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Five signs the Canes are heading in the right direction

At 5-0 the Miami Hurricanes are enjoying some time off with their second bye week of the regular season. That should help quarterback Stephen Morris' bruised right ankle get healthy in time for next Thursday night's showdown in Chapel Hill with North Carolina (1-4). 

First-year offensive coordinator James Coley joined WQAM's Hurricane Hotline Monday night and shared his thoughts after Miami's 45-30 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Here are some numbers that show us Coley is doing a fine job filling the shoes of Jedd Fisch, who is now coaching the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.

SIGN 1: Even with a gimpy Morris under center and second-leading receiver Rashawn Scott out for the last four games, the Hurricanes are just as explosive, even a tad-bit more explosive on offense than they were a year ago. UM has hit on 17 pass plays of 25 yards or more. Last season they hit on 34 pass plays of 25 yards or more in 12 games.

Another encouraging sign from that is backup Ryan Williams is even getting involved. He's completed six of those long pass plays filling in for Morris, providing proof that while his arm may not be as strong as Morris' he can connect on the deep ball.

A year ago, Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford led the team with nine catches of 25 yards or more. This year, it's Allen Hurns who has become UM's deep threat with five catches of 25 yards or more (he had one in an injury-riddled 2012 campaign). Freshman Stacy Coley and Dorsett are next with three.

"We call it chunks and home runs," Coley explained Monday. "Their eyes light up when we install the chunks and home runs during the week. They want the deep ball. Stephen does a great job throwing it. He has such a strong arm. He sees it very well and you've got guys that are running off the ball. It's hard to notice because everybody watches the guy who catches the ball, but the other three guys are instrumental in that deal also. There's a tight end last week on the second play of the game when Phillip [Dorsett] caught that great catch on that post route [for the touchdown]. The tight end on the other side Asante [Cleveland] took the corner on the near side and created a stretch. Stacy Coley took the safety in the middle and it put Dorsett one-on-one with the corner. If you watch the film all those guys really bought into playing with low pads, bursting out of their stances and creating the stretch we want."

"The home runs, deep balls are all a credit to the guys who work hard at beating press and beating zones. We run a lot of routes in practice and we try to emphasize it. Sometimes guys look at us like we're kind of crazy, but they understand. It's been fun to call it."

According to ESPN, the Hurricanes have a combined QB Rating of 174.7 which is 8th best in the FBS. A year ago, UM ranked 45th (139.5 rating). All that by the way with eight combined turnovers in their last two games (three INTs, five fumbles lost).

SIGN 2: Yes, Duke Johnson has fumbled three times in the last two weeks. But he's becoming more than just a player the Hurricanes sprinkle in with the hope he hits the home run.

In the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over Georgia Tech, UM handed Duke the ball five straight times after the Yellow Jackets had pulled to within 24-23. Johnson ran for 6, 6, 1, 6 and 3 yards, converting a 3rd-and-3 on his last carry. Two plays later, Stephen Morris hit Coley down to the three-yard line to setup Dallas Crawford's game-sealing touchown run.

On UM's next drive after that, Coley gave Johnson five consecutive carries again. He ran for 4, 16, 5, 4 and then 19 yards, driving UM from its own 34 to the Georgia Tech 18. Crawford scored on the next play.

Why is this significant? Johnson had never received five consecutive carries in any game since arriving in Coral Gables. The most he had were three (vs. FAU in 2013, Duke, USF, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech in 2012). He also touched the ball a career-high six times on an 11-play scoring drive versus Savannah State. But never five carries in a row.

"I'm very proud of him," Coley said Monday. "He wants to be that guy and he became that guy last week where he wants the ball and they have to stop us and he's getting four, five yards a pop until he busted one. It's hard running. It's hard work especially when they're loading up the box and we're saying we're going to run the ball, you know where we're going and you have to come make this tackle. You watched it. We know he can hit the perimeter and run, but we saw him run it hard, take the contact, bounce off and get a couple more yards. Very proud."

By the way, the Hurricanes rank 10th among FBS schools with a 5.9-yard per carry average. A year ago they were averaging 4.7 yards a carry. Johnson by the way has three runs of 25 yards or more and two catches of 25 yards or more. A year ago, he had eight runs of 25 yards or more and two catches of 25 yards more.

SIGN 3: On the flip side of the coin, UM's defense has done a stellar job not only improving against the run, they've become adept at creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks and creating turnovers.

As I tweeted earlier today, the Hurricanes have produced 18 sacks, tied for fourth most among 123 FBS programs. Only Clemson, Virginia Tech and Fresno State have more (19). Who would have imagined that a year ago when UM had 13 all season.

At this pace, UM would finish with 43 sacks by season's end. That would rank 10th best all-time. The record is 52, set back in 1989.

SIGN 4: The added pressure on the quarterbacks has obviously helped the pass defense. UM has produced nine interceptions. That's tied for seventh most in the FBS. A year ago they had 11 all season.

The Hurricanes have created 16 turnovers overall and rank tied for 12th in turnover margin. They had 22 turnovers combined all of last year. 

SIGN 5: What's also being eliminated? The big plays. Mark D'Onofrio's defense isn't giving those up quite as often any more. UM had 22 explosive plays it allowed in its first five games last year (Boston College 4, Kansas State 4, Bethune-Cookman 4, Georgia Tech 4, N.C. State 6). 

> Georgia Tech had two plays over 25 yards Saturday -- a 31-yard TD run and a 27-yard pass. A year ago the Yellow Jackets had plays of 57, 37, 35 and 52 yards against UM.

> USF had two plays of 25 yards or more and one was a 36-yard completion against UM's second team unit. 

> The one long play UM gave up against Savannah State was a 75-yard touchdown run in which second and third team players weren't set at the snap. 

> Florida's longest run was 12 yards. The Gators did hit on 46- and 32-yard pass completions. But that was it.

> FAU's longest plays were a 19-yard scramble by its quarterback and an 18-yard completion.

So if you do the math, that's seven explosive plays in five games allowed by the defense and two of them came against the second and third team units.