Before I start dissecting each position on the team over the next week, I wanted to provide you with one final blog on the Emerald Bowl. After sitting in for coach Randy Shannon's final press conference of the season earlier this morning, I came away from our 34 minute interview with more questions than I came in with.
The lasting image from Miami's final game of the 2008 season for me wasn't quarterback Jacory Harris getting stripped of the football and a lumbering Cal defensive lineman scooping it up for what led to the winning score. It wasn't even Jahvid Best ripping through the ACC's worst run defense like so many before him. It was what happened during those final 2 minutes and 41 seconds that can only best be described as the worst two minute drill ever orchestrated.
The image I'll have in my head with me forever -- Shannon racing over to offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, telling him something and then signaling for a timeout with 12 seconds left. I don't think there's a better snapshot to represent UM's entire season than that one moment, when sideline confusion and bad time management hit its peak an embarrassing 13 games into 2008. Shannon was asked to explain the situation Sunday with a trio of questions. Instead of sounding like a football coach who was there with a headset, with a voice, and the ability to control the situation, Shannon sounded distant. Like someone who was watching it take place from another sideline at another venue in another city in another country on another planet on a long telescope (think Marvin The Martian).
What bugged me wasn't just that Shannon called a mind-numbing time out following an incomplete pass. It wasn't just that Miami wasn't hustling up to the line of scrimmage, running out of bounds or doing everything in its power to conserve time (like they are supposed to know and have done before). What bugged me was the fact this wasn't the first time we saw Miami looked dazed and confused on the sideline in 2008. Heck, it wasn't the first time you saw it in the same game. The fact is Miami did a terrible job all season getting the right personnel in and out of games, lining up and handling the clock. Anyone remember Sam Shields running onto the field on a formation he wasn't even supposed to be on against Florida State? And, the Hurricanes had to have led the country this season in defensive timeouts and ranked second in ill-timed ones on offense. Second and 6 at the 40 with 2 minutes left in the first quarter? Let's call time out.
Shannon said Sunday he'll spend the next week evaluating his coaches and himself before making personnel decisions. When I asked him if there was anything he knew he could work on immediately, he said 'nothing came to mind' right away. I'm sure there are at least 100,000 UM fans who can give him at least one idea -- how about working on being a little more organized and time conscious on that sideline?
> As bad as those final moments were for Miami, I thought it couldn't take away from what I thought was a pretty good performance for the Canes, who were shorthanded with injuries and suspensions and still managed to be in the game in the fourth quarter after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter. People will forget this by next week, but Cal was ranked in the Top 25 in the country in every major defensive statistical category (except pass defense, where they were 40th). Jahvid Best, meanwhile, was the fourth-ranked running back in terms of yards in the country.
> THANKING THE SENIORS: After the game, Shannon said he talked to his team and basically thanked the seniors for letting the freshmen come in and play and not causing a stink. "Anytime when you have young guys playing before seniors it can be a distraction, it could get real bad in the lockerroom, and it didn't," Shannon said. "They stayed poised, they each found a role where they could help us out and win games."
While most people on the outside probably could care less about a senior stepping aside for a more talented freshman, think for a moment how much trouble this team could have been in if guys like Sam Shields, Khalil Jones, Glenn Cook and Romeo Davis preferred to be a little greedy and not really help the young guys who came in. After all, they were basically training their replacements.
>INCOMING ENTHUSIASM: One thing Randy has going for him -- and has had going for him since he took the job -- has been the enthusiasm of young players and recruits wanting to come and help salvage the program. Shannon said Sunday he had a handful of recruits call to cheer up him and his assistants after the loss.
"We got calls saying 'Coach we can't wait to get there. Coach, keep your head up, we're going to turn it around. We're going to be there, we're going to be the next group to get Miami to where we need to be at," Shannon said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm with the young freshman we have on this football team and a lot of enthusiasm with the guys we're recruiting. Even though we're not in a BCS bowl game, they see a young football team that's exciting that any point in time, in the long run are going to be where you want to be at."
The question is how long will that good will last. If Miami, which has gone 19-19 over the last three seasons, goes 7-6 again next year are recruits still going to buy that we're close to winning a national title pitch? Probably not. But my guess is with another 7-6 season, Shannon probably won't be around anyway for 2010.
> BREAKOUT PERFORMER: Redshirt freshman running back Lee Chambers had a breakout performance in the Emerald Bowl despite the loss, rushing for 60 yards on nine carries and basically matching his season totals (9 carries, 56 yards) coming into the game. The 5-10, 185-pounder from Coffeeville, Mississippi basically got hurt midway through the season and disappeared from the radar because of it. The question is now will he really be back on Randy's radar for 2009 considering UM is scheduled to bring in three more running backs in this next class including the nation's No. 1 back in Bryce Brown. Randy didn't sound overly optimistic Sunday.
"We'd like to get him more reps. But it's going to be up to him," Shannon said. "The one thing you always got to remember about young guys is some young guys can handle success and some guys can't. Next year, these young guys won't have a chip on their shoulder because we're bringing in other guys at their position. That's going to be the deciding factor. Are guys going to keep working and getting better. Can't rely on what they did last year, they got to get better on what they did."
By the way, one of the funnier quotes about Lee came from quarterback Jacory Harris after the game on WQAM. Harris said he didn't even know Lee was in the game until after he turned around and handed the ball off to him.
> TOUTED TELEMAQUE: One of the more intriguing comments from Shannon Sunday came in reference to freshman safety Vaughn Telemaque when he said he and his staff thought the California kid might possibly start by the fourth game of the season if not for his season-ending injury. He caught my attention even more when he compared him to former Canes great Ed Reed. "He has ball skills," Shannon said. "He's got great, great ball skills. He's a competitor. He'll run. He's an aggressive kid in the run game, kind of a vocal leader. You see Sean Spence out there and you can see what I'm talking about. You see him on Scout team like Edward [Reed] was, being able to make kill shots, but don't because its practice. He's able to read those type of things."
UM is going to need Telemaque to play like Reed next year if it really wants to make some improvement. Ryan Hill and Jojo Nicholas are the expected starters. Both have been down more than up this season.
> Shannon said he'd like for freshman kicker Jake Wieclaw to at the very least take the kickoff duties away from team MVP Matt Bosher next season. Wieclaw spent all season trying to learn to kick off the ground. In high school, he kicked off a tee.
> Spring football by the way looks like it will start the final week in February. Somebody needs to start a countdown.