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36 posts from September 2009

September 30, 2009

Lovett defends Spence, takes blame for struggles

The numbers aren't pretty. Through three games, the University of Miami defense has looked bad more often than it has looked good against three nationally ranked opponents. Canes fans want to know where the pass rush has been hiding, when the turnovers are going to start happening and when reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Sean Spence is going to start playing like he did a year ago.

Sean Spence has 14 tackles through three games and ranks sixth on the team.

Wednesday, defensive coordinator John Lovett faced all those questions and concerns and defended his sophomore strongside linebacker rather passionately.

"You ever have a bad day? Unless everybody here in this circle is perfect, we're talking about the wrong thing," Lovett said referring to Spence. "I didn't do a good job coaching and we didn't good job last week. I got to do a better job getting them ready to play and the kids got to respond and play. 

"You can talk about turnovers, you can talk about missed tackles, you can talk about Sean Spence. As a unit we have to play well. Sean is not just going to make plays by himself. What happens is he takes advantage of other people around him playing well. If he's doing his job, somebody else might make a play. And if they're doing their job, he'll have an opportunity to make plays. It's a team game. There are 10 other guys out there with him, that's how we coach."

Spence, who has fewer tackles on the team this season than Sam Shields, talked some Tuesday about what's been going wrong for him this year (I'll have a feature on him in Friday's paper). But one thing that's become obvious about the undersized 6-0, 212-pounder from Miami Northwestern is that he's become a bigger focus of opposing teams.

"I don't know if its a sophomore slump," Lovett said. "A lot of people know about him, so they're accounting for him. I think everybody's expecting him to put an 'S' on his chest and be the man on every single play. I think last year he showed up a lot because you didn't know who he was. He's not as productive as you all think he needs to be and I think he needs to be. But he's playing well and playing within the scheme and doing OK."

What's not OK in Lovett's eyes -- besides UM's poor tackling -- has been the lack of a pass rush (UM has four sacks in three games) and the inability to create turnovers (the defense has one fumble recovery and one interception). Creating turnovers and creating pressure are two things Lovett said will be huge for Miami against the eighth-ranked Sooners.

"We're a four man front. If they're not playing well, we're not going to play well as a defense. That's the bottomline," Lovett said. "Last week, nobody played well. It was very obvious. But before that I thought they did pretty well. We played pretty decent in the Florida State game, up front against the run until the fourth quarter when we let two out of the game. Last week, obviously was a disaster. Bad game planning by me and we didn't play very hard."

Our Susan Miller Degnan will be all over those last two topics -- with some special insight from defensive line coach Clint Hurtt who gave us an exclusive interview. Look for her story Thursday.

> For the complete audio interview with Lovett visit our UM audio page.

Randy Phillips

> R. PHILLIPS COULD PLAY SATURDAY: It's looking more and more like UM won't be without safety Randy Phillips against Oklahoma after all. UM's second leading tackler, who injured his forearm against Virginia Tech and left the game for good late in the first half, practiced full-go Wednesday according to coach Randy Shannon. Usually, if players don't practice by Wednesday, they don't play on Saturday.

Phillips is obviously motivated to play in this game because he was lit up by the Sooners and Sam Bradford two years ago. He actually was switched from corner to safety after being beat on two scores. Shannon said Phillips return means a lot to the team too. Shannon said he just doesn't want to see the team's emotional leader play out of control.

"[This game] means more to him because of situations he was put in a couple of years ago [when] they got a couple of passes on him," Shannon said. "He felt like he let the team down. But, like I told him, `Don't make it a revenge factor. Make it something you learn from, learn how you got beat and what you have to get done.' I told him you have to come out and play the game and be smart about it. But if you go out there with a little revenge factor - mad, angry, upset - most of the time people make mistakes, say something wrong, do something wrong when they're angry. Me and him talked about it - now he understands the whole big picture."

> PUNT RETURN CHANGES IN STORE?: One of the biggest problems for the Hurricanes this season has been generating big changes in field position on punt returns.

UM actually ranks among the nation's worst with only a 2-yard punt return average. "Everyone's kicking to the left hash and it's going out of bounds - they're not giving us a chance to do what we need to do," Shannon said. "So we have some things we worked on in practice to (negate) those things they're trying to do, where we can field it. The biggest thing is trying to field the football."

Don't be surprised if you see the Canes line up with two return men on Saturday.

> LIVE CHAT: I couldn't make it in time for our live chat Tuesday at 2 since I've been pulling double duty this week by helping cover the big St. Thomas Aquinas-Byrnes showdown. I also know a few of you had trouble placing your questions into the chat. If you want, try again. I'm going to spend some time this afternoon answering whatever questions are there or posted here. 

> MEDIA MAYHEM: Almost forgot. I don't think I'll be asking Orlando Franklin for any interviews any time soon. We requested Franklin this morning and he blew reporters off with some colorful language when approached by UM's sports information staff. "[Forget] those guys," Franklin said. 

It wasn't the first time a UM player was upset with the media. After Saturday's game, quarterback Jacory Harris lost his cool with a Virginia Tech reporter, who asked him four times if the rain was a factor. On the last try, Harris finally said "You must be a reporter from Virginia Tech aren't you?"

September 29, 2009

Linder, Payne love what they see in Canes

I had to race out of UM after today's press conference and interview session with players and coach Randy Shannon to visit St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. It forced me to miss our afternoon chat and not post anything I gathered from this morning.

So, here's something to tide you over until I can catchup later tonight. If you get a chance Friday night, catch No. 1 Aquinas' showdown with No. 2 Byrnes (S.C.). Chances are there will be two future Canes playing for the Raiders -- cornerback Keion Payne (6-0, 170) and offensive tackle Brandon Linder (6-5, 270).

Both told me this afternoon they've loved what they've seen from the Hurricanes so far this season and playing in Coral Gables next year is something they say could very likely happen. And both said they'll be on the Hurricanes sideline for the Oklahoma game on Saturday night.

"I love what Coach Whipple has done with that offense," said Linder, considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com. "I'm not sure when I'm going to make a decision yet. But it could be soon."

"They are definitely No. 1 for me," said Payne, considered a three-star recruit by Rivals."I just love the intensity they bring every week and I know from watching them on film I could come in right away and help them out."

> I'll have more for you later including a video interview with Jacory Harris from our old segment Getting To Know The U with our new host Judy Erwin.

> And all the audio interviews from today -- Sean Spence, Jacory Harris, Randy Shannon, Joel Figueroa, AJ Trump and Demarcus Van Dyke -- will be available shortly on our UM audio page.

September 28, 2009

Bradford or Jones? It doesn't matter

The Miami Hurricanes don't know who is going to start at quarterback Saturday night for Oklahoma. It could be Heisman trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford. Or, it could be freshman Landry Jones, who set a Sooners record with six TD passes in his last start.

Sam Bradford

Here's the truth: It doesn't matter who is throwing the ball if the Hurricanes defense doesn't turn things around quickly. Nationally, UM ranks 85th in scoring defense (27.33 ppg) among 119 FBS teams, 86th against run (159 ypg), and 89th in passing effeciency defense. They haven't been getting to the quarterback (4 sacks in 3 games) or creating turnovers (two fumble recoveries and one interception) either. But the biggest problem? Tackling.

"Watching film this week was real tough," linebacker Colin McCarthy said. "Tackling, getting guys on the ground is really what we're struggling with. People are in the right situation, in the right position. We're just not doing what we're supposed to. Watching the film was ridiculous. Coach said of the [272 yards] we gave up to V-Tech, 163 yards were after contact. We have to fix that."

Fixing it will become a priority this week -- moreso than worrying about what the eight-ranked Sooners do. And what Oklahoma has done has been pretty impressive. Their 40.67 scoring average ranks eighth in the country and their 18th-ranked offense is dangerously balanced attack (196 yards rushing per game, 256 yards passing).

"We can't just focus on the pass because they've got guys who can run the ball real well," said cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who was torched by Bradford and the Sooners offense in a 51-13 loss as a freshman. "It's all about assignment and technique, assignment and technique for us."

> Look for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to announce his starting quarterback later this week. Stoops said Bradford, who visited specialist Dr. James Andrews over the weekend for a second opinion on his injured throwing shoulder, has been making positive improvements throughout practice. "We just have to feel comfortable that he's healthy, that he feels good enough to make the throws he needs to make and that he's ready to do it."

> Don't expect to see senior safety Randy Phillips back for the Oklahoma game. Word is his injured forearm is going to need some time to heal. Miami will likely go with a mix of Jojo Nicolas and Jared Campbell in his place.

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.

September 26, 2009

Gameday blog: UM at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG -- The Hurricanes take on Virginia Tech in a crucial ACC matchup this afternoon at Lane Stadium. Feel free to follow the game on ABC/ESPN and share your thoughts during our live blog.

Reminder: Participation in the Cover It Live program is intended for the exchange of meaningful questions and observations during the game between fans and reporters. Not all comments or questions will be posted. Readers can feel free to participate in an open discussion in our comment section below. iPhone users are asked to be patient as it takes several minutes for Cover It Live to load.

September 25, 2009

Gameday Preview: UM at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- With less than 24 hours before the Canes and Hokies start hitting each other at Lane Stadium in a crucial ACC Coastal Division showdown, fans in South Florida seem to be panicking over the expected stormy forecast. According to Weather.com there is a 90 percent chance of rain for the game, which means UM and Virginia Tech will likely be playing in slop by the fourth quarter.

UM coach Randy Shannon told us Thursday he’s not worried about any rain and feels his team is well prepared for it after having played one of their scrimmages during fall camp in a “monsoon.”

REWIND: The Canes won last year’s tilt 16-14 in a defensive struggle at Land Shark Stadium. But the last time they were in Hokieville, Virginia Tech laid the Canes out 40-14. UM has won twice at Lane Stadium (2005, 2001) this decade and has split their previous 10 meetings overall at 5-5 with the Hokies.


UM > UM wins because…

Quarterback Jacory Harris doesn't get rattled, the Canes protect the football and UM’s defense and special teams don’t give up many big plays. One thing Harris has had plenty of is time to throw the ball and easy passing lanes to find open receivers. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is bound to try different ways – zone blitzes and zone coverages – to make Harris feel uncomfortable. If UM’s offensive line provides sound protection and the running game keeps the Hokies defense on its toes, Harris and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple will figure out how to strike for the big passing play.

Virginia Tech

> VT wins because…

Defensive end Jason Worilds leads the charge of getting pressure on Jacory Harris, Tyrod Taylor plays his best game of the season and the Hokies’ run defense – off to a horrible starts – regains its form and shuts down Javarris James and Graig Cooper. Worilds will be a handful for senior Matt Pipho, who stepped up to his challenge last week against Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan. Worilds and the VT defense have to accomplish what Morgan couldn’t and not only disrupt Harris’ flow, but do a good job containing the run. Taylor, meanwhile, won’t light up the scoreboard. But if he can keep the Hokies defense off the field with a few sustained drives and runs of his own, he’ll make it really hard for UM to win this game.

> My pick: UM 27, Virginia Tech 17. The final score won’t represent how close I expect this game to be. Playing at home as underdogs in the rain, makes the Hokies a dangerous team. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is too good not to find ways to slow UM’s offense down. But what I think doesn’t happen for the Hokies is that Taylor and and the team's anemic offense find its groove. Taylor hasn’t been an effective passer for most of his career and enters with loads of pressure on his back. I think UM’s defense will rattle him enough under the spotlight and create turnovers late to help turn a close game in into an impressive road victory. In the end, UM will demonstrate it can win games with big plays on defense too.


> Offense: Miami’s offensive line. I expect them to struggle a little at first playing in a loud environment against a hungry team. But they will rebound in the second half and be the key to give Harris time and Cooper and James running lanes.

> Defense: Brandon Harris. He should have had a pick last week, but it was wiped away by a penalty. This week, I’m calling for Harris to take a pick back to the house and for UM’s secondary to come up with a few big plays when Taylor starts flinging the football.

> Special Teams: Travis Benjamin. The punt return game has been suspect. But I’m calling for Benjamin and UM to break out of the funk with a few nice returns to give UM important field position.

September 24, 2009

Forston, Gordon, A. Smith out for VT

The Miami Hurricanes just released their injury report for the Virginia Tech game on Saturday -- and they'll be two short on the defensive line.

Defensive tackle Marcus Forston (foot), tight end Richard Gordon (shoulder) and defensive end Andrew Smith (upper extremity) are the guys who will be out. 

Running back Lee Chambers (left knee), defensive end Dyron Dye (leg), offensive lineman Corey White (leg) are listed as doubtful.  

Receiver Aldarius Johnson (groin) is listed as questionable for the second week in a row. 

CONTAINING TYROD: UM coach Randy Shannon was the only person available after Thursday's practice. Here's what he said when I asked him about defending Tyrod Taylor, who hasn't exactly had a great year throwing the football or running with it.

"He can be very dangerous," Shannon said. "One thing you can't be misled by is his running ability. He has a very strong arm. And you can see him when he runs around the pocket. If he can rally, the secondary has to do a great job of locking onto the receivers. If you don't, he'll make a great throw and the receivers will make a catch that way."

Shannon said UM has to do a good job not opening running lanes with their pressure. "Teams have done a good job of corralling him and keeping him in the pocket," Shannon said. "But they'll probably develop a quarterback draw or something like that for him. That's something you always have to concern yourself with. Everybody has to do their job and they'll be OK. When you try to help somebody else on defense out, that's when you jump out of your lane or coverage and that's when bad things happen."

Canes have a "toy" collection at receiver

I caught up with UM assistant Aubrey Hill earlier this week and asked him if he feels like the luckiest receivers coach in college football. Hill didn't need to really answer the question. It's beyond obvious he has one of the deepest and finest collections of talent at the position around.

Aubrey Hill

Through two games, a dozen players (five receivers, two tight ends and five running backs) have caught passes for UM. Of those 12, seven have made catches of 20 or more yards. Hill smiles at those stats and said part of what has made Miami's offense have so much success early on this season has been that diversity of pass catchers.

"Defenses always want to make you one dimensional whether you run the ball or pass the ball. They want to take one particular back out, one particular tight end out, one receiver out," Hill said. "I think it makes it more of a task when you are more diverse with the people you put on the field and the many positions you put them in. In my opinion it's pretty simple: Would you rather have one toy on Christmas or several toys on Christmas? I'd rather have as many gifts as possible."

The gifts come in many shapes and sizes. But none may be more valuable to the receivers according to Hill than junior Leonard Hankerson, who was on the verge of being passed up by the younger talented guys behind him before making a huge turnaround this off-season. Hill said Hankerson did exactly what was asked of him -- work on the drops, his conditioning and become a leader.

"It's amazing the return you get when you put something in it," Hill said. "I think leadership is so important in our group because there are so many teams with so much talent, but who have never really gelled. I think that comes from not having that leadership or direction. We're fortunate we have that direction with Hank. He says 'Guys we need to do this, we need to do that,' reinforcing what the coaches are saying; making sure guys are on time just keeping guys on point. That's the type of influence he has."

LaRon Byrd

Another player setting the right example according to Hill is sophomore LaRon Byrd, who rebounded from a catch-less night at Florida State (when he suffered a few bruised ribs) by leading UM with five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech. Hill said Byrd brings his "hard hat and lunch pail" to UM each day and is the first one to come in for film study and the last to leave. He's also the first to turn in assignments. And Hill said Byrd (6-4, 215) has only begun to bloom under offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's guidance.

"LaRon is getting better day-to-day from practice to practice," Hill said. "He's running crossing routes, double moves, comebacks, curls. He's running all the routes the receivers do in the NFL. I don't think he did all those things in high school. He's probably one of those guys you could say is a really good size and speed guy and is a natural catcher, but still has some rawness in route-running but has really improved."

One primary focus for all the receivers this offseason -- aside from better route running -- was improving their blocking, a mandate from Whipple across the board. Hill said Travis Benjamin, who leads the team with seven catches and 157 yards receiving, is someone who has improved the most in those areas.

"We're a lot more team oriented as a group and as an offense and we're really excited about going downfield and having a presence in the run game," Hill said. "You have receivers downfield cutting. Those guys aren't worried about how many touchdown or catches they have, but how many times they can knock down defensive backs. You can see those guys really excited coming to the sideline saying 'Coach did you see me knock those guys down?'"

Two receivers nobody has been able to see yet on the field are redshirt freshmen Kendall Thompkins and Tommy Streeter. I asked Hill when they might see the field.

"We're really excited about them as far as where they're going, direction they're headed," Hill said. "The biggest thing with them is consistency. But you see they have a lot of skill, athleticism, a lot of big play ability. The biggest thing with them isn't a matter of if, but when. I'm sure their opportunity will come this year and hopefully the near future where they can come in and help us in the passing game and run game."

One thing Hill said has definitely developed after UM's first two games is a genuine level of excitement about the offense from recruits. Hill said he's been receiving more phone calls from players Miami is after who have been more than impressed with Whipple's play calling.

"Many recruits prior to the season started were kind of waiting to see how the offense was going to do," Hill said. "It kind of speaks for itself when you do well on the field and you get the recruits calling saying good game, great win, we like what we saw. If it was the other way around still, where we were the ones calling all the time then you know how we're doing."

Since NFL rules do not allow scouts to ask talk to assistants about underclassmen, Hill said the only player he's been approached about has been senior Sam Shields (who even though has made the move to defense is still apparently being thought of by some scouts as a receiver).

"They all keep telling me they really like the young guys," Hill said. "And that they'll be coming back to see me again real soon."

September 23, 2009

Why U should fear the Hokies

If you look at the 11th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies on paper and compare them to the way the University of Miami has looked in its first two games, you'd think it would be wise for the folks in Blacksburg to start boarding up and seeking shelter.

The Hokies (2-1) haven't looked very good offensively under quarterback Tyrod Taylor and their normally stout defense (ranked 77th in the nation and 107th against the run) has been a bit exposed for having some holes in it.

The Canes need to swallow up return man Dyrell Roberts the way they did last year

So what is there to be nervous about if you are the Canes? A lot. The Hokies have won 10 home games in a row and will be a rowdy underdog at Lane Stadium, a place infamous for being loud and obnoxious toward the Canes. The Hokies also have the ACC's leading rusher in freshman tailback Ryan Williams and will likelyget their best boundary corner Stephan Virgil back this week. But the real reason to respect the Hokies? They still play a darn good game of Beamer Ball.

What's that? It's called special teams dominance and capitalizing on big plays.

-- Entering this week's game, sophomore receiver Dyrell Roberts -- who made the game-winning catch against Nebraksa -- ranks second in the country in kickoff return yardage. He's produced five of the Hokies' 21 plays that have gone for 20 or more yards, including kickoff returns of 98, 76 and 47 yards.

-- Teammate Jayron Hosley is also plenty dangerous on punt returns with a 21.0 yard average -- including a 64-yarder he took back to the house against Alabama. 

-- Punter Brent Bowden, meanwhile, is averaging 46.3 yards a kick (fourth best in the nation) and seven punts of his 19 punts have pinned teams inside their own 20.

Outside of a few nice kick returns, the Hurricanes have basically stunk on special teams.

-- Matt Bosher, who missed two field goals last week, has a 33.2 yard net average on punts that ranks 95th in the nation.

-- Miami's return game on punts has been non-existent, with UM averaging 5.2 yards on four attempts.

-- But nothing has been worse for UM on special teams than its kickoff coverage team. Thanks to a pair of kicks that have gone out of bounds and bad tackling, opponents have started out with their average field position at their own 37-yard line.

UM coach Randy Shannon is sticking with walk-on Alex Uribe this week who made his last kick against Georgia Tech a good one. But the Canes are mixing up where guys will line up on the coverage team this week and try to exploit some advantage.

"We're just making an emphasis on what we have to get done," Shannon said. "They have a good kickoff return team... We know we have to do a better job."

Shannon said Bosher has done a good job responding to his two missed field goals against Georgia Tech in practice. "We put him under the pressure at the end of practice," Shannon said. "We've had him kick six, seven field goals at the end and he's been doing pretty good. He's been making them."

Cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke, who is making his return this week from a first week concussion and is one of the new faces on special teams, said the biggest thing UM has been focusing on this week is anticipating trick plays on special teams.

"Everybody talks about [Virginia Tech coach Frank] Beamer. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve," DVD said. "We definitely watching for fakes, putting in the extra time to study what they do."

Tyrod Taylor

KEEPING AN EYE ON TYROD: Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor has never been as dangerous with his arm as he has been with his legs. But UM players said they learned to be wary of Taylor's ability to scramble and wait for receivers to get open after watching what he did late in the game against Nebraska Saturday.

"They have a really good quarterback who likes to move around," safety Vaughn Telemaque said. "We just have to focus on our man, lockdown our guy when he starts running around. That's when he beats you."

WARY OF THE HOKIES 'D': The numbers might suggest Virginia Tech is down defensively. But if you ask players on Miami's offense, they aren't taking the Hokies lightly. Offensive guard Orlando Franklin said Virginia Tech has the same type of speed and uses the same type of tactics Florida State employs, but said the Hokies probably do it a little better.

"There's one thing I really don't like about this defense -- they try to pad the box to stop the run and they do a real good job of that," Franklin said. "They're a real aggressive defense. They got a great front seven. [Safety Cam Chancellor] in a real good player. [Defensive end Jason] Worilds is a real good player. They have a real good things going on in that defense."

INJURY UPDATE: Shannon said tight end Richard Gordon (shoulder) and defensive tackle Marcus Forston (foot) practiced "a little" on Wednesday. Shannon said we'd have to wait until Thursday's injury report to know whether or not they'd play. I'm guessing it's a pretty safe bet they won't. Receiver Aldarius Johnson could also still remain on that list. Shannon doesn't want to rush him back from his groin injury.

Canes finally free to gush about Jacory

Raising a question about Jacory Harris last season at the University of Miami felt a lot like asking a parent to single out one of their twins. Everytime you brought up him up, Robert Marve would find his way into the discussion. 

Jacory Harris

There is no need to be politically correct about which quarterback is the favorite anymore at The U. UM players can finally gush honestly about the guy who stuck around and who some pundits believe deserves to be in the Heisman discussion two games into his sophomore season.

"The thing about Jacory is he helps keep us together," tight end Jimmy Graham said. "He's always laughing. He's always joking around with everybody. During the film meetings, he's always sitting with someone new. He's not sitting in the front. He's always sitting with the wide receivers, sitting with the running backs, sitting with the tight ends. He loves everybody on the team."

And everybody on the team, it seems, loves him. Even big, bad Orlando Franklin. The 6-7, 330-pound offensive guard likes being Harris' body guard on game days -- including bus rides. Franklin sits next to Harris on bus trips. Harris in turn provides comic relief for all with his jokes -- and his wardrobe selection. Whether its wearing funny hats or different colored shoes, Harris' teammates say he'll do whatever he has to do to keep things loose. 

One day on campus before the Florida State game, Phillips said Harris was walking around looking like "Steve Urkel," with "his socks up to his knees, his shirt tucked in and his shorts pulled up." 

Phillips said Harris took it up a notch on game day before the Florida State game. "We have our traditional shirt, tie and blazer we all wear," Phillips said. "Jacory shows up with this Louis Vuitton scarf, Gucci shades, funny haircut and earings. The first thing I'm thinking about is 'Tim Tebow doesn't dress like this.'

"But he's his own guy. He's different. That's why people love him. He's able to get guys relaxed when they're real intense."

Harris saves all his intensity for the field. Graham said the way Harris leads reminds him a lot of former two-time All-ACC guard Jack McClinton.

"His focus on game days is something I've never seen," Graham said. "When it comes time to play, Jacory Harris is a very, very focused man. There's no joking around. It might look on TV after the game when he's smiling that it was all fun and games. But during the game and preparation, he has that stone cold face on. He wants to win. That's something I didn't notice until the Florida State game. After the game I went to congratulate him, but he said 'Thank you. But we're not done yet.'

"He's a very focused player just like Jack. [Both] have a great game day preparation and gameday focus. They also share that killer whim mentality. And they both do not like to lose. They're very competitive and expect everybody to want it more or just as much as they do. It's a relentless drive to win."

That's why Phillips said everyone respects Harris, despite his funny shoes and his occasional "weirdness."

"In the beginning as a senior leader, I was like this kid better go out there and impress some people or I'm going to be real mad at him," Phllips said. "But he's doing real well. I really enjoy having Jacory Harris as my quarterback. He's making a big difference to the city of Miami and to college football. Big, big difference."

> EARLY RISERS: For all the talk about how much extra time UM has had to prepare for its opponents, nothing might have proven to be a bigger advantage for the Canes this season than having their afternoon practices moved to the crack of dawn.

"Me and Josh Holmes talk about it everyday about whether we like it or don't like them," offensive tackle Matt Pipho said. "Before practice, we're like 'God we got to wake up this early.' After practice we say 'We had a great practice.' There's a lot to like It's not as hot. Plus, coaches are preaching you to move drill to drill quicker. There is no heat. So we're getting a lot more plays in. I'm a proponent of them for sure."

> URIBE REMAINS ON KICKOFFS: I forgot to mention this yesterday in the blog (it was in the chat), but walk-on Alex Uribe will continue to handle kickoffs. Coach Randy Shannon said there will be changes, however, on the kickoff team and who goes down on coverage.

> SOUND CHECK: Check out all of the audio interviews from last week and this week on our UM audio page.

September 22, 2009

Will the hype hurt the Canes?

The question on everyone's minds entering this week isn't how the Hurricanes will handle the Hokies. It's how they'll handle the hype of being a big deal again in college football. Of the 200 questions you left me on our weekly chat, 150 pertained to the mental focus of this team.

Jacory Harris

Are they overconfident now that they're in the Top 10? Is Jacory going to be affected by the Heisman talk? Are they taking the Hokies lightly?

We won't know for sure until Saturday when the Canes line up against the ACC preseason favorite in their house. But from everything we heard from coach Randy Shannon and his players Tuesday, this Miami Hurricanes team isn't drinking the Kool Aid yet.

In fact, when the Canes got word they had moved up to No. 9 in the latest Associated Press poll Sunday, Harris said he and his teammates shrugged it off.

"Not too many people knew – one person said it, and it was like `Oh, well, we just have to get better," Harris said. "We don't want No. 9. No. 9 is nine spots away from being No. 1. We want to be No. 1 in the nation. We want to be where Florida is. Where all the great teams are. That's where we're trying to get."

Shannon said his team learned enough harsh lessons from its losses last year to avoid future pitfalls or taking teams lightly.

"This football team has learned a lot from last year's losses that we had playing against certain teams, situations," Shannon said. "Now they can realize the importance of concentrating on the game at hand, not looking ahead.

"When you look at the football team now, have we got a lot better maturity-wise than last year? Yes. As a whole the biggest thing that has helped out is the seniors on this football team. They've done a great job making sure we stay focused on the big picture, not the small picture. The preparation this morning was good, we got a lot of things done. Now we have to take the next step tomorrow. If we stay focused the game is no problem because they're ready to go. If you see guys not doing the small things in practice then you have a problem."

Harris said he's seen his new Heisman website and heard about all the things some famous people have been saying about him. But he promises it won't affect him.

"It's still not overwhelming," Harris said. "I have to pay attention to what's ahead. I have to take it one game at a time. As long as I do that, my team will help me stay focused, and I'll help them stay focused.

"I've heard (the Heisman hype). But I try not to pay any attention to it. I really don't think I've done anything yet because we've only played two games and we still have 12 more game to go. I'm just trying to win all the games."

Harris said he and his teammates know all the attention can disappear quickly.

"Once you lose you start dropping in the rankings anyway," Harris said. "Last year we went up to play Georgia Tech. I know were happy, probably too happy. That's what we learned. It's not about what's written on paper, stats. It's what's done on the field. As long as we keep performing on the field we'll get the rewards and things we deserve."

A couple quick notes...

> INJURY UPDATES: Expect to see cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke back in the lineup this week... Receiver Aldarius Johnson and running back Lee Chambers could be back too. Both were back out at practice Tuesday... We still have not received any word or defensive tackle Marcus Forston's status. He left in the third quarter with a foot injury against Georgia... Tight end Jimmy Graham had his left hand bandaged up. Ditto for backup linebacker Arthur Brown.

> I'll have plenty more for you in the coming days including audio from today's media session. We spoke with Leonard Hankerson, Jacory Harris, Randy Shannon, Matt Pipho, Orlando Franklin and Randy Phillips. I had a one-on-one with receivers coach Aubrey Hill.

September 20, 2009

Canes climb back into Top 10

The Miami Hurricanes are officially back on the nation's college football map.

For the first time since 2005, UM climbed into the nation's Top 10 rankings Sunday when they leapfrogged 11 spots to No. 9. The Canes, 12-13 under coach Randy Shannon in his first two seasons, hadn't been ranked in the Top 10 since they went into the Peach Bowl ninth and then lost to LSU 40-3. The Canes climbed to as high as third that season before suffering the first of four losses to Georgia Tech.

But now, an impressive 33-17 Thursday night win over the Yellow Jackets on national TV has put the Canes (2-0) back on the national landscape and ahead of their next two opponents -- 11th-ranked Virginia Tech (2-1) and 10th-ranked Oklahoma (2-1).

UM is ranked 13th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll.

Top-ranked Florida remained the nation's consensus No. 1-ranked team in both polls.

September 19, 2009

Jacory Harris is blowing up

So this is what happens when you win two nationally televised games and put The U back on the map. Jacory Harris has certainly discovered what it feels like to be a star over the last 48 hours.

Jacory for Heisman

He's not only become an instant Heisman candidate according to ESPN and had a new Heisman site developed in his honor, but his name has been on a lot of people's lips across across the country. Or, their Twitter accounts anyway. At one point Friday, Jacory Harris was actually one of the most popular tweets around. Not just the average Joes either.

> Former Texas basketball star Kevin Durant tweeted: "Man Harris might be better than [Ohio State's] Terrell Pryor."

> ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen tweeted: "I like Jacory Harris a lot. He's a cool customer, sees the field, accurate. Playing for a good OC in Mark Whipple.

> Deadspin.com joined the action, wildly declaring "Miami quarterback Jacory Harris will be the #1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He'll be just like JaMarcus Russell, only he'll be good instead of grossly obese."

> Former Canes are loving what they saw too. Panthers Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason tweeted: "a star is born" Jacory Harris CLAP!

> And then there's this really bad YouTube song.

HAITH CHIMES IN ON GRAHAM'S TD: I caught up with UM basketball coach Frank Haith earlier this afternoon and had a good laugh with him about Jimmy Graham's first catch and touchdown Thursday night. Haith, who was in athletic director Kirby Hocutt's skybox for Thursday night's game, said his wife cried tears of joy when his former 6-8, 260-pound power forward made his first big football play. He said everyone in the box -- including his son -- went nuts. 

Jimmy Graham

But Haith said he couldn't help himself from giving Graham a nice ribbing for his ugly touchdown celebration. "I told him afterward his celebration lacked creativity. He knew he couldn't spike the ball or dunk it over the goal posts. But whatever it was he did, bobbing his head, it was hilarious. I told him 'You got to practice some in your room. Run off the field, chest bump somebody, give Jacory [Harris] a helmet tap, something. You can't look lost again."

Graham said Thursday he didn't celebrate much because he had to go back in to block on the ensuing extra point and was just kind out of it. So far, he's been targeted three times and made one catch. "I feel like I've worked hard, learned a little bit and hopefully each game I can help this team and I can prove I'm a football player," he said. 

For what it's worth, Graham has only been playing football for eight weeks. Harris said he did the right thing finding the open space for the touchdown. He said he's focused on doing the right things, he doesn't partake in trash talking. "With football, there are so many fans and I'm usually just thinking about he just called, I zone everything out. I'm thinking 'What do I have to do on this?' And I'm making sure to do it right."

September 18, 2009

Grading the Canes: GT Report Card

Here's how I grade UM's effort against Georgia Tech. It was the best game this team has played under Randy Shannon and the most complete they've looked in years. Bravo, Canes.

Jacory Harris up close > Quarterbacks: He didn't need to be heroic this week. Instead, Jacory Harris was practically perfect. He threw five incompletions (two were drops) and finished 20 of 25 for 270 yards and three scores. He made one bad decision on the second series of the game, throwing deep for LaRon Byrd and nearly getting picked. He's still off to a great start in two games and the Heisman talk has already begun. He's currently seventh in ESPN voting. I think it's a little premature. But fun nonetheless. Grade: A.

> Running game: If someone would have said UM would outrush Georgia Tech before the game, we all would have laughed. But that's what happened. UM ran for 184 and GT ran for 95. Graig Cooper had 93 yards on 17 carries and Javarris James had 72 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. Both looked good moving the pile. Tough break for Lee Chambers. He had two carries for 12 yards and needed help to get off the field. We may finally see Mike James next week. Grade: A.

LaRon Byrd > Receivers/tight end: Not too many drops this week. LaRon Byrd had one on a cross route (the ball could have been thrown better), Dedrick Epps had another. But all in all, when nine different guys catch the football and eight of those have gains of 13 or more, you've had a great day. LaRon Byrd did a nice job bouncing back from his tough day at FSU with a team-leading five catches for 83 yards and a score. Former power forward Jimmy Graham even got on the scoreboard with his first catch and first touchdown. Grade: A.

> Blocking: Jacory Harris said it best after the game when he said he didn't even think about Derrick Morgan or Georgia Tech's pass rush. That's the kind of day the big uglies had. There were a few penalties -- false start on Matt Pipho and a holding penalty on Jason Fox. But Jacory Harris had all day to throw. And the line opened up plenty of running lanes. Grade: A.

Allen Bailey > Defensive line: Eric Moncur made his return and was an instant hit. He was huge on the opening series in disrupting Josh Nesbitt. Most importantly, however, other than the opening series when GT ran for 45 yards, UM's defensive line trusted each other to stay on assignment and avoided cut blocks. Freshman Olivier Vernon created three tackles for loss. Allen Bailey created a push in the middle along with Joe Joseph. The only thing missing again was a contribution from Marcus Forston. He didn't have a tackle and left the game in the third quarter with an injury. Grade: A.

> Linebackers: Darryl Sharpton earned a helmet sticked with his eight tackles. He did a great job tying up Josh Nesbitt when he decided to keep the ball instead of pitching it. Colin McCarthy had four tackles and Sean Spence had two. Jordan Futch made his first start, but only because McCarthy was having helmet issues at the start of the game. Bottomline, the guys did their job collectively. Grade: A.

Randy Phillips > Secondary: The only area on defense where there were still some deficiencies. Sam Shields finished with six tackles but was the victim on a few big pass plays Georgia Tech was able to strike on. Meanwhile, Brandon Harris looked like a beast again. He had three pass deflections and didn't get beat at all. When Demarcus Van Dyke (concussion) returns next week, Shields can go back to being a part time player. That will help as much as the return of Vaughn Telemaque did this week when he started in place of Jojo Nicholas. Telemaque and Randy Phillips were both solid on run defense. Grade: B.

> Special teams: If you thought FSU was a tough game for the Canes on kickoff coverage, this one was worse. Walk-on Alex Uribe kicked two balls out of bounds, but rebounded with better efforts in the second half. But the Yellow Jackets still got great field position most of the night. They started at either their 40 or 39 yard line five times on six kickoffs. Meanwhile, Matt Bosher had a tough day despite the lighter workload. Bosher missed a 26-yarder and 31-yarder late in the game. The positive? The lights out block by Futch that made SportsCenter and the returns of Mike James, Travis Benjamin and Graig Cooper. But like Shannon said, the Canes have work to do. Grade: D.

> Coaching: Much better on defense, spectacular again on offense and much better on clock management. Mark Whipple's play calling on offense put UM in position to score more than the 33 points they did. He was scary good. Defensively, UM was always in position to make plays. The work defensive coordinator John Lovett did against the Triple Option and cut blocks needs to be commended. Miami was ready for it. But the best part about the coaching this week? No timeouts because the wrong personnel was on the field. UM burned all six at FSU because of that. None this week. Huge turnaround. Grade: A.

Could Canes be on path to national title in '09?

Before the 2009 season began all anybody wanted to talk about was how tough the first four games on UM's schedule was. Now, the Canes are a road win in Blacksburg, Va. and an inspiring win over Oklahoma at home from a 4-0 start.

Canes share postgame celebration with the student section. I'll tell you what they are also two wins away from: being a serious national title contender. Sounds nuts after what Randy Shannon's program did in his first two years. But why can't the Canes think national title this year? I know. It's early. I'm not trying to say this will happen or cloud any players' thoughts (some of you think that's what I aim to do).

But the blueprint most of us believed didn't call for UM's championship aspirations to truly develop until 2010. You know, when Jacory Harris and all those Miami Northwestern guys and recruits from the Canes No. 1-ranked recruiting class were going to be juniors. But after further review, it almost seems like 2009 might be worth a shot -- maybe even better than 2010. How so? Let me count the ways.

- How could the BCS not love a Canes team that starts the year with four straight wins over ranked opponents and potentially wins on the road against a ranked North Carolina to clinch the ACC Title? The 2010 schedule has a Sept. 11 date at Ohio State. But the other three non-conference games? FAMU, at Pittsburgh and a home date with South Florida. The strength of schedule argument is obviously better for 2009.

- Have you seen how good Miami's offense has been through two games? Do you honestly think the NFL or other teams in college football aren't going to come after offensive coordinator Mark Whipple with a bigger piggy bank than the one The U carries around. Fact: Whipple will be a hot offseason commodity. Just saying...

- The Hurricanes offensive line has been tremendous through two games. They've given up one sack and given Jacory Harris all the time in the world to pick apart Florida State and Georgia Tech. Sadly, Jason Fox, AJ Trump and Matt Pipho -- three of the guys in the current six-man rotation -- are seniors. They need to be replaced. Thursday night, some of their replacements -- Jermaine Johnson and Ben Jones -- were in street clothes on the sideline.

- UM's defense has plenty of young talent and room to grow. But they've also got a special group of senior leaders in Randy Phillips and Eric Moncur who won't be here next year. And who is to say big bad Allen Bailey won't make the jump early to the NFL? Ditto for junior running back Graig Cooper, who keeps displaying some special abilities used all over the field.

I repeat: I'm not trying to throw the Canes off track, put thoughts into their heads that shouldn't be there this early in a young season. The coaches are doing a good job of not allowing that. So, are the players. All Jacory Harris kept talking last night about was "the next game."

I'm just looking down a street I think most of us never though this team, this 2009 team could find themselves on this early: the one that possibly leads to Pasadena for the national championship game. I'm saying it might really be OK for everybody else to start wondering or daydreaming what most us thought was impossible.

REMEMBER THIS: The most poignant thing Randy Shannon talked about in his postgame press conference Thursday night was the focus his team showed leading up to the game. Pregame meal? Quiet. Bus ride to the stadium? Quiet. Pregame locker room? Quiet. Shannon said he and his assistants "didn't need to beg and plead for this team to stay focused. They were focused through the pregame." You definitely got that sense throughout practice last week. I'm not sure you could always say that about this program in Shannon's first two years. When you have leaders like Jacory Harris, Randy Phillips and Jason Fox who keep everyone in line, you put teammates in line -- that's when you could start believing a team could be really special.

GAME BALLS: Offensively, you could give one to Jacory Harris for his near-perfect night (20 of 25 270 yards, 3 TDS) throwing the football. Or, you could give it to LaRon Byrd for bouncing back from his O-fer against Florida State by leading UM in receptions and yards. But I'm handing it to the offensive line for completely shutting down Georgia Tech's pass rush. When I asked Harris if Derrick Morgan had even breathed on him, he said "I saw him early in the game from the corner of my eye. But they picked him and blocked him. I didn't worry about the defensive line the rest of the game." When a quarterback can have that much confidence in his offensive line, he can put up scary numbers. So here is to you Jason Fox, Orlando Franklin, AJ Trump, Harland Gunn, Joel Figueroa and Matt Pipho.

Defensively, Miami's front seven and Brandon Harris can share the love. Huge game by Darryl Sharpton with eight tackles and Harris had his second straight eye-opening performance. He had three pass deflections and looked like a shutdown corner. Oh, by-the-way, Georgia Tech finished with 95 yards rushing. That's a little bit less than the 472 they put up last year.

WORRY ABOUT: The special teams. Alex Uribe is a nice kid. But it looked like someone was standing on the sideline with a football magnet every time he kicked off Thursday. Matt Bosher had two missed field goals from point blank range. Like Shannon said, unacceptable. The Canes have plenty of work to do in kickoff coverage too -- especially with the special teams demons who play for Virginia Tech.

INJURY WATCH: We should find out shortly what the deal with defensive tackle Marcus Forston and running back Lee Chambers is. Both needed help limping off the field Thursday night. Josh Holmes had a tough time walking off on his own too in the second half. Our Susan Miller Degnan should have an update from coach Shannon's press conference later this morning.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Be sure to check out our newest product -- the Canes new app for your iPhone. Download it and have easy access to all the audio and Canes news we produce.

September 17, 2009

Gameday blog: UM-Georgia Tech

Feel free to watch tonight's game between Georgia Tech and Miami and share your thoughts and questions throughout. I'll begin the live blog just after 7. Feel free to also comment below in the blog.

(The live coverage will display below. Press the play button to launch. It may take up to a minute to load.)

Gameday Preview: UM-Georgia Tech

It's time to preview tonight's game as the Hurricanes try to snap a four game losing streak to Georgia Tech and take another step forward under coach Randy Shannon.

REWIND: Do I even have to bring it up? 472. That's all you need to know. The Yellow Jackets ran through, around and over the Canes last year in Atlanta. Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt had a field day and Georgia Tech flat out ruined whatever hopes UM had of reaching the ACC championship game. To say UM has forgotten about it would be just flat out wrong. This team has been watching film of Tech's triple option attack and practicing for it since the spring. In the Canes locker room this week, newspaper clippings were posted all over the place to remind players what Georgia Tech has done to them.


UM > UM wins because: They slow down (notice I didn't say shut down) Tech's Triple Option, force at least two turnovers and quarterback Jacory Harris and his receivers have another big day to help the Canes jump out in front and stay there. How important is UM's early success on offense? Maybe bigger than if Jonathan Dwyer has another big day. Last season in Tech's four losses, the Yellow Jackets not only fell behind but were at times forced to throw more than they wanted to. Nesbitt had a season-high 24 pass attempts against LSU in the blowout bowl loss, 15 against Virginia, 22 against UNC and 14 against Virginia Tech. At the very least, UM has to create at least a few situations where Nesbitt has to become a passer. If he doesn't, it's going to be a long day for the Canes.

GT > GT wins because: They have the same type of success they had last year running the football, breaking off long runs against UM's defense and demoralizing the Canes and the home crowd at Land Shark Stadium. This is going to be an emotional game for the Canes. They've spent so much time preparing for this game and want badly to redeem themselves for previous losses. If the Yellow Jackets grab the edge early and put some pressure on Jacory Harris, then the game is definitely playing in their favor.

> My pick: UM 34, Georgia Tech 31. I said before the season Miami's best shot at winning in their first four games were the first two. I stand by it. Georgia Tech didn't impress me very much on defense in its first two games -- or offensively for that matter (they scored two special teams TDs against Clemson). But UM's defense didn't look very good in its opener either. That's why I expect a high scoring game yet again. Miami's defense isn't going to give up 472 rushing yards again. But the Yellow Jackets are going to have success running the football. It's what they do. I just think the fact Miami is playing this game at home and has been focused on it for so long, the Canes will find a way with a turnover or two to pull this one out at the end in dramatic fashion.


> Offense: Jacory Harris. After his thrilling performance at Florida State, he garnered a mock Heisman vote by ESPN. Two big performances -- like the one he'll have tonight if UM wins -- will make him a serious frontrunner for ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Georgia Tech's secondary has a special talent in safety Morgan Burnett. As long as Jacory keeps the ball away from him, his receivers should have another huge day.

> Defense: Sean Spence. I've never seen Sean Spence have two bad games in a row. That's why I'm counting on him to bounce back and help tame this Yellow Jackets offense. Miami is going to give up yards and big plays. But I've got a feeling Spence is going to help create some turnovers like he did against Virginia last year.

> Special teams: Matt Bosher. After a really tough game against FSU on kickoffs, he's been released from those duties to handle punts and field goals only. I think he'll do a great job not only converting on his field goal attempts, but keeping the ball away from NCAA punt return leader Jerrard Terrant.

September 16, 2009

Morgan, Jackets are coming after Jacory

He's 6-4, 272 pounds and a nightmare for college football offensive linemen. Derrick Morgan has future first round pick written all over him and he'll be leading a Yellow Jackets defense that plans on coming hard after Canes quarterback Jacory Harris Thursday night.

Derrick Morgan "He's a big guy, but he has a lot of speed to him," Canes left tackle Jason Fox said of Morgan. "He can speed rush you. He can go speed to power really quick. He has a lot of stuff. The big thing is he plays on both sides, so both tackles are going to have to be ready for him."

Morgan has five sacks in two games. Against Clemson last Thursday, he had a game-high 10 tackles, a personal-best four tackles for loss (13 yards), and three sacks. Other than Morgan, only Julian Burnett and Robert Hall have sacks this season — 1/2 each — for the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech coaches told the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week their plan is to try and make Harris a lot more uncomfortable than he looked against Florida State. The Seminoles ran man-to-man coverage on the Hurricanes’ wide receivers and blitzed Harris frequently, but got to him just twice -- sacking him once and hitting him as he threw to cause an interception return for a score.

Tech defensive line coach Giff Smith told the AJC they hope to create some different looks for Harris and come after him with pressure from different points.

“We’ve put in some new defenses that’s going to get it stirred up,” middle linebacker Brad Jefferson told the AJC. “I think we’ll get some pressure on him and see what he can do with it.”

The Canes used several unbalanced lines (something brought from the NFL by new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple) to not only the run the football last week, but protect Harris. Fox lined up several times on the right side alongside fellow senior tackle Matt Pipho and tight end Richard Gordon, considered UM's best blocking tight end.

UM coach Randy Shannon said he thought his team did a pretty good job protecting Harris despite the various blitzes FSU used last week. "If you look at the offensive line you didn't see Jacory have to move out of the pocket," Harris said. "That comes from guys inside. They did a good job of protecting the middle. If you can push the pocket, you can get quarterbacks out of their rhythm. They did a good job solidifying the middle of the defense."

The issue for the Canes, however, will once again be depth. UM only played six linemen in their rotation last week -- Fox, left guard Orlando Franklin, center AJ Trump, Pipho and redshirt sophomore Harland Gunn and junior Joel Figueroa at right guard.

Jason Fox Last year, UM rotated eight players on their offensive line. So far, Fox said the team has been able to hack it because of the extra amount of reps they've been taking in practice. "To be honest with you, I didn't feel that gassed," Fox said. "There was only one drive where I was hurting."

Nobody, however, could end up hurting the Canes more Thursday than Morgan.

Fox said he's been looking forward to the matchup about as much as Morgan has. During ACC Kickoff media days in Greensboro, the two players advanced through a video game tournament of NCAA Football 2010. Fox, using the Canes, scored twice late in the game to beat Morgan, who was playing as Georgia Tech. It’s still a sore spot for Morgan.

“He kind of got lucky playing in the game,” Morgan told the AJC. “It’s time to get revenge this week.”

Fox is looking forward to the challenge. "He's a tremendous player," Fox said. "I've gone up against him a lot already. Last year I went up against [Bengals 2009 third round pick] Michael Johnson a lot. But in previous years, we've gone up against each other. He's a tremendous player, plays with a lot of effort and I'm looking forward to the matchup."

> NO SWINE FLU HERE: UM coach Randy Shannon was asked during Wednesday's ACC Teleconference if any of the three players who came down with illnesses this week and are either listed as doubtful (RB Damien Berry, OL Ben Jones) or out (S Jojo Nicolas) for the game have the swine flu. “We don’t have anything," Shannon said. "Just the guys on the injury report. That’s all we have.”

> RAY RAY UPDATE: Shannon said highly touted freshman Ray Ray Armstrong has done a good job learning through camp and he's expecting big things in the future. When that future is, we aren't sure. But teammate Brandon Harris said he doesn't think it will be long before Armstrong and fellow freshman cornerback Brandon McGee are on the field more often.

"I think Brandon McGee and Ray Ray are the two freshmen closest to having the most impact on us this season," Harris said. "McGee, he'll have a chance to play a lot because the depth at corner is not the best depth. Ray Ray is going to be a great football player. He has all the tools. Once, he gets the mental part down. He'll be great for us. Ray Ray is more of a strong safety. His big frame, he tackles very well. In this game, he's going to get a lot of play."

September 15, 2009

Injury report: Van Dyke, Nicolas out

The Hurricanes released their injury report moments ago and it looks some sort of bug is going around.

> Probable: DE Eric Moncur (groin).
> Questionable: WR Aldarius Johnson (groin).
> Doubtful: OL Ben Jones (illness), RB Damien Berry (illness).
> Out: DE Adewale Ojomo (jaw), OL Cory White (lower extremity), LB Levi Paalua (upper extremity), DB DeMarcus Van Dyke (concussion), DB Jojo Nicolas (illness).

Here is some of what Randy Shannon was talking about after practice.

> Shannon said there was no way his team was able to fully simulate the speed of Georgia Tech's Triple Option offense and he expects his team to take awhile in adjusting to it Thursday. "It’s still a different speed when you get in the game," Shannon said. "You always try to catch up to it. It may take the first quarter, may take the first five minutes of the game to get accustomed to it. Once you get accustomed to it, you’re OK.

> Shannon said it's important for his team to get off to a fast start. "We need something to happen for us early. Maybe a big play defensively, maybe special teams and get the crowd into it and get the momentum going," Shannon said.

> Shannon said while he would like for the Canes to force Georgia Tech to throw more than they want to, he said the Yellow Jackets have shown a consistency in sticking with the run even on third and long. "Third down and eight, they’ll still run on you. If you don’t have them 3rd down and 14, it’s hard to get them in those true passing situations," Shannon said. "When you watch them on film on third down and 10, they’re still running the fullback dive and still running the option. As long as you don’t give up the 75 to 20 yard runs. If you give up eight, 10, 15 yard runs, you’ll be OK. Because you’ll line up and play again. The long ones are the ones that demoralize you.

> UM picked up its 17th commitment for its 2010 class Tuesday when DE/TE Andrew Tillman from Dorchester Boston College High picked the Canes.

Benjamin seeking consistency

If Jacory Harris was Batman for the Hurricanes in Tallahassee on Labor Day night, Travis Benjamin was most certainly Robin.

Travis Benjamin The 5-10, 175-pound sophomore was there every time his quarterback needed him. He hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass on the opening series, then used his 4.2 speed to zoom past two FSU defenders and set up UM's winning touchdown by straddling the sideline with a 40-yard reception deep in Seminole territory. Benjamin finished with a team-leading four receptions for 128 yards as Harris connected with six receivers for gains of 20 yards or more on nine different plays.

UM coach Randy Shannon would love to see more of that Thursday against Georgia Tech, who blew a 24-point lead against Clemson and got shredded by speedy receiver Jacoby Ford. With leading receiver Aldarius Johnson (groin) expected out, Benjamin and Leonard Hankerson -- who had a breakout performance of his own -- will likely be counted on the most again to create big plays in the passing game.

Stringing together back-to-back big games, however, wasn't one of Benjamin's specialties as a freshman. After compiling 274 all-purpose yards against FSU last year, Benjamin rolled an ankle and became pretty irrelevant over UM's final five games. After catching four passes for 72 yards against Wake Forest, he caught three balls for 47 yards the rest of the year. Over that stretch, he had one punt return for one yard and returned six kicks -- none longer than 23 yards.

Benjamin said Monday it's important for to remain consistent in the Canes passing game. "Last year I would have a big game and then the next week I wouldn't have a big game,” Benjamin said. “This year I am looking forward to every time I get the ball in my hands to do something big with it.

“I am expecting to do more than what I did last year. I was just a special teams guy last year. This year they are using me more on offense because of my speed and ability to get open anywhere on the field.”

Benjamin said he felt he did a much better job against FSU coming off routes and looking the ball in, something he said he struggled with in the past. "Last year I would kind of hesitate on my routes," Benjamin said. "This year, I know what to do with my routes and I'm precise with it."

> MR. SERIOUS: TV sets probably portrayed Jacory Harris a little too serious as his teammates celebrated their win against Florida State. Turns out, as Harris told us Monday, he didn't want to celebrate until he knew the game was really over. When he knew it was over, after a brief review by officials, he joined the Canes party.

Cornerback Brandon Harris said Jacory cut loose in the Canes locker room a little more in the team's private post game celebration. But by the time the team was boarding it's chartered flight to return to Miami, UM's quarterback was Mr. Serious again. "That's what makes Jacory so special as a quarterback. He's never satisfied," Brandon said. "He always wants to strive for more. And he never cracks under the pressure."

John Lovett UM'S D LOVETT'S HIM: Speaking of cutting loose, turns out new defensive coordinator John Lovett is pretty good at keeping his players on their toes through the week. When he isn't screaming in their ears for a laugh, he's jumping out and scaring them for fun.

"Coach Lovett is probably one of the funnest coaches I've ever played for. He's football smart. He knows his stuff and he has an amazing personality. But just being around Coach Lovett, you're guaranteed laughs and enjoyment everyday -- even when your down," Brandon Harris said. "He makes you have fun. It's hard to explain. You just have to know Coach Lovett. He'll hide in a dark area, jump out. He's just a fun guy. You don't see that from coordinators at the college level. He's very relaxed. A lot of the guys, they respond well to him."

We'll find out soon enough if Lovett has something scary looking for Georgia Tech's triple option offense. Word is a lot of what North Carolina ran to stump the Yellow Jackets last year has been included in the game plan.

WOUNDED WIRE: The Canes are supposed to release their upper extremity/lower extremity injury report in a day or two. While we're waiting, here's what I heard late Monday night regarding two players of interest:

> A Canes source said cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke remained hopeful to be cleared to play this week after suffering a concussion on the opening series against Florida State. Chances are, however, he won't and Sam Shields will start in his place.

> A non-UM source told me defensive end Adewale Ojomo is expecting to have the wires keeping his broken jaw shut removed in the next week. Ojomo was at a big South Florida Youth Football League game this past weekend (Scott Lake vs. Bunche Park) featuring the younger brother of linebacker Sean Spence with several other Hurricanes players. Ojomo, noticeably thinner, told friends he's lost more than 30 pounds since he was sucker punched by a UM walk-on during camp. But he remains hopeful to return to the Canes in time for the Oklahoma game on Oct. 3.