How do you measure improvement and regression on a football field?
Is it simply the bottomline? Wins and Losses.
Or, do you delve a little deeper and look at the statistics? And, what do all those numbers tell us? Are they a fair representation? Or, do you look at those numbers and take other factors into account as well? Things like injuries and suspensions, lack of experience with a new coach or a new system. What about the mental side? Attitude. Effort. Resiliency. How do those issues factor in measuring success and failure?
I guess my point is there are a lot of different ways you can look at this Hurricanes season and pick it apart. You can make the argument that this team improved. Or, you can look at it in another light and argue the bottomline results -- six losses -- are the same as last year. Before we get to my thoughts, here is the Tale of The Tape that will allow you to compare the 2011 Canes to the 2010 Canes.
Offense 2011 2010
Points for 318 (26.5) 342 (26.3)
First downs 220 288
Total yards 377.8 421.3
Rushing yards 145.7 182.5
Rushing TDs 18 19
Fumbles-lost 17-8 20-9
Passing yards 232.1 238.8
Comp. pct. 65.5 54.2
Passing TDs 21 21
INTs thrown 11 27
Sacks allowed 19-128 16-120
Time of poss. 29:24 28:06
3rd down pct. 43% 41%
Red-Zone TDs 27-41 (66%) 29-51 (57%)
Defense 2011 2010
Points against 241 (20.1) 269 (20.7)
First downs 236 219
Total yards 359.9 323.3
Rushing yards 161.9 172.8
Rushing TDs 8 20
Fumbles-recov. 22-9 20-12
Passing yards 198.0 150.5
Comp. pct. 66.3 49.7
Passing TDs 16 9
INTs made 6 16
Sacks made 24-127 37-241
Time of poss. 30:36 31:48
3rd down pct. 41% 35%
Red-Zone TDs 17-43 (40%) 19-50 (38%)
Special teams 2011 2010
FGs 11-14 13-17
FGs allowed 15-20 20-25
Onside kicks rec. 0-1 1-1
Onside kicks all. 1-2 1-1
Kick returns 21.3 19.7
Kick return def. 18.6 21.7
Punt returns 11.0 4.5
Punt return def. 10.9 8.2
Net punt avg. 37.4 38.8
Opp. net punt 36.0 38.3
Misc. stats 2011 2010
Penalties-yards 69-508 107-893
10-game starters 12 16
- Offense 6 6
- Defense 6 10
> The overriding sentiment after Friday night's 24-17 loss from players and coach Al Golden was that despite enduring the same number of losses this season this UM team improved for a variety of reasons.
At the top of the list: these Canes never quit or laid down.
Golden pointed out after last week's 6-3 win over South Florida how he showed his team a tape of 15 plays he referred to as difference makers between an 11-0 season and 6-5 season. He also pointed out how the team didn't lose by more than eight points in any of its games. When you add up the total margin of defeat (33 points) it is less than the total from a year ago (78 points). Four of the Canes' losses in 2010 were by 12 points or more.
But is that something to really be proud of? Is this what Canes football has come to: we didn't quit this time; we were competitive from start to finish? It's a step in the right direction obviously, but even Golden knows that isn't enough.
"There's too many variances or oscillations right now in our overall game for me to be pleased with it," Golden said after Friday's loss to a 4-8 Boston College team.
"I think we need to be physically tougher. We need to be mentally tougher. I think our competitiveness has come a long way. Obviously our penalties are down, our turnover ratio has improved. But not to the point where you can win, week in and week out. We knew what was coming in here [in Boston College]. And we're not consistent enough. We need a good offseason program, get re-situated and get a class in here as well."
The second best part about Friday -- obviously other than the fact you now know for sure Golden won't be going anywhere next season -- is that the coach obviously sees the deficiencies himself. He's not lying to himself or to anyone for that matter when it comes to the shortcomings of this team.
There is a lot more tinkering that needs to be done, particularly when it comes to strength and execution up front on the offensive and defensive lines.
For all the love and passion Art Kehoe brings to this program, it was painfully obvious his unit -- which was supposed to be the deepest and most talented on the team -- didn't perform up to expectations. Sure, not having an injured Seantrel Henderson around for most of the season didn't help. And Kehoe did get a lot more out of redshirt freshman Jonathan Feliciano (8 starts) than anybody expected. But UM not only gave up three more sacks than it did a year ago in one fewer game, they also struggled mightily in short yardage situations.
Is that all Kehoe's fault? Not necessarily. Golden, while pleased with the improved conditioning and stamina of his team, has now mentioned it two press conferences in a row that the team isn't strong enough. Maybe that's a reason for strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey -- or somebody else on staff to be worried. We don't know. But it says something Golden isn't giving his team any time off and expects them to be in the weight room Monday.
> Offensively, coordinator Jedd Fisch deserves a lot of credit for the improvement of Jacory Harris. Even with his four interception day against BC Friday, UM still finished much improved when it comes to throwing interceptions (11) than it did a year ago (27). But before you go giving Fisch all kinds of praise, realize his offense ran for fewer yards and threw for fewer yards than Mark Whipple's last year and accomplished roughly the same when it came to scoring and third down conversions. If there was a real improvement, it was the red zone where UM scored TDs 66 percent of the time compared to 57 a year ago. The issue really was that the offense just didn't get in the red zone enough was wildly inconsistent UM scored 42 points combined over its final 3 games. They had 49 against Duke. Also know this: UM had the same number of consistent, every game starters on offense (10-plus games) as it did last year (6).
> Defensively, there is little question UM regressed in most areas. They gave up more yards, touchdowns through the air, produced 13 fewer turnovers and sacks than it did in 2010, gave up a whopping 66.3 completion percentage (opponents completed 49.7 percent of their pass in 2010), was worse in third down situations (41% compared to 35% in 2010) and seemed to give up a lot more big plays. But for all the struggles and inconsistency it felt like the unit improved late in the year as freshmen Denzel Perryman and Anthony Chickillo became bigger and bigger contributors. Perryman had 14 tackles Friday, giving him 69 on the season (2nd most behind senior Sean Spence). Chickillo finished the year with 38 tackles (7th most) and tied for the team lead in sacks (5). While both of those freshmen emerged, though, safeties Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque failed to meet lofty expectations. Junior cornerback Brandon McGee (38 tackles, 1 INTs) didn't exactly take the next step either.
> If there is one area I felt the team really improved it was special teams. Despite allowing a back-breaking punt return for a touchdown at Florida State, the unit improved in nearly all phases -- even with the loss of punter/kicker Matt Bosher. And it seems the team will be better off now with freshman Phillip Dorsett as it's primary return man moving forward instead of the inconsistent Travis Benjamin.
> My bottomline: this football team is still a long way away from being what it once was, but the Canes are better off today under Golden than they ever were under Shannon. The biggest responsibility of a head coach is hiring the right staff to move the program forward and develop the talent you have. Shannon never did that. He switched defensive coordinators three times and offensive coordinators twice. Position coaches came and left.
It's up to Golden now to keep the coaches he feels can move this program forward and recruit players to fit those systems. When Jacory Harris and the No. 1 recruiting class got here in 2008, I was convinced things were going to change at Miami. There seemed to be too much talent for the Canes not to. But unless you have the right coordinators, assistants and systems in place along with the right kind of depth at certain positions you are going to continue to be what this program has been: mediocre. It's up to Golden now to get it right. Hopefully, it won't take the eight years left on his contract to get there. I don't think it will.
But if Friday's loss to BC and the 2011 season is any indication, this team still has a long way to go. They made improvements when it came to committing fewer penalties, throwing fewer interceptions and getting a few unexpected players to shine. Now, it's about weeding out the rest of the garbage and moving forward. It fees like Golden got Step 1 right. Now, it's getting Step 2 down. And the reality is, this is the harder part.