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.