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Grading the Canes: Duke Report Card

From the better late than never folder: This week's report card for Duke. 

Quarterback: Jacory Harris bounced back from a terrible outing against North Carolina and finished with his second best yardage output of the season. He earned ACC Player of the Week honors Monday. But I still wouldn't call his effort Saturday stellar. Let's be honest: Jacory struggled with his accuracy and decision making yet again and could have had as many as five passes intercepted in the first half. Duke finished with eight passes defended. That's way too many opportunities to get their hands on the ball. I also don't think it was smart to have Harris throw the ball a career-high 28 times in the first half. But I guess that's the way Mark Whipple was hoping to snap Jacory out of his funk. Grade: C

Damien Berry Running backs: Two months ago I thought the reason Damien Berry wasn't getting more carries was because Javarris James and Graig Cooper were better backs. I was wrong. What I would like to know is when UM's coaches are going to admit the same and give Berry more carries? Saturday, everyone sitting in the stands wearing green and orange was calling for Berry in the third quarter. He came in and delivered, and completely changed the momentum of the game in Miami's favor. He carried the ball 10 times on UM's 15-play scoring drive to open the fourth quarter and capped it with a two-yard TD run. He finished with 76 yards on 16 carries. Graig Cooper and Javarris James combined for 75 yards on 23 touches. I'm not saying Cooper and James can't help this team. But it's obvious that without a healthy fullback UM should consider using the tough running Berry more. Grade: B

Leonard Hankerson Receivers: Leonard Hankerson and Jimmy Graham were the story here. Both had career days. Hankerson hauling in eight catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. And Graham had five catches for 73 yards, including four grabs that converted third and long. The best part of the day for UM's receivers? Most of them made adjustments to come back to under thrown passes by Harris and did a better job battling for passes. That's something they didn't do enough of at North Carolina. That's called coaching. Grade: B+

Offensive line: After Harris was pressured 11 times at North Carolina and sacked twice, Jason Fox and company did a much better job this week. The Blue Devils only got through for one sack (that was Jacory's fault for holding it too long) and didn't hit Jacory the rest of the day (zero QB pressures). UM also finished with 148 yards on the ground and the offensive line got better push as the game moved along. Brandon Washington played well and got a significant number of snaps after Orlando Franklin went down in the second quarter. Grade: B+

Defensive line: Another week, another terrible day getting pressure on the quarterback. There were times Saturday when Thaddeus Lewis had enough time to order a pizza before getting rid of the ball. UM produced four quarterback hurries -- two by Olivier Vernon and one each by Andrew Smith and Marcus Robinson. One reason UM struggled to do more: Allen Bailey was back in the middle, starting at left defensive tackle. But the bottomline is UM can't wait for Bailey to be their only source of pressure. There's no question this unit hasn't gotten the job done enough all year. UM has 19 sacks this season. Clint Hurtt would be the first to tell you that's not good enough. Grade: D

Darryl Sharpton Linebackers: Darryl Sharpton earned ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors Monday for his career-high 12 tackles and 73-yard interception return for a touchdown. Sharpton might not be a lot of things, but he's been solid for the Canes this season. He's definitely better than Glenn Cook was for UM last year. Let's not forget, he and Colin McCarthy were asked to step their games up when Sean Spence went down. They've done that. UM's run defense ranks 30th in the country and third in the ACC. We all remember what happened at the end of last season when teams were running all over the Canes. The defense deserves credit for fixing that problem at least. Grade: B+

Secondary: They didn't get shredded, but Lewis, Donavan Varner and Conner Vernon certainly had fun with the Canes cornerbacks. Senior Chavez Grant looked like he was auditioning for a Quiznos commercial (Toasty!) on a few plays. Lewis finished 20 of 37 for 303 yards and a touchdown. On the bright side, Vaughn Telemaque returned from his stinger at UNC and played well. He definitely had a big hit in the fourth quarter on Varner on what could have been a pretty big pass play. Still, not a great day for the Canes secondary. Grade: C

Special teams: Nothing special, nothing terrible for coach Joe Pannunzio's group Saturday. Matt Bosher made both of his field goals and once again had to make a saving tackle to prevent a kickoff return from going back to the house. Randy Phillips recovered a fumble to setup UM's first field goal. All in all, a decent day. But you definitely missed having Thearon Collier on punt returns. Graig Cooper dances a little too much on punts too. Grade: B

Coaching: The only thing I didn't like about Saturday's game was the excessive number of passing plays in the first half. Jacory's 28 attempts were the most he'd had in a game. It didn't make sense to me considering he was coming off a four interception game and his thumb was still aching. Miami ran the ball more in the second half and won because it gave Berry an opportunity to carry the rock. Somebody had to make that decision. Maybe the crowd? Either way, that was smart. Grade: B

Couple more thoughts I scribbled down on my notepad Sunday...

-- I didn't quite understand why linebacker Sean Spence was asked to put the pads on Saturday. He was only in against Duke on special teams for the opening kickoff and Shannon said Sunday Spence was made available for emergency reasons only. But here's my question: Why then even risk having a guy as valuable as Spence re-injured on a kickoff? 

Jacory Harris -- I had to laugh a little when I heard Shannon's comments regarding Jacory "playing the media" by showing up to Saturday's post game press conference with his arm in a sling. Pulling pranks and being funny is typical Jacory. He loved clowning his teammates throughout high school by showing up to practice after he committed to UM with different college hats and t-shirts. Even though Shannon said Sunday Harris was "really healthy," I'm still not buying it. Graham and Hankerson said post-game Harris wasn't throwing the ball with the same accuracy in practice during the week, pregame warm-ups or during the game. Was Jacory "healthy enough" to play with pain? Sure. But he wasn't faking an injury. His thumb was affecting him -- heavy tape, fake sling, lip service from the head coach, and all. 

-- Speaking of injuries: It will be interesting to see what happens with fullback Mike James and left guard Orlando Franklin this week. Both left Saturday's game with what looked like painful injuries and didn't return. Brandon Washington filled in well for Franklin and there were times when John Calhoun and Javarris James stepped in at fullback. But James is a very big loss. We might see more of Damien Berry simply for that reason. The way he runs, he doesn't need a fullback opening holes for him. 

-- Notre Dame's loss to UConn pretty much wiped away UM's best shot of playing in the Gator Bowl Jan. 1. There's no question the only reason the Canes were being considered for that game was the intrigue of a Canes-Fighting Irish showdown. At this point, my bowl money has the Canes heading to Orlando to play in the Champs Sports Bowl. 

Not that the bowl selection process is based on where teams finish in the ACC, but for your knowledge UM is basically going to finish fifth overall in the ACC behind Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and North Carolina (when the Tar Heels wipe out N.C. State this weekend) and be considered the fourth or fifth best team in the conference. According to the ACC bowl pecking order, the Orange Bowl will get the ACC champ, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl has the next pick, followed by the Gator Bowl (vs. Big East), Champs Sports Bowl (vs. Big Ten), Music City Bowl (vs. SEC) and Meineke Car Care Bowl (vs. Big East). 

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