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33 posts from November 2009

November 30, 2009

Four Canes land on ACC First Team

Congratulations are in order for the four Hurricanes who made the All-ACC First Team Monday. They are cornerback Brandon Harris, defensive end Allen Bailey, left tackle Jason Fox and kicker Matt Bosher. Linebackers Darryl Sharpton and Colin McCarthy both made the Second Team.

The four first team selections are the most for UM since 2005. The Canes, who didn't have any player make the first team a year ago, placed only one player on the first team the previous three seasons (Kenny Phillips in 2007, Calais Campbell and Greg Olsen in 2006).

Three Canes were honored earlier Monday with ACC Player of the Week honors: Bosher, Shaprton and offensive lineman Orlando Franklin. Here's a look at the all-conference teams as selected by the ACC media.

FIRST TEAM
Offense
QB-Josh Nesbitt, Georgia Tech (50)
RB-Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech (67)
RB-Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (63)
WR-Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech (63)
WR-Donovan Varner, Duke (50)
TE-George Bryan, NC State (39)
TE-Michael Palmer, Clemson (39)
OT-Jason Fox, Miami (57)
OT-Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (53)
OG-Rodney Hudson, Florida State (54)
OG-Cord Howard, Georgia Tech (47)
C-Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech (45)
K-Matt Waldron, Virginia Tech (27)
K-Matt Bosher, Miami (27)
Spc-C.J. Spiller, Clemson (76)

Defense
DE-Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech (76)
DE-Robert Quinn, North Carolina (69)
DT-Nate Collins, Virginia (47)
DT-Allen Bailey, Miami (38)
LB-Cody Grimm, Virginia Tech (65)
LB-Luke Kuechly, Boston College (53)
LB-Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina (44)
LB-Alex Wujciak, Maryland (44)
CB-Kendric Burney, North Carolina (59)
CB-Brandon Harris, Miami (41)
S-DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (57)
S-Deunta Williams, North Carolina (53)
P-Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech (57)

SECOND TEAM
Offense
QB-Thaddeus Lewis, Duke (18)
RB-C.J. Spiller, Clemson (62)
RB-Montel Harris, Boston College (39)
WR-Torrey Smith, Maryland (25)
WR-Jacoby Ford, Clemson (24)
TE-Greg Boone, Virginia Tech (16)
OT-Ed Wang, Virginia Tech (31)
OT-Chris Hairston, Clemson (26)
OG-Thomas Austin, Clemson (39)
OG-Sergio Render, Virginia Tech (37)
C-Matt Tennant, Boston College (29)
K-Casey Barth, North Carolina (21)
K-Will Snyderwine, Duke (21)
Spc-Torrey Smith, Maryland (17)

Defense
DE-Ricky Sapp, Clemson (29)
DE-Willie Young, NC State (24)
DE-Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech (24)
DT-Marvin Austin, North Carolina (32)
DT-John Russell, Wake Forest (29)
LB-Vincent Rey, Duke (29)
LB-Darryl Sharpton, Miami (21)
LB-Bruce Carter, North Carolina (17)
LB-Colin McCarthy, Miami (17)
LB-Dekoda Watson, Florida State (17)
CB-Ras-I Dowling, Virginia (26)
CB-Patrick Robinson, Florida State (26)
S-Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech (51)
S-Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech (24)
P-Matt Bosher, Miami (37)

Grading the Canes: USF Report Card

The Canes wrapped up a 9-3 season -- better than most expected -- with arguably its second-best performance of the season after Georgia Tech. There is a lot to be excited about if you bleed orange and green, for instance: 

Jacory Harris  -- UM now has a shot at finishing with double digit wins for the first time since 2003.
-- The team avoided its recent tradition of late-season slippage. The 3-1 effort this month marked the first time since 2005 UM finished the last month of the regular season with a winning record. UM had been 3-9 in the previous three Novembers combined. With the win, the Canes also finished undefeated in non-conference play (4-0) in the regular season for the first time since 2005.
-- The Canes improved their bowl stock while other ACC teams (North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Clemson) slipped. With UNC losing, UM can claim to be the fourth best team overall in the conference behind Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Boston College also finished 5-3. 

There will be a lot more to reflect on over the next two weeks. As players focus on finals and private workouts for the next 14 days, my plan is to provide a regular season report card, some recruiting updates, player rankings and to get a few days off myself. But for now, here is the final report card of the regular season.

> Quarterback: He still didn't have a lot of zip on his passes because his thumb is still aching and he caught a few breaks (his TD pass to Dedrick Epps was intended for Travis Benjamin), but Jacory Harris played his first turnover free game since UCF. He finished 11 of 21 (his fewest attempts of the year) for 161 yards (the second fewest yards this season) and two touchdowns and did a much better job with his decision making than in previous weeks, opting for safer passes most of the game. The most unique thing about this game was that this was the first time all year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple didn't put the weight of the offense on Harris' shoulders. In fact, the disparity in run plays (47) to passes (22) was the largest gap of the season. Grade: A

Javarris James  > Running backs: What else can you say about Damien Berry? He's proven over the past month he's the best player in UM's backfield. Saturday was no different. He ran for 114 yards on 12 carries, but saw his scoring streak snapped at seven games. Junior Graig Cooper had a good game himself, finished with 83 yards on 16 carries. Javarris James had 37 on 11 carries and two touchdowns. The 240 yards on the ground were the second most this season (UM had 268 vs. Virginia) and marked the third time this year UM topped 200. USF came in ranked 44th nationally against the run. Grade: A

> Receivers/tight ends: With the running game working so well, UM's receivers basically got a much deserved night off. Leonard Hankerson capped a stellar regular season with two catches for 21 yards and a touchdown to become the only Canes receiver to catch a pass in all 12 games. Dedrick Epps had a drop early in the game on third down, but bounced back with an excuse-me touchdown. From the strange stat category: Aldarius Johnson (2 catches), LaRon Byrd (2 catches) and Travis Benjamin (3 catches) -- considered by most to be UM's top three receivers entering the season -- have combined to make seven catches over the final two games. I think that just shows you how deep UM really is with pass catchers. Remember what it was like when Larry Coker was here? Grade: B+

Orlando Franklin  > Offensive line: By far the biggest props from Saturday have to go to Orlando Franklin and Brandon Washington, who proved they could protect Jacory's Blind Side (Great movie by the way). Not only did Franklin dominate two-time All-American defensive end George Selvie in his first start at left tackle, he helped paved the way for a solid UM ground game. Harris was sacked once and pressured once. So, the other guys did their job for the most part too. The ugly: Five false start penalties. Grade: B+

> Front seven: There were plenty of tense moments when BJ Daniels was scrambling around Saturday. But for the most part, the Canes did their job, holding USF to 143 yards rushing and creating enough pressure to help out the secondary. Linebacker Darryl Sharpton continued his dominance by matching his career-high from a week ago with 12 tackles. He also forced a fumble safety Randy Phillips recovered and led to a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Ramon Buchanon quietly had a solid game with five tackles including 1.5 for loss. Colin McCarthy, Steven Wesley and Sean Spence all had sacks to match a team season high. Even with a few long Daniels runs, this was without question UM's best defensive effort up front since Georgia Tech. Grade: B+

Brandon Harris  > Secondary: It wasn't their best game statistically, but it definitely felt like the best UM's secondary had played all season. Brandon Harris continued a stellar sophomore season by getting his hands on his second interception of the season. He also batted away another pass. USF's passing game wasn't among the nation's best. But the Bulls still had plenty of skilled playmakers at receiver who didn't do much at all. Of the six pass completions for USF, three went to receivers. That's called lockdown D. Grade: A+

> Special teams: Not much to complain about other than long kickoff return for a touchdown Matt Bosher had to prevent with his sixth tackle of the season. Bosher also had two punts bounce into the end zone after only having five go for touchbacks in the regular season. It's amazing how you have to zero in on the little things to find mistakes when it comes to Bosher, who finished the year 14 of 16 on field goals and second in the ACC in punting (42.7 avg). He's become almost as legendary as Chuck Norris or Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World

Joe Joseph  > Coaching: Yes, there were a few more of those head scratching time outs because the right personnel weren't on the field. But when you are up big you can afford to use them. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland gets the game ball this week for showing us he could get Orlando Franklin (first start at LT) and Brandon Washington (first career start) ready for a big game. Randy Shannon gets a helmet sticker for having his team ready to play from the get-go. USF had every reason to be up for this game -- home sellout, recruiting. The Canes were the only team who really showed up. Grade: A.

> Uniforms: I didn't love them, but they weren't the worst uniforms I've seen. They just seemed to be a little too plain. I would have like to have seen more color (green or orange) on the shoulder pads and pants. But the numbers and gloves looked really cool to me. Grade: C+

November 28, 2009

USF thoughts

TAMPA -- I've got one thing I need to get out of the way: Man, I was wrong.

I didn't think the Canes would be able to win Saturday's game without left tackle Jason Fox. Turns out, I didn't have nearly enough faith in Orlando Franklin and I had far too much respect for George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. 

Orlando Franklin  Franklin, making his first career start at left tackle in place of Fox, didn't just "fill-in." He dominated Selvie, a two-time All-American and -- with the aid of freshman Brandon Washington (who made his first start at left guard) -- kept Jacory Harris' new all-white uniform pretty clean all afternoon. 

Not only did Franklin help UM's offense roll up 240 yards on the ground and another 161 through the air by protecting Jacory's blind side, he may have answered a major question heading into the offseason: Who replaces Fox when he's gone.

Afterward, Franklin admitted to us he was nervous, but only because center AJ Trump opened his eyes in a team meeting Wednesday. "It was pretty much the biggest game of my life," Franklin said. "I've played in big games at guard, but I know what to do at guard. I never played tackle before. I was going against an end that was an All-American. I never really thought about it being the biggest game of my life until AJ Trump said it in a meeting a few days ago. I couldn't sleep at night because of him."

Maybe now Canes fans can sleep easy knowing Franklin can handle being the starting left tackle in 2010.

A few more thoughts/notes...

-- I didn't get a chance to speak with Jason Fox after the game, but he gave me a fist bump as he was heading to the team bus and nodded when I asked him if he was feeling better. UM is still saying Fox missed practice this week with an illness, but WQAM reported Saturday what I had been told by a source that Fox was in the hospital this week with an irregular heartbeat. Franklin said he's hoping Fox will be back for the bowl game. But at this point you have to be concerned. Fox has made 47 starts in his career at UM. He was really looking forward to moving into second place all-time behind William Joseph (50). 

-- Hats off to UM's defense, who despite having a little trouble handling the elusive BJ Daniels in the third quarter, once again had another solid performance. UM hasn't given up more than one touchdown on defense in each of their final four games. Consider that as big a reason as any why they've finished this November 3-1 as opposed to 0-4 (2007) and 1-3 (2008) in Randy Shannon's first two seasons.

-- Linebacker Sean Spence, who returned a week ago to only play on special teams for one play, had a big sack in the third quarter in his first real action since hurting his hamstring against Clemson last month. It was his only tackle of the game in limited action. Spence told me afterward he expects to be healthy and have a bigger role in the bowl game.

-- Hats off to Leonard Hankerson who has put together the best season by a receiver at UM in a while. With his 44 catches, Hank recorded the most grabs by a receiver since Kellen Winslow's 60 catches in 2003. His 774 yards on the season are the most since Santana Moss in 1999. Maybe he will head to the NFL after this season. 

Gameday blog: UM-USF

TAMPA -- The Canes take on the Bulls in the final regular season game for UM. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. Feel free to participate in our discussion below.

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. iPhone users are asked to be patient as it takes several minutes for Cover It Live to load.

Preview: Not having left tackle Jason Fox could mean big problems for the Canes especially against a USF defense that has two stud defensive ends in George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. Orlando Franklin will slide over and start at left tackle and freshman Brandon Washington will get the head nod at left guard. In a way, this game will provide us a good glimpse of what UM could look like up front next year. The Bulls, hungry to make a statement with a sweep of the Noles and Canes, figure to play with plenty of emotion. I'm just having a hard time seeing Miami pulling this one out unless the defense plays above its head. USF 31, UM 24.

November 26, 2009

LT Jason Fox (illness) doubtful for USF

Jason Fox has started 47 games in his career at left tackle for the Hurricanes, but it's doubtful he'll play in his last regular season game Saturday when UM takes on the University of South Florida. 

Jason Fox Fox missed Wednesday's practice and was taken to the hospital for an undisclosed illness according to a source. He was released and was back on the sidelines at Greentree Practice Field when the Hurricanes practiced Wednesday afternoon. He told teammates and coaches he was "fine." 

But according to UM's injury report released Thursday morning, Fox likely won't be in good enough health to start for the 48th time in his career Saturday. Junior Orlando Franklin, who has taken a handful of snaps at left tackle this season when Fox has been out, will likely slide over from left guard and start in Fox's place. Last week, Franklin was replaced at left guard by freshman Brandon Washington. Redshirt freshman Ben Jones, who has played in three games this season, could see some playing time as well. 

The good news for the Canes? Running back Lee Chambers (lower extremity), receiver Thearon Collier (ankle) and cornerback Sam Shields (lower extremity) are listed as probable. All three did not play against Duke. 

Fullback Patrick Hill (lower extremity) who hasn't played since the Virginia Tech game is listed as out.

How UM's defense has improved

If Darryl Sharpton's 73-yard interception return for a touchdown last Saturday against Duke felt like a rarity for a defensive player in a Canes uniform, you weren't alone and you weren't wrong. 

Darryl SharptonSharpton's play was the second defensive score of the season (Marcus Robinson had a fumble return against Clemson) for the Hurricanes, who have become less and less associated with big plays since Randy Shannon put down the headset as defensive coordinator. Miami's defenses simply haven't been the same. Not only are the days of having elite statistics in run defense, pass defense and scoring defense long past us, but so are the memories of a pass rush, big hit and fumble recovery, or that game-changing interception.

After picking off just four interceptions a year ago, UM has upped its total to seven this year. But the fumble recoveries (9) are still shy of the 11 from a year ago. Worse yet? Sacks. Miami has just 19 -- 12 fewer than it did last year when it tied for the seventh fewest in program history.

So where exactly can you find where the Hurricanes have improved under John Lovett, the program's third coordinator since Shannon moved on? Stopping the run and preventing touchdowns in the red zone.

"I guess if you had to characterize us, we'd be a bend and don't break defense," UM cornerback Brandon harris said. "Big play, create turnovers and sacks and dominate? That's what we want to be, but that's not kind of defense we are right now. The defense right now is based around getting that big play to get momentum on our side, getting off the field on third down and trying to make teams one dimensional, trying not to let them do two things against you."

"You look at our numbers in the red zone. We haven't given up many touchdowns in the red zone. Teams may drive the ball on us, but when it's time to buckle down, we know how to buckle down."

Harris is on the money. A year ago, UM was among the worst in the country in red zone defense (114th total). Of the 43 drives inside UM's 20, opponents scored 18 rushing touchdowns, 12 passing touchdowns and hit 12 field goals. This year's Canes? Much better. Through 11 games, opponents have made 33 drives in the UM red zone. 26 have resulted in scores, but only 6 were rushing TDs and 5 were passing TDs. UM held opponents to 15 field goals, a much better percentage than a year ago (45th total).

Colin McCarthy  "We struggle a little bit as far as getting pressure, getting sacks, and turnovers," linebacker Colin McCarthy said. "But we do a great job of getting off the field in terms of third downs and limiting big plays. We do a good job in terms of moving onto the next play. The bad stuff that happens, we put it behind us. In the Duke game, we gave up the big pass. Then, we forced them to go three and out and held them to a field goal. It just shows the maturity of the team, where we've come."

The Hurricanes are actually on par with what they did a year ago on third down. Opponents are converting 36.17 percent of the time (38th overall). Last year, it was 36.26 percent (36th overall). But where UM is also clearly better on defense is against the run.

Last year, the Canes capped their season by getting scorched on the ground. Georgia Tech, N.C. State and California ran for 908 yards against Miami over the final three games. This season, the Hurricanes -- despite losing Sean Spence and Jordan Futch to injury -- have improved their overall run defense from 75th (151.85 ypg) to 30th (116.09 ypg).

You can credit a healthy Colin McCarthy for having a big hand in that. But while your at it, give some love to Shaprton, who has obviously improved his senior year.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," McCarthy said. "I think the chemistry between players, the confidence with the guy next to you. I think that's good enough. I think at times last year we were trying to do too much. Guys were out of place. Now, guys are doing what they have to do and we're successful. Coach Lovett deserves a lot of credit for that.

"Turnovers would be nice. You saw with Darryl getting the pick, getting the touchdown. We're doing everything we can to get turnovers. I think as long as we bend, don't break. We may give up some big plays, but as long as we force them to field goals, three-and-outs with the offense we have they'll put up enough points so we don't have to worry about it."

MORE THOUGHTS AND NOTES... 

> Got word at tonight's basketball game that left tackle Jason Fox was held out of Wednesday practice for an undisclosed reason. I was told Fox went to the hospital to get checked out, but was released and that he told folks at practice he was "fine." When I asked Shannon about injuries, he said we'd have to wait until the injury report comes out. I guess we'll have to see if Fox shows up on the injury report Thursday night. 

> UM quarterback Jacory Harris admitted Tuesday he was "messing with reporters" when he showed up to his postgame press conference wearing a sling. But he was joking about the pain in his thumb. Wednesday, I saw him walking off the field with the thumb still heavily taped.

> If you wondering why Leonard Hankerson is leading UM with 42 catches for 752 yards and why guys like Aldarius Johnson (15 catches, 257 yards) and LaRon Byrd (29 catches, 420 yards) have fallen behind, Harris told us Tuesday Hankerson is the only receiver in on every passing formation. Harris said AJ has taken a good attitude even though he's seen fewer passes come his way. "One thing about Aldarius is he's not a selfish guy," Harris said. "He understands how offenses work, who's going to get what balls on certain plays depending on the read. He's not that type of guy to say why am I not getting the ball. He doesn't point his finger."

> Enjoy your Thanksgiving Turkey tonight and while you're at it think of old Onion (Shannon). He told us Tuesday his plan was to "sleep, hibernate a little bit." When asked if he'd eat Turkey, Shannon said, "Nah, turkey makes me sleepy."

November 25, 2009

Canes could be 'more dangerous' without McClinton

If you picked up a preseason college basketball magazine, all you read regarding the University of Miami was how the program was expected to take a step back this season after the loss of two-time All-ACC guard Jack McClinton.

James Dews  What McClinton did for the Canes can't be denied. He put UM on his back two seasons ago and carried them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, when he struggled down the stretch, so did the Canes. Instead of living up to their lofty preseason expectations, UM floundered, finished tied for a disappointing seventh in the conference and went to the NIT. 

Naturally, this year's team was expected to flop with McClinton gone. But what we've learned so far is that these Hurricanes, off to a 5-0 start, could be an even more dangerous team without McClinton. Instead of one go-to option, the Hurricanes have shown us at least in the early going that balance has its benefits.

"Last year we had Jack [McClinton], and Jack was a guaranteed 25-30 [points]. On this particular team this year you never know who is going to kill you on any given night," sophomore guard DeQuan Jones said Tuesday. "Adrian [Thomas] might hit five or six threes. [James] Dews could go for 22. Reggie [Johnson] or Dwayne [Collins] will grab 15 rebounds. You never know. That's the beauty of this year."

Said Haith: "If you are a basketball fan you have to be excited about these guys. We're deep, strong, physical, we have shooters, we have athleticism, we have toughness. We have a little combination of everything. We don't have a superstar, but we have some really good players. You can win with that also.

"I'm extremely excited about this team. I'm anxious to be a part of the growth of this team and see where we are in January and February because I feel there is so much room to grow with this team."

After five games, it's easy to spot what UM needs to work on and what it needs to continue to do well...

> From the need to continue to do well section: Shoot the ball with accuracy and rebound. The Hurricanes have converted at least 50 percent of their field goals in all five games this season and are hitting 52.9 percent of their shots. Not only is it the first time Miami has shot 50 percent from the field in its first five games in a season, but its the only time UM has put together five-straight 50 percent shooting games at any point in a season since at least the return of the program in 1985-86. UM previously shot at least 50 percent in four-straight games, from Feb. 6-16, during the 1998-99 season. The Hurricanes knocked off Georgetown (.500), Syracuse (.500), Providence (.510) and Villanova (.606) en route to an NCAA berth.

> From the need to get better section: Clean up the turnovers and make free throws more consistently. The Canes have turned it over 99 times through its first five games, hitting the 20-mark three times so far. Haith said Tuesday it's a product of his two new point guards -- Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant -- playing at warp speed and getting adjusted to their teammates.

A few more notes and thoughts...

-- Make no mistake UM is a different team with two legit point guards. Having Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant has made things a lot easier on post players, who no longer have to work to the extreme to create a scoring opportunity. Julian Gamble said the feeling is a lot more relaxed on the court when teams try and create backcourt pressure. "It's been great," DeQuan Jones said. "Like Julian said having two point guards, two guys with tremendous leadership on the court. They really pride themselves on getting guys the ball where they can do the most damage. They come over and ask Dwayne or another post player do you want the ball here, here, or here."

DeQuan Jones  -- Before the season got underway James Dews injured his shoulder in a collision with Scott during practice. It forced Dews to wear a harness. It seems like Dews is getting adjusted to it. He had back-to-back solid scoring games to close out the Charleston Classic and in the eyes of Haith probably should have be named to the All-Tournament Team. So, is Dews ready to be Miami's go-to outside? Haith is hoping so.

"I hope he and Dwayne [Collins] both [can be]," Haith said. "I don't want us to get away from that being our focus, playing inside out. You look at that last game, we only took 13 threes and we made eight of them. I think we can shoot the three very well. But I think we can shoot it even better if we have a post presence. In the South Carolina game, Dews made big play after big play. He's getting more and more comfortable wearing that sleeve. Quite frankly, we need him to be a player for us, a double figure scorer. We need that on a consistent basis."

-- Speaking of Dwayne Collins, it looks like he might actually be snapping out of his inconsistent funk. Teammate Julian Gamble said while Collins' laid back personality hasn't changed much, his game has. "I think he's still very relaxed on the court. He doesn't let things bother him. When things happen, he's pretty good at handling at adversity," Gamble said. "But practice wise, he's expanded his game a lot. He's stronger with the ball. He's more decisive with his post moves and I think he's developed a good 10 to 12-foot footer."

-- If there were times last season when sophomore swingman DeQuan Jones looked like he was trying to do much it's because he was. Jones, who spent most of his off-season working with Haith on his defense, said he's no longer looking for the home run. "The overall thing is just being poised, letting things come to you instead of the first play trying to hit a home run. Just be consistent. [Last year] I was trying to do too much. This year I just feel more poised, a lot more calm, more patient in the offense. People can say a year can make a big difference and I can see that."

For those of you interested in listening in on Tuesday's football and basketball interviews check out our UM audio section. I'll have a football blog later for you tonight. 

November 23, 2009

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). 

UM's J. Harris, Sharpton earn ACC honors

UM quarterback Jacory Harris was selected as the Offensive Back of the week by the ACC for the fourth time this season Monday afternoon. 

Harris, who threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns in UM's 34-16 win against Duke, became the seventh Hurricane to surpass 3,000 yards passing in a season and the first since Ken Dorsey in 2002. Through 11 games, he's thrown for 3,003 yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. I'm pretty sure no other ACC quarterback has been named Offensive Back of the week as many times as Jacory. Does that mean he'll be First Team All-ACC?

UM linebacker Darryl Sharpton, meanwhile, earned Defensive Lineman of the Week honors after recording a career-high 12 tackles and returning an interception 73 yards for a score. Sharpton is second among Canes and ninth in the ACC with 79 tackles this season. It's the second time this season UM has had two players earn weekly ACC honors (Jacory Harris and Brandon Harris also did it earlier this year).

November 21, 2009

Gameday blog: UM-Duke

LAND SHARK STADIUM -- The Canes and Blue Devils are going head-to-head at noon. Feel free to participate in our discussion below.

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. iPhone users are asked to be patient as it takes several minutes for Cover It Live to load.

My pick: Miami is still a banged up football team. But Duke is probably in worse shape. Thaddeus Lewis will do his best to keep the Blue Devils' bowl hopes alive. He should have some success against the Canes' secondary. But the Blue Devils don't have enough on defense to slow this Canes offense even with Jacory Harris hurt. UM 41, Duke 24. 

Note: The blog is no longer available for open discussion. All comments must be approved.

November 19, 2009

Duke injury report, Brandon Knight, hoops update

The latest injury report for the Canes is out and it looks like linebacker Sean Spence (leg) and safety Vaughn Telemaque (shoulder) will be game time decisions for Saturday's game against Duke. Both are listed as questionable.

Vaughn Telemaque and Ray Ray Armstrong could be reunited at safety this week. Safety Ray Ray Armstrong (leg) and quarterback Jacory Harris (hand) are expected to go against the Blue Devils and listed as probable. 

As expected, receiver/punt returner Thearon Collier (ankle) is out along with cornerback Sam Shields (leg), fullback Patrick Hill (ankle) and running back Lee Chambers (leg).

> Duke's injury situation is a little better than what we heard from coach David Cutcliffe on Sunday when he remarked this could potentially be the team's worst in his two years. Backup running back Re'quan Boyette (leg), defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase (leg) and receiver Johnny Lee (knee) are all out. But receiver Austin Kelly (upper body), linebacker Abraham Kromah (leg), quarterback Thaddeus Lewis (thigh), linebacker Vincent Rey (leg) and kicker Will Snyderwine (leg) are all listed as probable.

COLLINS LEADS CANES... After taking a back seat to Durand Scott, Malcolm Grant and James Dews his first two games, Dwayne Collins finally played the role of go-to guy for Frank Haith's basketball team Thursday at the Charleston Classic.

Collins was a perfect 8-of-8 from the field and scored 23 points to go with 14 rebounds and two blocked shots to lead UM to a 74-54 opening round win over Tulane. Scott added 10 points, five assists and five turnovers. Miami put up 21 three pointers.

The Canes will take on either reigning NIT champion Penn State or UNC-Wilmington Friday in Round 2.

KNIGHT UPDATE... I had a chance Wednesday night to catch up with Brandon Knight, the nation's top recruit and reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year, during practice at Pine Crest. I'll have an entire blog I'll share with you later from Knight. But he did say UM was still "definitely in the mix" for his services. He has the Canes listed in his top six with Florida, Syracuse, Kentucky, Connecticut and Kansas. 

November 18, 2009

Ray Ray, Spence might be back for Duke

After missing the last three games with undisclosed, injured extremities, there's a chance sophomore linebacker Sean Spence and freshman safety Ray Ray Armstrong could return Saturday and play against Duke. 

Sean Spence could be back Saturday against Duke UM coach Randy Shannon said both returned to practice Tuesday. "Two days they got in, so they should be ready to go," Shannon said. "I don't know how much they'll play, but they'll play... they should help out the defense if they get an opportunity to get into the game."

Take Shannon's word on injuries for what it's worth. Last week we heard the same thing about Javarris James and Eric Moncur returning to practice. Moncur (leg) is now likely done for the season and I'm pretty sure James wasn't on the field even though he was listed on the participation report. I know James didn't catch a pass or have a carry.

JACORY PRACTICES AS USUAL... Quarterback Jacory Harris, who will likely play with pain Saturday, took his usual snaps Wednesday according to backup A.J. Highsmith. "We still did the same rotation we always do, our usual routine," Highsmith said.

Harris was seen wearing a protective strap over his thumb (the finger we suspect he messed up in the UNC game) and index finger. "He did everything," Shannon said. "He had no problems, did everything he was supposed to do."

SECONDARY'S VOW TO PLAY BETTER... After Riley Skinner and Wake Forest carved the Canes up for 555 yards of total offense, Brandon Harris said Miami's secondary vowed to "never come out and have another game like that." 

Except for the final game-clinching drive by North Carolina last Saturday, the University of Miami defense has done a pretty good job of holding its own. 

The Canes only gave up 149 yards of total offense to Virginia and 16 of North Carolina's 33 points (17 came off Harris interceptions). Shannon said the improved play is the result of guys who hadn't had many opportunities to play -- Ramon Buchanon, Curtis Porter, Jeremy Lewis, Jared Campbell -- finally beginning to get comfortable. I'll buy that.

But it also didn't hurt that Virginia (118th) and North Carolina (113th) rank among the country's worst in total offense. We'll see Saturday just how much UM has improved defensively. Duke brings the top-ranked passing offense in the ACC (ninth overall) to town. The good news for UM: Duke is basically one dimensional, ranking dead last (120th) in rushing.

"We definitely want to try and keep them one dimensional," cornerback Chavez Grant said. "When you know you can stop the run, you can concentrate on shutting the down the pass."

Still, a motivated, hungry Thaddeus Lewis, who has two talented, fast receivers from the Miami area won't be easy to stop. And the Canes know it.

"It's always fun going against Thad because he's a competitor and he always wants to win," Brandon Harris said. "He's going to give us his best shot. He's coming home for the last time. His family is going to be there. They say his goal when he got to college was to beat Miami. Three years he's come close [to beating us]. He knows this is his last shot. It's now or never. We feel the same way. We won't underestimate him."

> Expect more bad injury news regarding Sam Shields and Thearon Collier to leak out soon. And don't expect fullback Pat Hill back. Shannon was asked about Hill Wednesday and said he didn't know if he'd return. Expect Hill to seek a medical redshirt for his high ankle sprain.

November 17, 2009

Thad wants Jacory to shake struggles

They might be enemies on the field come Saturday. But when their teams are done battling, Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis plans on putting his arm around the Canes' Jacory Harris and delivering a message: "Keep your head up, 'Lil Bro."

Thaddeus Lewis Lewis, who grew up playing at the Northwest Boys and Girls Club in Miami with the younger Harris, is well aware of how the Canes quarterback has been getting chastised for his interception woes. And even though Lewis would love nothing more than to beat the Canes and help Duke remain eligible for its first bowl game since 1995, the last thing he wants to see is his close friend continue to struggle.

Harris has thrown 16 interceptions this season, second most among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks. He's thrown nine of those picks in his last four games. Lewis, the leader of the ACC's top passing offense, said he's spoken to Harris "a handful of times" throughout the season and tried to help him grasp the different defensive looks he's seeing. The last time they spoke, according to Lewis, was after Harris led UM to a come-from-behind win at Wake Forest.

"I try calling him, but he's like the mayor of Miami. He's hard to get a hold of," Lewis joked. "When I can get a hold of him, I just talk to him about what he's doing on the football field. There's no trash talking, just love. I told him I want to get with him in the off-season and teach him some of the things I've learned. Playing quarterback at this level isn't easy. It's all about decision making. You have to learn a lot from your mistakes. I know where he's at right now."

Lewis does. He's been there before. As a first-year starter in 2006, he had just as much trouble understanding the complex defenses being thrown at him week to week. In 11 starts his freshman year, he threw 16 interceptions -- including one very costly one at the goal line in a crushing 20-15 loss to the Canes.

Lewis said Harris is learning the hard way he can't make every throw he wants to. "He has a great receiving corps," Lewis said. "He's told me sometimes he feels like he can take chances because he thinks his receivers can come down with the ball. I haven't seen all of his interceptions, but you can't blame him for all of them. I've just told him the same thing I'm sure his coaches have -- he needs to see the whole field.

"For a young guy like him, this is his first real year on the job. I told him 'When you throw interceptions, you have to find a theme, a certain look they throw at you on that play and remember to not do it again. And, you have to think of a different way to get rid of the ball in case the defense you see isn't what you studied for.' I know that's happened to him a few times. I also told him about his playaction fakes. I told him I'd help him with that after the season. 

"Jacory is a good guy. No matter what, I always want to see him do good."

Had things been different Lewis might have been able to teach Harris some of these lessons in person. Despite being a two-time All-Dade selection at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High, the Hurricanes never bothered to show Lewis much recruiting interest.

His high school coach Jerry Hughes told before Lewis shared a recruiting diary with me and The Miami Herald before he chose Duke, UM coaches showed up once at his school to check him out and he never heard from them again. The Canes, already with two young quarterbacks named Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman, opted to sign Daniel Stegall instead. Stegall is now an outfielder in the Mets minor league system.

Lewis has turned out to be a pretty good quarterback at Duke -- with 9,375 career yards, 63 touchdowns and 38 INTs. Some guy named Ken Dorsey (9,565 yards, 86 TDs) is the only UM quarterback to have better numbers than that.

"Some people always tell me Thad if you were at The U things would have been different because they had so many quarterback troubles," Lewis said. "I just feel like I've been put in a situation for a reason. Randy Shannon is a good coach. He knows the talent he has in Dade County and he's not going to let it leave now."

JACORY: "WHIPPLE WANTS ME TO STAY AGGRESSIVE"... When asked Tuesday if the fact he doesn't have Robert Marve -- or a capable backup -- looking over his shoulder has affected his style of play this season, Harris said: "I know I take more chances -- way more chances than I would if [I had a backup]. I knew last year if I took more chances that would be it for me, I'd get no playing time. I'm just trying to win games. Basically, that's what it is -- do what's best for my team. These past two games, taking chances, that just wasn't best for the team."

Jacory Harris But is it really so simple to believe Harris is just playing like a Quarterback Gone Wild? When the press conference was over, I asked Jacory privately if offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has asked him to reel in the aggressiveness and stop throwing the deep ball. Not the case.

"Coach Whipple told me to keep playing the way I've been playing," Harris said. "He has a lot of faith in me, trusts me. He just wants me to complete more throws. But he doesn't mind me taking chances. He wants me to be aggressive."

That sounds a lot more like the truth. While center AJ Trump said Harris is also naturally aggressive, he said Whipple encourages Harris not to be afraid of making mistakes. "Whip would never change the play call because Jacory is throwing interceptions," Trump said. "That's the way coach Whip is. He believes in his guys. Whip isn't going to change his mindset in Jacory."

-- The biggest thing to watch coming out of practice this week is how Harris adjusts to playing with a protective piece of equipment on his throwing hand. Harris said he's never played something "like that" before.
 
-- One thing we learned Tuesday, even while Harris hid his arm and cast underneath a large Hurricanes sweater, was he was in pain throughout Saturday's loss at North Carolina. "As soon as I said the cadence the pain would go away and I'd start to forget it. But as soon as I let the ball go, it came right back. I just have to play through it."

FYI... Be sure to check out our audio section. Lots of good, long interviews with seniors Jason Fox, AJ Trump, Chavez Grant and the press conferences of Jacory Harris and Randy Shannon.

November 16, 2009

UM QB Jacory Harris has cast on throwing arm

Two independent sources have confirmed to fellow Miami Herald reporter Susan Miller Degnan and myself tonight that quarterback Jacory Harris is wearing a soft cast on his right forearm. 

Jacory Harris
Harris told reporters after Saturday's 33-24 loss to North Carolina he hurt his finger following a big hit in the first quarter. Harris threw a career-high four interceptions in the loss. According to one source, Harris is still expected to play in Saturday's home finale against Duke and the injury is not considered "serious."

> Jacory said after UM's come-from-behind win at Wake Forest last month that he still felt pain in his throwing arm from the hit he took from Florida State's Greg Reid in the season-opener. Harris said whenever somebody touches his elbow he feels "sharp pain." Harris was hit at least twice on four of his interceptions Saturday and said he didn't put "enough zip" on several of his passes. He ranks second nationally among FBS quarterbacks this season with 16 interceptions. 

I'm sure we'll hear much more about this Tuesday from coach Randy Shannon. Jacory usually speaks to the media after Shannon talks with reporters at 11:30 a.m. We'll keep you posted.

 

Former Gulliver WR has found a home at Duke

Conner Vernon spent many Saturdays playing catch in front of the Orange Bowl, dreaming about one day becoming the next great Hurricanes receiver. Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Roscoe Parrish, Vernon not only has all of their jerseys, but all of their famous catches entrenched in his memory.

Conner Vernon is among the ACC's leaders in receiving as a freshman "You know those kids who would play catch in the parking lot and hit cars with the ball by accident -- that was me," Vernon said. "I went to a lot of games from about age seven to 13, a lot of good ones. My favorite was the comeback against Florida. I remember when Devin Hester took the kickoff back for a touchdown. That's probably my greatest memory. The OB was rocking that night."

Vernon (6-2, 192) hasn't outgrown his love for the Canes. He still roots for them plenty. But he won't be throwing up any U's this week when he and the rest of Duke's Miami Connection -- quarterback Thaddeus Lewis (226-364, 2,640 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs) and receiver Donovan Varner (46 catches, 708 yards, 5 TDs) -- come to Land Shark Stadium Saturday. 

The Blue Devils (5-5, 3-3 ACC) need to win their final two games -- at UM (7-3, 4-3 ACC) and at home against Wake Forest -- to become bowl eligible. And Vernon, who has become one of the top freshman wide receivers in the country (44 catches, 601 yards, 3 TDs), is hoping Lewis and the rest of Duke's seniors finally get a taste of the bowl season. 

"We're real hungry," Vernon said. "You have these seniors who have never been to a bowl game and they know it comes down to these last two games for us to make it happen. We're going put it all one the line."

Vernon never imagined he'd be involved in a game like this because he never really imagined himself playing college football. Growing up as the son of Key Biscayne mayor Rober Vernon, Conner said he didn't get involved in organized ball until he was in eighth grade at Gulliver Prep in Miami,  the same school that produced former Canes great and the late Sean Taylor.

"I always loved the game, but even when I got to high school I saw how hard it was and I thought there is no way I'd be good at this," Vernon said. "It wasn't until my junior year that I even really started thinking I might be able to play at the next level. But really, I always just played for the love of the game."  

Thaddeus Lewis His love turned into a passion. By the time he was finished his senior year, he put up receiving numbers second only to Aldarius Johnson in Miami-Dade County history. He caught 60 passes for 1,163 yards and 11 touchdowns his senior year and helped Gulliver reach the Class 2A state title game while being named to the All-Dade Class 3A-1A First Team.

Despite his success even as a junior and the spring before his senior year when he helped lead Gulliver to a third place finish in California at the Adidas 7-on-7 national tournament (Pahokee won), Vernon wasn't very highly regarded. He was ranked as a three-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout.com and tabbed as the 148th best receiver in the Class of 2009 by ESPN.com. 

It wasn't just the Canes (who signed seven receivers in 2008 and didn't bring in any last year) who missed the boat on Vernon. So did most of the country. Wake Forest, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Troy were the only other schools to extend him a scholarship offer.

"[UM defensive assistant] coach [Michael] Barrow was at our spring game and I had a pretty good spring game," Vernon said. "He told me he thought I was a pretty good player. But UM never really recruited me. I guess I wasn't what they were looking for. But at the same time, I can't blame them. I know they didn't recruit any other receivers. They were pretty much loaded up."

Landing at Duke, a school he visited three times (twice unofficially) throughout the recruiting process, has turned out to be a perfect fit for Vernon. After arriving in Durham in May, Vernon said he went right to work with Lewis, playing catch and participating in 7-on-7 drills. The chemistry they built showed up right away in the opener against Richmond when Vernon entered in the second quarter and caught passes on his first two plays from scrimmage. 

"This is definitely a dream that has become a reality," Vernon said. "I'm surprised from the standpoint that I was able to adapt to the game so quickly. From an ability standpoint, I knew I had it in me. But the jump from high school to college, people don't realize how big it is. But playing with Thad, catching passes with Donovan, we just have this chemistry that works. We're just having a lot of fun."

Duke has the No. 1 passing offense in the ACC. There is no doubt UM's biggest weakness on defense has been it's secondary. The Canes rank seventh in pass defense in ACC. But if you look up Wake Forest, Florida State and plenty of other moments in between, you can see why Duke might be in for a big day Saturday. And although they both might be young, Vernon and Varner have plenty of experience playing against the guys in UM's secondary because they faced many of them throughout high school. And Lewis, has come awfully close to beating the Canes three times already.

"I feel like if we come out and execute, we could have a big passing game on anybody," Vernon said. "It comes down being able to execute. They're defense has had some rough days against the pass. But they really don't have one weak person in their secondary. I know because I played against those guys. I played Brandon [Harris] in a 7-on-7 tournament. Him, Davon Johnson, Thearon Collier, we beat them in that tournament.

"I played Brandon McGee too on South Florida Express team and against Jordan Futch. I know of a bunch of those guys. It's matter of us executing."

November 15, 2009

Grading the Canes: UNC Report Card

RALEIGH -- About to head home with a bunch of Canes fans here from Raleigh-Durham Airport. A couple quick thoughts and then the grades:

Jacory Harris -- In the grand scheme of things Saturday's loss didn't mean a ton. After Georgia Tech beat Duke, all UM was playing for was a chance to play in a BCS Bowl. There was no guarantee that would happen even if the Canes finished 10-2. Now, does it really matter if they play in the Gator Bowl, Peach Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl or Meineke Car Care Bowl? Not to me.

-- Regardless of how bad Jacory Harris played Saturday, don't look for it to weigh on him very long. Harris was down in the post-game press conference. But he has a room full of 100 teammates and coaches that have his back. If Robert Marve or another quarterback who was capable of really running the offense was around, we might have seen Jacory sitting on the bench after his third pick. But there isn't that guy. You're going to have to live with Jacory's mistakes for now. He's just a sophomore. I have faith he'll get better.

Before I go, here are my grades for yesterday's 33-24 loss to the Tar Heels.

> Quarterbacks: Although it really wasn't all of his fault, the Hurricanes lost Saturday because Jacory was at his worst. It wasn't just some of his throws, it was his decision making. He admitted so himself. Not only did he force balls into double and triple coverage, he didn't put the right touch on passes either -- preferring to float the ball in instead of firing it in. Does Jacory have the arm to fire it in? Yes. Does he do it enough? No way. That's something offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has to focus on more with Jacory next spring. Like I said, he can't take all the blame for a career-high four picks. LaRon Byrd got out-jumped for the first one even though he had four inches on the UNC safety who picked off the pass. Byrd admitted as much afterward. Still, it was worst his day as a Cane. Grade: F.

Graig Cooper > Running backs: Miami didn't have a great day running the football. But when you only carry the ball 25 times and throw it 50, it's hard to. North Carolina's front seven is one of the best in the game, but still struggled stopping UM's running game consistently. Graig Cooper finished with 63 yards on 15 carries. We never saw Javarris James. But Damien Berry had a really good day. He had six carries for 46 yards. My question is this: with UM trailing 23-17 in the fourth quarter why didn't we see more of Berry and less of Jacory throwing the football deep? That's something I wish we could ask Whipple, but will never get a chance too. Still, a decent day for the backs. Cooper had 7 catches for 37 yards and Berry had two grabs for 50. I think it's safe to say we should have seen more of them than we did, especially after UM got back into the game in the fourth quarter and when Jacory was still struggling. Grade: B.

> Receiving: Nine different receivers caught passes Saturday. But none other than Leonard Hankerson's key fourth down grab in the third quarter that led to Miami pulling to within 23-17 really stand out. The fact Byrd got outleaped for a ball was inexcusable. He dropped a key pass on the opening drive. Hankerson dropped a touchdown too. North Carolina's defense was good. But I still expected more from this unit and they didn't deliver enough. Grade: C-.

> Offensive line: There are more than few misleading stats to make you believe Jason Fox and company had a decent day. One, UM's offense produced 435 yards. Two, Jacory Harris won only sacked twice. Here is the stat you really need to look at QBH: Quarterback Hurries. Jacory was hit or pressured 11 times. UNC's T.J. Yates? 3 times. It's hard to feel comfortable in the pocket when one out of every five throws is under pressure. Grade: D.

> Front seven: These were on the verge of being heroes Saturday. But as linebacker Darryl Sharpton said afterward, when the Canes needed a stop down 30-24 in the fourth quarter "we fell apart." Ryan Houston, contained most of the afternoon, ripped off five consecutive carries on the game-sealing drive and tallied 32 yards. That was the ball game. Sharpton finished with nine tackles and Colin McCarthy had a season high 13. Ramon Buchanon had a career-high six tackles. But where was the pressure? Josh Holmes had a sack. But Miami only pressured Yates three times. That's not nearly enough against a beat up UNC offensive line. Grade: C-.

> Secondary: DeMarcus Van Dyke wanted to redeem himself after last year's fiasco. Didn't happen. He got burned by Greg Little on a 29-yard touchdown pass. No, he didn't get any safety help. But what else is new with this UM secondary? Ultimately, UM didn't get enough pressure on Yates. But he shouldn't have been 17 for 31 for 213 yards and a touchdown. Miami had one pass breakup -- and Ramon Buchanon achieved that when he deflected a Yates pass as he threw it. That's called not getting the job done and playing too far off the ball. Grade: D.

> Special teams: Matt Bosher was once again MVP. He averaged 46 yards a punt and had one pinned inside the 20. He made a 39-yard field goal and had a touchback on a kickoff. He even made a tackle on Greg Little to prevent a kick return for a score. UM also did a pretty decent job fixing its punt protection woes. The decision to have guys point out who they'll be blocking before the snap only led to one delay of game penalty and five clean punts. And Mike James and Graig Cooper did a decent job giving UM good field position. The bad? There was a huge block in the back penalty on Thearon Collier's punt return in the fourth quarter. Instead of having the ball at the UNC 46, Miami started at its own 35 with 11:41 to play. Still, a better day overall than last week against Virginia. Grade: B.

> Coaching: Remember when some of us were thinking Mark Whipple might be gone after this season? Probably not going to happen anymore. Not only is his star pupil second in the country in interceptions, but the offense isn't as good as it should be week in and week out. But my biggest beef -- aside from Whipple continuing to call for Jacory to throw deep even after Miami had rallied to bring the game within one score -- was the clock management before the half. Miami was on the UNC 32 yard line and there were 14 seconds left on the clock when Jacory was sacked to end the half. UM had one time out left and didn't use it and instead the clock ran out. If UM connects on a field goal there, it's a 33-27 game in the fourth quarter and Miami still has a chance on the final drive. Instead, it was a nine-point game and out of reach. Grade: D.

November 14, 2009

Hocutt talks new uniforms, opponents

Caught up with athletic director Kirby Hocutt before today's game and got some news regarding the new uniforms the Canes will be wearing at USF for the season finale. In case you haven't seen them or heard about them, the 7th Floor Blog had some photos of them earlier this week. 

Kirby Hocutt I asked Hocutt about them and he said the actual uniforms, designed by Nike, look a little different than the photos available. For starters, there is orange colored webbing on both shoulder pads. The shoes UM players will wear are orange and green, not white. And on each pant leg of the uniform, there will be an orange or green stripe that runs down the side of it. The coolest part of the uniform according to Kirby? The gloves. They'll be white on the outside, but when players cup their hands together to catch a pass, the inside of the gloves will form a green and orange U (just like the helmet).

Hocutt said Nike approached UM about moving the U to the front of the helmet, but he said nobody at UM wants to mess with the helmets. "That's our tradition, trademark," Hocutt said. "We don't want to mess with that."

Hocutt said the jerseys are made of the lightest material he's ever held in his hand. When I asked him about the possibility of using it in the future, he said the topic remains open for discussion. As for the black jerseys you all have been waiting for? "It's a possibility," Hocutt said with a smile. 

> What doesn't look like a possibility is scheduling Notre Dame or Florida in the future. Hocutt told me while Miami has shown interest toward both schools to setup a future home-and-home series, neither are "being receptive to it."

Hocutt said a few SEC schools have expressed interest in scheduling UM in the future. But he said he prefers to play opponents where it would help UM in recruiting. Hocutt's primary interest? "The Houston area, pretty much anywhere in Texas," Hocutt said. "We want to have presence in Texas."

Gameday blog: UM-North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The Canes and Tar Heels are going head-to-head at 3:30 p.m. With Georgia Tech rolling to a big win over Duke, the Canes are no longer playing for a berth into the ACC Championship game. The next three games are about trying to finish with 10 wins and go to the best bowl possible. Feel free to participate in our discussion below.

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.

November 13, 2009

Gameday preview: UM-North Carolina

It's time to preview Saturday's 3:30 kickoff between 12th-ranked Canes (7-2) and North Carolina (6-3) at Kenan Memorial Stadum.

REWIND: The Tar Heels own a 7-5 all-time edge in the series and have won two in a row in the series. Last year, UNC rallied from 24-14 down to beat the Canes 28-24 at Land Shark. The last time Miami was in Chapel Hill, UNC jumped out to a huge lead then held on for a 33-27 win.

FAST FORWARD
 
Jason Fox > UM wins because... It wins the battle up front the way it did against Oklahoma and quarterback Jacory Harris protects the football. North Carolina's front seven is one of the best in the country. UM coach Randy Shannon said the Tar Heels are even better than Oklahoma -- and the Sooners had  monster defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Ryan Beal. Carolina has ACC Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Robert Quinn (6-7, 250), He'll go head-to-head all afternoon with left tackle Jason Fox. In the middle, Orlando Franklin, AJ Trump, Joel Figueroa and Harland Gunn will have their hands full with Marvin Austin (6-3, 305) and Cam Thomas (6-4, 325). Neither of those match-ups are easy, but winnable. On top of that, Carolina has two studs at outside linebacker in Quan Strudivant (6-2, 235) and Bruce Carter (6-3, 230). It will be up to UM's running backs to beat those guys. Georgia Tech certainly did, piling up more than 300 yards on the ground. 

This game is ultimately to come down to can Miami win those individual, physical matchups up front, establish a running game and avoid going three-and-out on offense. Carolina wants to play ball control offense and keep Jacory and the offense off the field. If Miami moves the ball and scores points in some way shape or form -- even field goals -- the Canes should win this game because Carolina is too banged up on offense to outscore Miami.

> North Carolina wins because... Their defense dominates, creates turnovers and UNC's offense pounds the football down the Canes throats' with tailback Ryan Houston. Make no mistake, the loss of Shaun Draughn to a season-ending shoulder injury was a huge blow to the Carolina offense that was already lacking punch. Houston (6-2, 245) can be a load. But he was pretty sore after carrying the football 37 times last week in a 19-6 win versus Duke. He'll have to do the same this week for Carolina to move the ball and score points. When UNC won at Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels had three long scoring drives that chewed up clock. Most, if not all the yardage, came on the ground. Bottomline: Carolina can not keep up with the Canes' offense if this turns into a scoring fest. If the Tar Heels win this game, it's because they dominate defensively, create turnovers and control the clock with their running game.

> My pick: UM 22, UNC 15. Of the final three regular season games, this one is definitely the one I believe UM has the best shot at losing. But the fact Carolina is so inept offensively -- and one dimensional -- gives me the confidence can win this game even if it makes a few mistakes on offense. After all, in the games Miami has struggled this season, their opponents have had good, smart quarterbacks who knew how to pick apart the secondary. Wake Forest had Riley Skinner. Clemson had Kyle Parker and an excellent of receivers. And even Virginia Tech had Tyrod Taylor. TJ Yates is not that good. Susan Miller Degnan is going with the Canes 31-24.

GAME BALLS

> Offense: Javarris James. When UM beat the most physical team it faced this season, they turned to Baby J to provide the tough yards and set the tone. James is back this week and should have the most success of UM's three primary backs in this game.
> Defense: Darryl Sharpton. Houston is a big dude, the kind of back built for Sharpton (6-0, 235) to handle. Miami's defense can win this game if it can completely shut down UNC's one-dimensional offense. Sharpton could have a huge day plugging the middle.
> Special teams: Matt Bosher. North Carolina does a very good job shutting down punt returns and I don't think Thearon Collier or Graig Cooper will get many opportunities to make a came-changing play. In a game like this field goals and field position will be huge. Bosher is one of the best in the country at both. Advantage: Canes.

November 12, 2009

Injury report for UNC: Moncur, Van Dyke probable

The same group of guys who have been standing on the sidelines, hoping to return from injury the last few weeks will likely get one man shorter Saturday. According to the UM injury report released Thursday night, defensive end Eric Moncur has been upgraded from doubtful to probable for Saturday's game at North Carolina.

Eric Moncur Moncur, who has played just once since the Florida A&M game on Oct. 10 (vs. Clemson), returned to practice Wednesday according to coach Randy Shannon. Moncur was seen on the sidelines last Saturday against Virginia with a soft cast on his left knee.

Also listed probable for an undisclosed lower extremity injury: cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who has started five games including the last two.

Listed out as expected -- the other four guys who have stood next to Moncur on the sideline: Safety Ray Ray Armstrong (lower extremity), fullback Pat Hill (ankle), safety Jojo Nicholas (upper extremity) and linebacker Sean Spence (leg).

FRESH BACKS: I spent about 10 minutes talking to running backs coach Tommie Robinson Wednesday about the diversity in his backfield. When Graig Cooper ran for 152 yards last week against Virginia, it marked the first time at UM that three different running backs had run for more than 150 yards in a game in the same season. Robinson said the difference with his guys this year is "freshness."

One look at the stats tell the story. No back has carried the ball more than 18 times in a game. Cooper did that Saturday against Virginia. Between Cooper (84 att., 478 yards, 2 TDs), Javarris James (79 att., 421 yards, 4 TDs), Damien Berry (55 att., 363 yards, 6 TDs), Lee Chambers (36 att., 142 yards, 1 TD) and Mike James (15 att., 46 yards, 1 TD) there are more than enough people to carry the rock for UM. And to think, two years ago at Boston College, UM was down to just Derron Thomas.

"What having this many guys does is it let's you run multiple plays and do different things with them," UM quarterback Jacory Harris said. "You don't just have that one back who can only do this and do that. You have different backs that could do anything you need in your playbook."

BUTCH PLAYS CANES UP: You got to give North Carolina coach Butch Davis an award for the best sales job to the media about an opponent this week. While Randy Shannon said UNC's front seven was better than Oklahoma's, Butch took his compliments to the extreme Wednesday talking about the Canes offense. 

Butch Davis "We're going to try to lobby the NCAA and see if we can play with about 13, 14 guys on defense," the former Canes coach said. "They're really talented. You watch at the way they've dismantled people. The score was closer than the game ever thought about being against Oklahoma. They just totally demolished a Virginia team we could barely make first downs against. We've gone through a lot of injuries and are playing a lot of young kids, so it will be baptism under fire for our football team."

And there was more... "You wish they were one dimensional," Davis said. "We were fortunate in that Duke game last week in that Duke came in averaging 400 yards a game passing and virtually non-existant in attempts in running the football. Miami making dramatic changes offensively, schematically from the previous two seasons when they tried to run some version of the read option offense and spread offense. They turned that into multiple tight ends, multiple receivers, some two back runs. They have changed their scheme and they're explosive in the running game that can make people miss and score from anywhere on the field and a quarterback that has a lot of targets. Someone told me when we were going through our offensive meetings that they have 12 different guys that have caught at least five passes. They have a quarterback that makes plays. I wish we could find weaknesses, but it doesn't look like they have any."

At least offensive coordinator Mark Whipple knows who to find when he needs a recommendation.

JACORY: WHIPPLE TRUSTS HIS GUYS... Speaking of Mr. Whipple, I thought the most interesting thing Jacory Harris talked about this week was about the relationship Miami's offensive coordinator has with his players. When asked the biggest thing he's learned about Whipple, Harris said he wouldn't say anything about football.

"I know he puts a lot of trust in his guys," Harris said. "If he trusts you with his plays and what he's calling, if you make a mistake he's got your back 100 percent. He'll come back with something else to make the game go a different way. Like Clemson when I was down, throwing an interception for a TD, he said you're going to throw a touchdown right here. And on a go route Travis [Benjamin] scored. He just has a lot of faith in his players. That's what I've learned about him."

LAMAR MILLER UPDATE: One thing I hear constantly at UM is how well freshman Lamar Miller has been playing on the Canes scout team. So, I asked Robinson about Miller, who is being redshirted, to get his thoughts.

"Lamar is a very talented kid. His job is, right now for this football team, to be the back of North Carolina, the Duke back or the South Florida back. He's doing a good job, is working hard," Robinson said. "Lamar is a big, fast, exploding guy. I haven't seen everything this kid is capable of doing because he's spent a lot of time on scout team. It'll be interesting to see how everything works out - we'll get a good idea of Lamar Miller this spring. I'm very encouraged by Lamar."

As good as Miller might be, consider Robinson is sold on Mike James. "Mike James, golly, I can't say enough about that kid," Robinson said. "People talk about all these backs. Still, one of the best ones is Mike James. He's a true freshman."

> Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to speak with defensive coordinator John Lovett this week despite requests early on. Lovett, who coached at North Carolina for the past seasons, would have naturally been a great person to talk this week for the game. But I did at least get this quote from North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney about facing their former coach.

"We're kind of down a little bit because he knows all our calls," Burney said. "He was our secondary/corners coach. He definitely knows our tendencies and knows all our flaws. I think this is going to be a great test for us."

> In case you want to tune in, Jorge Sedano will have Butch Davis on at a 8 a.m. Friday on 790 The Ticket.