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Grading The Canes: VT Report Card

Here's how I grade UM's effort against Virginia Tech: It was clearly the Canes worst performance of the young season and showed there is still plenty of work to be done by this team before it really is "back" to being a serious contender. Right now, I see them as an improved football team that simply isn't completely where it needs to be yet.

I'll admit it I got caught up in the excitement myself. I thought this team was on the verge of taking a big step up. I picked them to win in Blacksburg last week after I had called for a 2-2 start to the season with losses against the Hokies and Sooners in the preseason. That being said, fans shouldn't take this loss as if the sky is falling. Miami's 31-7 loss Saturday came against the ACC's preseason favorite in their house in terrible weather conditions. It's not an excuse. Like Jason Fox told me after the game, "It was the hand we were dealt and we didn't step up to the challenge." 

The good news: UM will get another opportunity this week to redeem itself against Oklahoma. If UM wins -- and that's a big if because Oklahoma is probably the best football team UM will play this year -- the Canes could be right back in the Top 10. A 3-1 start would still be much better than most of us thought would happen. 

> Quarterbacks: The numbers weren't pretty for Jacory Harris. He completed 9 of 25 for 150 yards and an interception and a fumble. But his protection and help from receivers was much morse. Twice he made perfect throws on plays that could have gone for touchdowns -- Dedrick Epps and Jimmy Graham -- and twice the balls were dropped. I thought while some of his passes were clearly off, he did a decent job trying to keep Miami in the game. He showed leadership, going to his players like Graham on the sideline after his drops and reassuring him he had faith in him. UM didn't look great and neither did Harris. But he showed toughness, leadership in the loss. Grade: C.

> Running game: Miami attempted 34 runs and finished with 59 yards. Graig Cooper led the way with 55 yards on 11 carries. The field conditions weren't great and Cooper slipped several times on plays he might have been able to break for bigger gains. But what he showed me Saturday was that he's still better than Javarris James, who got 14 carries and finished with 35 yards and a touchdown. Cooper just did a better job finding holes and breaking tackles. At times, I thought James made poor decisions, cutting the ball through traffic instead of around it. Grade: D.

> Receivers/tight end: Randy Shannon said in his press conference Sunday he counted seven to eight drops. Obviously, Jimmy Graham had the two biggest ones. But Travis Benjamin had at least one or two himself. LaRon Byrd led the team in receiving again with four catches for 58 yards and Leonard Hankerson had three catches for 79 yards including a big one down the middle of the field to set up UM's only touchdown. Both of those guys played well. But as a unit, seven to eight drops is simply unacceptable. I don't care if it was raining. Virginia Tech didn't have that many drops. Grade: D.

> Blocking: In a word -- terrible. The lasting image for me in this game is watching Matt Pipho get completely destroyed by Jason Worilds and then Harris getting sacked. It wasn't just the fact Virginia Tech's front seven dominated Miami either. It was the bone head mistakes with false starts and blown assignments. Miami's running backs, who had done a good job picking up blitzes, completely whiffed a few times allowing Hokie defenders to get clear shots at Harris. Grade: F.

> Defensive line: They were shorthanded this week with Andrew Smith and Marcus Forston. But they were still dominated up front and out of position to make plays most of the game. Instead of staying in their gaps and protecting against the running ability of Tyrod Taylor, they were over aggressive and allowed the Hokies to have big gaps to run through. In all, UM was only able to produce two tackles for loss. That tells you what type of day it was up front. Grade: F.

> Linebackers: Colin McCarthy set a personal record with 13 tackles and Sean Spence had eight to finish second on the team. But neither of them nor anyone else on defense really had a great game. There were too many missed tackles and runs that ended up becoming the secondary's responsibility. When a team runs for 272 yards you've had a horrible day. Grade: D.

> Secondary: Tyrod Taylor only threw the ball nine times. But he completed four of them for 98 yards and a touchdown. His receivers were usually wide open, a product of what coach Randy Shannon didn't want -- guys leaving their responsibilities in coverage to go and help. Even if Chavez Grant doesn't slip, I'm pretty sure Jarrett Boykin scores on that 48-yard pass play. Brandon Harris had a good day tackling (he had 5 including a big one to stop a long run). But there were too many other guys like Demarcus Van Dyke who whiffed and gave up big plays. The Canes have to be worried about the loss of Randy Phillips. We still don't know how long he'll be out. Jojo Nicholas and Jared Campbell are not the answer. Grade: F.

> Special teams: Matt Bosher did his job -- averaging 41.5 yards a punt and knocking three inside the 20. And Graig Cooper had a nice 39-yard return to setup UM's only score. But the rest of UM's special teams unit didn't do their jobs well at all. The blocked punt turned what was still a close game at 14-0 into a much tougher task. Also, the punt coverage team has to come up with at least one of those two muffed balls. Virginia Tech recovered both of them. You can't leave opportunities like that on the field. Grade: D.

> Coaching: Can't put all the blame on the coaches in this one with the way UM executed with missed tackles and dropped balls. But I thought Mark Whipple could have made some adjustments a little quicker in the first half because of the weather conditions. Miami threw on the first play of its opening seven series five times. They weren't just short to mid range passes. They were passes deep downfield. It left the Canes in second and third and long most of the night. Defensively, whatever John Lovett had as his game plan didn't work. His team was out of position at lot of times and didn't stick to its assignment to close down those running lanes. But you can't put all the blame on him. He wasn't out there missing tackles. Grade: D.

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