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Thoughts on Virginia Tech, bowl picture & more

Time for the autopsy now that the hope for a record improvement from last year to this year is officially dead following Saturday's 31-17 loss to the Hokies...

... The easiest thing to do whenever a team underachieves is point the finger at the head coach. But did Randy Shannon miss tackles, draw holding penalties and drop the would-be tying touchdown pass in the fourth quarter? No, his players did. I thought Miami's game plan was very good. The Hurricanes stuck to the running game (262 yards on 42 attempts compared to 33 pass attempts) on. Defensively, they put pressure on Tyrod Taylor with a few surprise blitzes (Taylor was sacked five times). And when it came down to it, they took the right chances, putting the ball in the hands of their best players (they went for it on 4th and 1 and Damien Berry fumbled and let Matt Bosher try a field goal late in the half) to try and decide the game. The players simply let the coaches down. Six turnovers and too many missed tackles ultimately doomed the Hurricanes, even though they outgained the Hokies 464 to 369. 

... That being said at what point does Shannon start taking the blame from the administration? In his four years, UM is 4-9 against ranked opponents and has yet to win a bowl game or even get into the ACC Title game. Virginia Tech, which came over with UM from the Big East, will be making its fifth trip to the conference title game in seven years. Even Boston College has made it to the ACC Title twice.

No, Shannon wasn't handed the keys to a Ferrari like Nick Saban was at Alabama. But when you consider that Mario Cristobal is on the verge of winning the Sun Belt Conference with FIU after being handed an 0-12 program, the current state at UM is a little embarrassing to say the least.

And if you go simply on self-improvement: Where other than the play of the offensive line and running game do you point to in 2010? Receivers? Other than Leonard Hankerson, they've gone backwards. Defense? The pass defense is good, but the run defense has given up more than 500 yards in the last two games combined. Special teams? What's been special about that after the Ohio State kick return/punt return effort?

... Freshman Stephen Morris played spectacularly in the first half, completing 12 of his 17 attempts for 186 yards and a touchdown. His second half (3 of 16, 33 yards, 3 INTs) will most certainly put him back on he bench. Interestingly enough, the first words from Shannon after the game about Morris: "turnovers," "adequate," and "didn't do great." In Jacory Harris' 20-plus starts, I'm not sure Shannon was ever that hard on him. It was more like "receivers," "wrong routes," and "guys not helping him out." Just saying. 

... The most eye-opening quote in the postgame press conference from Shannon for me. "... we got a lot of little things we can look forward to ... " like "senior night." Don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time a Canes coach referred to Senior Night as one of the bigger highlights of the season. But that's where the Canes are today.

... We asked linebacker Colin McCarthy after the game what happened on Ryan Williams' 84-yard touchdown run, which put the Hokies up for good 24-17 in the fourth quarter. His response: "I couldn't tell you." Same for the 43-yard touchdown pass Danny Coale scored on to put Tech up 17-10. Here's what I saw on replay on the Williams' run: Sean Spence met the fullback head-on, Ramon Buchanan missed a diving tackle and McCarthy ran to the wrong hole. By the time he realized it, Williams was past him. Safety Ray Ray Armstrong, who was supposed to be the last line of defense, got picked (to use a basketball term) by the referee. On the Coale touchdown: Brandon Harris let Coale run free across the field where no safety (Armstrong) or cornerback (Demarcus Van Dyke) bothered to follow him. 

... The game actually couldn't have started better for the Canes. They scored on the opening drive then forced the Hokies to punt (Travis Benjamin fumbled), UM's defense got the ball back and Morris found Benjamin for a 43-yard gain down to the Hokies 21. Then, Orlando Franklin drew the first of two holding penalties in the game and the Hurricanes called time out after Leonard Hankerson converted a third and long. The time out actually gave officials more time to review Hankerson catch, overturn it, and then Damien Berry fumbled on fourth and 1. Talk about a momentum shifter.

... Lamar Miller ran for a career-high 163 yards on 15 carries. And he was cramping.

... Colin McCarthy had 14 tackles and the Canes defense had five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Still, somehow, it feels like feast or famine for that unit. 

... Here are some numbers that should grab your attention: 
- 18. That would be the number of turnovers UM's offense has had in its four losses.
- 12. That would be the grand total of turnovers in UM's seven wins
- 23. That would be the turnovers created in seven wins
- 3. That would be the number of turnovers UM's defense created in four losses.

... It's becoming more and more apparent the Canes could lose the only quarterback in their next signing class. Northwestern's Teddy Bridgewater declined to discuss recruiting when our own Andre Fernandez tried to talk about it when Bridgewater was selected as a U.S. Army-All American last week. When I spoke to Bridgewater's mother last week, she told me she very much wanted her son to stay close to home. But the Gators and LSU are making a hard push at Bridgewater. Some may disagree because they think he's a Jacory Harris clone, but losing Bridgewater wouldn't be good for Miami. There is no real backup plan and nearly every good quarterback is already committed. 

... The Canes were pretty much on path to head to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl with a win over the Hokies Saturday. At this point, all signs are pointing to the Sun Bowl with a win over South Florida next week. The Sun Bowl picks fourth among ACC schools. The Orange takes the ACC Champ, Chick-Fil-A picks next and the Champs Sports Bowl picks third. It's likely at this poin,t Florida State (8-3) and N.C. State (8-3) will both be picked ahead of Miami even though both could end up losing season finales to Florida and Maryland respectively.

Had USC (7-4) been bowl eligible this year, UM might have been pitted against the Trojans. Instead, it looks like after Oregon and Stanford are taken by better bowl games, any team from Arizona (7-3), Cal (5-6), Oregon State (5-5), Washington (4-6) and UCLA (4-6) could end up facing UM. Oregon State and Arizona would be the sexier matchups. But Oregon State still has to become bowl eligible by beating Stanford or Oregon to close the season. If Oregon and Stanford win out, they'll both play in the BCS (National title game and Rose Bowl) taking Arizona away because they would end up in the Holiday Bowl or Alamo Bowl.