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Grading the Canes: FSU Report Card

With Miami off until back-to-back 5:45 a.m. practices Thursday and Friday, I figured this was a perfect time to reflect on the FSU game for the last time -- before we move onto Georgia Tech -- with a report card and a Canes Top 10 player progress report.

Sitting way up in the press box and writing on deadline for a night game can be tough for sportswriters to catch everything that happened in the game. I know I didn't get to watch the game as closely as I wanted to, so I'll be watching the rebroadcast tonight on Sunshine Network at 11 p.m. But with what I was able to see and gathered in the postgame locker room, here how I graded the Canes.

> Quarterbacks: What can you say about Jacory Harris that hasn't already been said? He was banged up and still set a Canes record for passing yards (386) against FSU and led UM back from deficit three times in the second half. He just made one bad decision -- forcing a ball in FSU territory for a pick. The other was the result of being hit on a pass. He was the ACC Offensive Player of the Week and even got a Heisman vote at ESPN. Still think Robert Marve was the better quarterback? Grade: A.

Javarris James > Running game: Miami ran 30 times for 104 yards (3.0 avg). But I thought Javarris James (11 carries, 36 yds, 1 TD) and Graig Cooper (7 carries, 31 yds, 1 TD) played outstanding. James looked exactly as advertised by his teammates -- faster and healthy. Cooper made an outstanding touchdown catch. Lee Cambers was the only backup to get a carry and had 5 for 10 yards, not exactly spectacular. And freshman Mike James had 1 catch for five yards and another play he tripped on that almost turned into a disaster. But I thought the backs made all the plays when they had to. Grade: A-.

Travis Benjamin > Receivers/tight ends: Outside of two drops by Leonard Hankerson and a ball tight end Jimmy Graham needed to fight for better than he did, I thought the Canes receivers were aces -- even with their best NFL prospects Aldarius Johnson and LaRon Byrd dinged up. Travis Benjamin led the way with four catches for 128 yards and a score and Hankerson made up for his drops with two really tough catches in traffic and a 4 receptions for 72 yard night. Even tight end Dedrick Epps got back into the mix with two catches for 46 yards. Grade: A-

> Blocking: With two new starters on the right side in Harland Gunn and Matt Pipho, I thought the Hurricanes did a decent job protecting the quarterback. FSU was obviously able to put some pressure on Harris -- forcing a pick-6 with a blitz from freshman DB Greg Reid. But all in all, UM's guys got the job done, opening holes in the running game when they needed a touchdown late and keeping Harris clean for most of the game. Veterans Jason Fox and Orlando Franklin were flagged for false starts and Pipho was flagged for holding in the second quarter. But that was it for the o-line. Receiver LaRon Byrd picked up the flag with an illegal block. Harris was sacked twice, once officially (Pipho's holding waived off the other). Grade: B-.

Olivier Vernon > Defensive line: Shorthanded without Adewale Ojomo (jaw) and veteran Eric Moncur (groin), there is no question the Canes struggled putting any sort of pressure on Christian Ponder. But part of that had to with the fact FSU's offensive line is considered one of the best in the country and that defensive coordinator John Lovett hardly blitzed all game. I thought the line did an outstanding job containing FSU's running game, which had 30 carries for 110 yards -- the last 30 coming on the one real time Ponder was able to escape the pocket for a big gain. Allen Bailey had a sack and plugged up the middle exceptionally well, and Marcus Robinson came through with a huge sack and strip of Ponder when Miami needed a turnover. I also thought freshman Olivier Vernon had a nice debut. All in all, a pretty good day considering the circumstances. Grade: B.  

> Linebackers: Not too many great plays, but not too many missed tackles or blown assignments. Colin McCarthy had seven tackles in his first game back, including one for loss. Sean Spence was nearly invisible and got beat in coverage by Caz Piurowski for FSU's first touchdown. But I think this unit simply did what was asked of it by Lovett, hardly blitzing until the end and making sure Ponder didn't have a huge day running the football. No doubt, though, they and the secondary have worked to do on pass defense. Grade: C.

Randy Phillips > Secondary: Can't give this group high praise when Christian Ponder carves them up and receivers end up being as open as they were. But it's hard to cover guys for more than five seconds. It was Lovett's choice to not send more blitzers at Ponder and to sit five yards back in coverage. All in all, these guys made some plays when they had to. I was impressed with Brandon Harris, who bounced back from his late pass interference penalty and batted away two balls. FSU didn't look his way often. Randy Phillips also had a pretty good day with six tackles and a big interception before the half. But there's no doubt this team needs work and needs to get healthy. Demarcus Van Dyke went out with an injury early. Sam Shields, making his first start on defense, got burned a few times. I believe Jojo Nicholas and Jared Campbell see a lot less time if Vaughn Telemaque and Ryan Hill are healthy. And Chavez Grant, UM's second best boundary corner, certainly isn't playing safety. I think what was saw ultimately was UMs Plan B secondary play most of the night. They badly need Plan A out there. Grade: C-

> Special Teams: Mixed bag here. I thought Matt Bosher had a solid day punting (4 punts, 2 inside 10) and kicking field goals, but obviously a horrible day on kickoffs. Shannon said the team was ultimately forced to squib kick because Bosher wasn't getting enough hangtime on his kickoffs. But UM didn't do a great job either tackling. On the flip side, Graig Cooper looked spectacular on kickoff returns. He gave Miami great field position nearly every time he touched the ball. Grade: C.

> Coaching: Mark Whipple gets the golden star here for his great play-calling. I also liked the fact he got in Jacory Harris face after the interception (no kid glove treatment). Defensively, Miami's game plan stunk. If Jarmon Fortson makes the catch in the end zone on the final play, we all would have been ripping Miami's defense much harder than we are. And the clock management once again was ugly. Somebody on the sidelines has to stop the confusion of who is supposed to be in and when. On one play near the goalline, Harland Gunn ran off the field and then back on it. Harris was forced to call timeout. At the end, it was another personnel mixup that forced UM to stop the clock with 19 seconds left and FSU inside Miami's five. Randy Shannon can't afford to have this continue to happen. Grade: C-.

FYI, I'll be posting the player progress report shortly. But now for a what if...

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