When Marcus Forston met Andrew Smith two years ago when they arrived on campus together as part of UM's nationally acclaimed 2008 recruiting class, Forston admitted he didn't think Smith would end up looking like the sleek, 6-3, 245-pound ab-muscle flaunting pass rushing defensive end he is today.
"That guy came in with a linebackers body and an offensive lineman's stomach," said Forston, who at 6-3, 305 pounds has never exactly tried to pass himself off as an Adonis. "Right now, he's got his abs. He's slimmed down, toned. Guy is looking good right now."
Smith looked good at Pittsburgh last week, enjoying his finest hour as a Hurricane. On a night when UM produced five sacks and nine tackles for loss, Smith led the charge, producing two sacks and three tackles for loss on a four-tackle night. The fact Smith was UM's best pass rusher last week didn't surprise anyone in the Canes' locker room -- nor would it if he finished the year leading the team in sacks.
As lightly regarded as Smith was coming out of Coconut Creek Monarch High (he was ranked the 89th best defensive end in the country by ESPN.com), his raw skills and ability to play both end spots -- with his right or left hand down -- are unique according to coach Randy Shannon. And it might not be long before opposing teams starting giving him as much attention as they do senior Allen Bailey (sack), junior Adewale Ojomo (two sacks) and sophomore Olivier Vernon (team-leading 3.5 sacks).
"If you would have asked me this or asked anybody on this team two years ago about Andrew Smith making this big adjustment or this big jump, nobody would have seen it," Forston said. "That's a guy who has the best pass rush on the d-line right now. As a defensive line, we know we don't have a guy that can come off the line the way he does right now. He has great hands, great leverage and he's good at leaning. A lot of defensive ends are tiny in the hips and can't bend. He can bend and lean."
Smith said he's added about 20 pounds since arriving on campus -- all of it muscle. Shannon said the fact Smith spent the entire offseason running and conditioning with Bailey, UM's most physical defensive lineman, was a huge help.
"When you have a guy who competes with Allen Bailey in conditioning, you can only get better," Shannon said. "Andrew has improved his mind, strength and mind strength. You expect big things out of a guy that works that hard."
The Hurricanes, who rank second in the country in sacks, will face a heftier challenge this week getting to the quarterback against Clemson. The Tigers, who bring back four starters on their offensive line, have only given up two sacks this season (fewest in the ACC). With Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker battling back from a few bruised ribs in his back, it's likely the Tigers will try and max-protect their quarterback and roll him out of the pocket.
So far when the Canes have been at their best defensively, it's been because they've been able to get the quarterback on the ground and make plays in the backfield. “Tackles for losses are really important for us," Bailey said after the win at Pitt. "It sets the tempo and [gives us] momentum for the whole game."
Said Vernon: "Parker is very quick, he throws the ball pretty fast. We just need to rush him out the pocket. Once we get him on the run, he's not going to be too fast."
A FEW MORE TIDBITS/NOTES
> Former Hurricanes starting quarterback Robert Marve was lost for the season at Purdue on Thursday. Marve, who went 6-5 as a starter at UM in 2008 when he threw 9 TDs and 13 interceptions, tore the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row in a 31-20 loss to Toledo.
Marve had completed 67 of 99 passes for 512 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He also had 32 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Some Hurricanes fans might not be happy with quarterback Jacory Harris (55-86, 690 yards, 6 TDs, 6 INTs), but the grass is not necessarily greener without him. Marve obviously wasn't playing much better than Harris has this season and former backups Taylor Cook (Rice) and Cannon Smith (Memphis) are not exactly flourishing either.
Cook has played in mop-duty in two games and is 13 of 22 for 98 yards and an interception. He's one of two backups to former Hurricanes recruit Nick Fanuzi (who was headed to UM before Marve picked the Canes). Smith was the starter at Memphis before going down with a concussion. Now, he's the backup to former Miramar High standout and true freshman Ryan Williams. Smith is 13 of 21 for 130 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in two games worth of action.
The Hurricanes have A.J. Highsmith (4-7, 18 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) and Spencer Whipple (3-4, 22 yards, 0 TDs) as the current backups with true freshman Stephen Morris expected to be redshirted.
Miami Northwestern QB Teddy Bridgewater, the only quarterback the Hurricanes appear to be signing in the 2011 class, has looked good in his first three games for the Bulls. He's 55 of 76 for 932 yards, 11 TDs and 0 INTs. But he'll have three tough opponents over the next three weeks -- Saturday against Miami Booker T. Washington, Oct. 9 vs. Miami Central and Oct. 14 vs. Columbus (ESPN).