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32 posts from October 2009

October 26, 2009

Grading The Canes: Clemson

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:

UM-Clemson -- 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.

Marcus Robinson celebrates his 56-yard fumble return for a score > 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.

October 24, 2009

Game blog: Clemson 40, Miami 37- final

Hi everybody. Justin Azpiazu here at Land Shark Stadium filling in for devoted Hurricanes blogger Manny Navarro, who is at a wedding.

We are a little less than an hour away from game time and both teams are going through their pregame routines on the field.

No. 8 Miami is going to have their hands full against a talented Clemson team that has lost several close games this season. The Canes offense is matching up with one of the fastest defenses in the nation and will have to lock down the offensive line if they want to beat the Tigers.  On the offensive side Clemson has a couple of speedy wide receivers that challenged Georgia Tech's defense to start the season. Wide out Jacoby Ford and running back C.J. Spiller are two-world class sprinters that the Canes' defense needs to keep an eye on.

After a rainy start to the afternoon the sun has come out at Land Shark Stadium, which should help the Hurricanes' offense.

Feel free to post any questions and I'll try to answer them quickly.

Sorry everyone no Cover It Live for today's game.

Weather for the game: 83 degrees under cloudy skies.

Clemson will receive. 

FIRST QUARTER 

First drive of the game Clemson starts on their 25-yard line.

Clemson connects on a long pass play to move the ball to the Miami 43.

Canes' big third down. UM gives up 15-yard pass over the middle for another Clemson first down.

Canes' defense has so far shutdown the Clemson rushing attack but has struggled through the air.

Clemson ball on the Miami 24.

Miami hold on third down to force a 41-yard field goal.

Clemson kicker misses.

11:03 - Miami gets the ball on their 24-yard line.

Cooper breaks 8-yard run and Berry gains 7 yards.

Wow, on a play action Harris and Hankerson connect on a 20 yard pass. Hankerson made a great one handed grab of the ball.  

Hankerson makes another nice catch, this one for 14 yards to move the ball to the Miami 20-yard line.

On first down Harris looks at Hankerson again who tips the ball into the waiting hands of a Clemson DB.

Clemson ball on their own 30.

Miami's defense needs to buckle down and get more pressure on Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker.

Canes get a break on an intentional grounding penalty that pushes the ball back to the Clemson 33-yard line. Time out Clemson with 5:15 left in the first quarter.

Another big penalty on Clemson makes it 3 and 25.Clemson's offense has imploded since the intentional grounding penalty. In the last two plays Clemson has gotten two clipping penalties to make it 3 and 49.

Tigers 47-yard punt.

Miami ball on their 35.

First play of the drive Harris connects with Collier for a 20-yard pass.

Two straight rushes makes it 3 and 2 from the Clemson 37.

Harris and Cooper connect for a  3-yard pass for another first down.

Miami is 3-3 on third down conversions.Holding on Miami makes it 1 and 20 from the 40.

End of first quarter Miami 0, Clemson 0.

SECOND QUARTER

Miami gets on the board first with a 49-yard field goal by Matt Bosher.

Scoring drive: 8 plays, 33 yards. Time 4:21.

Miami kickoff Clemson gets the ball on their own 38.

Miami continues to stop the run but gives up another first down on a pass.

Hold your breath everyone Sean Spence is down but slowly walks off the field.

Spence is having is left knee checked out on the sideline, no word on what happened.

Ramon Buchanan takes over for Spence. Big turnover for Miami Collin McCarthy forces a fumble Andrew Smith recovers. On the first play of the drive Miami breaks a long play but is brought back on a penalty.

Spence still being worked on. He's surrounded by three trainers. Good news Canes fans Spence is off the trainers table and is running on the sideline. Trainers put an elastic sleave over his left knee and it looks like he will be able to return to the game.

After the penalty Miami's drive has stalled forcing 4 and 13 from the Miami 25. On third down Harris tries for a long pass down the sideline that fell incomplete.
Fourth down Miami back to punt. Bosher kicks a 47-yard punt.

Spence update: he's still on the sideline warming up on the exercise bike and not in on Miami's first defensive play of the drive. Canes continue to get burned by the pass giving up another first down.

3 and 3 for Clemson from the 40.Clemson converts another pass for first down. Miami is going to have to make some adjustments at halftime to stop the Tigers' passing attack.
No word on if or when Spence is going to return. He's standing on the sideline with no helmet near by.

Spence is back on the trainers table with a bag of ice on his knee.

The pass continues to kill Miami. Canes give up 18-yard touchdown to Michael Palmer make it 7-3 Clemson. 

Clemson scoring drive 11 plays, 72 yards, time 4:12.

Miami's passing defense has looked horrible in the first half.

Clemson kickoff Miami gets the ball on their 20.

Harris connects with Collier for 10 yards and another Hurricanes first down. Harris finds Jimmy Graham for 8 yards. 2 and 2 for Miami on their 49-yard line.

Harris gets pressured and fumbles but Cooper recovers loss of 6. Harris comes back and finds Hankerson for 26-yard gain. Clemson takes their third and final timeout. 

Miami has the ball on the Clemson 31.On first down Berry gets 7 on a run up the middle. Second down Berry breaks it 23 yards for a touchdown. Mike James had a huge block on the run. Miami 10, Clemson 7.

Scoring drive 10 plays, 80 yards time 4:24.

On the kickoff Clemson running back C.J. Spiller takes it 90 yards for a touchdown. The speedy Spiller is one of the top track and field runners in the country and he really showed his speed on that return. Great blocking by Clemson's special teams.

Clemson 14, Miami 10.

Miami gets the ball on their 39-yard line. On first down Cooper gets 8 yards on a run to the outside. After the timeout Cooper breaks a 25-yard run to move the ball to the Clemson 32-yard line.

Miami takes its third and final timeout of the half.

With :20 seconds left in the second quarter Miami gets called for two many men on the field pushing the ball back to the 37. On 1 and 15 Harris throws a long pass to Jimmy Graham who can't find the ball. 

On 2 and 15 Harris is pressured and throws up a terrible pass to three Clemson DBs.

Halftime.

First half summary

The Canes' offense has looked good so far, but two picks by Harris and bad clock management to end the second quarter have really hurt. 

Clemson has torched Miami's passing defense for a 129 yards and a touchdown. Tigers' qb Kyle Parker is 10 for 15. The Hurricanes have limited Clemson's running game holding Spiller to 28 yards.

Even though the Canes are down look for Miami to turn things around in the second half. This season the Canes have rocketed out the gate in the third quarter.

If Miami wants to win today's contest they will need to put pressure on  qb Parker and make him throw some picks. The Canes haven't come close to sacking Parker and he's had all the time in the world to find open receivers. Canes' special team's is going to have to lock down on Spiller and stop him from taking the game over. Spiller has already scored on one long return and has 110 yards on two tries. 

THIRD QUARTER

On the first play of the third quarter Harris connects with Hankerson for a 22-yard catch. 1 and 10 Cooper runs for 3 yards.

On 1 and 10 Harris throws to LaRon Byrd who draws a defensive pass interference penalty to move the ball to the Clemson 29. On first down Berry runs for 8 yards up the middle. On second down Berry gets a yard. Miami Calls timeout and is facing a 3 and 2 from the Clemson 21.

On 3 and 2 Harris finds Epps for a 16-catch to move the ball to the Clemson 5-yard line. 1 and 5 Berry takes it 4 yards to 1-yard line. Berry has picked up the slack for Javarris James whose only had one carry in the game.

On second down Berry scores but the play is called back after an illegal formation penalty on Miami.

On 3 and 3 Harris connects with Hankerson for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Hankerson was meet at the goal-line by a Clemson defender but pushed his way in for the score. Miami 17, Clemson 14

Scoring drive: 9 plays 80 yards, time 4:08.

After a kickoff by Bosher Clemson takes over on their 30. 1 and 10 Spiller rushes for 3 yards.

Spence update

He's back!!! and makes the tackle on his first play.

2 and 7 Parker connects with Spiller for 5 yards. 3 and 3 from the Clemson 40 - Darryl Sharpton blows up Spiller for a 3-yard loss. Clemson punt.

Miami takes over on their 17-yard line.

1 and 10 for the Canes - Cooper rushes for 5 yards. On 2 and 5 Harris throws incomplete. Canes need to continue putting the pressure on the Clemson defense. On third down Harris gets sacked by Clemson's Brandon May. Bosher back to punt. Spiller back to return. 

Clemson takes over on their 27-yard line.

This game has turned into a shoot out. With Clemson scoring on a long touchdown pass from Parker to Spiller for 56 yards. Spiller is killing the Hurricanes. He's got two scores so far and a ton of yards.

Clemson 21, Miami 14

Scoring drive 3 plays 73 yards time 1:21.

Today's attendance 43,778.

Miami gets the ball back after the kickoff rolls into the endzone. On first down Collier fumbles the ball after getting hit and its recovered by Clemson in Miami's redzone.

On first down Parker throws for two yards. On second down Parker has heavy pressure and fumbles. Marcus Robinson picks up the fumble and runs 54 yards for a huge Miami touchdown.

Miami 24, Clemson 21. 

After a Bosher kick, Clemson takes over at their own 32 yard line. Clemson passing game picks up another first down.

Parker is picking apart the Miami defense and so far this drive the Canes have given up two first down for 11 yards each.

1 and 10 for the Miami 47 - McCarthy tackles Ellington for a 2-yard loss. 2 and 13 Parker connects with Ellington for a 10-yard gain.

Spence watch

Spence is hurt again and is on the sideline with no helmet. Spence has been limping for much of the game after hurting his left knee in the first quarter. 

Clemson is having no trouble moving the ball on Miami. On first down Parker over throws a wide open Ellington for what would have been a touchdown. The Canes completely missed Ellington and he was never covered during the play. The Hurricanes got a huge break but unless the defense can tighten up this game is going to be close. 

Miami's defense finally gets a stop on third down after Brandon Harris breaks up a pass. Clemson ties the game on a 43-yard field goal.

Scoring drive: 10 plays, 48 yards time 3:59.

Tie ball game folks. Both teams have fought hard and it feels like this ones going to come down to who has the ball last.

Miami gets the ball back after the kickoff.

On first down Benjamine losses 14 yards on a pitch.

FOURTH QUARTER 

Jacory continues to be great on third down connecting with Byrd for a first down. On first down Javarris James breaks a long run for 45 yards to move the ball to the Clemson 25-yard line. The carry was James second run of the game. 

Miami burns third timeout with 12:28 in the fourth quarter.

3 and 10 for Miami and Jacory goes down on a blindside sack. Clemson has three sacks on J12 in the game. Bosher out for 51-yard kick and he nailed it. Shows why a couple of years ago he was named team MVP.

Miami 27, Clemson 24

On the kickoff Spiller is stopped by Miami's special teams. 

On first down Parker connects with TE Michael Palmer who got destroyed by Darryl Sharpton. Palmer fumbled but the ball was ruled down. Palmer's helmet fell off and he was knocked out cold.

Canes force punt and get the ball back at their 15-yard line.

On first down Jacory throws a pick to DeAndre McDaniel who returns it for  a 23-yard touchdown.

McDaniel, who has two picks today, leads the nation with seven picks.

Miami is having a tough time in this game and it seems that every time they get a break they mess it up. Miami need to score on this drive if the want to stay in the game.

Clemson 31, Miami 27

Miami gets the ball back after a nice return by Cooper. On first down Harris connects with Benjamin for a 69-yard touchdown pass. Jacory makes up for his pick.

Miami 34, Clemson 31

Clemson continues to move the ball at will against Miami. The Canes have no answer and have been on the ropes for much of the game. After giving up another long run to Spiller the Canes are faced with a 3 and 1 from their 6-yard line.

Clemson converts on third down and have 1 and goal from the 5.

INTERCEPTION MIAMI!!!

Randy Phillips takes the ball in the endzone. Miami's defense comes up huge. Miami starts at their 20-yard line. Three straight rushes and the Canes have to punt the ball back.

I don't understand how Miami could run the ball on third down.

Clemson gets the ball back at their 40-yard line. Miami is going to have to buckle down and stop Clemson again if they want to win the game. 

Clemson continues to pound Miami on the ground gaining another first down. Parker takes a draw up the middle by is meet by DT Joe Joseph. Clemson's called that same run twice and both have been ugly.

3 and 6 for Clemson - Canes give up a short pass over the middle to Spiller who comes up short of the first down. Clemson rushes for it on fourth down and gets two yards for a first down.

This one is going to come down to wire. Miami's defense is either going to win it or lose it.

On 1 and 10 Miami allows a 13-yard run to move the ball to their 10-yard line. 

Clemson ties the game 34-34 on a 30 -yard field goal.

OVERTIME

Miami starts on offense and on the first play Cooper gains 19 yards on a run to the outside. Canes have the ball on the Clemson 6-yard line. James gains 3 yards on first down.

On third down Harris scrambled in the pocket but had to throw the ball away.

Bosher out for field goal and nails it. Miami takes 37-34 lead. 

Clemson takes over on the 30-yard line and Parker has to throw it away after being pressured. On second down

3 and 11 for Clemson connects on a 26-yard touchdown pass. Game over 40-37.

tough loss for the Canes. See ya later everyone.












October 23, 2009

Five questions and a pick: Clemson-Miami

This week I got an email from Larry Williams, the senior writer for TigerIllustrated.com wanting to know if I'd be willing to exchange a Q&A with him before the Canes take on Clemson Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Land Shark Stadium.

RIVALS.COM'S LARRY WILLIAMS ANSWERS MY QUESTIONS ON CLEMSON...

Larry Williams Q-1: Where are the Tigers most banged up and could the Canes take advantage of it?
A: The Tigers were recently banged-up on offense with LT Chris Hairston recovering from a sprained MCL and C.J. Spiller dealing with an injury to his right big toe (suffered in the opener). The open week preceding last week's win over Wake Forest really helped those two guys get healthy. That's about it, other than the concussion suffered by strong-side linebacker Scotty Cooper. He'll miss this game, but it's not a big loss because he didn't play much anyway.

Q-2: How do you explain this Clemson team to your friends? They've played so well defensively but somehow are 3-3 with a loss to Maryland. Is it matter of the Tigers just being inconsistent?
A: This season has conformed to the story of Clemson football over the last decade: a roller-coaster ride. Clemson was a play away from defeating two good teams (Georgia Tech and TCU). The Tigers then stubbed their toe against a bad Maryland team before putting it all together in last week's 35-point beatdown of Wake Forest.

This program has been perplexing for a while now because you look at all that talent and wonder why the Tigers aren't better. It's fairly common for most teams to break even in close games. Clemson has lost eight of its last nine games decided by seven points or less.

There are numerous explanations for the close-game failures over that period of time, but I think two primary factors are: 1) Tightening up late, which would seem to point to coaching, and 2) Struggles on the offensive line. If you can't move people off the line, it's hard to run the ball and sustain drives.

I tend to think the latter factor has been more critical than the former. The great question facing this program is whether Dabo Swinney can vanquish the demons and get the Tigers over the hump.

Q-3: Just how good are Da'Quan Bowers and Ricky Sapp really? Should Miami fans brace themselves for a long afternoon?
Da'Quan Bowers A: Bowers is scary good. Freaky good. Pick your description. He's a beast, and of late he's really elevated his play by sustaining his intensity through the course of a game. If I were a Miami fan, I'd be very worried about him lining up across from Matt Pipho.

Sapp has had a good season thus far after a rapid offseason recovery from ACL surgery. First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele likes putting him in different spots. He's lined up as a linebacker when they shift to the 3-4, and I suspect he'll draw some responsibility for flaring out and covering running backs on swing passes and such.

This tandem could be trouble for Miami, but I'd suspect Mark Whipple would give his tackles a lot of help. And you have to think those long-armed tackles would be able to neutralize the ends to an extent with their size and reach.

Q-4: How do the Tigers see this Miami team? Do they really respect this Miami offense considering so many guys are young?
A: On multiple occasions this week, offensive coaches have remarked that facing Miami's defense is like practicing against their own defense. Both defenses have a ton of speed and athleticism. Clemson's players are jacked for this one, in part because they want to prove themselves against a Top 10 team and in part because of going up against a Miami program that has such a mystique. The Tigers have a bunch of guys from Florida who have had this one circled on their calendars for some time.

I think the Tigers respect Miami's offense a lot. They know Jacory Harris is good; they know those running backs are athletic and run really hard; and they know that fleet of receivers could be hard to cover. But I do sense Clemson believes it can get to Harris and really disrupt that offense. The defensive line is extremely deep, and Miami's OL is not. The Tigers are confident they can win that battle over the course of the game. Virginia Tech overwhelmed Miami with a stifling effort from its defensive line and unpredictable looks from Bud Foster. Clemson believes it is capable of following that blueprint.

Q-5: Can you explain to everyone in South Florida why they need to be fearful of CJ Spiller?
A: Through six games this season, Spiller has produced a play of 60-plus yards in every game via a play from scrimmage, kickoff return or punt return. That's amazing.

Spiller should be feared because he is a threat to do the spectacular on every play. He has the moves to make guys miss at the line of scrimmage, and no one will catch him from behind.

Ryan Williams is a very good back, and he made the Hurricanes look silly on occasion in Blacksburg. Spiller is even better, and he can make Miami pay dearly for overpursuit.

Larry's Prediction: I spent the early portion of the week thinking Miami by 10-12. Now, I'm not so sure because I think Clemson's depth advantage on the DL could be huge. I also wonder whether Miami, with all that youth, is due a hiccup game in which they make a ton of mistakes and lose. Bottom line, though, is that Clemson put a lot into winning last week's game against Wake Forest. Prepping for Whipple's offense on short notice is a tough assignment, and the Canes have had a few weeks to get healthy and hold some of their stuff back. Clemson is going to have to sustain some drives to win, and I'm not confident the Tigers can do that against this defensive front. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Tigers prevail. But they're going to have to show me they can win these kinds of games before I pick them to do it. I'll take Miami 27-20.

MY ANSWERS TO LARRY'S QUESTIONS ON UM...
 
Q-1: First off, can you give us some idea as to Miami's injury situation? Lot of guys banged up, and Randy Shannon doesn't typically reveal much. If you're in the dark on the specifics, can you offer your assessment of where the Hurricanes are thinnest as a result of injuries?
A: Getting real answers on injuries from Randy Shannon is next to impossible. Where Miami is hurt the most really is along the defensive line. Last week, they had eight healthy players there. The only one expected back this week is senior Eric Moncur, who was likely being rested against UCF.

The offensive line should get guard Joel Figueroa back this week. But Fig is only one of six guys UM has really used on its offensive line rotation. Safety Randy Phillips will be back this week after missing the last three games with a torn labrum. He's skipping out on surgery and will provide some depth at safety, where Jojo Nicholas is still out. All in all, this Miami is banged up. But they'll have enough guys not to be in emergency mode this weekend.

Q-2: Miami's offensive line looked great early against Florida State and Georgia Tech but was overwhelmed by Virginia Tech's defensive front and gave up a combined 10 sacks against Oklahoma and Central Florida. What is your take on the guys up front? Are they not the strength that some people might perceive?
A: I think teams have realized that right tackle Matt Pipho is not very good and beatable on the edge. Two huge injuries to Miami this season were tight end Richard Gordon and fullback Pat Hill. Both did a great job picking up blitzes -- as well as running back Graig Cooper who is back this week. The left side of UM's line is very good. Jason Fox and Orlando Franklin are solid. Center AJ Trump is good too. But the right side is where most teams are bringing pressure. 

I'm sure Kevin Steele and Clemson's defense is going to attack Miami the same way UCF, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech have. It will be interesting to see how Mark Whipple counters this week.

Jacory Harris Q-3. What specific part of Jacory Harris' season to date has impressed you the most?
A: The fact he hasn't been injured yet. Knowing Harris from his days at Miami Northwestern, I always expected him to be as good a passer as he's been. But I didn't realize how tough he really was. 

This guy has taken quite a few licks and remained calm and cool in the pocket. He scrambles much better than I remember in high school too and never takes his eyes off the field. But he needs to stop taking chances. So far, he's been pretty lucky only to get intercepted five times. He's taken quite a few chances down field and really has been fortunate to not turn the ball over.

Q-4. Virginia Tech gashed Miami for 272 yards on the ground, with Ryan Williams running wild. Do you think that was an aberration, or could C.J. Spiller do similar damage Saturday?
A: Spiller is an amazing back. He could very well carve up UM's defense, which as I mentioned earlier is banged up in the front seven. It's all going to depend really on what Clemson decides to run offensively.

What has always worked well against the Canes in terms of running the football has been the spread option attack. Ryan Williams Virginia Tech gave them fits with it. Florida State did the same a year ago. If Clemson's offense throws in a few new wrinkles based out of that formation, they should have some success running the football

Q-5. These teams haven't played since 2005 and probably aren't all that familiar with each other. How do you think Miami views Clemson?
 A: The Canes respect the Tigers. Orlando Franklin, who is one of biggest, meanest guys on the team, told me flat out when he looked at the schedule it was Clemson and Oklahoma who worried him the most. He knows how good Clemson's defense is up front and is looking forward to the challenge. Miami's receivers know how talented the Tigers secondary is and are looking forward to the man-to-man matchups. And the Canes are definitely well aware of what Spiller and Jacoby Ford can do in the open field. UM is not looking past Clemson whatsoever.

My prediction: This is going to be a really tough test for the Canes. I see the Tigers having a big day getting to Jacory Harris and putting the pressure on him. CJ Spiller and Ford should have some success on offense. But the fact UM is at home and not taking the Tigers lightly gives me the confidence they'll pull this one out close. Miami has a great kicker in Matt Bosher. It may just come down to his right foot. I'm picking Miami 24-22. 

FYI... I will be at a wedding Saturday and won't be at the game. We'll have a guest blogger here at Eye On The U to provide thoughts and commentary throughout the game. I'm recording the game and watching it when I get home. I'll post my grades and thoughts afterward.

October 22, 2009

Clemson injury report

The past couple of Thursdays have been chalk full of bad news when the Canes injury report has been released. This week, the news appears to be better. The only player out for Saturday's game against Clemson -- not having season-ending surgery -- fullback Pat Hill, who still isn't back from his high ankle sprain.

Nine other players are listed as probable -- including a few new names: RB Graig Cooper (hip), RB Javarris James (lower extremity), RB Mike James (ankle), WR Aldarius Johnson (shoulder), OL Joel Figueroa (lower extremity), DL Josh Holmes (lower extremity), DL Eric Moncur (groin), DB JoJo Nicolas (arm), DB Randy Phillips (torn labrum).

You never know who will really play on Saturday until kickoff. Somebody could come down with the flu like Randy Phillips did last week. Personally, I'd be shocked if Aldarius Johnson played. But that's just my opinion. We'll see.

October 21, 2009

McClinton headed to Turkey

Jack McClinton really wanted to play in the NBA this season. He hoped the days of proving himself were over and done with. But as it turns out, he still has more convincing to do.

Jack McClinton Wednesday night at Hurricanes Hoopfest, the two-time All-ACC First Team guard seemed as though he was soaking in the last few minutes he could at UM. He sat courtside, chumming up to teammates and fans. Turns out he was. The 6-1 guard who took UM to the second round of the NCAA tournament two years ago is scheduled to be on a flight to Istanbul Thursday afternoon where he'll begin his first professional season as a member of Aliaga Petkim.

McClinton, drafted by the Spurs in the second round last June, was released by the Minnesota Timberwolves last week. And he was going to sit at home feeling sorry for himself.

"I kept waiting and waiting to see if teams were interested. But it was time to go man," said McClinton, who hired a new agent, the same used by former Canes James Jones and John Salmons.

"I decided I can’t keep waiting in my bed for a team to call. I didn’t want to go to the D-League. So, I’m going to go across the water for seven months, come back next year better than ever. It’s a humbling experience. It’s not what I wanted to do. But everybody has to take a different road and this is the road I have to take."

McClinton hopes the road will eventually lead back to the Spurs, who he said encouraged him to play overseas where they would keep an eye on him. The way he sees it, his trip overseas will feel a lot like a road he's traveled before.

"That's one thing that always keeps me motivated. I've never given up," McClinton said. "I went to Sienna, transferred to Miami. I guess I can look at Turkey as Sienna and Miami being the NBA. I'm starting over."

MORE HOOPS NOTES/OBSERVATIONS...

Malcolm Grant > I've already developed a serious man crush on Malcolm Grant. Well, a reporter's crush. The guy is a quote machine and not afraid to have a little fun with his teammates. Among my favorite Malcolmisms from Wednesday:

- In regards to freshman guard Antoine Allen: "I call him G-Mac because he plays like T-Mac. He’s real smooth, understands the game."

- On sophomore Dequan Jones: "His jump shot is coming a long way. This guy couldn't throw it in the ocean. He's been working on it and he's good."

> Guard James Dews is going to have to wear some sort of protective vest this season to help keep his injured left shoulder healthy. Dews said he collided with freshman Durand Scott during open gym last week battling for a loose ball. "I'll get used to it," Dews said.

> UM might be more athletic and faster paced this year, but the offense is going to be centered around senior Dwayne Collins in the post -- at least in the early going. "If Dwayne is able to be consistent, he’s a first team all-league player," UM coach Frank Haith said. "I think he’s as good as there is the league when he’s on his game night in, night out. We’re coming to him. He knows the offense is centered around him. He’s going to get a lot of touches. He just has to work to get open. Sometimes he’s methodical with his moves. I think sometimes he does that because he’s trying to get his feet under him. We need him to work hard to get those two feet in the paint."

> Haith loves what Malcolm Grant brings in terms of leadership at the point guard position. But consider him just as excited about freshman Durand Scott. "There's no question [Malcolm] will be the best leader we've had in terms of guys will take command. I can say to him Malcolm, don't let that happen. And he will," Haith said. "But let me tell you guys something -- Durand Scott is equally a good leader even as a freshman. He has command, a great presence in what he's doing. I think he'll play the one. He's good. He can handle the ball. He has great vision. The white team won [Wednesday's scrimmage] and it was all because [Scott] had all the freshmen on the team. He doesn't make many mistakes and you can't take it from him. He's good."

> Freshman forward Donnavan Kirk (6-9, 220) might be the most talented forward UM has. But of the four freshmen, he's the most behind. "Of all the guys, him getting adjusted to what we're doing, he gets lost some times," Haith said. "But his talent is level is noticeable. He's long, athletic, he's quick. His nickname is Pogo. He's bouncy and I like that about him. He runs the court very well. We want to run more, so he'll have his moments. But there's no doubt the other perimeter guys will play a lot."

T. Johnson has found role on offense

When Tervaris Johnson was switched from the secondary to tight end in the spring of 2008, Joe Pannunzio took it as if the 6-3, 240-pound senior was being given his last chance to make something of himself as a Hurricane.

Tervaris Johnson “When they gave him to me, I was like ‘All right I guess they’re giving him to me to run him the hell out of here,’” Pannunzio joked Wednesday morning. “Next thing I know he’s playing. Thank god we got him.”

According to Pannunzio Johnson is UM’s “most unsung hero on offense.” With fullback Patrick Hill injured and tight end Richard Gordon out for the season, Johnson has stepped up and filled a big void for the Hurricanes as a blocking back and tight end. He’s caught two passes for 24 yards and made a few big blocks according to his position coach.

“He does all the things nobody else sees and all the little things that really make us function,” Pannunzio said. “He’s probably the most improved guy – he is the most improved guy I have. He blocks when we need him to block. He’s made a couple catches when we’ve needed him to catch. He’s been a huge, huge factor for us. The other day [at UCF] we’re on the goal line with a quick play, sweep play and he just buries the edge. He’s a guy if you were lucky enough to come back and watch the films you’d say that 23 has something to him. I’m really proud of how he’s developed.”

Of course, this wasn’t how Johnson’s career was supposed to pan out. Considered the fourth best safety in the country by Rivals during his senior year at Monsignor Pace, Johnson wowed UM coaches when he earned Defensive MVP honors at their 2005 summer camp. But much like Damien Berry, who came to UM as a safety, Johnson has found new life in the Canes backfield.

“Whether I’m blocking or running routes, I know my role and I’m all for the team,” Johnson said. “Blocking was the biggest thing people thought was going to be a problem for me. But coming from the defensive side of the ball, I’m aggressive. It wasn’t a problem with me.”

Johnson said what he enjoys most about where he’s playing now are the mismatches he can create because of his speed and ability. Johnson was a force on offense in high school. I was there the day he caught a long pass in the 2003 Class 3A state championship to set up the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter as a sophomore. But he has no regrets the way his career has gone.

“To me, I’ve finally found a place,” Johnson said. “The coaches feel I’m versatile. I’ll help the team wherever I can.”

PANNUNZIO TALKS SPECIAL TEAMS/TIGHT ENDS: While most fans feel Pannunzio hasn’t done a very good job as the special teams coordinator, UM’s stats tell somewhat of a different story.

Joe Pannunzio > While UM’s kickoff coverage against Florida State and Georgia Tech was atrocious, the Canes have gotten a lot better over their last four games as walk-on Alex Uribe has settled into his new job. While the Yellow Jackets and Seminoles enjoyed an average field position of the 40-yard line and nearly a 22-yard average on returns, UM has been much better since. Opponents have averaged just 19 yards a return and have had an average field position following kickoffs of their own 26-yard line over the last four games. Opponents have returned it beyond their own 40 just once (FAMU’s LeRoy Vann returned it to the 45), and eight times beyond their own 30. The other 12 kickoffs have been returned for less than that.

> Matt Bosher has punted 22 times this season. He’s had one blocked and another snap sail over his head. But of the 22 he’s put his foot on, only three have really been returned. Oklahoma’s Dominique Franks brought one back 51 yards to the UM 48. That return alone accounted for most of the 14.3 yard average opponents have had. Of the other 19 punts Bosher has delivered: seven have resulted in fair catches, six were downed, two went out bounds, two were touchbacks and two were fumbles recovered by the receiving team.

> Continuing to do a good job on kickoff and punt coverage will be important this week against C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, two spectacular athletes with track speed and tremendous ability in the open field. They’ve combined to return nine kicks or punts back in their careers for scores. Clemson ranks seventh in punt returns and eighth in kickoff returns nationally.

“They’re talented guys,” Pannunzio said. “[Ford] is every bit as good as Eddie [Royal] was for Virginia Tech. That guy could run me out of this job if we don’t hem him up.”

> Pannunzio agreed with UM coach Randy Shannon, who said what has made Uribe effective on kickoffs has been “hangtime.”

“It seems like since they changed the rule and move the ball back to the 30, your not getting the touch backs you used to have,” Pannunzio said. “The ball would go out the back of the end zone. Now, these balls are getting returned. The same thing is happening in the NFL. So, you need to really make sure your guys get down there to cover. [Spiller and Ford] aren’t guys you are going to bring down with one guy. You need to get two or three guys around them.”

> Pannunzio stressed what a huge loss Jordan Futch (torn ACL) was to UM’s special teams two weeks ago. “On kickoff returns he made our kickoff return go because he would take on double teams,” Pannunzio said. “On kickoff coverage he was a wild man, go and take out the wedge and everybody else would clean up. We have to find a guy. We probably don’t have that guy just yet. The guys who have to step up and do that are Ray Buchanon, Ray Ray Armstrong, Arthur Brown, Kylan Robinson and CJ Holton. Those guys have to develop and take over that role Jordan had for us.”

> While Corey Nelms has provided a jolt to the special teams as a walk-on, UM’s most productive tackler on special teams is actually sophomore Arthur Brown. I went through all six games and tallied up who had solo and assisted tackles on punts and kickoffs. AB is the man. Here are the totals: Arthur Brown 4 1/2, Alex Uribe 4, Damien Berry 3 1/2, CJ Holton 3, Matt Bosher 3, Ray Buchanon 2 1/2, Corey Nelms 2 1/2, Ray Ray Armstrong 2, DeMarcus Van Dyke 2, Sam Shields 2, Jordan Futch 1 1/2, Lee Chambers 1/2, Brandon McGee 1/2, Ryan Hill 1/2, Kylan Robinson 1/2, Kendall Thompkins 1/2, John Calhoun 1/2, Tommy Streeter 1/2.

> Pannunzio said redshirt freshman Jake Wieclaw is continuing to work on strengthening his leg. “His thing is he’s a real accurate field goal guy and you have to play to your kids strengths,” Pannunzio said. “That’s what he really does good. He’s a guy whose leg strength isn’t exactly what you’d want. A year ago nobody – including myself – put Alex Uribe in this mix. But kids develop and things change. He’s got to work on his leg strength.”

> As for the tight end position, freshman Billy Sanders is currently the only player expected back at the position next year. Pannunzio said Sanders is benefiting from being the only tight end on the scout team. “When you factor in my bad coaching,” Pannunzio said. “We got to make sure we get a lot of good players [in recruiting].”

October 20, 2009

Why U should fear Clemson

The Clemson Tigers don't have a shiny BCS ranking, a sparkling record or even a road win yet this season. But here's why the Tigers (3-3, 2-2 ACC) could end up derailing the 10th-ranked Canes (5-1, 2-1) when they resume ACC play this Saturday at 3:30 at Land Shark Stadium:

In a nutshell, Clemson has a pair of home run threats on offense and special teams in running back CJ Spiller and receiver Jacoby Ford. And their defense is much better than advertised.

CJ Spiller > Clemson has given up 92 points in six games – a 15.5 points per game average that ranks 17th in the nation and second fewest in the ACC. But those stats are a little misleading. Clemson's offense and special teams have given up six touchdowns. Take away those 36 points and the defense is really only giving up 11.3 points per game. Only the No. 1-ranked Gators, Penn State and Oklahoma are stingier on defense.

> The Tigers secondary ranks seventh in pass defense (yards allowed), 17th in pass efficiency defense and is littered with theives. Defensive backs Chris Chancellor, Crezdon Butler and DeAndre McDaniel have a combined 27 career interceptions and rank in the top 6 among active career leaders in the ACC. Both on the Chancellor and Butler are on the Thorpe Award Watch list with nine and 10 career interceptions respectively. McDaniel leads the nation in interceptions with five.The Tigers held Georgia Tech and Boston College to under 30 percent completion percentage in consecutive games.

> C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford are the top kick return duo in the nation. They have a combined nine returns for scores. Spiller has 17 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more and Ford has eight. "This week we have to focus on the fundamentals, have fun, do our job and stop him," defensive tackle Joe Joseph said of Spiller. "He’s a very explosive running back, fast, world class speed. He’s a real good talent. We have to get there, gang tackle him and wrap up and swarm to the ball."

This isn't to say the Tigers don't have their faults. Offensively, beyond Spiller and Ford, there hasn't been much consistency. But consider the Canes well aware of what the Tigers do well and ready and focused for Saturday.

> FIRST DOWN IMPORTANT FOR CANES: UM coach Randy Shannon said avoiding third and long situations against the Tigers will be of vital importance. "When you watch them on film, they cause havoc. They can get you in third and long. First down is going to be very big for us. We have to control our penalties. Those are the biggest things we have to get done. In second and six we can't have a holding, a false start. We have to be sound and secure in doing the things we need to get done."

> PREPARING FOR SAPP, BOWERS: A big part of staying out of third and long will be avoiding the pressure created by end Rick Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers. Last week, UM quarterback Jacory Harris was sacked six times by UCF. Harris compared Sapp and Bowers to Jason Worilds of Virginia Tech, who terrorized right tackle Matt Pipho in UM's 31-7 loss to the Hokies.

"I think their front seven is just like Oklahoma's front seven," guard Orlando Franklin said Tuesday. "There’s not a guy you can single out and pick on. Going into games, you try to assess people and see where the weaknesses are. Some people have good d-tackles and not so good d-ends. But their front seven is pretty good and like I said they’re two deep at it. We have to continue doing what we do and play assignment football."

> MORE ROLLOUTS?: Just because you saw Harris rollout against UCF to avoid blitzes and pass pressure, don't assume that's going to be UM's game plan the rest of the season. Harris said it was something specific to what the Knights were doing. "I like doing it," Harris said. "But that’s something that fit with UCF. They were sending blitzes from outside, knife it in, so we'd get outside of them. It would give you time to set up and throw the ball."

> MAN TO MAN COVERAGE: One thing Harris and his receivers are looking forward to aside from facing one of the nation's top pass defenses is the man-to-man coverage the Tigers employ.UM hasn't seen that since it faced Florida State in the opener.

"They have faith in their secondary," Harris said. "They're going to play man, and say `You beat us,' I guess they believe in their front seven, and their front seven is really good. Last week they put a lot of pressure on Riley Skinner [of Wake Forest]. And that was the main in focus in their win. We have to take care of their front. I think we have talented enough wide receivers to go against their corners man to man.”

Leonard Hankerson is confident he and his unit will win out: "Personally, I don’t think anybody can play us man."

Frankling agrees: "I really don’t think any team could play man against us because of the type of routes Coach Whipple has brought in and the type of guys we got," Franklin. "It's real hard to backpedal against someone who runs 4.3 and has as good hands like Leonard has. It’s going to make it real hard."

THIS AND THAT...
In case you missed it, safety Randy Phillips said he's passing on surgery for his torn labrum to play the rest of this season. Phillips said he missed the UCF game because of the flu.

> Guard Joel Figueroa practiced Tuesday and is expected to play this week. Last week, all five starters -- Jason Fox, Orlando Franklin, AJ Trump, Harland Gunn and Matt Pipho -- played until the final minute and a half against UCF. Franklin, who mentioned he practices every day at right tackle, said he prefers it that way.
 
> Running back Graig Cooper is practicing again. So, too is defensive end Eric Moncur. But I'd only write it down in pencil that both will likely play this week.

October 19, 2009

Haith nabs 6-9, 230-pound center for 2010 class

Raphael Akpejiori, a 6-9, 230-pound power forward from Bel Aire (Kan.) Sunrise Christian Academy, became the second commitment in the University of Miami's 2010 signing class Monday.

A Nigeria native, Akpejiori sat out his junior year after suffering a dislocated ankle at Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina. He's rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and chose UM among 30 schools including finalists Columbia and South Florida.

"I know everybody says this -- but Ralph is a great kid," Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted said. "He's a qualified Ivy Leaguer. He wants to study engineering. He has a 96 percent average in calculas. He's top notch academically and morally.

"On the court, he's 6-8, 6-9, defender, rebounder, real active inside, real good athlete inside, tough and strong and he's kind of flown under the radar becaue he's had some injuries. He's been at our school for a year. This year, he'll be able to play."

Akpejiori came to the United States as as sophomore when he played in the international game at Michael Jordan's Spring Classic. He dislocated his foot few months later and did not get back on the court until this past summer when he played for Nike sponsored Baltimore Elite.

Lindsted said UM fans will be able to get an up-close look at Akpejiori in the Kreul Classic Dec. 21-22 in Coral Springs. He took his official visit to UM the same weekend the football team beat Oklahoma.

"Academics are important to him. He liked the fact it was a private school," Lindsted said. "I think the football team did their job. He really enjoyed that game. He likes the idea of playing in the ACC. That was the league he wanted to play in. He likes Coach Haith and Coach Morton and that whole staff. He's going to be a good building block for what they want to do there."

October 18, 2009

UConn tragedy hits home for UM's Bell

It's the type of early morning phone call no football coach ever wants to receive -- news that one of their guys is gone.

Corey Bell Corey Bell, the director of football operations at the University of Miami, got one of those calls early Sunday morning as news of the stabbing death of University of Connecticut cornerback Jasper Howard began to spread. Bell, who coached Howard at Miami Edison High for two years, was stunned and saddened to learn of the tragedy.

"I'm real close to all my guys, but Jazz and I were real close," said Bell, who awoke at 6 a.m. to phone calls and text messages from Edison alumni.

"We spoke at least once every week. He's a great kid, coachable, dependable, real tough mentally and talented. He's like most of the kids from that area in Little Haiti. He had dreams of getting to the next level and making it and taking care of his mom and his sister."

Howard died early Sunday morning, hours after the team's victory 35-28 Saturday night against Louisville. The Hartford Courant reported the stabbing happened following the end of a school-sponsored dance at the university student union. It reported that an altercation occurred outside building after someone pulled a fire alarm.

Howard was reportedly one of two people stabbed at the center of campus. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he died. The second victim, who was not named, survived, and was treated and released from the hospital.

The newspaper reported that the suspect in the stabbings was still at large early Sunday. UConn president Michael Hogan told The Associated Press that the stabbing is a tragedy for the entire university community. He says state police are working with campus police.

"Jazz would have never been the type to get himself involved in trouble," Bell said. "On the contrary, he was the type of guy who wouldn't let his teammates get in trouble. He was smart and a great leader."

Howard was a first-team All-Dade defensive back at Edison in 2007, as well as a first team All-Dade track and field long jumper. Howard, who also played wide receiver in high school, had 27 catches for 604 yards and seven touchdowns and intercepted two passes to go along with 42 tackles his senior season. He chose UConn over North Carolina.

"I remember the last day I was Edison before I came to UM," Bell said. "All the kids were sad and upset with me. Jazz stood up and said 'We should be happy for coach. He always pushes for us to get the next level. We should be happy for him too.' I'll never forget that. That's the type of kid Jazz was."

Howard was credited with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in UConn's victory Saturday over Louisville. He led the Big East in punt returns last season.

Bell said Howard was close friends with current UM offensive lineman Brandon Washington and Clemson cornerback Chris Chancellor, who were his teammates at Edison.

"He was really starting to come into his own," Bell said of Howard. "A lot of kids who don't end up coming here need to get out of Miami to get away from the things in their neighborhood.

"You coach them up to do the right thing and make the right decisions when trouble starts. I know Jazz. He knew how much his family was depending on him. When you get a phone call like this, it just breaks your heart."

UCF thoughts, postgame notes

ORLANDO -- About to head back out on the road and head home. Here are some of my thoughts on UM's 27-7 win over the UCF Knights:

> This definitely wasn't the Canes finest effort. But I think it says something when U can don't necessarily play at your best and still win rather comfortably. We can point to all the what-ifs... like what-if UCF had scored a touchdown midway through the third quarter when it had the ball at the UM 2 to start or what-if the Knights hadn't missed that field goal in the first quarter. The bottomline: UM was clearly the better team and more the plays when it had to. Give the Canes credit -- especially on defense.

4 > GAME BALL -- OFFENSE: Quarterback Jacory Harris made one bad decision, throwing a deep ball into double coverage to Tommy Streeter that was eventually batted away. But aside from that, Harris was spot on despite getting some really poor pass protection. He finished 20-for-26 for 293 yards and a touchdown. I can't even really remember the other five incompletions because it felt like every pass he threw was on the money. It was good to see considering he threw five interceptions in his previous three games combined.

> GAME BALL -- DEFENSE: Everybody. Miami's defense is getting better. I know they're shorthanded and they were playing against a rather average to below average UCF offense. But guys are getting better. 
- How about Jared Campbell? He caused Colin McCarthy's huge third quarter interception, but he also batted away two passes including a deep ball that could have gone for six.
- Sean Spence is no longer getting pushed around. He was all over the field with seven tackles and two huge sacks.
- Darryl Sharpton had 11 tackles -- one shy of his career high -- including eight in the first half. He looked like a real run stopper.
- And how about DeMarcus Van Dyke? Huge hit in the backfield on running back Brynn Harvey on first and goal at the 2 and then he was there to defend a pass at the 2-yard line.

> By the way, give defensive coordinator John Lovett some love for calling more blitzes this week against UCF. Coach Randy Shannon said UM saw stuff on film earlier this week and Lovett created blitzes from three, four, five and six man looks. UM created enough pressure to disrupt big plays.

> EMERGING: Damien Berry might be UM's best running back. Last week, I was urging the kid to ask for more playing time. He got it because he earned it -- and because Graig Cooper and Mike James are hurt. Still, give Berry credit. He went out and ran again with a full head of steam, helping UM's stagnant running game get going with 14 carries for 60 yards. Javarris James, who moved to seventh on UM's all-time rushing list, said Berry has always been this tough a runner. I'll say it now without the smirk: Give Berry the dang ball!

> NEEDS WORK: After giving up six sacks, UM has a lot of work to do in pass protection, namely with the guy starting at right tackle Matt Pipho. UM coach Randy Shannon was quick to defend his offensive line, saying Jacory might have been hanging onto the ball too long or receivers weren't running the right routes. I'm sorry, but when you have to roll your quarterback out so he can throw the football, you aren't doing a good job protecting him. Nearly all of Jacory's sacks happened in 3-4 seconds or less, usually when UCF blitzes weren't picked up. That should be chalked up to pass protection.

> HELMET STICKERS: Walk-on Corey Nelms for his huge hit on a kickoff return; tight end Jimmy Graham for his two tough catches that didn't go for touchdowns; kicker Alex Uribe for his three tackles on kickoff returns (Matt Bosher isn't the only kicker who can bring guys down). 

October 17, 2009

Gameday blog: UM-UCF

ORLANDO -- The ninth-ranked Canes (4-1) will take on UCF (3-2) tonight at 7:30 p.m. In case you missed my prediction, I'm picking the Canes to win 30-16. For the rest of my pregame thoughts, check out the previous blog.

TV INFO: Here's what I know about the television broadcast... the game will be available on Comcast Digital Cable Channel 744 locally in Miami-Dade, Broward and the Keys. The Dish Network (channel 152) and DirectTV (channel 613) carry the CBS College Sports channel. The game is also being made available to watch online through hurricanesports.cstv.com at a pay per view rate of $14.95 for standard definition and $19.95 for high definition. If you need more info, call your cable local provider. WQAM will have the radio broadcast.

Reminder for Gameday blog participants: 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.

Gameday preview: UM-UCF

It's time to preview tonight's game as the ninth-ranked Canes (4-1) venture to Orlando to take on UCF (3-2) at a sold out Bright House Networks Stadium.

REWIND: UM hung on to beat the Knights 20-14 last year at Land Shark Stadium in a game that was just flat out ugly. Both offenses were a mess. It took a Darryl Sharpton batted pass inside the UM 40 late in the game for the Canes to preserve the victory.

UCF RB Brynn Harvey FAST FORWARD
> UM wins because... They have superior talent and play like it. The Knights might be playing at home and have a loud crowd backing them, but UM has played in tough settings before. The fact last year's game was so close has motivated the Canes this week to play much better than last year. On paper, Jacory Harris and his receivers -- LaRon Byrd, Travis Benjamin and Leonard Hankerson -- are going to be much better than anything the UCF secondary has seen before. The Knights rank 95th in pass defense and give up tons of long passing plays. And frankly, the Knights aren't very good on offense, ranking 83rd in rushing and 84th in passing. While there are a few big play threats, most of UCF's scores come on long scoring drives. UM's defense is banged up, but still has enough athletes to get to quarterback Brett Hodges, who takes sacks and throws interceptions (6).

> UCF wins because... The Knights jump out to an early lead, cause turnovers, make big plays on special teams and run the football successfully with Brynn Harvey. The 6-1, 205-poound sophomore broke out with a 219-yard performance against Memphis last week and ranks 16th nationally in rushing. He can be a load to bring down at times and will have the advantage of facing a UM defense short Jordan Futch (its fourth linebacker) and a banged up defensive line. Harvey will be key, but so will the play of the Knights special teams, which ranks second in the nation in punt coverage and ninth in kickoff return yardage against. UCF has had three different players return a kickoff for at least 72 yards in five games.

> My pick: UM 30, UCF 16. This isn't going to be a cake walk for the Canes. The Knights are 11-5 all-time at home and have played ranked teams tough in their backyard, losing to sixth-ranked Texas 35-32 in Sept. 2007 and 17th-ranked USF 31-24 Sept. 2008. Their biggest loss at home was a 15-0 defeat to UAB last year. Still, I can't see the Canes losing this one just because UCF's offense isn't that great. The difference will ultimately be Miami's explosiveness at receiver. There are just going to be too many weapons for UCF's defense to try and stop.

GAME BALLS
> Offense: Jacory Harris. Not really going out on a limb here. But considering Jacory has thrown as many picks (5) as he has touchdowns the past three games, I get the sense he's really motivated to provide pinpoint accuracy in today's game. He's going to feel the heat from UCF's pass rush, especially with the Canes short on offensive lineman (Joel Figueroa likely won't play). But Harris will make the plays he has to in the end for Miami to do enough and win this game without a ton of excitement in the fourth quarter.

> Defense: Marcus Robinson. UM is shorthanded on the defensive line and needs someone to step up and have a big day. Robinson has been steady with three sacks so far. With former Miami Southridge teammate Cliff McCray lining up near Robinson at right guard, I expect him to have a little extra motivation and have a breakout day getting to the quarterback.

> Special teams: Arthur Brown. UM coach Randy Shannon said the loss of Jordan Futch on kickoff returns was huge. Look for Brown to replace him and provide a few big hits and blocks on special teams.

October 16, 2009

Shannon shares thoughts on personnel changes

In case you missed WQAM's Thursday night edition of Hurricane Hotline, UM coach Randy Shannon was rather candid on a few subjects -- including his philosophy on personnel changes following injuries: 

Randy Shannon "When I get the injury report and I get in [on Sunday] while the coaches are in meetings -- offense, defense and special teams [watching film], I say OK 'Let's put this guy over here, this guy over there," Shannon said. "This is the next best guy, let's put him over there.' It's not always the next best guy at the position, it's the next best guy on the football team.

"On the defensive line, you want the best four. On the offensive line, you want your best five. Not the best center, tackle or guard. In the backfield, you want the best running back at the position. You see Mike James playing fullback. It wasn't that he's the next best fullback. It was the next best personnel. You always want the next best guy on the field who can handle it mentally.

"When [receiver] Aldarius [Johnson] got hurt [against FAMU]. What did we do? All we did was put in [Leonard] Hankerson and move Travis [Benjamin] up. LaRon [Byrd] was playing one side and Travis was the other guy. Hank was the swing guy. When [tight end Dedrick] Epps didn't play. OK, [fullback] Tervaris Johnson moves up. The next best guy was Jimmy Graham. You always bring up the next best guy to get things done."

Shannon said one aspect that is severely affected by injuries is special teams play. He said the loss of linebacker Jordan Futch to a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was crippling to the kickoff return team.

"You have to change a lot of things when you start getting injuries," Shannon said. "A lot of people don't think Jordan Futch is valuable. Jordan Futch was very valuable to us. He was our best kickoff guy. He was our great kickoff return guy in terms of making the key blocks on their best person. He was doing a great job. A lot of those runs [Graig] Cooper was breaking, Mike James was breaking was because of Jordan Futch. When those injuries come, you have to keep moving guys around to get the special teams in order. That's key. Somebody has to step up to fill that void. We have players to do it. Now, we have to coach them up. And they have to do it."

Here are some other topics Shannon was talking about: 

> On the eight season-ending injuries and the fact UM will still have to rely on several true freshmen to play valuable minutes this season: "[The depth isn't where we want it to be] I said that at the beginning of the season, we talked, we still have a lot holes to fix as far as depth on this football team. Everybody wants to say we're back. We're doing a great job. This football team is doing a great job. But when you're playing a true freshman like Curtis Porter that means we're not back. We have to keep recruiting."

> On why UM may not be recruiting certain highly rated players from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach: "We're going to recruit players that fit our program. Some players we will not recruit at Miami. Maybe it's academics. Maybe it's something we know that other people don't know. We're going to make sure whoever we recruit will be a great football player, a great athlete, very academically sound, wants to graduate and get their degree."

> On the status of injured fullback Patrick Hill, whom Shannon said suffered a high ankle sprain: "It really takes a long time to get back. He's been working hard."

> On why redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jeremy Lewis isn't playing: "He's working in practice, trying to get himself in the mix. The one thing about it is he has competition and has to get better. He has to get better to make us a better football team."

> On why freshman defensive tackle Curtis Porter is playing: "He's been coming along pretty well. He came in nicked up on the defensive line and he caused a little havoc. He's a big time run stopper. We're enthused with the way he's coming in."

> On what he likes about freshman cornerback Brandon McGee: "We like the big corners with speed. If you can get anybody who is 6-1 with speed, that's good. He's another January guy. He got nicked in the spring time. We had to sit him out the last two weeks of spring. The more he keeps practicing well, the more playing time he'll get."

> On when highly touted sophomore linebacker Arthur Brown might play: "Arthur Brown is getting better each week. But it's like anything, when he's ready to play, he will play. We have a lot of football players on this football team that were highly recruited, highly rated. But it's always going to be a learning process. When guys are ready mentally to get it done, they will get it done."

> On how receiver Tommy Streeter performed in the first real action of his career against FAMU last week: "He made a big time block when Thearon Collier scored a touchdown. His special teams play was big because guys were nicked last. We even had Tommy run down on kickoffs and he made a couple tackles."

> On why receiver Davon Johnson isn't playing: "He's working. Right now, he's not in the top five guys. We're going to play five guys and not play eight. We're going to concentrate on those guys getting the reps."

> On if running back Damien Berry might see action in the backfield against UCF: "I can guarantee he'll be on special teams for us."

> On running back Graig Cooper's return: "He's healthier this week. He looked good, looked fresh."

HOOPS BEGINS PRACTICING... Frank Haith's team, which returns three players that started 16 or more games last season, will begin practicing this afternoon at the BankUnited Center with plenty of new faces. 

Haith, who helped coach the United States in the World University Games this summer in Serbia, told Hurricanes Hotline Thursday: "This is the most talented team we've had from top to bottom. We have length on the perimeter. It's our job not to mess them up.

UM's version of Midnight Madness -- the second annual Hurricanes Hoopfest -- will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Fans will be able to watch the men and women scrimmage for 30 minutes and interest with players during an autograph session as well as pick their seats for the upcoming season.

UM will host an exhibition game versus Florida Southern on Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and open the regular season at home versus North Carolina Central Nov. 14 at 4 p.m.

RING OF HONOR LUNCHEON... Plenty of seats are still available for the luncheon to honor Bennie Blades, Steve Walsh and the late Eddie, Dunn, who will be inducted in UM's Ring of Honor during the Clemson game. Sponsor tables can be purchased for $1,5000 and tickets can be bought individually for $100 per person. Call UM's Hurricane Club at 305-284-6699 if you are interested. 

Fall ball opens with fresh faces, questions

University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris was sporting a grin Thursday afternoon at Alex Rodriguez Park. His recent contract extension through the 2015 season was partly responsible.

UM dugout The other reason for his glee? The start of fall baseball. "I enjoy what I do," Morris said. "My job is also my hobby."

His job this fall will be to try and find answers to some of the big questions facing his team. Among the biggest ones according to Morris:

> Who will replace All-American closer Kyle Bellamy?

> Who is going to help fill the lineup alongside catcher Yasmani Grandal, second baseman Scott Lawson, center fielder Nathan Melendres and third baseman Harold Martinez?

> Which of the 13 new faces on the roster will be able to help the Canes right away?

"We have a lot of question marks," Morris said. "We have some good young players. It's very important this fall to figure out where we need to be by February."

Not long after UM completed it's 38-22 season with a loss to Florida at the NCAA Regional in Gainesville, Morris admitted to reporters the Hurricanes suffered from chemistry woes in 2009. He believes the 35 players on his roster -- six seniors, five juniors, 11 sophmores, and 13 freshmen -- will be a better mix in 2010.

"The team at this point has a very good attitude, but it's very easy to have a good attitude right now when everyone's playing, doing the same thing," Morris said. "We just finished going through a tough boot camp. If we can run our program like the Marines, I would love to be able to do that, because when those guys come out of boot camp they'll take a bullet for each other. We just went through the hardest boot camp since I've been at Miami, I can tell you that."

Said Lawson: "We've never been through an offseason so tough. We've been having to get up at 5:30 in the morning everyday, running every day. Then we run at 4 p.m. every day in 100 [degree heat]. . Everyday you have to come out with the same attitude and get better."

WHO WILL CLOSE? Morris would love to figure that out by the end of the fall and joked he'd "trade two starting pitchers for one closer because it's such a tough role." But he said Thursday, the answer won't really come until February when guys are thrown into the fire.

"It's wide open right now," pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said. "Some of the veteran guys -- David Guiterrez -- is one we're thinking about. Hopefully, Taylor Wulf gets back to where he was last year. He has a chance to be a guy there as well."

PLENTY OF ARMS AVAILABLE... The unsure closer situation aside, it's pretty clear the Canes' strength entering the season will be pitching. The staff returns 84 percent of its innings pitched from last season (446 of 531).

"Having [Eric] Erickson back, Chris [Hernandez] back and some of the freshmen coming in I think we'll have a pretty good rotation in the spring," catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "I think for the first time ever we could have a five lefty rotation. I think we have a strong pitching staff. I think we'll be real good by the end of the season."

Chris Hernandez In all, UM will have eight left-handed arms available and seven righties. The two locks for the starting rotation are lefties Chris Hernandez, who promises he's ready to bounce back from his sophomore slump (7-5, 4.76 ERA, 93 Ks, 31 BBs), and junior Eric Erickson, who returns after missing the 2009 season rehabilitating from an injury.

"Erickson is doing great," Arteaga said. "He's throwing bullpens every other day. Now the bullpens are getting longer so he's throwing every Monday and Friday. He's not going to be stretched out like the other pitchers this fall. But so far he's had no setbacks. He's more than a year out of surgery and 100 percent. He's throwing breaking balls and everything else."

Arteaga will not be giving Hernandez any time off this fall like he did a year ago. Arteaga admitted the 2008 Freshman All-American "just never looked or felt comfortable last year" and took full blame for it. "He just never was really ready to go in the spring," Arteaga said. "He never got into a rhythm. He took the summer off like all our pitchers did this year. Hopefully, with good hard work in the fall, it will carry onto the spring."

Only one arm -- sophmore right-hander Travis Miller (coming off minor surgery for a nerve injury) will not be throwing this fall. Arteaga said Miller was cleared to begin lifting weights Thursday and likely won't begin throwing until December. "If he's not ready for opening day, he'll be ready for week two or three," Arteaga said.

The two freshmen likely to provide an instant boost is local right-hander E.J. Encinosa (Miami Coral Park) and left-hander Jerad Grundy, the only player not from Florida who is among the 13 players in UM's ninth-ranked recruiting class according to Collegiate Baseball.

FAST ADDITIONS... The consensus thought on the position players brought into help replace the losses of Chris Hermann, Jason Hagerty, Dave DiNatale and Ryan Jackson is that there's a lot of speed and maybe not enough pop.

Second baseman Scott Lawson, a senior, is among the few veteran starters returning for UM "This is a very athletic class," Arteaga described. "We have a lot of guys that run below a 6.7, 6.8. So that gives us a lot of options to run and put pressure on other teams. Not a whole lot of power in the class, but a whole lot of speed. The next class will have a little more weight behind it in terms of power. But our goal was to get some athletes that could play multiple positions and put some pressure on teams."

In all, UM brought in five infielders and two outfielders among position players.

Former Gulliver shorstop Stephen Perez, a switch hitter, is the most highly touted having been drafted in the 18th round by the Cincinnati Reds. Perez can play shortstop. Junior Chris Pelaez, who signed with Louisville out of high school, is a 6-1, 205-pound junior outfielder and left-handed bat that could win a job. Ditto for sophomore infielder Rony Rodriguez, a 5-11, 200-pound sophomore who played at Miami-Dade College with Pelaez.

"We just have to be solid one through nine and do all the little things this year," Lawson said. "Last year it seemed like if the top of the order was hot, the bottom of the order was off. Or vice versa. We didn't do a lot of the little things right. We didn't steal enough bases. It seems like this year, it feels like we got 10 people that can [run fast]. We better be able to steal a lot of bases and score a lot of runs. I think we're going to be real scrappy this year and put a lot of pressure on the defense."

... We now will return you to your regularly scheduled football blogs as the Canes prepare to take on UCF Saturday night in Orlando...

October 15, 2009

3 more ruled out for season, injured list grows

UM coach Randy Shannon might not like talking about injuries, but his team is having to deal with a lot more of them lately. 

Three new players have been ruled out for the season because they've had or will have surgery -- defensive tackle Marcus Forston (ankle), tight end Richard Gordon (shoulder) and defensive end Adewale Ojomo (jaw) according to an injury report released Thursday. 

Six others have been ruled out for Saturday's 7:30 kickoff against UCF for the ninth-ranked Hurricanes (4-1): fullback Patrick Hill (lower extremity), defensive tackle Josh Holmes (lower extremity), receiver Aldarius Johnson (shoulder), defensive end Eric Moncur (groin), safety Jojo Nicolas (shoulder) and safety Randy Phillips (forearm). 

Right guard Joel Figueroa, who has been seeing more playing time over the past couple of weeks, is listed as doubtful with a lower extremity injury. 

Running backs Graig Cooper (hip) and Lee Chambers (ankle) are listed as probable and expected back.

> UM's defensive line will be short just about everywhere on its defensive line with only eight healthy available players. Look for Allen Bailey, who has been moved outside for the last three games, to play a lot more inside there with Joe Joseph, Micanor Regis and Curtis Porter. Steven Wesley, Marcus Robinson, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon are the healthy defensive ends. 

October 14, 2009

UM-UCF will be televised locally

Comcast Network announced late Wednesday afternoon it will provide a free preview of CBS College Sports in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties and the Florida Keys, allowing for Saturday's game between ninth-ranked UM and UCF to be seen locally.

The game will be available on Comcast channel 744.

If not for the deal, the 900,000 homes in South Florida that subscribe to the cable service wouldn't have been able to see the game. The Dish Network (channel 152) and DirectTV (channel 613) carry the CBS College Sports channel, but Comcast does not locally.

The game is also being made available to watch online through hurricanesports.cstv.com at a pay per view rate of $14.95 for standard definition and $19.95 for high definition.

Here is how the game will be made available statewide...

Counties/Cities Provider Channel
Miami-Dade, Broward, Florida Keys Comcast 744 (Digital Cable)
St. Lucie, Southern BrevardPalm Beach Comcast 744 (Digital Cable)
Ft. Myers-Naples Comcast 735 (Sports Tier)
* Jacksonville Comcast 735 (Sports Tier)
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale Hotwire Comm. 201 (Sports Tier)
Mobile-Pensacola (Ft Walt) Mediacom LLC. 171 (Sports Tier)
Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne Bright House 106 (Digital Basic) 
Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne Comcast 735 (Sports Tier)
Panama City Knology 195 (Sports Tier)
* Panama City Mediacom LLC. 171 (Sports Tier)
Tampa-St. Petersburg (Sarasota) Bright House 139 (Digital Basic)
Tampa-St. Petersburg (Sarasota) Comcast 735 (Sports Tier)
Tampa-St. Petersburg (Sarasota) Hotwire Comm. 201 (Sports Tier)
Tampa-St. Petersburg (Sarasota) Knology 195 (Sports Tier)
Tampa-St. Petersburg (Sarasota) Verizon FiOS 94 (Sports Tier)
Tallahassee-Thomasville Comcast 735 (Sports Tier) 
Tallahassee-Thomasville Mediacom LLC. 171 (Sports Tier) 

Jacory Harris: "I got to make smart reads"

The way Jacory Harris and his wide selection of receivers opened the season, it looked like the Canes were going to be able to stretch the field all year long.

Jacory Harris has thrown as many interceptions (5) as he has touchdowns (5) in his last three games. While Harris has hooked up on a few deep balls the last couple weeks (remember Travis Benjamin's 38-yard TD catch against Oklahoma and Leonard Hankerson's 37-yard catch against FAMU), the big play simply hasn't been there quite as often as it was against Florida State and Georgia Tech. The reason? Opposing defensive coordinators are game-planning for Miami better, taking away the deep ball and forcing Harris to work underneath more and more.

"The first couple of weeks everyone was playing us man," Harris said after Wednesday morning's practice at Greentree Practice Field. "They didn't know what we were coming with. So it was opening up the deep passing game. Now everybody is playing soft, so now we can throw little short routes."

If you are wondering why Harris has thrown as many interceptions (5) as he has TDs (5) in his last three games, he already knows the answer.

"I'm trying to go for the big play instead [of settling for a short gain]," Harris said. "I just got to make smart reads and trust everything around me and read the defense. [The interceptions] will lower itself."

Harris didn't see much action against UCF last season. He was 4 of 6 for 14 yards and came in late to convert a two-point conversion scoring play. UM had its second-worst passing day of the season against the Knights, throwing for just 88 yards as a team. Robert Marve, who played most of the game, was intercepted three times by a talented UCF secondary.

This Knights secondary isn't as experienced. But it is littered with South Florida speed. Freshman corner Josh Robinson was a standout at Plantation, junior Darin Baldwin was a star at South Dade, strong safety Michael Greco, a senior, starred at Cardinal Gibbons and freshman free safety Kemal Ishmael was a star at North Miami Beach High.

"They're going to give us a good game. They have a bunch of wonderful players," Harris said. "They want to take down Miami, and I guess that can make their season. A lot of people just want to bring down the University of Miami. We already had one disappointing loss, and I don't think this team wants any more losses. We're going to go out there and play our hardest in order to win."

> The last time UM was ranked in the Top 10, they fell hard at Virginia Tech. Harris said the team is approaching their second venture into the Top 10 differently.

"Last time we were real excited being ranked No. 9," Harris said. "At this point we understand we can't get like that anymore. We've just got to be our regular selves, and we just go out there and have fun. Keep winning games and all the rankings and things like that will come."

> Sophomore linebacker Ramon Buchanon seems like a nice kid. But getting two words out of him feels a lot like trying to scratch out a nasty stain on a shirt. We asked Buchanon about eight different ways how he feels about being given the opportunity to play more with Jordan Futch going down.

Here are some of his short and sweet responses...

- Do you feel you have a pretty good grasp of the plays? "Yeah."

- What would you say has been your biggest challenge? "Staying focused."

- Do you feel more comfortable having played the last two games? "I'm getting accustomed to the game speed. I played the whole fourth quarter and like the last 10 minutes of the third. It was pretty exciting."

He's only a sophomore. He'll come around. We hope.

> UM's official injury report will be released Thursday. But for now, here is what coach Randy Shannon told us this morning: Safety Randy Phillips (shoulder) didn't practice Wednesday; Running back Graig Cooper did and should play; defensive end Olivier Vernon is back, "He practiced all week. I expect him to go in the game," Shannon said.

> Junior Allen Bailey said he's still playing "a few snaps" at defensive tackle, but has played primarily at defensive end since the Georgia Tech game.

> For all of you enamored with the SpongeBob-Canes connection, Harris told us the team has decorated the locker room with SpongeBob fathead stickers.

October 13, 2009

Joseph has emerged as leader on banged up DL

AJ Trump and Joe Joseph have a running joke they share around campus and in the locker room. It was born from the bond they share as warriors in the trenches.

Joe Joseph "Wherever we go, he calls me the white Joe, and I call him the black AJ," said Trump, who arrived with Joseph as part of UM's 2004 signing class five years ago and whose locker on the road and at home is right next to Joseph's.

"We have similar shapes, same type of hair -- or lack of it -- and our personalities are scary similar."

Said Joseph: "When I had the beard, we really did look alike."

Black/white, offense/defense, Joseph has become an integral part of Miami's front line on defense as Trump has on offense. But like Trump, whose career was riddled with injuries early on, it took Joseph some time to get where he is today. And he might not have turned the corner without plenty of pushing from defensive line coach Clint Hurtt.

"When Joe was a redshirt freshman, hell, there was nobody that rode Joe harder [than me]," Hurtt said. "Nobody. He's a very prideful kid, a work hard kid, try hard kid. When he was freshman, I grinded on him to the point that it was, to him being personal.

"Sometimes it was. But the thing is, I knew this: I knew when he would become a junior or senior he was a guy that was going to be a leader and I needed him to understand what my expectations were of him and the standard I wanted him to hold the rest of the group to."

The pushing and prodding has paid off this season. No defensive lineman for the Hurricanes has been more consistent than the 6-3, 304-pound fifth-year senior from Orlando Oak Ridge. Joseph, who said he'll have 16 family members at Saturday night's game against UCF, leads all Canes defensive linemen in tackles (17) and the entire defense in tackles for loss (5 for minus 12 yards).

Last year, he made 17 tackles in 13 games and nine starts at left defensive tackle. As a sophomore, he started in five games and played in 10 and finished with 25 tackles.

"He's doing a great job for us," UM coach Randy Shannon said. "He's been here five years, kind of one of the older guys on the football team who has started to make some plays for us. He's always on the players about what the coaches ask them to do as far as technique and making them successful. He's a leader."

Joseph's growth spurt couldn't have come at a better time for the Canes. UM's defensive line has been decimated by injuries. The Canes, still undecided whether or not they will seek a medical redshirt for sophomore Marcus Forston, are down to four legitimate defensive tackles: Joseph, sophomore Micanor Regis, senior Josh Holmes and true freshman Curtis Porter, who burned his redshirt when he played against FAMU last week. Junior Allen Bailey, who began the season playing defensive tackle, has moved back out to end because of the shortage and injuries to that position.

Joseph said because of the injuries he's playing about five to 10 more snaps a game -- 35 to 40 total. But if you ask his teammates, his play hasn't tailed off.

"He's brought big time leadership from a senior, an older guy, what those guys needed," linebacker Colin McCarthy said.

"When you watch him on film, he's out there making plays -- big plays. Against Oklahoma, he had the penalty on the punt block, but came back and had the big hit in the backfield. I know he had like 3 1/2 tackles for loss against FAMU. The energy he's bringing is there, and we're feeding off it."

> Sophomore linebacker Jordan Futch tore his right ACL when his foot got caught in the grass while he was trying to tackle FAMU's LeRoy Vann Saturday night in the third quarter. Futch will have surgery in two weeks, but expects to be back in time for spring ball.

"It hurts us a lot," McCarthy said. "Special teams wise, he was on everything, making plays, making big plays. At linebacker, he was in there on the base package, playing the will. It's going to hurt us a lot. When a guy goes down, it gives an opportunity for another guy to step up. So Arthur Brown and Buchanon will get a shot."

> Shannon will provide plenty of lip service to get the four linebackers trying to fill Futch's spot to compete hard in practice this week. But the job is really sophomore Ramon Buchanon's to lose. Buchanon practiced with the regulars Tuesday according to several teammates while Arthur Brown, C.J. Holton and Kylan Robinson continued to work primarily with the scout team.

"[Ramon] is real athletic," McCarthy said. "He's a fast linebacker for us on the outside. He has a good idea. Some of the motion and stuff, he needs to learn. But he's in there wanting to learn. I think that's what coach Lovett likes about him. When Buchanon was in there, he really didn't miss a beat. He was in there making plays, making tackles. That's all coach Lovett can really ask for."

McCarthy and Sean Spence say Brown has improved. Spence said Brown made strides understanding "run fits and pass fits and knowing where to line up." But McCarthy said Brown still needs time before he's ready to start calling plays.

> Spence said Forston has taken his struggles and injuries this season "tough." On Sunday, UM coach Randy Shannon said it was likely Forston was done for the season. But reports have surfaced recently that might not happen. Here's what Forston's best friend had to say on Tuesday.

"I know he wants to play and what not, he's still trying to play," Spence said. "But he has to do what's best for him. He's not sure what he's going to do yet .He doesn't want to redshirt, but it's not his call."

October 12, 2009

Injuries will force young guys to step up

We heard all about Arthur Brown's reputation in Kansas, Ramon Buchanon's big play making ability at Melbourne Palm Bay and the speed and talent Brandon McGee possessed at Plantation High. It's now officially time to start seeing it at The U.

Jordan Futch In case you hadn't heard yet, the Miami Hurricanes are piling up injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Monday night, UM released its injury report heading into the UCF game and several new players were listed as having surgery and being out for the season: sophomore linebacker Jordan Futch, cornerback Ryan Hill and defensive end Dyron Dye.

They aren't the only Canes seriously dinged up. UM coach Randy Shannon said Sunday defensive tackle Marcus Forston is likely done for the season. We still haven't heard if and when defensive end Adewale Ojomo (jaw) will be coming back. 

The Hurricanes have plenty of depth at running back and wide receiver. But on the other side of the ball, there are lot of question marks after you get past the first team. Futch was the first linebacker off the bench, a guy defensive coordinator John Lovett said had turned the corner. Hill, who was hurt early in the season, was supposed to be the fourth corner in UM's slim rotation. Forston, Dye, Ojomo were all going to be a part of a deep defensive line rotation.

Now, as the season moves forward and veterans like Colin McCarthy, Eric Moncur and Randy Phillips play through injuries, there are going to be times when Brown, McGee or Buchanon will have to be on the field, ready to deliver.

Heavy hitters weigh in on UM's recruiting

Spent most of the day today talking recruiting with three respected names in the game -- ESPN's Tom Luginbill, Rivals' Jamie Newberg and South Florida's very own Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services. Some of it will run in my story on how UM's 3-1 start has helped or not helped the Canes recruiting efforts (whenever the story runs). But I'm done holding off the info from you here on the blog.

St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Brandon Linder is a major target for UM in recruiting. Here's what you need to know: Regardless of public opinion that UM isn't getting enough superstars in their own backyard, recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt and most analysts believe UM's next sigining class (currently ranked 18th by Rivals, 19th by Scout.com and just outside of the Top 15 by ESPN.com) will finish strong no matter what.

In fact, where the real boost from the start to the 2009 season will likely come is in 2011. Hurtt told me the Canes have already offered 46 juniors -- more than double what they did at the start of October in 2007, 2008 and 2009 combined. He said the feedback, "has been amazing."

"I would be floored if they don't finish in the Top 10 [in recruiting] because I know they're going to close out this season well," said Jamie Newberg, an ACC and national recruiting expert for Rivals.

"I think in the end, they'll get [St. Thomas Aquinas offensive tackle Brandon] Linder, [Booker T. Washington running back] Eduardo [Clements] and a couple big time receivers from down there and finish with some impact guys from the area.

"But while it will be a good, solid class, some people -- including me -- will think it's somewhat disappointing. With all that talent within a stone's throw of Coral Gables, people are still going to wonder why didn't Lemarcus Joyner or Jeff Luc didn't end up there."

Hurtt has already encountered some of those questions from fans while out grocery shopping. Hurtt, who can not talk specifically about recruits per NCAA rules, said he tells everyone who approaches him about local players and why they aren't being recruited by Miami with "we believe in the way we evaluate players."

"Central, Northwestern, St. Thomas Aquinas are all great teams," Hurtt said. "But people have to understand while we try and take care of our backyard, we try and take the kids we want and we feel fits what we're trying to get done here. And if they don't fit that or we make a mistake, we'll have to live with it."

UM has six players from the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach area. But only Miami Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler is ranked among the nation's Top 150 recruits according to ESPN or Rivals. Jacksonville Raines defensive tackle Louis Nix is the only other current commitment in the ESPN Top 150.

Luginbill, however, said the Canes shouldn't be judged on what they do locally alone. "Recruiting is a marathon and not a sprint. With their numbers, they have to be selective and be sure of who they take every year," Luginbill said.

"Look at their track record in South Florida. They've been able to keep a lot of those kids at home. One year out of three where a few get away isn't a big deal. The way we rank classes is based on needs. When I look at their class right now, six of their seven recruits are guys up front who can win you games. That's where they need the help and that's what they're getting."

Hurtt said while players they once were recruited have tried to jump back on the Canes bandwagon, he and his staff have been firm in being selective. And the spots they've already given to other recruits, Hurtt said, will not be taken away.

"We've had a lot guys call in now who want to get on the boat, who had the opportunity before," Hurtt said. "But I tell them ‘Now, it's too late because other kids have given us their pledges and decided they wanted to be with us from the get-go.'

"We don't have a ton of spots available. We are to a point where we're very selective on who we're talking to and who we're talking with. We we have our focal points and our needs for the remainder of the class and we plan on meeting them."

UM's big focus areas coming in were offensive line, tight end, cornerback and linebacker. With the commitments UM already has, Hurtt said the Canes have one spot left for a running back, three for receivers, one for a tight end, one for a defensive end, one to two for a linebacker and two to three for offensive linemen.

> Palm Beach Central's Shane McDermott, Davie Western's Jonathan Feliciano, Jacksonville Raines' Tavadis Glenn and Malcolm Bunche, a 2009 signee now at Milford Prep, are four offensive line commitments.

Linder, considered a four-star recruit by both ESPN and Rivals from nationally No. 1-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas, has long been Miami's top target. Most expect UM to beat out Notre Dame and Florida to get him. Aquinas teammate Jermaine Barton, a 6-6, 270-pound, project, would then likely be the last linemen UM takes.

> Aquinas cornerback Keion Payne, rated 26th at his position by Rivals, said the same about the Canes. He likely will become the fourth corner in the class, joining Gainesville High's Devont'a Davis, Pahokee's Raheam Buxton, and Kacy Rodgers of Southlake Carroll, Texas.

"Payne would definitley be an upgrade at a position of need," said Charles Fishbein of EliteScoutingServices.com. "You look at their roster and they need guys who can play on the field next year with Brandon Harris and Demarcus Van Dyke. Payne could probably play right away."

> At linebacker, the Hurricanes already have three commitments. Gainesville High's Kevin Nelson is rated the No. 3 inside linebacker in the country by ESPN. Washington (D.C). Dunbar's Javarie Johnson (6-4, 215) is considered an elite outside linebacker.

"I love Nelson," Herald recruiting expert Larry Blustein told me. "Florida is going to be kicking itself it blew it with that kid."

UM is in position to yank in at least one more, if not two. Winter Park Lake Howell's Christian Jones (once a Florida State lean) would be the biggest catch with his 6-4, 220-pound size and mix of speed. Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor's Travis Williams (6-2, 190) and Pahokee's Zach Allen, currently a Wake Forest commitment, are also possibilities. Miami's interest in Jeff Luc has evaporated. 

> Defensive end, hampered by injuries this season, is deep with young talent. The Canes would be happy with either Hialeah High's Corey Lemonier (6-5, 223) or Fort Lauderdale University's David Perry (6-6, 230).

> With seniors Jimmy Graham, Richard Gordon and Dedrick Epps leaving after this season, tight end is a position of need. But there simply might not be much available.

Ivan McCartney Unless the Canes can convince Palm Beach Dwyer's Gerald Christian he'll get more playing time at UM instead of Florida, Clive Walford, a 6-6, 225-pound project from Belle Glade Glades Central, and Andrew Tallman, a 6-5, 237-pound defensive end from Boston, will be the best UM can reel in. Tallman will likely end up playing offensive tackle.

"It's just not a great year for tight ends," Luginbill said.

> Without a senior receiver on its roster, there is no pressing need for pass catchers. But UM could still end up signing quality targets for the future.

Miramar High's Ivan McCartney, an ESPN Top 150 recruit, said his interest level in UM went up "from 50 percent to 75 percent'' after the 3-1 start and says the Canes are serious contender along with West Virginia and Florida. Jacksonville Raines' Sean Tapley, who has teammates headed to UM but is currently a South Carolina commitment, said the Canes have his attention.

Ditto for Miami Northwestern's Michaelee Harris (6-1, 180) and Carol City's Allen Hurns (6-2, 180). Hurns is currently the only player UM feels confident they'll get.

"If they're going to take that next step toward winning a championship, they need to start getting those guys," Fishbein said. "Miami's strength has always been that next group -- after those first 22 -- to put them over the top.

"When they had [Jeremy] Shockey, they had [Kellen] Winslow behind him. When it was [Clinton] Portis, they had [Willis] McGahee behind him. Those are the type of players that could come in and be that next player -- behind the starter to help them get to the elite level."