If there is something to take out of Saturday's 52-17 win against Virginia is that this Hurricanes team does have the ability to dominate a lesser opponent. Although it took them a half to realize they could do it, UM completely took over the game against the Cavaliers. I'm not saying Miami's players didn't believe they could do it. But believing you can do something and actually doing it are two totally different concepts. This team now knows what it feels like to play at its best.
Now, before you go beating your chest and thinking UM has completely turned the corner, let me remind you of two things: One, Virginia lost to William and Mary this season. Two, they are without question the weakest team of the final four on UM's schedule. Road games at North Carolina and South Florida will not be a walk in the park.
As for the grades... it's hard to give out anything less than a C after the Canes' most impressive half of the season. But it won't be A's across the board.
> Quarterback: Jacory Harris finished 18 of 31 for 232 yards with two touchdown passes and made good decisions twice to throw the ball away on plays that were going nowhere. Both sacks he took were on plays he simply couldn't get the ball off. UM coach Randy Shannon said in the post-game press conference he saw progress from Harris, who at times has held onto the ball too long: "He's learning. Last week, he threw the ball away one time. This week, he threw the ball away 2 or 3 times. That's a growing process for all of us as a team." Harris still had one big hiccup: his 12th interception of the season. He threw it into triple coverage. Jacory's explanation for the pick: "It kind of sailed. I thought I drilled it, but it started going up in the air. I don't know if the wind took it or not, it was just a bad ball." Grade: A-.
> Running backs: Career day for Graig Cooper (152 yards on 18 carries and one touchdowns) and the Canes running backs, who combined for 268 yards on 49 carries. Lee Chambers had 10 carries for 67 yards and Damien Berry had 12 carries for 56 yards and two scores. But the best stat? Only 3 yards loss between all five running backs. That's a sign nobody is dancing in the backfield anymore and nobody is getting through to the backfield. Here is a question for you to ponder. Is this the deepest Canes backfield in recent memory? AJ Trump thinks so: "I can't say enough about our running backs and fullbacks. They're the best we've had since I've been here. No disrespect to the guys before us, but we have five guys that can gash the ball up and down the field." Grade: A+.
> Receivers/tight ends: Hard to remember many of the catches made Saturday because UM was running the ball so well. But two grabs stick out -- Laron Byrd's twisting, diving 29-yard catch on third and long and Leonard Hankerson's 35-yard touchdown catch, when he played pinball with a Virginia safety and used his "4.2 speed" to get into the end zone. In all, 13 different players caught passes from Jacory Harris. And I don't remember many drops at all, if any. The receivers and tight ends also did a great job blocking downfield on long running plays. Grade: A+.
> Offensive line: After giving up a combined 20 sacks in their previous five games and failing to establish a running game against Wake Forest, the Canes' Big Uglies responded with their best game since Oklahoma. Some of the holes Cooper, Berry and Chambers were able to run through were big enough for Honda Accords to run through. Sure, there were still two sacks. But when Jason Fox, Orlando Franklin, AJ Trump, Joel Figueroa, Harland Gunn and Matt Pipho aren't playing on their heels for 50 snaps and instead are pushing forward for 50 snaps, they're pretty good. Grade: A-.
> Front seven: Allen Bailey was once again a major disruption on the defensive line. He drew double teams and allowed some of his teammates to get free and provide pressure. Two sacks against the Cavaliers wasn't overly impressive. But six tackles for loss and 74 yards on 24 carries and 149 yards of total offense for Virginia was a sign of major progress after what happened at Wake Forest. Linebacker Colin McCarthy said the Canes implemented more blitz packages and said that had something to do with why they were more successful. If that's the case, keep doing it Mr. Lovett. Grade: A.
> Secondary: Randy Phillips (torn labrum) was only in on a handful of plays and his replacement Jared Campbell did a phenomenal job containing Virginia's tight ends. Campbell had a career-high three pass deflections and the Canes as a unit had seven. Sure, Virginia had backup quarterback Marc Verica behind center. But give credit where it's due. After looking flat out terrible against Wake Forest, these guys bounced back. Grade: A.
> Special teams: Mixed bag here. Thearon Collier's 60-yard punt return was the play of the year thus far in my eyes. The Canes now have three punt returns for scores this season and a real threat on special teams, which is a huge plus and something this program hadn't had since Devin Hester and Roscoe Parrish were here in 2004. That's great. What's not? UM has also allowed four punt blocks this year. The two on Saturday helped a bad team stick around for a half. Punter Matt Bosher said the spread formation being used this season (UM was in a conventional formation last year) is designed to get the ball off quicker and allow for players to get downfield faster. But Shannon, who coaches the special teams with Joe Pannunzio, is obviously going to have to make some tweaks this week. Opponents are finding easy gaps to get to Bosher. Grade: C.
> Coaching: Mark Whipple had me wondering what he was doing early on when he didn't just stick with UM's dominating running game and opted for flea-flickers and rollout play-action passes. But he got his act together quickly and the offense was absolutely humming after Harris' interception. Defensively, John Lovett deserves credit for not having his team be surprised by what the Cavaliers were doing (like the UM defense had been the last few weeks). But the biggest pat on the back goes to coach Randy Shannon, who trimmed practices last week and had a fresher team. I don't want to say it's the first real smart move he's made since being named coach. But it kind of feels like it. He also made a smart call for a timeout with :02 left in the first quarter. Virginia punted with the wind in its face instead of at its back and Miami ended up taking over at the Cavs 25 after their punter shanked one. The Canes then scored to go up 24-10. Grade: A.