Here's a quick preview of what could be in store next Wednesday, National Signing Day.
> NOTE: I wore the old Cubs jersey in honor of the late great Ernie Banks.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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:
-- 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
> 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+
> 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+
> 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.
> 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+
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Sharpton'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).
"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."
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.
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."
-- 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.
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
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
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
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?
-- 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 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).
LAND SHARK STADIUM -- The Canes and Blue Devils are going head-to-head at noon. Feel free to participate in our discussion below.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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."
RALEIGH -- About to head home with a bunch of Canes fans here from Raleigh-Durham Airport. A couple quick thoughts and then the grades:
-- 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.
> 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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
> 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.
> 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.
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.
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.
"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.
University of Miami special teams coach Joe Pannunzio thought he was getting a pat on the back from offensive coordinator Mark Whipple after last Saturday's 52-17 win against Virginia. Turns out, his buddy was really razzing him.
"Whip looked at me and said 'Man, you helped me a bunch,'" Pannunzio recalled of their encounter on Wednesday. "I said 'How is that?' He said, 'Man, I knew we couldn't punt, so I had to call good plays.'"
Pannunzio and Whipple were kidding of course. But the trouble UM has had protecting punter Matt Bosher this season (opponents have three blocks) is nothing funny to coach Randy Shannon.
This week, Pannunzio and Shannon, who share the brunt of special teams coaching, made it a point to emphasize avoiding the same individual breakdowns in punt protection schemes that have led to the blocks.
Last year, UM used a conventional punt scheme. Pannunzio said he switched to a spread formation this season because Miami had been having such a hard time returning punts against it and thought it would be more effective. Pannunzio said he plans to remain in the spread the rest of the season and that no personnel changes are being made this week because no one in particular has been blamed for the breakdowns.
Shannon said the coaching staff has done a better job this week preparing players and said the breakdowns come down to "communication." But Pannunzio said he's more than willing to point the finger at himself.
"Ultimately, it's coaching," Pannunzio said. "We've got to coach them better."
> North Carolina hasn't blocked any punts this season. But linebacker Bruce Carter had three against UConn alone last season. In last year's game at Land Shark, the Tar Heels partially blocked a Bosher punt with 2:49 to play. UNC took over on its own 44 and then drove down the field for the winning touchdown.
> Despite the mistakes on special teams, Bosher has continued to have another MVP type season. He currently ranks second in the ACC in punts (42.7) and 83.3 percentage on field goals (10-12) ranks fourth in the conference. He's also handling kickoffs again for UM and doing a much better job than earlier in the year. If there is a secret to his success, consider it a coaching decision by Shannon, who has asked Bosher to kick less in practice.
"Everybody has been kept down kicking wise -- it's kind of like a pitching count," Bosher said last week. "We always kick field goals. But in most practices, we don't do much other than mental reps during practice. Everybody knows where they have to be without kicking 20 balls. It's kept everybody's legs a lot fresher."
> Pannunzio said redshirt freshman Jake Wieclaw has improved, but he simply doesn't have the leg strength to handle kickoffs. "We have a field goal guy that doesn't miss many field goals," Pannunzio said. "So, we're not going to make that switch. But [Wieclaw] is an accurate field goal kicker. He just doesn't have the leg strength. Matt can make a field goal from 55 yards. Jake is more like 45 to 50. That's still pretty good.[Wieclaw's] biggest problem is he has a very good player ahead of him."
UM FOCUSED ON CAROLINA, NOT COASTAL RACE... In case you didn't know, there is at least one member of the University of Miami football team who knows how it feels to win at North Carolina. Tight end Jimmy Graham did it his freshman year on the basketball court, helping the Canes punk some guy named Tyler Hansbrough and the eventual senior class that won a national title last March.
Graham would love to help the Canes punk some one else: former Hurricanes coach Butch Davis, whose new team has owned the Hurricanes of late. Graham was in the stands at Land Shark Stadium last season when the Tar Heels scored the Canes secondary and rallied from a 24-14 fourth quarter deficit to beat UM. Beating Carolina is something Graham wants to make sure Miami's football seniors get to experience.
"0-3 -- it's a big part, kind of a mindset of what we're doing this week," Graham said. "It's a big game for us, it's a big game for them. It's going to be sold out. It's going to be a great atmosphere. We know we're going to get an A-plus game from them. Hopefully, we bring the same."
A big part of bringing an A-plus game to Chapel Hill -- where the Hurricanes haven't won in three tries -- will be making sure players' eyes are on the field and not on the scoreboard. About a 15 minute drive down Tobacco Road, Duke and Georgia Tech will be playing in a game that means a ton to UM's season. If Georgia Tech wins the noon kickoff, they'll clinch the Coastal Division and Miami's hopes of reaching the ACC championship game will go out the window.
Shannon has made it a point this week to make sure his players don't worry about it, comparing scoreboard watching to driving while text messaging. Although the Canes would love to play for the ACC title, it feels like Shannon's message has been well received.
"We're not going to be thinking about Georgia Tech at all because the only thing we can control is beating North Carolina," cornerback Brandon Harris said. "Everybody wants to go undefeated when the season starts. But if we win out and go 10-2, it can give us a lot of momentum in years to come. All we really want to do is go to a big bowl game. Hopefully, the bowl picture works out for us."
WHY U SHOULD FEAR CAROLINA... The last two times I wrote blogs that started with "Why U should fear..." the Canes ended up losing to Virginia Tech and Clemson. I don't want to be accused of jinxing them, so I'll avoid it this week. But, that being said, there are plenty of reasons for U to be worried about this game.
The Tar Heels might not have first round talent at receiver like it did a year ago, but it seems like they have the perfect formula to beat UM -- a tremendous all-around defense, very good special teams and power running game that is starting to hum. Shannon said Tuesday Carolina's defense is better than Oklahoma's -- "way better."
"Watching North Carolina on tape, their record is not what they are as a football team. They're a tough football team," Shannon said. "You look at their scores, they've lost some close games in the last 2-3 minutes of a game and they've won some close in the last 2-3 minutes of a game. We're not going to take this team lightly. This team beat Virginia Tech and we lost to Virginia Tech."
It's hard to argue with Shannon when you look at a few of these facts and figures...
> The Tar Heels have forced 11 turnovers in their last four games and is ranked in the top 11 in all four major defensive categories. They rank fifth in total defense (249.4 yards per game), fifth in passing defense (157.8 yards per game), eighth in rushing defense (91.7 yards per game) and 11th in scoring defense (15.3). UNC opponents have also converted just 30.7 percent on third down,which ranks eighth in the country.
> While Carolina's offense has suffered 13 injuries -- including to six starters -- no starters on defense have missed a game. And there are stars all over the field. Sophomore defensive end Robert Quinn, who is returning from emergency brain surgery after a tumor was discovered his senior year of high school, leads the ACC in tackles for loss (15.5) and ranks second in sacks (10). The 6-5, 270-pounder receives plenty of support from big defensive tackles Marvin Austin (6-3, 305) and Cam Thomas (6-4, 325).
""Their front seven is outstanding," Harris said. "Oklahoma had a good interior guy, and Beal was a good end. But overall, North Carolina has the best defensive line we've seen. It's going to be a tough challenge and something very hard to overcome, but we have to fight through it."
> Offensively, despite the fact running back Shaun Draughn was lost for the season last week, Carolina continued to run the ball effectively with tailback Ryan Houston, who finished with 164 yards. The Tar Heels have run for an average of 193.8 yards over their last four games.
> On special teams, Da'Norris Searcy ranks 10th in the nation with a 15.0 average. Sophomore kicker Casey Barth is 13 of 16 on field goal attempts and Carolina ranks 16th in the country in punt return defense, allowing an average of just 4.5 yards a return.
Allen Hurns always liked the Miami Hurricanes. But when it came to the recruiting process, he wanted to make sure he'd seen all he wanted to see from other schools before making a commitment.
After taking a weekend trip to West Virginia, the 6-3, 180-pound senior receiver from Carol City decided he had seen enough and called Hurricanes coaches Monday night to tell them he was ready to join the family.
"West Virginia was a great trip. Those guys were great. But I realized I just love Miami more," said Hurns, rated a three-star recruit by both Rivals and ESPN.com.
"I called coach [Aubrey] Hill and coach [Randy] Shannon last night and I told them I was ready to be a Cane. I can't wait. I love the way Coach Whipple gets everybody involved. 17 different guys have catches this year. I'm looking forward to coming in and helping right away. They said if I can pick up the plays and perform, I could see the field right away. Even if I don't, I don't care. I'll find ways to help in other ways."
Hurns caught 23 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns last season as a junior and was expected to flourish this season for the Chiefs. But in the second week of the season against Booker T. Washington, he tore the meniscus in his left knee. In six quarters of play against the Bulls and Tornadoes, two of the best teams in Dade, he caught seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
"My knee is getting better," Hurns said. "I had surgery six weeks ago and they told me I'd be out about six to eight weeks. I might be able to come back by the second round. I'd like to. I want to help our team win."
Hurns had just one offer -- from UCF -- after his junior season. But he pulled in seven more this summer after he starred at three camps: UM, Pittsburgh and Florida's Friday Night Lights. After the Gators camp, Hurns admitted he was hoping he'd get an offer from UF. But the Gators didn't bite.
Hurns said what ultimately drew him even closer to UM was his relationship with Hill, who went to Florida and Carol City. He said his friendships with current Canes Jacory Harris, Sean Spence and Tommy Streeter as well as fellow 2010 recruits Stephen Morris, a quarterback at Monsignor Pace, and Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements.
"Stephen and I are becoming better friends," Hurns said. "We went and played catch this summer at Miramar Park. He can throw the football."
Hurns said he's looking forward to carrying on the tradition of being the next Carol City Chief to play at UM. Defensive end Eric Moncur, a sixth-year senior, is leaving after this season and is currently the only player from Carol City on the roster.
This summer, Hurns said worked out with former Hurricane and Chief Santana Moss. "We worked on hand-eye coordination with a tennis ball, staying low on our routes and and releases off the line," Hurns said. "It was a nice experience. He gave us gloves. We're kind of similar. We both have speed. But I'm aiming to be better."
Hurns said his GPA is "like a 2.7" and he fully expects to qualify academically in time for the summer. He said he took the ACT test two weeks ago. Hurns said UM coaches told him they are looking at landing one other receiver -- either Northwestern's Michaelee Harris or Miramar's Ivan McCartney.
"I just want to get to the next level after college," Hurns said. "I know I can do that at Miami."
> One other recruiting nugget... Word is St. Thomas Aquinas kicker Ben Hopfinger will walk-on at UM next fall. Hopfinger is the backup to Tennessee commitment and US Army All-American Michael Palardy. Hopfinger has 25 touchbacks on kickoffs and is 11 of 11 on extra points this season. I've seen him in person and the kid has a cannon for a leg.
> I'll have more for you from Tuesday's press conferences at UM. All audio interviews will be available later as well.
Jason Fox earned his second ACC honor of the season Monday when he was named offensive lineman of the week.
Fox was honored after helping anchor an offensive line that made space for a Hurricane offense that piled up season-highs of 515 yards and 268 rushing yards in Miami’s 52-17 win over visiting Virginia. Fox graded out at 98 percent, had five pancake blocks, and did not allow a sack.
> UM's Nov. 21 game against Duke at Land Shark Stadium has been scheduled for a noon kickoff. It will be televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
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.
Last Tuesday, Jacory Harris was talking about how he and his teammates kept playing down to opponents. For the first time all year, the Canes showed us they could play a complete game. Yes, there were gaffs. Virginia took advantage of two blocked punts and an interception to score 17 points. But UM dominated in the second half and rolled to a 52-17 victory because it was the superior team and played like it.
A few more quick thoughts before I head down for postgame interviews...
> Thearon Collier's 60-yard punt return in the second quarter was without question the play of the year thus far. Collier channeled his inner Ted Ginn, running backwards and across the field before turning on the afterburners. He got three huge blocks on the return to spring him -- including ones from Ramon Buchanon and Chavez Grant that made the crowd at Land Shark Stadium "Oooh" and "Ahhh" during the replay on the Jumbotron.
> While there is plenty of good to talk about from this game, there is still work to be done. Virginia's two punt blocks were break downs on blocking schemes and will be a point of contention in the Canes film room this week. Brandon McGee also took a real bad angle on Rashawn Jackson's 34-yard touchdown run that put Virginia up 10-3 in the first quarter. I also thought Mark Whipple took a chance early on with the flea-flicker and Jacory Harris made a terrible read throwing the ball into triple coverage toward Aldarius Johnson. But that was about it. This way by far UM's best overall game.
> It was nice to see Graig Cooper return from his ankle injury and shine. He finished with a career-high 152 yards rushing including a 70-yard burst and three-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Miami pounded the Cavs for 268 yards on the ground as a team. That's making up for the 21 carries at Wake Forest.
> Safety Jared Campbell had a few nice pass breakups. That's good to see considering it doesn't look like Ray Ray Armstrong isn't coming back anytime soon. He was on the sideline with a knee brace. Linebacker Sean Spence had one too. Eric Moncur had his left leg in a soft cast. Lucky for UM, it didn't look like anybody else suffered injuries Saturday. Although Joel Figueroa did point down to his ankle in the third quarter. He stayed in the game.
LAND SHARK STADIUM -- The Canes and Cavaliers are going head-to-head at noon. Feel free to participate in our discussion below.
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It's time to preview Saturday's noon kickoff when 17th-ranked Canes (6-2) take on Virginia (3-5) at Land Shark Stadium.
REWIND: The last time the Cavaliers were in Miami they closed out the Orange Bowl with an embarrassing 48-0 blowout of the Canes. UM got a little revenge last year, rallying in overtime at Virginia behind Jacory Harris for a 24-17 victory. Miami leads the all-time series 4-2. Only one of the six games has been decided by more than 10 points.
> UM wins because... It establishes a running game, protects Jacory Harris (and Harris protects the ball), and the Canes battered defense doesn't let a bad Virginia offense play better than it is. Make no mistake about this game, the Hurricanes should win. Except for a pretty good pass defense, this is a Virginia team that ranks 105th in rushing, 100th in passing, 116th in total offense, 100th in scoring, 115th in sacks allowed, 99th in punt returns and 114th in kickoff returns. The Cavaliers have losses to William and Mary and Duke. Defensively, UM players said the key this week will be stopping what Virginia likes to do out of two tight end, two receivers sets when quarterback Jameel Sewell rolls out of the pocket and throws short to intermediate passes. We know how Miami has done covering the tight end of late. So, this will be a big game for Miami's safeties and defensive ends.
> Virginia wins because... Miami's offense gets flustered against the Cavaliers pass defense and Harris starts forcing passes and throwing interceptions. Meanwhile, Virginia takes advantage of a banged up Miami defense and runs its ball-control, smash mouth offense to perfection.
> My pick: UM 33, Virginia 17. This is just not a game I see the Canes losing. Virginia doesn't have the play makers it once had to really turn the tables on UM.
> Offense: Damien Berry. Virginia's run defense has given up an average of 151 yards per game this season. Javarris James is back this week. But I still think Berry picks up the tough yards and scores the touchdowns in the red zone.
> Defense: Randy Phillips. A huge key to this game will be UM's ability to stop Virginia's tight ends in the open field. They are monster sized. Rick Torchia is 6-6, 250 pounds and Colter Phillips is 6-6, 245 pounds.
> Special teams: Matt Bosher. Virginia is very good at forcing teams to settle for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns in the red zone (15 of the 27 trips into Virginia's red zone have ended with field goals). Bosher has been at the top of his game at late and I fully expect him to have another great day.
The Miami Hurricanes still have a significant number of injuries they are dealing with. But this week it looks like at least a couple guys could be coming back against Virginia.
Running back Javarris James, who missed the Wake Forest game with a lower extremity injury, has been listed as probable alongside safety Randy Phillips (torn labrum). Defensive end Andrew Smith, who did not play against Wake Forest, was not listed on the injury report and is expected back.
Senior defensive end Eric Moncur (groin) has missed three games this season including two of the last three and is listed as doubtful.
Out -- as expected -- safety Ray Ray Armstrong (lower extremity), fullback Patrick Hill (ankle), safety Jojo Nicolas (upper extremity) and linebacker Sean Spence (lower extremity).
CLEANING UP THE BLOG: For those of you who continue to post offensive and obscene comments, The Miami Herald is now taking measures to ban you from posting here in the future. All I've ever asked you guys to do is to avoid posting comments that are over the top. If you don't want to be banned or have your comments deleted you should stop doing whatever bad things you've been doing. Consider it your final warning.
As for the regular posters who contribute to thoughtful, meaningful discussions I apologize that this has taken so long. Please continue to do what you've been doing to make Eye On The U a fun place for Canes and college football talk.
If there was a point last season when Jacory Harris proved to Randy Shannon he might be better than Robert Marve it was at Virginia. With the Hurricanes trailing 17-10 in the fourth quarter, Harris came in and marched Miami right down the field for the tying touchdown and then the winning score in overtime.
We all know what happened after that. Earlier this week, I gave you Jacory's stats through his first four games when fans were chanting Heisman (69-112, 61.6% comp, 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 1,008 yards) and his last four when they've wanted someone to reel him in for throwing the ball up for grabs too often (75-120, 62.5% comp, 8 TDs, 6 INTs, 1,096 yards).
So why does it feel like he's not playing as well as he was earlier this year? Because he's getting sacked more (UM has given up 20 sacks in its last five games) and because he's making the same mistakes on the same blitzes.
"It's been a common thing," Harris said of the interceptions. "I'd say last game [Wake Forest], the Oklahoma game and FAMU, just about all the interceptions look the same. It's the same blitz, the same coverage and the same routes. But just a different play going to that side. It's sort of the same thing. They've been on blitzes."
So the challenge now is "when we're running something of that kind just to make sure I'm doing the opposite of what I have been doing."
Harris said he and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple sit down every week and review every pass -- completed, incomplete and intercepted. Sometimes, receivers will join in during the study session.
"I'm making little mistakes here and there. For the most part I'm doing okay," Harris said of his play. "One of the picks I threw was costly this last week. But I don't think any interceptions put us in real bad situations to the point where we couldn't get out of it."
"I know I can get better. Looking at this season, we've come through with some big-time victories. And I just feel like as long as I'm playing to the point our team can win, I have to keep on getting better individually and we'll come out with better victories and not come out with so many close games."
JACORY'S ARM STILL HURTS... Of the 24 sacks he's taken and other unaccounted hits, Harris said the one he still feels is the one Florida State freshman Greg Reid delivered to his throwing elbow on a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the opener.
Harris said his elbow doesn't bother him when he throws the ball, "but it does when anybody touches it."
"People say I'm too skinny for this, too skinny for that," Harris said. "But I've survived so far. You just have to be tough."
He leads the team with seven sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and is finally exhibiting the special playmaking ability that made him one of the nation's top recruits in 2007. So what has been the reason for Bailey's emerge of late? It's simple according to safety Randy Phillips.
"He moved from defensive tackle to defensive end -- that's it," Phillips said. "He's too big, strong and fast. There's no tackle that can match up with him in the country. He's too big, too strong, too fast for those guys."
Bailey started five games at tackle this season. But the last two he's played primarily at defensive end. He forced a fumble against Clemson and had three tackle sacks.
YOU VOTED... After nearly 2,000 votes, you have decided Allen Bailey is the Canes Mr. October. He edged out quarterback Jacory Harris with 32.8 percent of the vote. Harris was second with 29.1 and linebacker Colin McCarthy was third with 14.0 percent of the vote.
My favorite part of the polling process... checking out where some of the votes were cast. Among the places where voters chimed in -- Seoul, Korea; Quito, Ecuador; Stockholm, Sweden; Nieuwveen, Netherlands and Bahrian.
JAVARRIS RETURNS TO PRACTICE... UM coach Randy Shannon said running back Javarris James was back at practice Wednesday. It's still not 100 percent Baby J will be back in the lineup this week for Miami after missing the Wake Forest game with a "lower extremity" injury.
"He's going to add to the run game and what we do as an offense. Javarris is a veteran guy," Shannon said. "When you get him and (Graig) Cooper back and they're healthy - you got Damien Berry, Lee (Chambers), now you have guys you need for the long stretch."
Randy Phillips laughed at my question even though I didn't mean for it to sound funny.
If you had to estimate the level of pain you are playing with -- what would you say it is? Instead of answering the question, Miami's senior safety showed me how much his torn labrum and rotator cuff limit his ability to raise his right arm.
"I can bring it up to right about here," Phillips said as he lifted his arm to about the same height an umpire does to call a base runner safe. "If I'm going to deflect a pass, I have to do it with my left arm. Last week against Wake Forest my knee popped. I had to put it back into place. This is football man. You have to be tough, fight through the pain."
Playing hurt is one thing, playing injured is another. And right now this University of Miami defense -- in the words of coach Randy Shannon -- "is banged up" worse than he's ever seen it, even when he was a player.
How banged up does that mean? We really don't know. Each week, a different player ends up on the team's "extremity report." Shannon simply won't discuss injuries. But if you ask Phillips -- and I did -- he says there are only three players on Miami's defense who aren't playing with some form of pain or coming off injury. Those are: cornerbacks Brandon Harris and Sam Shields and safety Jared Campbell. So, its quite evident, most of the guys out there on defense are playing with pain.
Here's what we do know as fact: UM's defense had its worst performance of the season last week. The Canes gave up 555 yards, 33 first downs and looked awfully inept against an offense that produced a combined 13 points against Clemson and Navy the two previous weeks.
So, if you are a Canes fan that raises an obvious concern and question: With all these injuries are the Hurricanes headed toward another late season stumble? Like it or not, UM is showing the same signs it did when it lost the final four games of its first season under Shannon in 2007 and its last three last year. It's called limping to the finish line. Shannon said it himself. He said his team hit a wall last year, said his players were burned out and worn out. And it is starting to happen again.
So how do the Canes avoid it from happening again? For starters, they can't let their defense stay on the field for 97 plays like it did against Wake Forest. Part of that is game-planning (the Demon Deacons stuffed UM's running game -- the Canes ran it a season-low 21 times -- and held the football for 38 minutes, 52 seconds). But the other part of it getting contributions from other guys.
The Hurricanes have gotten some contributions from others. Shannon said freshman Curtis Porter and sophomores Micanor Regis and Jeremy Lewis have begun playing more over the last couple weeks on the Canes injury-plagued defensive line. And Shannon said Ramon Buchanon, who filled in last week for Sean Spence, did "okay." But after eight weeks of the regular season, fall camp, two-a-days in the spring and offseason conditioning isn't time others started stepping up? For starters, where is Arthur Brown? When are we going to see Brandon McGee?
The answer is they obviously aren't ready. So where does the blame lie? On both sides of the equation.
"The transition from high school to college is all mental," Chavez Grant said when I asked him why some of the young players aren't ready to contribute yet.
"You're going to get faster, you're going to get stronger, but this game is played between your ears. You have to understand where you are and where you need to be, what plays are called, what those plays are designed for. And what those guys are struggling with is that. You can't just learn two coverages if you're going into a game with six coverages. Then, the coaches would have to pick and choose based on what you can do. That's the biggest problem. They have to learn the plays. Physically, Brandon [McGee] can play football. Arthur Brown, he can play with the best of them. Arthur Brown will be the first one to find the ball in practice. But when it comes to schemes, blitz coverages and blitz pacakges, dropping into coverages those are not those guys' strong points. And it's not the coaching. We're all in the same meetings. We're all getting taught the same way. If those guys really want to learn, they have to put in the extra time."
The reality is this UM defense is going to have to heal somehow, and the guys that are in there that are not producing are going to have to step up. Because as Shannon pointed out there is no telling when Sean Spence will be back. Or, when Ray Ray Armstrong will be healthy. Or, if Eric Moncur will really be able to play again.
"Right now those guys are out and we have some other guys on the team that have to step up," Shannon said. "As far as coaches, we're going to grind those guys each and every day. Right now, this part of the season, it's all about execution. We're gong to teach those guys each and every day to learn. If they don't learn it, we have to keep teaching it."
So, its time for Olivier Vernon and Marcus Robinson to answer the bell and help Allen Bailey create pressure. It's time for Ramon Buchanon to do more than just "fill in." It's time for Demarcus Van Dyke to add to his interception total by more than just once every three seasons. And it's time for Randy Shannon and his coaching staff to prove they can get those guys ready to play, and it's time for those players to start delivering. Or else, these Canes could end up falling flat on their faces again come December.
TAKING A LIGHTER APPROACH... One thing Shannon learned from his first two seasons was that he wore his team down in practice towards the end of the year. This week, he's made a change from having two hour practices to one hour practices that will be quicker paced and allow for less stress to his players' bodies.
"We did it in the NFL," Shannon said. "Last year at this point I kept them longer because we were young and I thought we needed the reps, and it got us toward the end of the season. But now we're a year older, it'll help us out. It'll give us freshness going into the game from a mental standpoint."
WHY IS UM GETTING BEAT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD? The first place blame always goes when things go wrong is toward the coaching staff. I'm a firm believer players are just as responsible for the breakdowns on the field as coaches are for putting them in certain schemes.
One thing that has become a consistent problem for this UM defense against the pass has been the middle of the field. Obviously, not having a strong enough pass rush gives receivers time to get open and quarterbacks time to find them. But as Phillips told me Monday, there is at least one constant mistake that keeps happening to UM in pass coverage.
"It's the communication between the guys who have to cover the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers," Phillips said. "We have to get that [fixed]. If the team is going to that underneath stuff, we have to come up and make the tackle. But we also have to pass those underneath routes off. We're fixing that right now with the linebacker and the nickel back in terms of guys dropping off guys and letting them be wide open."
ARE THE CANES GETTING OUT-SCHEMED? So why does it seem like UM is always a step behind the opposing offense? If you ask Randy Phillips it is because they are. According to Phillips, the only time UM came out and saw what they game-planned for was when they faced Georgia Tech.
"Other teams have done a great job coming out and not running the same offense they ran the previous game," Phillips said. "Clemson didn't run anything we expected them to run. For some reason, they attacked the middle of our defense where our linebackers were. Wake Forest didn't run anything we've seen them run. They usually ran the high-low scheme. Against us, they really tried to put athletes on the edge, run their quarterback and go in the middle of the field with crossing routes.
"It comes down to us being ready for everybody's best shot, not worrying about what the other team is going to do, we just have to run our own defense. Because every team has shown us something different. When we go out and play, there doing something else. We have a certain package defense and they never do it. So, we end up having to make adjustments. I think we're doing a great job making halftime adjustments. Last week, we only gave up seven points after half time. That's improvement."
Said Grant: "It's not that I believe a lot of teams are figuring us out, but the more teams watch us the more they see our weaknesses. I think teams are trying to hit us underneath. The secondary, what we emphasize, is that we don't like to give up the deep balls. That's what we play a lot and that leaves us vulnerable to the short passes."
WORKING TOGETHER... Despite the mistakes in coverage and mental breakdowns, Phillips said coaches remain open to communication before, during and after games.
Last week against Wake Forest, he and Grant came to Shannon when the Demon Deacons had the ball for the last time down 28-27 and suggested putting in Grant at middle linebacker instead of a tired Darryl Sharpton.
"Coach Lovett is the eye upstairs and every time at half time we meet up he's always there ready to listen to us and to tell us what's going wrong," Phillips said. "We tell him this is what they're doing out on the field. This guy did this and this guy did that. We work together. The coaching staff always has the answers. We work it out."
Grant said assistants don't usually get to do a lot of teaching during the regular season because so much time is spent on game-planning. But he says every assistant will spend bonus time with younger players without fail.
"When we leave out of meetings -- Brandon [McGee], Ray Ray Armstrong, Jamal Reid, all those guys stay in there. Coach McGriff makes it his business to stay longer with those guys because they have to learn," Grant said.
"I'm not sure about the linebackers because I'm not a linebacker. But coach Lovett is a great coach and I always see him staying late too. A lot of those linebackers do understand what to do. But there has to be extra effort if you want to play football."
Sometimes keeping a secret can be really tough. Miami Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements was able to pull it off for nearly three months, but he finally broke down on Tuesday and called Hurricanes coaches to let them know he was formally announcing his commitment to the Hurricanes.
"I called coach Ice [Tim Harris] and told him I was tired of people asking me where I’m going, I’m ready to make it public," said Clements, considered one of the nation's premier running backs by both Rivals and ESPN.com. "He said do what you got to do boss. We're just glad to have you in the family."
Clements, who committed silenty to UM coaches back in August, wanted to make his big announcement on National Signing Day or when his football team, currently 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state's Class 3A, reached the state title game in December. But he said he couldn't wait any longer and wanted "to get it over with."
The Hurricanes have 23 commitments in their 2010 class. Sunday, they added two more when Belle Glades Glades Central defensive back Greg Dent and Loganville, Ga. running back Storm Johnson (rated the 23rd best RB in the country by Rivals) joined the class. In all, UM has four running backs it is bringing in. Clements (5-10, 185) is the highest rated.
After rushing for 408 yards in Booker T.'s first four games, Clements sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee playing defensive end in an upset win over Miami Northwestern. He said he expects to return to action this week against Miami Edison.
He said the announcement of his commitment had nothing to do with Johnson (6-1, 217) joining UM's class on Sunday.
"I've been committed since August -- and everybody over there knew about it," Clements said. "Really, I was just tired of people calling me and asking me about it. I wanted Signing Day to be special. But I prefer this. I can sleep at night and not worry about my phone ringing or people asking me anymore."
> I'll have more from Tuesday's press conferences and interviews with players later. I just wanted to get the Clements story done for you all. I'll have more interviews with UM's recruits in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
The second four-game stretch of the season is over and done with and the Canes are pretty much right back where they were after the first four: in need of help to reach the ACC title game.
The biggest difference from the first four to the last four? Injuries. There are a lot more of them. And it hasn't just been the losses of linebackers Jordan Futch and Sean Spence, fullback Pat Hill and defensive tackle Marcus Forston. It's been the nagging injuries, the nicked up "extremities" guys are playing with. No unit has suffered more hurt than the defensive line which has had seven players out this season at one point or another -- Adewale Ojomo (season ending jaw injury in the preseason), Forston (done for the year), defensive end Andrew Smith (2 games), Olivier Vernon (2 games), Steven Wesley (1 game), Eric Moncur (3 games), and Josh Holmes (1 game). With that said, let's take a quick look back at the month of October before you vote for Mr. October...
> Positive signs: After producing just one interception in the first four games, UM's secondary has produced four more picks -- one each over the last four games... UM's run defense has gotten better since getting lit up at Virginia Tech. Over their last four games, Miami has given up 402 yards on 126 attempts and just two rushing TDs. They also have only surrendered 3.1 yards a carry... Allen Bailey has woken up and started playing like the dominant pass rusher Miami thought he was.
> Troubling signs: After getting sacked eight times in Miami's first four games, Jacory Harris was brought down 15 times in his last four games... After throwing to the tight ends plenty in the first month of the season (14 catches, 192 yards, 4 TDs), Dedrick Epps (3-32, 0 TDs), Jimmy Graham (5-59, 1 TD) and Tervaris Johnson have been virtually silent (1-2, 1 TD) have seen fewer balls come there way over the last four games... the Canes pass defense has been getting lit up. Wake Forest was a horrible game, but it's also part of the trend. After giving up an average of 178.3 yards through the air in its first four games on 52 receptions, UM has been giving up more catches (83) and yards (263.5 avg) over the last four games.
> Staggering stats: LaRon Byrd has caught one touchdown pass all season... after making 14 kickoff returns and averaging 28.3 yards in his first four games, Graig Cooper has had just one kickoff return over the last four games... Cooper and Javarris James have combined for few yards and scores (47 att., 251 yards, 1 TD) over the last four gams than Damien Berry (43 att., 303 yards, 4 TDs).
> Offensive MVP: Jacory Harris. For those of you bashing J12, he's actually put up similar numbers over his last four games (75-120, 63% comp, 8 TDs, 6 INTs, 1,096 yards) as he did his first four games (69-112, 61.6% comp, 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 1,008 yards). The difference? Pass protection. He's been sacked seven more times his last four games than his first four. I was going to give it to Leonard Hankerson (before he his big drops at Wake Forest) and thought about Damien Berry. But when I looked deep inside the numbers -- and past J12's six picks -- it was Harris who really shined for UM. Berry collected most of his 303 rushing yards over the past month against FAMU (when he ran for 162 on 14 carries).
> Defensive MVP: Allen Bailey. The big guy produced five of his team-leading seven sacks in October and forced the fumble that led to Marcus Robinson's touchdown against Clemson. He has seven tackles for loss over his last four games and has been UM's only consistent pass rusher. If I had to pick a runner-up, it's Colin McCarthy. He led UM with 11 tackles Saturday at Wake Forest and leads the team with 60 tackles this season. His biggest contribution though was his key interception at UCF.
> Special Teams MVP: Matt Bosher. After missing two field goals against Georgia Tech, he's turned it around making eight in a row including a long of 51 against Clemson. His punting has also been on point as he's averaged 41.1 yards a boot and hasn't allowed for any long returrns. He's also handling the kickoff duties again since Alex Uribe's mishap against Clemson.
NEW YORK -- Greetings from the Big Apple. As you can see, I didn't end up going to Wake Forest this weekend to catch the Canes. After covering Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, I was asked to stick around and help cover Sunday's Dolphins-Jets game. It worked out well because my wife and I got to attend her grandmother's 102nd birthday this afternoon.
Between those family moments, I was able to follow the game on my Blackberry before I was able to sneak away and catch about the last 10 minutes on TV (I started watching right when DeMarcus Van Dyke grabbed his first career interception). Some quick thoughts on the game and more since I've been away all week...
> When it was 27-14 in the fourth quarter all I kept thinking about was how badly Randy Shannon and his coaching staff must have been getting ripped by some in Canes Nation. Now, after the thrilling come-from-behind win, I'm guessing some of them are back to being "his biggest supporters." Got to love the fine line between loved and hated.
> The Hurricanes are now 6-2, 3-2 in ACC play. To me, all we've really learned over the last four games is that this team isn't as great as we thought they were (Yes, that was a little Dennis Green like).
Look, I'm not taking anything away from Miami's blowout of Georgia Tech or the 21-20 win against Oklahoma. But those four ranked opponents UM played to start the year now have a combined record of 22-11. The last four games haven't been played against better teams either. And yet, no matter how uncomfortable you feel about the Canes this morning (and you might be asking yourself are really that much better?), progress HAS been made.
This team has won games this year it didn't win last year and accomplished things it failed to do last year. UM played another wild game against FSU, but won. They grabbed a double-digit lead against Oklahoma and didn't let the Sooners come back on them like North Carolina did in 2008. They struggled against UCF again, but stepped on the gas and surged ahead instead of letting the Knights stick around. And finally, Saturday, they fought back from 17-0 down in the first half and 27-14 in the fourth quarter and won.
It's not major progress (this clearly isn't a Canes team on the same level of many of the other great ones before it and still has a long ways to get there). But it's still a better football team than the last four Miami has had.
> I think it's officially safe to say Mark Whipple was right about his offense last month when he said they weren't nearly as good as he wants them to be. How Miami had two yards of total offense in the second half before embarking on its game-winning drive was eye-opening. Give Jacory Harris credit for leading UM on the game-winning drive, but he and his receivers still have work to do.
> Wet conditions or not, Leonard Hankerson had drops he shouldn't have. Hankerson is definitely the most improved player on the team. But he's not completely beyond struggles. Miami is lucky Aldarius Johnson and Travis Benjamin were able to hang onto a couple big pass plays. UM definitely needs every one of its receivers. None of them has been able to separate themselves as the definite go-to-guy.
> This pass defense is a lot like the offensive line -- average on its best days. UM's defense gave up 555 yards to Wake Forest. But 408 yards came through the air. According to the media guide, it was the third-most passing yards ever against UM. Wake Forest ranked fifth in the ACC in pass offense and has a good quarterback in Riley Skinner. But there are just way too many times when guys are wide open. It wasn't just this week.
FYI... I'll be back on the Canes beat Tuesday (this time I mean it).