Four in a row and now a real shot at reaching the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. That's what the Canes came away with in Charlottesville after their stirring 24-17 victory on Saturday afternoon. Yeah, I know this week's progress report is coming out a day later than promised. But it's going to be a long week here at Eye On The U -- considering the Canes don't practice again until Thursday. So, for now, sit back and enjoy this week's progress report and feel free to provide with me your grades for this week as U continue to savor what is now this biggest win of the season for this young team.
Since the Canes are now bowl eligible, I've decided to change our grading scale based on where this team could end up. Welcome back to the BCS and the Orange Bowl (excellent), New Year's Day/New Year's Eve (good), You've earned a December night in Orlando, Charlotte or San Francisco (average), The Dreaded Blue Field (poor) and 6-6 and a long, shocking winter in Coral Gables (the bottom of the barrel).
Quarterbacks: What else can you say about Jacory Harris? An 18-year old kid led UM down the field -- literally 95 yards -- threw the game-tying touchdown pass, the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime and every big throw the Canes needed. This marked the third time in four games Harris came off the bench and closed the game for the Canes. Starter Robert Marve -- the hero last week -- wasn't bad. He was 6 of 12 for 91 yards and ran for a touchdown. But he threw his 10th pick of the season in the third quarter and gave way to Harris with 4:41 left in the third quarter. This week's progress report says: Welcome back to the BCS and the Orange Bowl. Harris has now won more player of the week honors (3) than he has starts (1). Hmmm.... just saying.
Running backs: Graig Cooper has received his share of knocks for not playing a complete game this season. Saturday, he finally did. Despite a fumble, he carried the ball 24 times for 131 yards against a good physical defense. With Javarris James out for most of the second half, Cooper was huge on the final drive. He picked up 14 yards on 2nd and 12 with a draw play and picked up a ton of blitzers with blocks that allowed Harris the time to engineer the final drive. Javarris James, meanwhile, looked like the Baby J of old until he reinjured his ankle late in the first half. He was moving the pile. He finished 55 yards on nine carries. If he's healthy, this offense is even better. This week's progress report says: Welcome back to the BCS and the Orange Bowl. Coop is now the fifth leading rusher in the ACC with 70.4 yards a game behind FSU's Antone Smith, Virginia's Cedric Peerman, Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer and Maryland's Da'Rel Scott. Last year, Coop finished eighth.
Receivers/tight ends: They didn't real have a great game overall, getting flagged for false starts and dropping a few balls. But they showed up when it counted most. Aldarius "Glue Hands" Johnson had the game-winner and LaRon Byrd the game-tying grab. But it was Sam Shields and Thearon Collier who impressed me most. Shields went airborne to haul in that important 3rd and 13 first down catch to start the 95-yard game-winning drive. Collier had the 43-yarder he hauled in from Marve to get UM's offense going in the first half and led the team with 3 catches for 64 yards. This week's progress report says: New Year's Day Bowl worthy. Travis Benajmin, Aldarius and Byrd get all the praise. But Miami really has four amazing freshmen with Collier. And its definitely nice to see Shields getting back in the mix.
Offensive line: On a day when they looked about as bad as could be drawing six of the seven false start penalties, the unit more than made up for its mistakes by providing Harris with all the time he needed to make plays late in the game. Despite playing without Jason Fox and Chris Rutledge for the majority of the game, they rallied together and helped produce 448 yards of total offense. They gave up their usual two sacks -- that's average now. But it was against the team that leads the ACC in sacks. This week's progress report says: New Year's Eve worthy.The penalties were bad. But there's no doubt this unit overachieved late being tired and shorthanded.
The Front Seven: It was another bad week trying to generate a pass rush as Allen Bailey produced the unit's only sack. But when the rough got going again, these guys buckled down again. For the third consecutive week, they shut down the opposing offense after halftime, holding Cedric Perrman 12 yards rushing in the second half. Sean Spence and Romeo Davis get gameballs. They tied for the team lead in tackles with eight and made the big plays forcing and recovering fumbles respectively. This week's progress report says: New Year's Day worthy One thing to watch this week is the health of Darryl Sharpton. He was listed as questionable and hardly played. While Romeo Davis has stepped up big to fill his shoes, UM is obviously thin at linebacker. Leading tackler Glenn Cook also got a little nicked up.
The Secondary: No, they aren't getting a lot of help in terms of pressure. But these guys still aren't doing a good job wrapping up in the open field. On one play, Peerman made Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill look foolish trying to tackle him. Virginia QB Marc Verica also had plenty of open spaces to find receivers, especially along the sideline. If he makes a few better throws, UM doesn't have a chance to come back and win this game. Carlos Armour and Anthony Reddick were the most steady of the group with five tackles each. This week's progress report says: You've earned a December night in Orlando, Charlotte or San Francisco.
Special Teams: For the first time this season, these guys honestly were a disappointment. Matt Bosher was 1 of 2 on field goal attempts and missed a possible game winner late -- albeit from 51 yards. But the bigger disappointment was Travis Benjamin, who was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time when the ball bounced off his knee and led to a fumble. But after that, The Blur was Mr. Invisible. This week's progress report says: You've earned a December night in Orlando, Charlotte or San Francisco. The mediocre performance shows you just how much UM needs these guys to be good on a week-to-week basis.
Coaching: For the third week in a row, defensive coordinator Bill Young got through to his players at halftime and got the job done. And for the first time this season, U can't get on offensive coordinator Patrick Nix for not making the right calls. Miami's offense produced 448 yards of offense and ran all the right plays on that final drive. He and Shannon also agreed to put Harris in there late. That obviously was the right decision. This week's progress report says: New Year's Day worthy.