« UCF thoughts | Main | TRR: Canes chasing o-linemen »

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?