CORAL GABLES -- Fans can point to the' defensive woes as the reason UM has lost three of its first five games this season. But ask Canes offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch why UM lost heartbreakers at Maryland and Virginia Tech and at home against Kansas State and he points the finger at himself and his offense.
"Our expectation is to score. So our job is to do everything we can to move the football every time we touch it. Whether or not the head coach says that or not, when you interview for the job you tell him you're going to go score. That's kind of our philosophy. We're disappointed when we don't score. We're disappointed when we have a three and out. We feel like we leave points out there everyday. We're going to continue to just put the pressure on our players, put the pressure on our coaches and try to perform at the highest level we can in order to be a great offense."
The Hurricanes, who have failed to protect fourth quarter leads in all three of their losses this season and who rank among the nation's worst defenses (97th vs. run, 82nd in total defense, 50th in scoring defense), are averaging 30.4 points per game on offense (up nearly four points from a year ago). But Fisch has plenty of reasons to be frustrated with his unit, particularly late game execution and penalties.
In Saturday's 38-35 loss at Virginia Tech, UM got the ball back at its own 30 with 47 seconds left and all three of its time outs. UM ran seven plays and gained just 15 yards.
"Guys were open," Fisch said. "We had a first down play we converted on third down [a Mike James third down run] that had an opportunity to go for 20, 30 yards. Unfortunately, they made an arm tackle to get us down at the 45-yard line. We took a time out and had two time outs left.
"When we lined up on the next play we had a chance for a touchdown pass and they took a time out because they knew their coverage was off. We came back, threw a incompletion and then came back with an open play and overthrew Tommy Streeter on a seam route. Then, [Harris] got caught scrambling around a little bit and when you scramble around a little bit you lose clock. So on the last play we only had five seconds left so we had to throw it deep.
"Our plan really was to take two vertical shots. The first one of the series and then the one that we had Tommy on the seam route. Unfortunately we just overthrew him. We would have been on the 25 yard line if we hit that. It happens. You're not going to hit every pass and you're not going to hit every run. We were disappointed in the way that ended. We had some plays in the two minute drive we could have executed."
UM, who finished 117th in penalties last season (107 for 893 yards), has been flagged 34 times for 251 yards this season (tied for 83rd in NCAA out of 120 schools). Of those 34 penalties, 23 have come on offense and cost the Canes 155 yards. 12 have been false starts totaling 70 yards. Fisch said he can live with those when they come in noisy stadiums like Lane Stadium. But he said the Canes have to get their act together when the game is on the line and cites 4th quarter penalties against Maryland (an illegal formation that wiped out a Lamar Miller run to the Terps 3) and early penalties against Kansas State (false starts that stalled UM drives early against the Wildcats) as backbreakers.
"We honestly believe we hurt ourselves more than other people hurt us," Fisch said. "We have a third and 1 and if you don't false start against Kansas State you should be able to pick it up. Instead, we kick the field goal. Same game if you have a fourth down and you convert it and have a false start you score and then the game doesn't come down to the last play. That's the same thing at Maryland. We run the ball, have a first and goal at the 3-yard line and we line up wrong. Then we had some substitution problems during the last two minutes. All those things need to be cleaned up."
> Fisch agrees with UM coach Al Golden in that he thinks Lamar Miller, who currently ranks third in the nation in rushing, still has a long way to go in terms of development.
"I think he's a really gifted, unfinished product," Fisch said. "I think there's a lot of stuff he can continue to work on. I'd like to see him become a better pass protector. I'd like to see him become a better route runner, be more used in the passing game and with that I love how he runs. I'd like for him to be able to continue to be our workhorse. I challenge him all the time."
"At the top of my game plan every week it says 'Lamar till he can't.' I don't want him to tap out. I want to ride him. We're going to get him to be that guy for us. He's going to continue to develop and get stronger. But right now, he's a special player. We're going to continue to use him every way we can."
> Fisch said quarterback Jacory Harris' improvement over his last 10 quarters is no surprise to him. "I kind of think he's played really well the whole time," Fisch said. "There are a couple throws in there -- the Kansas State interception -- I wasn't happy with. But I thought he played well in the first half against Kansas State and I thought he played well against Ohio State.
"I think everyone just points to the fact he hasn't thrown a pick in the last 10 quarters and think what's happened. But I think he's managed the game very well. I think he's handled himself very well as a leader and the team has responded well to him. There is a lot of room for improvement. There's a lot of room for him to grow. He's not where we want him to be. We want him to be a much better player. We're going to keep working for him to become a better player. And I believe he will be."