all the reporters covering the Canes -- Shannon quipped, "I don't know. Shandel's got skills it looks like." I got Shandel by 6 easy.

> INJURY REPORT FOR DUKE: Thursday's injury report did not feature any major surprises for the first time this year. Here's how it read - Probable: OL Chris Barney – Leg, RB Damien Berry – Leg, LB Glenn Cook – Head, RB Javarris James - Leg. Questionable: OL Joel Figueroa – Back, WR Leonard Hankerson – Leg, DL Dwayne Hendricks – Head, OL Reggie Youngblood - Leg. Out: RB Lee Chambers – Leg, LB Jordan Futch – Head, , LB Colin McCarthy – Shoulder, DL Eric Moncur - Leg, S Randy Phillips - Leg, S Vaughn Telemaque – Arm; Surgery/Out for Season: WR Tommy Streeter – Arm, WR Kendal Thompkins - Shoulder.

October 15, 2008

What's holding back the offense?

The No. 1 question asked by Canes fans this week -- and probably this entire season -- has been: What's holding back the Canes offense? And it is a fair one. After all, how can an offense with more talent at quarterback, more talent at receiver, an improved group of tight ends, and veterans on the offensive line and in the backfield still be ranked six weeks into this season the same as it was at the end of last year (110th overall)?

Patrick_nixIn search of answers this week, I found plenty of explanations. Tight end Dedrick Epps was insightful with from the receivers perspective. Quarterbacks Robert Marve and Jacory Harris continued to fill us in on just how confused they've been by opposing coverages. And Wednesday, offensive coordinator Patrick Nix was about as honest, open and insightful as he's ever been in his two seasons here.

I'll have a story on what Nix said later tonight (YOU CAN LISTEN TO THE COMPLETE 16 MINUTE INTERVIEW HERE). But I'll try to answer your question right now from what I learned.

Basically, it's a combination of a lot of things.
> Opposing teams are indeed throwing defenses at UM their young players have never seen before and while Nix is making adjustments (Epps confirmed it), his players are not executing them. Shannon said Wednesday he began having his defense throw various coverage schemes at the offense -- not just what they see on tape anymore -- to see how they adjust on the fly.
> Poor route running is a problem and all of the interceptions Marve has been throwing lately are not all his fault. Epps talked at length Tuesday about how coaches are emphasizing running deeper, crisper routes to keep defensive backs off of them. Nix talked at length Tuesday and gave us examples how his young receivers are tipping off defensive backs, including twice last Saturday which led to two of Marve's three picks.
> Miami needs to remain healthy on the offensive line so they can keep the rotation running. UM simply isn't deep enough and must have fresh legs to be effective in both the running and passing game. The injury to Reggie Youngblood hurt Miami bad and forced Chris Rutledge to move from guard to tackle, leaving players like Orlando Franklin gassed and ineffective at many points during the game. The return of Barney and Youngblood this week will help.

Truth be told, nobody on this team believes the offense is doing as poorly as it. Kayne Farquharson laughed out loud when we told him the Canes' offense ranked 110th. "For real?," Farquharson said. "I didn't even know that man. Hearing it is tough. You want to be in the Top 5 in every aspect of the game. If we're 110, then we're the best 110 out there then. It's kind of shocking. But it is what it is."

> The good news for Canes fans is that nobody is pointing fingers -- yet. Unlike last year when you felt this team fold, many guys are still stepping up and taking responsibility for the woes. We'll see how long it lasts.

> For those of you who haven't seen it yet, my feature on Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is up on our website already. I covered Thad when he was at Hialeah-Miami Lakes and always thought the Canes made a huge mistake not going after him or his HML teammate Armando Allen, who is now tearing things up at Notre Dame. Imagine where UM would be today if it would have had those guys each of the past two years?

ThaddeuslewisLewis can run and make plays with his legs. But what makes him effective is his elusiveness and ability to throw on the run. This year, the Blue Devils have learned how to protect him. Last year, Duke gave up an average of 3.8 sacks a game. This year, they've given up 10 in five games. UM sacked Lewis nine times last year, including what turned out to be the game-clincher by Eric Moncur. UM freshman linebacker knows how important it will be to get to Thad quick Saturday. "He's very talented, real mobile," Spence said. "He's not like a typical running quarterback. He wants to run around and look for the throw. He's not going to look for the run and make plays on his own. He's going to look for his receivers."

Chavez Grant admitted Tuesday UM was able to get away with some mistakes in coverage against UCF because the line finally got pressure on an opposing quarterback. UM had five sacks against the Knights and now has 14 for the season. "For the most part we cleaned up a lot of things, but at the same time we made some mistakes," Grant said of UM's secondary work. "I think it was a little less. But the thing about UCF, they didn't capitalize on our mistakes. We kind of covered them up really well because we were playing fast in the pass rush."

> The big news Tuesday was running back Javarris James and offensive tackle Reggie Youngblood were coming back from injury this week to play. But I'm not a firm believer either of these guys are close to being 100 percent healthy. Both talked after Tuesday's practice about how both are still feeling a lot of pain.

James suffered a high left ankle sprain against Florida. He admitted he's still feeling shots of pain when he makes cuts on his ankle, but said he feels confident he'll play and is around 90 to 95 percent. "I feel a lot more positive than Coach Shannon [about playng]," James said Tuesday. "He's going to do what's best for me. If it was up to me, I would have been dressed a long time ago. But it's just going to be some pain to fight through."

Youngblood injured his left leg, the same leg which he injured as a sophomore. Shannon told us two weeks ago Youngblood would be out for the year. Shannon said it was Youngblood who asked him if he could come back out and give it ago. But I'm sure he got some encouragement. Miami needs Youngblood badly at that right tackle spot. Chris Rutledge and Tyrone Byrd have proven they can't cut it without Youngblood at least in the rotation. "I've been playing with pain since 11th grade," Youngblood said. "It's not nothing I'm used to. I just got to gut it out."

Wednesday, Shannon told us he was hoping to get "anything between 35 to 40 snaps" from Youngblood and 25 to 30 snaps for James. Truth is, it might be less. Shannon, by the way, told us Wednesday its up to Youngblood if he wants a redshirt.

> There is a rumor floating around Sam Shields has been moved to cornerback. I don't buy it. Shannon laughed at it when we asked him about it Tuesday. Shields can't catch the ball too well. But that doesn't make him a corner.

> Shannon was asked why UM hasn't developed a go-to receiver through six games. His answer: youth. "Everybody wants us to have one go-to receiver. But these guys are too young," Shannon explained Tuesday. "It ain't like these guys have been in the system for three years. A lot of them just got here six months ago. Aldarius is the oldest guy we've got at 10 months. You can't do that to [those] young guys."

Glenn_cook> Linebacker Glenn Cook landed hard on his jaw late in Saturday's game and didn't practice Tuesday. Shannon told us he did return to practice on Wednesday. But I'm worried he may be one of those surprise guys on this week's injury report. If he is, look for Spencer Adkins to start in his place. I also don't expect running back Lee Chambers -- who had a flash in the pan with a 25-yard run against UCF -- to be back this week. Chambers suffered what Shannon called a "turf toe" injury. I saw him walking in a protective boot Tuesday.

As for other injured players, Shannon told us receiver Leonard Hankerson practiced Wednesday. Safety Vaughn Telemaque did not. Defensive tackle Josh Holmes, who hasn't played in forever, is practicing on the scout team. Shannon, though, is hopeful Holmes might be able to return soon. He's doubtful, probably next week he'll be ready to go," Shannon said. "This week, he's getting over the soreness. If nothing doesn't go wrong, he'll be fine."

Jermaine_mckenzie> I'm beginning to think we'll never see receiver Jermaine McKenzie get into a game unless somebody else goes down with an injury. McKenzie supposedly was on the verge of getting Saturday. He moved from the bench to standing on the sideline. But his number was never called. He was seen going back to the bench and slamming his helmet down in frustration. Shannon offered this on McKenzie Tuesday: "He's at the Z receiver behind Travis Benjamin and Davon Johnson. He's moved his way up on the depth chart, has been doing well in practice. He has to now execute moving forward."

Demarcus_van_dyke> As for DeMarcus Van Dyke, who has basically disappeared after being a starter a year ago, Shannon said DVD simply isn't winning the battle in competition. "He just has to keep working hard," Shannon said. "When we put seven DB's in the game he's in that package. As players sometimes you go in the tank a little bit. Against Florida State he made a couple of plays. This week we used our dime package, he did a great job. We're not going to shove guys off on the shelf, we'll find packages with him. And that's what we're doing with Demarcus."

October 14, 2008

Canes getting healthy

Randy Shannon told reporters during his press conference this morning he has no his idea and no timetable for when his young offense will start clicking and improve on its current 110th national ranking. Canes fans can at least take solace in this -- at least the offense is getting healthier.

Shannon said Tuesday he expects to get two key starters back on offense this week -- running back Javarris James and starting right tackle Reggie Youngblood. James, who suffered a high ankle sprain after two plays against Florida, will need to prove he make cuts on his high left ankle sprain this week in practice. But Shannon sounded optimistic James will play at Duke Saturday.

As for Youngblood, his return is somewhat of a surprise. Last week, Shannon told reporters he thought the senior would miss the rest of the year. Tuesday, Shannon said Youngblood told him "he wants to give it a go."
The return of James and Youngblood as well as reserve Chris Barney, who was injured in fall camp and returned for a series last Saturday, should give a struggling offense a much needed boost. Shannon said the return of James will give UM the tough inside runner they haven't had the past month.

> I'll have more for you later. But I've got to get to today's chat. Feel free to click on the link to left and send me some questions.

TRR: Canes chasing o-linemen

With the high school football season now past the halfway point in most parts of the country, the recruiting scene is starting to tighten up. The number of remaining scholarship offers are being narrowed down for the Class of 2009 as the nation's future college football stars decided earlier and earlier and make National Signing Day irrelevant. At The U, the story is the same. In the past month, the Canes have picked up a trio of verbal in-state commitments, two defensive backs in Kayvon Webster and Jamal Reid and a third running back in Miami-Dade's top recruit, Lamar Miller.

A collection of 16 verbal commitments have been put together for a class that I was told on last National Signing Day by UM recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt shouldn't exceed 20. So, what does Offensive_linemen that mean? UM has maybe five scholarships left to put to use (give or take one depending on whether or not defensive end Olivier Vernon sticks) before February 4th. And by all accounts, the Canes' primary focus to fill those spots will be made on the offensive line, where UM is set to lose its starting center in Xavier Shannon and three tackles to graduation after this season.

So, who are the Canes courting? A solid collection of highly-touted names. Canesport.com reported last week one of them is 6-7, 270-pound Arizona tackle Taylor Lewan, considered 47th best at his position by Rivals. Consider him the newest guy UM is chasing. The others are Fayetteville, N.C.'s Xavier Nixon (6-6, 263 pounds and No. 2 according to Rivals at tackle), Utah native Xavier Su'a Filo (6-4, 285, No. 12 among tackles), Ohio native Chris Freeman (6-7, 325, No. 49), Washington D.C. product Peter White (6-5, 340, No. 4 guard) and local product Jared Wheeler (6-5, 31, No. 19 guard). Miami also recently received news it will get a visit from one of the nation's top defensive tackles in Detroit's William Campbell (6-5, 317). Campbell could play offensive line at the next level.

The Canes have two legit offensive line commitments including one from 2008 signee Brandon Washington, who is now in prep school in New York. The other is Cory White of Fleming Island, Fla., who starts at left tackle for his team.

> This week, in bringing back The Recruit Report, I caught up with a few of UM's current commitments including Reid, who told me he's been getting a lot more attention from the nearby Florida Gators since he made his commitment to UM late last month.

‘‘They always were recruiting me, but since I pledged, they've really pushed hard," he said. "I still feel like I'll be a Hurricane no matter what. I gave them my word."

Jamal_reidReid (6-1, 175) is a statistical machine and a player Gainesville Sun writer John Patton has said could be the best receiver to come out of his coverage area in the 10 years he's been covering high schools there. Reid had 10 catches for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns and an interception a 35-0 win over Branford last week. In a 46-28 win over Dixie County earlier this year, Reid caught six passes for 223 yards and scored three touchdowns. Lafayette is 6-0 this season.

Reid said he's playing safety and corner, but Canes coaches want him to come in as a corner. He said he can't wait to come down and visit UM at the end of his season and to check out South Beach. For the last two years, Reid has two younger sisters have lived with his aunt and uncle. His father was sent to jail two years ago and is expected to be released in August.

‘‘I'm from a town of 4,000 people," Reid said with a laugh. "I know Miami has a really nice campus. People always talk about Miami and the beaches, the rap stars, the movie stars. I guess it must be real interesting down there."

> I also caught up this week with a few other players including cornerback Brandon McGee (who is finally only playing defense), defensive end Olivier Vernon (who has his other trips to Alabama and FSU booked), and the coach of defensive tackle Curtis Porter. Enjoy the rest of the recruiting updates.

> Bryce Brown, RB, 6-0, 215, Wichita East, Kan.:
Bryce, who was elevated into the Rivals.com Top 5 rankings this week, is tearing things up in Kansas. Brown ran for 274 yards on 13 carries and scored six touchdowns as Wichita East rolled over rival Wichita West 54-0. He scored on runs of 24, 47, 69, and 14 yards and his last score came on a 46-yard catch. He now has 1,266 yards on 134 carries with 23 touchdowns in six games. His team is 5-1.

Aj_highsmith> A.J. Highsmith, QB, 6-0. 186, Fort Bend (TX) Hightower: After picking up play three weeks ago following Hurricane Ike, Highsmith has led his team to three straight blowout wins. It was last week in a 40-7 win against Clements he threw for 191 yards and three touchdowns. Highsmith is now 32 of 62 on the season with 612 yards passsing, 8 TDs and 2 INTs according to the Houston Chronicle.

> Mike James, RB, 5-11, 211, Davenport Ridge: James has led Ridge to three Mike_jamesconsecutive victories since our last report. He returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and piled up 202 yards rushing on 33 attempts and a 45-yard touchdown run a 14-0 win over Bartow High. A week later in a 13-10 overtime win against Lake Region, James went down with a shoulder injury after just rushing for 41 yards on 10 carries. But he returned last week and led Ridge to a stirring 14-13 victory against Lakeland Kathleen that featured an 81-yard touchdown run. He finished with 101 yards on 22 carries.

Lamar_miller> Lamar Miller, RB, 5-11, 205, Miami Killian: The newest commitment for the University of Miami has been having quite the season for the Cougars. He leads Miami-Dade in rushing and has Killian at 5-1 with 12 touchdowns and 892 yards rushing on 115 attempts. Against Miami Southridge last week, he ran for 150 yards on 20 carries and had the game-clinching 20-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Against nationally-ranked Lakeland two weeks ago, had 152 yards on 25 carries including two touchdown runs in a 27-22 loss on the road.

Steven_plein> Stephen Plein, TE/DE, 6-6, 240, Fort Myers High:
As the team's starting defensive end, Plein has played well in the team's 3-3 start. He is fourth on the team in tackles with 31 and leads the Green Wave in sacks with 3½ on the season. He had two sacks and nine tackles in a 35-28 loss to Baker and hasn't played since.

> Billy Sanders, TE, 6-4, 240, Lake City Coueru d'Alene, Idaho:
Sanders had three catches in his first two games, but had three for 28 yards in a a 34-33 win against Del Oro late last month. Sanders' team is 3-3 on the season. Canesport.com reported Monday Sanders is being courted heavily by UCLA.

> Brandon Washington, OL, 6-5, 315, Milford Prep, N.Y.:
According to Rivals.com, Washington is still headed to The U next year. Rivals lists him as the No. 2 prep school recruit in the country. Milford Prep coach Bill Chaplick was quoted as saying recently Washington has dropped down to about 315 pounds. "He's so mobile and very physical. He just wants to punish players out there. As good as Charles Deas was for us, Washington is better," Chaplick said.

> Cory White, OL, 6-4, 240, Fleming Island:
As the starting left tackle and anchor for the offensive line, White has helped the Golden Eagles off to a 6-0 start. The offense is averaging 32.3 points and 415 yards a game and has only given up six sacks alls season.

> Antonio Harper, LB, 6-4, 230, Hargrave Military Academy:
Playing on the most loaded prep school team in the country -- with an estimated 21 Top 50 recruits by Rivals, Harper has played well for Hargrave. He is ranked 17th overall among prep school recruits.
> Prince Kent, ATH, 6-3, 195, Norcross (GA): Kent scored on two long touchdown passes in a 38-7 win against Chattahoochee on Sept. 27, finishing with three catches for 136 yards. Then, in a 45-0 blowout of Northview, he totaled 122 yards receiving on three catches. Kent is playing both ways for the Blue Devils and six games has 23 catches for 467 yards and two touchdowns. His team is 4-2.

Brandon_mcgee> Brandon McGee, DB, 5-11, 186, Plantation High: Since his team's blowout loss to Miramar, McGee has gotten his team back on the right track with three straight wins. And he's no longer playing offense -- except in spot duty. In fact, he's not even playing corner anymore. "I'm at safety now," McGee said. "I think I'm doing pretty good. In our last game [a 30-13 win over Piper] I had seven solo tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Coach Davis thought it would be best to move to safety because of my ability to make plays. I like it. But my bread and butter is corner."
McGee said he'll likely play safety the rest of the season with teammate Vladimir Emiellen out for the year. He had an inteception two weeks ago in a win against Ely playing corner. He said he's been to every single Hurricanes home game this season, rooting his future teammates on. "I can't wait to get there," McGee said. "I talk to coach Shannon, coach Hurtt, coach McGriff every other day. They know I'm hungry to come in and help."

> Curtis Porter, DT, 6-2, 334, Charlotte Victory Christian: The Kings improved to 4-3 last week with a 52-8 win in which Porter had about eight tackles and a sack according to coach Frank Crockett. He said Porter has been invited to play in the Shrine Bowl, a local All-Star game played on Thanksigiving weekend in the Charlotte area. This weekend, Porter plans on attending the UM-Duke game along with teammate Justin Fox, adefensive end and Duke commitment. Crockett said Porter has six sacks on the season and is getting leaner. He said Porter is around 320 now and is even being used in a fullback role on offense.

> Luther Robinson, DT, 6-3, 280, Fort Pierce Westwood: Robinson had helped the Panthers get off to a 5-1 start this season. He had a breakout game against Jensen Beach on Sept. 26, piling up six tackles, three sacks and interception. He's got 26 tackles and six sacks this season through five games.

> Olivier Vernon, DE, 6-3, 239, Hialeah American:
Vernon hasn't been on the playing field since he Olivier_vernon sprained his ankle against Coral Reef last month and he's not sure when he'll be back this season. He said he's been rehabbing for two weeks now, but still feels pain when he makes cuts. He has, however, been busy making plans for official visits. He told me Monday night he plans on starting his college tour Nov. 8 at Florida State, followed by a trip to Alabama on Dec. 5. and UM on Dec. 12. He also wants to make a trip to USF "To me, they're all level in my eyes," Vernon said. "They all could win the championship in the next few years. I want to be a part of that."
Vernon said he attended the UM-FSU game and it was "fun." "I really like what UM does as far as rotating guys and keeping them fresh," Vernon said. "I can be a part of that."

Kayvon_webster> Kayvon Webster, DB, 5-11, 181, Monsignor Pace: The two-way standout has 16 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown on offense for the 4-2 Spartans this season and has set the tone on defense as the team's leading tackler this. He's come up with huge defensive plays -- including a sack and forced fumble late in the game in a win at Naples.

October 13, 2008

UCF progress report, midseason analysis

It's hard to grade last week's performance against UCF as a progress report considering it felt more like regression. But I'll stick with the theme considering the Canes got the win. Since we are also at the midseason point, I figured I'd also give you an overall grade and thought on each unit as well as an MVP. My grading system system, in honor of the Canes, is simple: 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).

Quarterbacks: For the second week in a row, starter Robert Marve took a step back instead of a Robert_marve step forward. Against a veteran UCF secondary, Marve was 8 of 19 for 74 yards and three interceptions. He admitted afterward he was confused by the coverage schemes UCF threw at him and had never seen it before -- proof positive he's not learning enough or fast enough in the classroom with offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. Jacory Harris, meanwhile, didn't set the world on fire finishing 4 of 16 for 14 yards. But he did play more than he has since he started the season opener in place of a suspended Marve. He failed to lead UM to a scoring drive for the first time this season, but was in there late in the game instead of Marve.
> This week's progress report says: Coker-esque. It wasn't as bad as Kirby Freeman's 1-for-15 performance a year ago against N.C. State, but Marve didn't do anything outside of a 25-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin that looked good. I don't think we are headed toward a QB controversy yet, but Marve needs to stop throwing picks. He's got seven in his last three games and now has 8 INTs versus 6 TDs. UM's pass offense, which finished 108th a year ago, is now 101st in the country.
> Midseason report card: C. Marve has to be considered the MVP, but he is headed in the wrong direction right now and looks a lot more today like he's going to be another Kyle Wright instead of a Ken Dorsey. Nix has turn to this around quickly.

Running backs: Graig Cooper carried the ball a career high 23 times and finished with 90 yards and Graig_cooper a touchdown. Lee Chambers, who hadn't carried the ball since the win against Charleston Southern, came in and provided a nice burst with a long 25 yard run. But there is no question in my eyes now this UM offenses misses Javarris James. Cooper always seems to start of great, ripping off nice runs. But he slows down and so does the UM running game.
> This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy. It was another good effort by UM's most consistent unit. But like I said earlier, the Canes need JJ back. And it looks like they'll get him this week.
> Midseason report card: B+. Not having JJ has hurt this group, but Cooper has played exceptional in his absence and earns the MVP for this group and possibly the entire team. But he's going to have to step his game up and prove he can be the featured back for four quarters if he wants NFL scouts to consider him an early round pick a year or two from now.

Receivers/tight ends: Everyone knows how much Marve struggled. But it wasn't a great day for any Travis_benjaminof UM's receivers either. Dedrick Epps and Cooper led the team with three catches each. Benjamin's 25-yard catch was about the only highlight. My question is, what's the real problem? Can these guys not get open? Are they not running the right routes? Is Nix calling the wrong plays? The bottomline is these guys aren't working in a lot of space. How many times Saturday did you see a UM receiver catch a ball and have any room to manuever? A lot of times, they already had defensive players draped all over them. You can't have success in the passing game if you can't create space. Part of it is the short routes and part of it separation.
> This week's progress report says: Coker-esque. Simply not enough production. I felt like I was watching a rerun of last season.
> Midseason report card: C-. UM has so much speed and talent at this position now. But we're only seeing it in flashes. And those have usually been provided by Travis Benjamin, the midseason MVP for this unit.

Offensive line: Unlike a lot of other critics who might rip this unit for the way they played Offensive_line Saturday, I'm not putting all the blame on their shoulders for the three sacks they gave up. Marve and Harris had a lot to do with it. Each had plenty of time to throw Saturday, but held onto the ball for long periods of time. Harris had an opportunity to throw the ball away the one time he was sacked and instead held onto it to keep the clock running. The running game is where more of my criticism goes. UM ran the ball 43 times and netted just 3 yards a carry. UCF's defense was good. But not that good.
> This week's progress report says: MicronPC Bowl here we come. Chris Rutledge looks like the weakest link on this line at right tackle. When he was splitting time with Reggie Youngblood, he was effective. But with Tyrone Byrd, he's not getting the same results. The good news is Chris Barney looks like he's back, which provides more depth on the interior.
> Midseason report card: B. They've given up some sacks this season and haven't been as good as we thought they were, but they haven't been bad. Jason Fox has been the obvious MVP of the unit.

OK, before we go to the defense... it's time to go to the polls.

The Front Seven: Talk about a turnaround. After looking horrendous against Florida State, UCF Allen_bailey provided the perfect remedy for this unit. Yes, UCF wasn't good. But UM made tremendous strides in its open field tackling this week. Daryl Sharpton showed me a lot. And, I don't care who you are playing, if you hold someone to four yards rushing its an accomplishment. Aside from about two scrambles, UM also patched up the problem of giving up first down runs on quarterback scrambles. And how could we forget about the five sacks? After collecting nine in the first five games, that was a major improvement.
> This week's progress report says: National championship material. Bill Young got the job done -- albeit against a weak opponent. But he got it done.
> Midseason report card: B. Of all the units we had questions about coming into the season, I felt this was the one area that needed the most work. All in all, these guys have honestly overachieved. How else can you explain that this group gave up 281 yards rushing to FSU and still ranks 20th in the country in total defense and 16th against the run? After losing Colin McCarthy and Eric Moncur for the season, this unit stepped up and looked like they fixed some major problem areas this week. But that still doesn't mean I'm not worried about this group going forward. UM isn't very deep at linebacker. Thankfully, the Canes have had freshman Sean Spence, the MVP of the group, come in and provide some major minutes and some big plays. Now, if they can get Allen Bailey going and a couple of freshman like Marcus Robinson going you could see even more improvement.

Bruce_johnsonThe Secondary: The Knights had one of the worst passing offenses in the country coming and didn't disappoint. Quarterback Rob Calabrese had trouble making simple passes at times. Still, nobody got beat on any deep passes this week and UCF's receivers didn't get very far when they did catch the ball. Chavez Grant looked good back in his nickel spot and had two pass breakups. The bad? The dropped interceptions. Brandon Harris and Jojo Nicholas had chances to make picks. They have to hold onto the football.
> This week's progress report says: BCS Worthy. Only 74 yards passing allowed and a few batted balls in key situations this week helped these guys have their best day of the season.
> Midseason report card: C. Only one interception from the secondary and several blown coverages hurt UM bad this season in losses to North Carolina and Florida State. But we got to remember how short-handed this group is. Despite the woes, UM still ranks 37th in the country in pass defense. That's not too bad. I'll give the nod to Chavez Grant as the MVP of the unit. He hasn't made a ton of plays, but of all the guys in the secondary he's made the fewest mistakes. By the way, anybody seen DeMarcus Van Dyke?

Special Teams: Matt Bosher finally looked human this week, shanking two punts. But he still had a solid day considering he had to punt 11 times. He had some good hang time on the majority of his punts and made a field goal. Travis Benjamin was limited in what he could do this week as UCF kicked the ball high in the air every time they kicked to him, but still provided UM with decent field position. The stain was the 91-yard kickoff return they gave up following an offsides penalty on DeMarcus Van Dyke. The play of the day was provided by Sam Shields, who recovered a fumble to setup the winning touchdown and redeemed himself for drawing a flag on kick catch interference earlier in the game.
> This week's progress report says: MicronPC Bowl Here We Come. The good ultimately outweighed the mistakes since UM won.
> Midseason report card: B+. Bosher has been phenomenal considering he has to handle all the kicking duties. He's averaging 40 yards a punt and is 9 of 10 on field goal attempts. I'm giving him co-MVP honors with Benjamin, who has finally provided UM with a badly needed game-changer on special teams.

Coaching: Last week, I got on Bill Young's case. This week, it's Patrick Nix's turn. His quarterbacks Patrick_nix were unprepared for the zone defense UCF threw at them and the Canes were never able to adjust and get the passing game going. Plus, I'm getting tired of those bubble screens. We see them at least once a drive. For a coach who looked creative in those trick plays against FSU, Nix didn't use one against UCF -- not even a reverse. He's getting too predictable. On the flip side, Young did his best to take advantage of a struggling UCF offense and made sure his players not only got to the quarterback this week with sacks, but didn't give up first downs. That's getting the job done.
> This week's progress report says: MicronPC Bowl Here We Come. You can't just have the defense playing well and expect to go anywhere. We saw what happened under Larry Coker when that was the case. Offensive adjustments have to be made.
> Midseason report card: C. Young has to be considered the MVP here. Aside from the FSU game and the final 10 minutes against Carolina, he's done a good job without much -- especially when you consider the injuries (McCarthy, Randy Phillips, Eric Moncur) and losses (Kenny Phillips) this team has had to endure. Really, only one freshman, Sean Spence, has been able to come in and provide a real lift. Young is ultimately doing more with this defense with less than the guy who was here a year ago. Offensively, Nix's clock is ticking. He's got more talent this year than he had last year, better quarterbacks, better receivers, a veteran offensive line and a solid weapon in Graig Cooper. Yet, UM ranks 110th in total offense and 11th out of 12 teams in the ACC. That's what UM ranked at the end of last last year. That's called not getting it done.

So what are your thoughts at the midway point? What are your grades for each unit? Who are your MVPs?

October 12, 2008

UCF thoughts

I just finished uploading all the audio and video interviews following today's game against UCF. As for my thoughts on the game...

> I know for weeks now many of you have criticized offensive coordinator Patrick Nix for his playcalling and the way the offense has developed. Today was the first time this season I honestly felt Nix deserved the criticism. Not only was UM's offense bad, but I got the sense in the postgame locker room scene players were honestly confused by whatever it was UCF was doing defensively. Robert Marve said UCF didn't do anything defensively he had studied on tape.

Jacory Harris said the same thing, saying UCF "made it look like it was dropping into a Cover 4 defense, but was really playing a Cover 2." It's one thing for a young quarterback to get confused and not understand what it is he's seeing. After all, this was Marve's fifth career college start. But how could UM get so caught off guard? Even if UCF threw a new, confusing defense it hadn't run before or UM didn't see on tape are you telling me it's an entirely new defense no one has ever seen before? At some point, Nix and the rest of UM's assistants have to figure a way to beat it, teach their players to adjust. Miami never did. Instead, UM basically abandoned the passing game and tried to run the football -- to no avail. What happened to not only making adjustments, but those trick plays? Couldn't have Nix thought to use something in his arsenal?

> As for Marve, he now has seven interceptions in his last three games and is definitely not playing like the young budding quarterback Miami wants him to be. He admitted he's taking chances because he's trying to make plays. I can't blame him. The majority of Miami's passing plays are either bubble screens or quick outlet passes. When Marve does get a chance to throw down field, I get the sense he's trying hard to make a play so Nix will cut him loose more. Nix needs to obviously make adjustments. The bubble screens aren't working and the few times Marve has gone downfield, he's been intercepted.

> Maybe, one of the changes should be who starts at quarterback. Jacory Harris didn't do anything to overtake Marve, but he certainly isn't taking chances on his own like Marve appears to be. He did make two nice passes downfield Saturday -- one was dropped by Thearon Collier and the other was caught for a first down. Maybe the best thing would be to sit Marve down for a week and give Jacory a chance. What do you think?

> Defensively, Miami obviously played a much better game than it has in weeks. They got to the quarterback, produced five sacks and held UCF to 78 yards of total offense -- including just four on the ground. But it's awfully hard to judge just how much this unit improved. UCF ranked 113th out of 119 teams in total offense coming in. Here's what I take from it: The Canes did play better in coverage and did wrap up better tackling in the open field. And, they also communicated better, which shows me they are actually learning from their teacher Bill Young.

> I was anxious to see if freshman linebacker Arthur Brown would see the field after being promoted to the second team. He never did except for special teams. I just think Brown simply isn't ready and we aren't going to see him unless another starter goes down. We'll have to see what happened with Glenn Cook, who was knocked out when his head hit the turf late in the game. Miami can't afford to lose Cook. Linebacker is absolutely the thinnest position on this team.

> I'm beginning to think Matt Bosher is getting a little tired handling all of the kicking duties. Saturday, he punted 11 times, kicked off four times, kicked a field goal and an extra point. He shanked two punts. Bosher has been great so far this season, but at some point he's going to need help. We've been told he's been getting time off in practice to rest his leg. We saw why on Saturday.

> Miami gave up three sacks Saturday, but I wouldn't entirely blame the offensive line. Robert Marve had plenty of time to pass Saturday. So did Jacory Harris. Both held onto the football for extended periods of time and didn't throw the ball away.

> Check back for my progress report Monday.