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Canes offense has to get back to hitting on explosive pass plays

Just before UM lined up and faced Georgia Tech last month, coach Al Golden told reporters quarterback Stephen Morris needed to do a better job connecting with his receivers down field. 

It might be time for Golden to send another one of those notes down the hall to Jedd Fisch's office. 

Davon and Dorsett

Morris' longest completion since his seven-touchdown, 1,002-yard two-game stretch that featured nine pass plays of 40 yards or more? A 32-yard garbage time completion to Davon Johnson late in the fourth quarter versus Florida State, which preceded Morris' only TD pass in his last three games (an eight-yarder to Rashawn Scott). 

The other big pass plays? A 28-yard dump and run by tight end Clive Walford versus Notre Dame; a 26-yard dump and run by Duke Johnson in the same game; and a 24-yard dump and run by Mike James versus FSU.

Notice a trend? Fisch has.

"Every passing offense wants to be able to go deep. If you have to dink and dunk and dink and dunk it forces you to have to make every play perfectly," Fisch said. "You can't have any setbacks. You can't have a penalty. You can't have a drop. You can't have a misread. You can't have a bad ball. When you're trying to have more of an explosive play offense and take some vertical shots you can miss the first one, hit the next one and no one knows you missed the last one. That's kind of where we're at."

Of course, the Canes haven't exactly faced a bunch of defensive patsies lately (FSU went into this week's game ranked 2nd in total defense; Notre Dame was 6th and North Carolina ranked 36th). But regardless of how tough UM's last three opponents have been, Fisch said his offense has to do better (UM produced 37 combined points in those losses). 

After the seven drop fiasco against the Irish, Fisch said North Carolina made it a point to take away Miami's deep passing game by playing a soft two deep zone. The Hurricanes dinked and dunked their way to 235 yards passing and 180 yards on the ground. But the offense produced just 14 points. 

Against FSU, Fisch said, UM's offense had a handful of chances to hit on deep balls against one-on-one coverage early and simply missed those opportunities. FSU, meanwhile, completely devoured UM's run game. After taking account of four sacks for 33 yards lost, UM had just 29 yards rushing on 21 attempts.

"The thing with us is we've got to be more consistent in our intermediate throws," Fisch said. "I don't think we're as consistent there as I'd like for us to be. We got to find a way to get better there.

"We got to make sure everybody does their job. We got to make sure if your job is to run a route, run the route, not some other route. Our guys are really close to doing something really special. We just got to make sure we close the deal. If you're open, we've got to catch it."

According to ESPN, UM went into last week's game against the Seminoles with 23 drops -- the second most by any school from a BCS automatic qualifying conference this season. 

"When you drop balls it's always more than what you expect," receivers coach George McDonald said Saturday. "I think our drops have come at bad times. You never want to drop it, but you never want to drop a touchdown pass or drop a pass on third down. That's what's critical.

"We watch [the drops] on film. What I tell them is it's a personal thing. You're a writer. When you turn your story in, it's personal you don't have any typos. It might happen. But you take personal pride in it. It's the same thing I try to teach them as receivers. If the quarterback throws you the ball, it's a personal thing. You've got to catch it. No matter where the ball is you catch it. If you drop one, OK, that happens. But you have to take personal pride in that."

Receiver Phillip Dorsett, who dropped four passes against the Irish, has been non-existant in UM's passing game since putting up back-to-back huge games against N.C. State and Georgia Tech. He's made just six catches for 54 yards with a long of 23 yards against the Tar Heels. 

UM's leading receivers over the last three games has been Scott (15 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD), Mike James (14 catches, 112 yards, 0 TDs), Davon Johnson (8 catches, 148 yards, 0 TDs) and Allen Hurns (7 catches, 72 yards, 0 TDs).

Fisch, for his part, isn't pointing the finger for UM's offensive struggles at any one particular group. But he did say that even if Morris' numbers over his last three games (55-104, 52.8 pct, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 579 yards) don't look as good as his first five games this season (124-207, 59.9 pct, 9 TDs, 4 INTs, 1,635 yards), Fisch believes his starting quarterback "is improving every week."

"Whether the stats show it or not, I can just tell you he's getting better every week," Fisch said. "Over the course of these next 16 regular season games, I can't wait to see him get better every week. He's going to be a special player."

Virginia Tech (4-4) has hardly been the defensive juggernaut UM is used to seeing. The Hokies rank 71st in run defense (167 yards per game) and have given up quite a few big pass plays. But Fisch said Bud Foster's defense is still very good on third down (35.2 percent, 35th nationally).

The Hokies rank third in the ACC in pass defense. UM ranks third in the ACC in pass offense. 

"Our biggest focus is just to stay on the field," Morris said. "We've got to get a drive going. We got to make sure we're moving the chains and the deep ball will present itself."