The Miami Hurricanes head into Saturday's game against 20th-ranked Georgia Tech with a 3-3 overall record and a 1-2 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
If you listen to WQAM play-by-play man Joe Zagacki and color analyst Don Bailey Jr. -- who always see the bright side of things -- the Canes are just a few plays away from being 6-0. That may be true. But by the same rationale, North Carolina and Bryn Renner were a mere 30 yards away from rallying from a 24-point deficit to beat UM last Saturday and drop the Canes to 2-4. And that's something that surely would have dropped the old Canes Satisfaction Meter on Greg Cote's blog way down.
In the big picture, this team still is what I said it was three weeks ago after Kansas State beat them: Mediocre. Al Golden is trying to squeeze more out of his team. He's trying to create a real sense of competition, questioning the level of play of some of his best players to get them to play even better (Golden said Lamar Miller has a long way to go as a running back; Brandon Washington isn't playing up to par at left tackle). But until proven otherwise, until UM can play four strong quarters of good Hurricanes football (not one very good half in Chapel Hill) I'm not ranking this team's overall grade better than a C.
But I am giving away fake awards. So, here are your Eye on The U Midseason Winners, Blinkers and Stinkers:
> MVP: Quarterback Jacory Harris. Yell all you want for Lamar Miller. But this category is Most Valuable Player not Best Player/He's Going To Be The First Cane To Get Drafted In The First Round since Kenny Phillips in 2008. No doubt Miller has played lights out. Before North Carolina held him to 29 yards rushing on 16 attempts, he'd run for at least 100 yards in five straight games. He still ranks 11th in the country in rushing with 117.6 yards a game (706 yards on 110 attempts). But Harris has been more valuable. UM might not have come back to beat Bethune-Cookman (OK, maybe that's a bit dramatic), held on to beat North Carolina or even been close at Virginia Tech or at home against Kansas State if Harris didn't all of a sudden find his mojo. Since halftime of the Kansas State loss, Jacory has gone 56 of 81 (69.1 completion percentage) for 900 yards, 10 touchdowns and 0 INTs. He now ranks as the eighth most efficient passer in the country with a QB rating of 170.77.
> MIA: Receiver LaRon Byrd. Not sure if he made Jacory Harris mad at him or not, but Byrd has gone from starter and second-leading receiver (41 catches, 440 yards) in 2010 to a Where Are They Now TV special (4 catches, 41 yards). Somehow I've got a feeling the 6-4, 220-pound senior will still end up on an NFL roster down the road and we'll be scratching our heads as to why he fell out of the picture.
> Most Valuable Coach: Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Jacory Harris couldn't have made this amazing turnaround without Fisch. How amazing? Well, a year ago, Harris ranked 88th in passer efficiency with a rating of 116.60. He threw 15 interceptions (two less than national co-leaders Boo Jackson of Ohio, Ryan Radcliffe of Central Michigan, Duke's Sean Renfree and Texas' Garrett Gilbert). And Harris would have taken home The Canes' Biggest Stinker Award had we had it last year. But behind the 35-year old Fisch, Harris has had a rebirth (0 picks in his last 14 quarters). UM's offense might not have as good a numbers in terms of yardage -- 56th rushing (159.5), 66th passing (224.83), 71st total offense (384.33) compared to a year ago -- 30th rushing offense (182.46 ypg), 43rd passing offense (238.85), 31st total offense (421.31). But where it matters is on the scoreboard and Fisch (48th scoring offense, 30.33 points per game) is outdoing what Mark Whipple did (67th scoring offense, 26.31 points per game). Fisch is also doing a better job getting the team's best playmakers the ball (running reverses, receiver screens, the Wildcat and a handful of trick plays).
> Razzie Recipient: Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. Every year Hollywood hands out their thumbs down awards for the worst things they've seen on film. D'Onofrio can send in a lot what we've seen from his unit this year. Not that he doesn't have plenty of legit, acceptable excuses. 28 players have lined up for UM's defense this year. Two of his best players -- Ray-Ray Armstrong and Olivier Vernon -- have missed multiple games because of NCAA mandated suspensions. The defensive tackle position has been riddled by injuries to Marcus Forston, Curtis Porter and veteran linebacker Ramon Buchanan was lost for the season against Bethune-Cookman. But who wants to hear excuses? The Canes rank 94th in rushing defense, 58th in pass defense, 81st in total defense and 48th in scoring defense. What's worse? They've blown the lead in the fourth quarter in all three losses. D'Onofrio deserves more time and a chance to have his entire unit in place before anyone tosses him to the sharks. But right now, his unit needs to figure out a way to slow the other team's option down (UM has been shredded by it). The challenge this week is monumental against Georgia Tech. And it wasn't made any easier by Micanor Regis' suspension Thursday.
> Questionable Call: Coach Al Golden. Virginia Tech. Opening drive. 4th and 1. Fake field goal run by Spencer Whipple. I rest my case.
> Play That Made Me Say Wow: This run by Lamar Miller against Virginia Tech. Click here. The pass by Phillip Dorsett to Miller two plays later comes in a close second.
> Sean Spence Award: Linebacker Sean Spence. Hard to give a defensive trophy to anyone else who has played defense for the Canes over the last three years. Spence leads the team with 55 tackles (14 more than the next guy behind him Jimmy Gaines), leads the team 8.5 tackles for loss, ranks second with 3 sacks and was named ACC Linebacker of the Week the past two weeks. Nationally, he ranks 11th in the country in tackles per game, 8th in tackles for loss. His late sack of Brynn Renner Saturday in Chapel Hill was the first big play anybody on Miami's defense has made in the fourth quarter all season. Sorry, but it's true.
> Mr. Big Surprise: Right tackle Jonathan Feliciano. There were a lot of strong candidates for this one. Receiver Allen Hurns appeared to have it locked up after two weeks (10 catches, 123 yards, 2 TDs) but he only has eight catches for 163 yards and one touchdown over his last four games. Touchdown Tommy Streeter has sparkled (18 catches, 332 yards, 5 TDs). Sophomore linebacker Jimmy Gaines is second on the team with 41 tackles. But nobody -- and I mean not even his position coach Art Kehoe -- saw Feliciano coming. The 6-5, 320-pound redshirt freshman has started five consecutive games and he's done so well of late Golden wasn't thinking of pushing Feliciano out of the starting lineup to make room for Seantrel Henderson, he was considering veteran Brandon Washington. Yes, Feliciano leads the team with four false starts. But nobody is a bigger surprise on the team. Just listen to Kehoe: "I'm real proud of him. He wasn't even in the picture at all. Now, he's putting guys on [their butts]. He had four pancackes and five metrorails last week. He's on guys, tearing after them and having fun. It makes it fun as a coach."
> The Fab Freshman: Defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Denzel Perryman may end up beating him out by the end of the season -- especially if he cracks the starting lineup and finishes in the top five in tackles (he's currently fifth with 27). But for now, Chick is the man. With Olivier Vernon out, he's been one of the few bright spots for UM on the defensive line. He's started three games, is tied with Micanor Regis for the most tackles on the defensive line with 25, has four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
> Special Teams Standout: Kicker Jake Wieclaw. This guy was supposedly unusable while Matt Bosher was here. All of a sudden, Al Golden has found a way to make Wieclaw look like Matt Bosher without the tackling ability. Wieclaw is a perfect 7 for 7 on field goals with a long of 43 yards and he could end up taking the punting duties over by Saturday with Dalton Botts struggling. Who knew? Joe Pannunzio apparently didn't either.
> Deserving of honorable mention -- Senior defensive back JoJo Nicolas. He's third on the team with 29 tackles and has played a valuable role in UM's secondary, shifting from corner to safety at the last moment because Ray-Ray Armstrong had to serve a four-game suspension. He also is playing with a heavy heart following the passing of his newborn son in fall camp. Senior receiver Travis Benjamin: Despite sitting out the season-opener due to an NCAA-mandated suspension, T3 leads the team with 24 catches for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns and has shown the type of attitude in practice Golden said he wanted to see. Senior defensive end Marcus Robinson: A year ago, UM had 37 sacks as a team. This year, the Canes have 17 through their first six games. Not bad when you consider Vernon has been out. So who has helped pick up the slack? Robinson. He leads the team with four sacks and two forced fumbles. He also has 22 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss.