I couldn't make it to Saturday's game -- I had a wedding -- but I spent my Sunday night breaking down the game on my DVR. Before I get to the grades, a few thoughts:
-- My overwhelming sense from this game was a flat out lack of aggression and confidence from the Canes, whose reputation has always been quite the opposite. It was almost as if they were playing not to lose. I'm not just talking about the three running plays by Javarris James in the fourth quarter when UM was trying to run the clock out. I had less of a problem with that and more of a stink with the overall attitude. Where was the pressure on Kyle Parker? Why did John Lovett not go after the redshirt freshman with more than just his four-man front? Where were the deep downfield passes from Jacory Harris? Yes, he connected on that 69-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. But why did that feel like the only time Mark Whipple went for the big play? Bottomline, one team came in the 10th-ranked team in the country according to the BCS and the other was 3-3. Yet, you couldn't tell which team UM was supposed to be. That should speak volumes to you about this program and where it is still at.
-- Three times the Canes took over on offense with the lead (following a defensive stop) and three times they looked uncomfortable having it. The sign of a great team is that when it has its opponent reeling, it goes for the jugular. Even against UCF two weeks ago, you didn't get that sense from this Miami team. Ditto in the Oklahoma game and ditto against Georgia Tech. If you want to really be the best, you have to have that attitude. This Miami football team is improved. It is Top 25 worthy. But it still isn't back to Canes standards. And Randy Shannon knows it.
-- Before you go handing CJ Spiller the Heisman trophy like a certain pair of radio announcers were about to do Saturday night (I was listening to the broadcast on my way to the reception) let's take a look at what Clemson's star running back really did Saturday. He ran back a kickoff 90 yards for a score. Not sure if you guys noticed it, but there was nobody within 25 yards of Spiller when he caught the low-line drive kick from Alex Uribe (Orlando Franklin might have been able to bring that kick back for a score). Spiller also had a 56-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Parker on a play when a gimpy Sean Spence (who shouldn't have been on the field) tried to cover him with no help. And Spiller had a 48-yard burst in the fourth quarter to move Clemson deep down field (he had 33 yards on his 13 other carries). I'm not saying Spiller isn't a great player. I'm just saying he wasn't Heisman-esque or the reason UM lost this game.
-- Enough with the Kool-aid drinking. Miami is flat out weak when it comes to pass blocking and not nearly deep enough at linebacker. In fact, other than running back and receiver, this team really has no real depth right now. For all the talk about Ben Jones, Brandon Washington and the other young linemen Miami has and how light bulbs are coming on, there is a reason Matt Pipho was still on the field for every offensive snap. Those other guys aren't ready. Ditto for Spence. He came back out in the third quarter (50 percent at best) and only got pulled after he got burned for the 56-yard score. What else does it say when the Canes would prefer to have a banged up Spence instead of a 100-percent Ramon Buchanon?
And now to the grades...
> Quarterback play: Before you go ripping Jacory Harris for his three picks, remember this is a guy working with an average at best offensive line and still just a sophomore. Is he making bad decisions? Yes. The interception before halftime was pathetic. The lob pass taken back for a touchdown by DeAndre McDaniel was Kirby Freeman-esque. But Jacory is still better than anything this program has had at quarterback in awhile. And frankly, I think this dink and dunk offense Mark Whipple had him in Saturday doesn't play up to his strengths or Miami's big and fast receivers. Harris finished 17-of-27 for 256 yards, 2 TDs and three picks. But he might have done a little better if he hadn't thrown the ball just six times after UM scored on the opening possession of the second half. Yes, he threw the ball just six times. It goes back to that aggression talk earlier. Grade: C.
> Running backs: If any unit deserved a helmet sticker for their effort Saturday, it was the Canes backfield trio of Graig Cooper, Javarris James and Damien Berry. Together, they produced 210 yards on 31 carries -- a whopping 6.7-yard average against one of the country's best run defenses. So where did the Canes falter? Picking up blitzes. James and Cooper both were slow getting to blocks and it led to two costly sacks in this game that derailed drives. Grade: B.
> Receivers/tight ends: Big ups to Leonard Hankerson, who has clearly taken a step forward yet again. He finished with five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, including a beautiful one-handed grab on the opening drive. Too bad we didn't see him again after his six-yard touchdown catch. At least I didn't see him. Travis Benjamin also looked good, hauling in the 69-yard touchdown. We've seen him do it more than a few times now, beating his man one-on-one and getting wide open downfield. It's a shame we don't see it more often than once every two or three games. Grade: A.
> Blocking: If all Miami's starting five had to do was run block, they'd probably be one of the better units in the country. But unfortunately, stopping hard charging defensive ends and picking up blitzes simply isn't their strength. Orlando Franklin, who moved outside to left tackle on several plays, provided evidence why he's a guard, getting beat twice on what turned out to be big Clemson plays. Much maligned right tackle Matt Pipho had a better effort. But collectively, it wasn't a great night. When you can't run screens well or give your quarterback nearly as much time as the other team does, you aren't winning the other half of the battle up front. Grade: C.
> Front seven: Except for one 48-yard Spiller run, the Canes run defense was spectacular. Linebacker Colin McCarthy was all over the place. He absolutely crushed Spiller, causing a fumble in the first half. Darryl Sharpton did a good job swarming to the football. In all, the Tigers finished with 84 yards on 34 attempts for a 2.5 average. Take away the 48-yard burst and Clemson had 36 yards on 33 attempts. Now let's talk pass rush... There wasn't much. Allen Bailey provided nearly all of it. His sack, strip and fumble led to Marcus Robinson's 56-yard fumble return for a score. But other than that, Kyle Parker had time to Facebook his friends in the pocket. Miami blitzed him on occasion. But it wasn't nearly enough to disrupt him. And the four offsides penalties? Just bad. This game just provided further proof UM's defensive line, while better against the run, still has a long way to go. Grade: C.
> Secondary: When you don't get much of a pass rush, it's really hard to cover downfield for more than five to six seconds. Miami fell victim to that way too often. But the big breakdowns were in the middle of the field. I'm not sure if it's Darryl Sharpton's responsibility or Colin McCarthy or Randy Philips, but Clemson's tight ends had a field day in the middle of the field. They combined to catch nine passes and quite a few on third and long for first downs. The game-winning touchdown catch by Jacoby Ford? Middle of the field. John Lovett might want to look into that little problem. Grade: D.
> Special teams: Anytime you give up a kickoff return for a score, you've had a bad day. But aside from Alex Uribe's mental gaff -- he was supposed to squib kick it instead of giving CJ Spiller a head start in a foot race -- Miami's special teams was very, very good. By that I mean Matt Bosher. He had two long field goals and did a great job on kickoffs and punts. He got plenty of hangtime to negate the punt returns (Clemson didn't have any) and he even was able to salvage good field position despite having to kickoff from his own 15. Grade: C.
> Coaching: Here's where the biggest breakdowns happened. Not only did the Canes have to burn timeouts again because they didn't have the right personnel on the field, this team was never in the right mind set. Both Lovett and Whipple needed to be more aggressive in this game. Lovett with the blitz and Whipple with his best weapon -- his receivers. Neither called for their best weapons enough. Grade: D.