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Champs Sports Bowl thoughts

ORLANDO -- About to head out on the Florida Turnpike to get back in time for tonight's basketball game at the BankUnited Center. But before I take off I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the Canes' 20-14 loss to Wisconsin.

The same problems that hurt UM all season -- except interceptions -- turned out to be what did the Canes in against the Badgers.

> The Hurricanes were simply manhandled up front. No, Jacory Harris wasn't at his best. But he was also under serious pressure the entire night. He was sacked five times and hit on about 10 other pass attempts. It's hard for a quarterback to get in any sort of rhythm when the other team has you on the run. Here's the bottomline, UM gave up 35 sacks this season. That's far too many. 

After the game, Orlando Franklin snickered when I asked him how good Wisconsin's front seven was. Sorry O, but you have to give the Badgers credit. Franklin might not have been the problem Tuesday night, but we all know the Canes' six man rotation on the offensive line this year was not tip top by any means. Matt Pipho was the starting right tackle all season. Pipho will make a great doctor one day. But he should have never been the starting right tackle on this team. He was a role player thrust into a starting role because UM didn't get the job done in recruiting offensive linemen in year's past and the young guys that were here simply weren't ready. It will be interesting to see who steps up this spring. Brandon Washington, Ben Jones and Jermaine Johnson are all guys we've heard a lot of good things about. It's time to see what they can really do.

> The second biggest problem this team had all season was getting to the quarterback on defense. Tuesday, Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien had all day to throw the football. Yes, UM sacked him once. But three quarterback hurries aren't enough. UM defensive line coach Clint Hurtt expected his team to do a much better job before the season began. But it just felt like this unit never really got going. Other than some decent work by Joe Joseph and Curtis Porter against the run and the occassional big plays from freshman Olivier Vernon and sophomore Marcus Robinson, the only consistent performer was Allen Bailey. And he was shuffled from tackle to end to back to tackle far too often. All in all, simply a disappointing season from Miami's front four. The Canes definitely need strong returns from Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo next year and Hurtt's guys need to do a better job winning one-on-one battles.

> The third biggest problem UM had all year, which showed itself again Tuesday, was defending the middle of the field. How many times did we see receivers and tight ends get open for key first downs this year against this dfense? Far too many. Wisconsin ate up the Canes in the interior and converted more than a few third and longs. As good as Colin McCarthy and Darryl Sharpton were this season, they were always a step behind in pass coverage and they didn't get enough help from Randy Phillips or Vaughn Telemaque at safety. Defensive coordinator John Lovett did a great job turning UM's run defense around this season. He consider this and his pass rush the primary offseason problems to work on and fix.

> Now, while you all might not be in the mood to hear anything positive about this season after last night's disappointing loss, I think you should take a second to cool off before reflecting on the season or demanding Randy  Shannon's head on a platter. The facts are this program got better. UM won nine games, two more than last year. Four players made the All-ACC First Team. The Canes only had one a year ago.

Is Miami back? No. But I think we need to stop worrying about declaring if Miami back. I'm sorry to tell you this, but the Canes won't be back until they are at least playing for a national championship. They aren't back until they win a conference championship. They aren't back until a starter can go down and the backup can be just as capable of carrying out that job. Here's the bottomline: Miami is better, but they need more depth and more player development from these coaches. I'm not saying everyone on this staff might be the right guy for the job. But the Canes are getting better. And they have to continue that trend this offseason and in 2010.

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