Enjoy this one. Savor it. Al Golden definitely is and told his team to do the same.
His young Hurricanes battled back from a pair of quick upper cuts Saturday afternoon at Boston College and survived 542 yards of offense from a team that finished last in the ACC last year in that department and still won 41-32.
Not bad, especially when you consider seven Canes -- LB Thurston Armbrister, S Kacy Rodgers, CB Thomas Finnie, DL Olsen Pierre, RB Duke Johnson, OT Ereck Flowers and C Shane McDermott -- were all making their first career starts and several others were getting their first real taste of action. Like youth movements? The Canes put eight players on the field who weren't here last year -- including seven true freshmen (Deon Bush, Tracy Howard, Tyriq McCord, Malcolm Lewis, JaWand Blue, Flowers and Johnson).
Saturday was fun if you bleed orange and green. But the truth is, Golden knows much tougher challenges lie ahead. As talented as those freshmen are UM is going to have to solve major issues on defense moving forward if the good times are going to keep rolling.
Now, to the first round of grades/observations for the Canes:
> Play/Player of the Game: True freshman Duke Johnson had three huge plays -- including touchdown runs of 56 and 54 yards -- to spring UM to life and rally them to victory. But the biggest play in my opinion was the two yards he picked up on 4th and 1 and UM down 14-0 left in the 1st quarter. For all the talk about Duke's lack of size, Johnson barreled past three defenders to get the first down. BC was flagged an additional 10 yards for a facemask on the play. If Johnson doesn't stick his nose in there, the flag might not happen. Eduardo Clements scored three plays later to make it 14-7.
> Offense: A. Hard to find much wrong with what the offense did other than the three big early drops that lead to UM falling behind 14-0 (and a couple of flags on the offensive line that hurt). Allen Hurns, Kendal Thompkins and Rashawn Scott all looked bad early, but Hurns recovered nicely and had a career day at receiver with eight catches for 81 yards. He scored big points with me when he raced over the middle of the field on 3rd and 16 and snagged a 21-yard pass from Stephen Morris on the drive that eventually put UM ahead for good when they were down 23-21. If Hurns doesn't make that catch, maybe game sways a different way. Stephen Morris, meanwhile, was truly fantastic. He scrambled for a couple of big first downs and put several tough balls on the money en route to a 28 of 45 for 207 yards, 1-INT, 1 TD performance. The pick wasn't his fault either. It was Scott's. The offensive line, meanwhile, was stellar. UM ran for 208 yards on the ground and gave Morris plenty of time when he needed it. Morris was sacked just once.
> Defense: D. No pass rush. No pass defense. And not a lot of good other than three turnovers, Denzel Perryman's 41-yard interception return for a touchdown and a couple stops on 3rd-and-1. We can debate about UM's coverage woes. BC quarterback Chris Rettig threw for 441 yards and two touchdowns. But when nobody breathes on you and you have time to order pizza, bake a cake and plan the rest of your Saturday night before making a pass, how else is the pass defense you are going against supposed to look? UM obviously didn't produce a single sack and there were times when receivers (Alex Amidon 10 catches, 149 yards) had nobody around them. But I believe this all stemmed from the success BC had running the football early for big chunks. The Eagles only finished with 101 yards on 34 attempts (3.0 average), but they ran play action off their early success and kept UM's secondary off balance. Meanwhile, Rettig exposed horrendous coverage by the Canes' linebackers and safeties who always seemed out of position when the quarterback rolled out. Whatever defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio planned in terms of creating a pass rush failed miserably. He's got to devise something new. It's going to obviously take time. But Saturday was a day to forget.
> Special teams: A. Now you know why punter Dalton Botts is so respected. He took a bad snap right before halftime that could have turned out badly and got it off. He finished with five punts for 40.6 yards including two inside the 20. Miami's return team of Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, meanwhile, put a good enough scare into BC after the first half the Eagles basically refused to kick it to them anymore. The Eagles, meanwhile, never took over possession outside of their 30-yard line following a kickoff or punt. That's good coverage.
- WR Allen Hurns. Emerged as the go-to-guy when times were tough at receiver.
- QB Stephen Morris. Coaches were right. He is a lot better. Tremendous arm. Very few mistakes.
- RT Ereck Flowers. Didn't hear his name for anything bad during the broadcast once. Seantrel Henderson is going to have trouble getting his job back.
- WR Davon Johnson. Came in with six career catches. Had a huge third down catch down the sideline to pick up a first down. That wins you more chances.
- S Vaughn Telemaque. He was already getting bushed by true freshman Deon Bush for playing time. He was out of position too often.
- RB Mike James. He finished with 54 yards on 14 carries (3.9 a carry) and had a couple nice runs. But the Duke arrived Saturday. It's going to be hard for James to take on the lead role with him around.
- WR Kendal Thompkins. He started after shining in practice all camp. But he dropped at least two balls in the game and finished without a catch. Just disappointing.
- Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. He's a standup guy, a great quote and a good coach. But his defense can't go on like this.