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Extra points and observations: Florida State

The point of this blog every week is to recap the good and the bad following a Hurricanes game. I will do that again this week after UM's 45-17 loss to Florida State, but I'm starting with a much broader point of view: 

THE BIG QUESTION... Was Saturday's blowout loss to the Seminoles just an ugly loss/growing pain? Or, was it a loud affirmation Randy Shannon and his staff are simply not up to the challenge of getting this program turned around?

Randy Shannon > The Hurricanes played their worst game of the season -- and probably their worst since they were manhandled by Oklahoma 51-13 in Shannon's second game as a coach in 2007. The defense gave up 298 yards rushing, produced no sacks, one turnover (forgot about Vaughn Telemaque's INT) and its leader (Colin McCarthy) picked up a really dumb penalty on a late hit. The offense produced only 17 points and for the second week in a row failed to complete even half of its passes. The special teams had a horrendous day on kickoff coverage and Matt Bosher once again had a field goal attempt go wrong. The players weren't the only ones who didn't get the job done. Mark Whipple and Jon Lovett, second year coordinators at UM, were taken to school by Jimbo Fisher and his staff in just their sixth game together. Afterward, UM coach Randy Shannon shouldered some of the blame. 

If there is one positive from Saturday's game -- and believe me there is only one -- it is that the Hurricanes can still turn things around, win their division, play for an Atlantic Coast Conference title and potentially play in a BCS Bowl game. But the real question here isn't if the Canes can do that. They can. The ACC is putrid and right now nobody in the Coastal Division is that much better than UM. The real questions: Why were the Canes embarrassed by a Florida State that was 7-6 a year ago? Why are the Canes, in the fourth season under Shannon, still struggling to even be among the Top 25 teams in the nation? 

With Saturday's loss, UM fell to 3-8 against ranked opponents under Shannon and 24-19 overall. Larry Coker went 53-9 and won a national title before he was fired in 2006. Coker's record against Top 25 ranked teams was 18-13. Add those numbers up and it makes UM only 21-21 vs. ranked teams since the start of the 2001. Greatness? This once proud program is fighting just to be mediocre.

Shannon, who signed a four-year extension before this season, can still turn things around. He can still do what he's done the past few years and finish with a better record than he did the year before. Mathematically he can. But after Saturday's whooping, are we really confident that will happen? Those wins at Pittsburgh and Clemson aren't nearly as sexy as we thought they were. Both of those teams are now 2-3. What about the rest of that "easy schedule?" Does anyone really believe North Carolina and Butch Davis are just going to roll over when they come to Sun Life Stadium in two weeks? Is Virginia Tech, which lost to an FCS school, going to come in unprepared under Frank Beamer? How about that trip to Atlanta in late November? You think Georgia Tech won't be a better football team?

College football isn't what it used to be. We know that. Parity paints itself all over the Top 25. Boise State, TCU, Utah -- they're all Top 25 teams from non-BCS conferences.

But is it really unfair to ask this program to be at the top of a mediocre ACC with one of the richest areas for talent in the country in its backyard? Is it too much to ask them to show up prepared and enthusiastic about a national television showdown with its biggest rival? The 2008 recruiting class, tabbed No. 1 by ESPN, is in its third year at UM. Those five-star high school seniors aren't babies anymore. They've been through at least two springs and three summers with trainer Andreu Swasey. Physically, they're supposed to be able to play at a high level, not get pushed around like they were Saturday by players from Florida State who had just as many stars next to their names as they did coming out of high school.

Can any coach or player on this team explain why missed tackles is still an issue, why this team still looks still terrible on kickoff and punt coverage, why they're still getting beat up front by opposing teams on both sides of the ball, and why they're still thin at positions like quarterback, tight end, defensive tackle and linebacker?

Better yet, can anyone explain the regression of the passing game when just a year ago people were talking about Jacory Harris as a Heisman candidate and his receivers as possibly the best unit in the country? It's certainly not a question of talent or having the time to coach 'em up.

The bottomline is this team isn't playing at the level it should. Individually, the list of players not meeting expectations in terms of growth and potential far exceeds those who are blossoming into better players. For every Sean Spence, Brandon Harris, Damien Berry and Leonard Hankerson, there are players like Ben Jones, Jeremy Lewis, Kendall Thompkins, Tommy Streeter and John Calhoun who have been at UM for three years and still haven't seen the field. Those aren't Coker's recruits. 

Blame the players for not delivering. But can we also point the finger at Shannon for a few things, too? Like, why doesn't Jacory Harris have a backup quarterback who could fill in now that he's hurt and struggling? Why is Harris being asked to play with an injured left shoulder, a sore groin and gimpy hamstrings? Why isn't A.J. Highsmith capable of filling in? If Highsmith isn't a capable quarterback, why didn't the Canes go out and find someone to backup Harris when Robert Marve and two other quarterbacks bolted?

Why, in the last four years, has the Hurricanes' only reliable tight end been a converted basketball player? Why are Sean Spence and Ramon Buchanon the only reliable linebackers this program has been able to bring in over the last four years and make better? Why can a guy like Sam Shields, who was a disappointment in his college career, go undrafted and all of a sudden become a starting cornerback for the Green Bay Packers? Can anyone explain to me how Willie Williams and Arthur Brown went from being the No. 1 high school linebackers in the nation to not doing a darn thing in this program? I still can't understand it.

I could go on (I haven't even really touched recruiting), but I hope I've made my point. Four years into Shannon's run as coach there are still a lot of troubling questions and trends that haven't been resolved. Again, things can turn around. Hope shouldn't be lost. There is talent here. There is opportunity. Shannon isn't a stranger to winning. He's been around it. He's been a part of it. Now, he has to make it happen as a head coach. 

And if he doesn't, if the Canes stagger down the stretch, will anything be done? You would like to think the clock is ticking, that expectations would be higher than this for a program that has won five national titles. But it seems like nobody at Miami is really keeping score of wins and losses anymore except the fans and boosters. Good GPAs and clean police records appear to count a lot more than touchdowns and field goals. That's probably the way it should be. But it just sounds strange for a program that spent 20 jubilant years collecting championships and loading up on swagger to be satisfied with mediocrity on the field. And it makes you wonder if the Canes will ever be great again.

QUICK HITTERS

> Senior Damien Berry had a costly first half fumble in Saturday's loss that led to an FSU touchdown. But he responded by finishing with 101 yards on 20 carries. He also had a 26-yard touchdown run. Berry has fumbled once in 180 carries at UM. That's a pretty good percentage.

> For a team that spent extra time last week catching passes, the Hurricanes are still a team plagued by the drops. Unofficially, I've counted 30 drops in UM's first five games. That's six a game. Turn half of those into completions and Jacory Harris' 52.4 completion percentage isn't the worst in the ACC among starting quarterbacks.

> Chris Thompson's 90-yard touchdown run at the end of the game was the longest against UM in team history. I don't want to accuse the Canes of quitting, but right before his 90-yard burst, Thompson had a 50-yard run called back by a holding penalty. The 90-yard run? That came on the same exact run to the same exact side on the very next play. 

> Since his punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State, Travis Benjamin has fielded six punts and returned them for a total of 14 yards. 

> Special teams ace Cory Nelms didn't play Saturday against Florida State. He's good. But do you mean to tell me he would have made up for Florida State starting a pair of drives at the UM 45 and 43 yard lines? Is Nelms' absence really the reason Greg Reid and the Seminoles (who came in with the worst kickoff return unit in the country statistically) had a field day? Seems to me like there are bigger problems than the absence of a former walk-on.

> Almost forgot -- how about some props for safety Vaughn Telemaque? His first career pick was about the only highlight for the Canes defense. But he got it. 

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