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3 posts from November 15, 2013

November 15, 2013

Counting stars: Why Al Golden is still very much trying to rebuild the Miami Hurricanes

It's easy to argue second-ranked Florida State was a deeper and more talented team than the Hurricanes two weeks ago and ultimately that's as big a reason as any why the Seminoles turned a close game at haftime into a 41-14 rout.

And it clearly was. Go back and read the Counting Stars blog I did before the game it shows you the Seminoles were not only deeper but loaded with more overall blue-chip talent position-by-position.

What's been irking most fans about Miami's loss to Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) last weekend at home -- aside from the perceived poor coaching by defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio -- is that UM should be on par with the Hokies in terms of overall talent, if not loaded with more.

This Saturday afternoon's game at Duke (7-2, 3-2 ACC) should be a case where the Hurricanes are clearly the more talented and deeper team. But the truth is the talent gap isn't as wide as one might believe.

Duke's starting lineup for instance features six three-star prospects on offense (QB Anthony Boone, RB Josh Snead, WR Jamison Crowder, LT Takoby Cofield, LG Dave Harding, RG Laken Tomlinson) and six on defense (S Jeremy Cash, CB Ross Cockrell, DE Justin Foxx, DE Kenny Anunike, LB Kelby Brown, LB David Helton). There's depth too with another dozen 3-star prospects as backups.

Virginia Tech's offense featured four 4-star prospects in the starting lineup (QB Logan Thomas, TB Trey Edmunds, WR DJ Coles, RT Brent Benedict) and five other 3-star prospects. The defense featured 5-star recruit Kendall Fuller at outside linebacker, four-star safety Kyshoen Jarrett and three-star recruits everywhere else. The only players considered hidden gems: LB Jack Tyler (no stars) and defensive tackle Luther Maddy (2-stars). The Hokies were also loaded with experience (309 career starts on defense and 149 on offense).

The recruiting star-system obviously isn't a perfect science. Some 5-star kids bomb and some two-star kids turn into gems. But what the system does tell you at least pretty clearly is how heavily recruited each player is.

Five-star recruits are blue-chippers with offers from many, if not all of the country's top BCS programs. Four-star recruits aren't far behind, and three-star recruits generally have between five to 10 offers from decent Division I programs. Two-star recruits and below are players considered reaches and usually players with only one or two legit offers to play at the FBS level.

The Hurricanes have had higher-ranked recruiting classes (15th in 2009; 16th in 2010; 36th in 2011; 9th in 2012; 20th in 2013) than Virginia Tech (23rd in 2009; 23rd in 2010; 33rd in 2011; 22nd in 2012; 23rd in 2013) and Duke (51st in 2009; 71st in 2010; 76th in 2011; 52nd in 2012; 67th in 2013) over the last five years according to Rivals.com.

But that only explains a small part of the story.

Miami signed 118 players over the last five seasons and 42 that helped make those classes Top 25-worthy ran into trouble at one point or another, cutting their careers at UM short. That's nearly 36 percent.

Some never or haven't made it into school, some transferred, some were forced out because of discipline issues and some had injuries they never recovered from. All the while for the past three years, UM has had to also deal with an NCAA cloud over its head.

SHANNON'S FINAL TWO CLASSES

A look back at Randy Shannon's last two recruiting classes (2009 and 2010) and Al Golden's first three (2011, 2012, 2013) better illustrate the point below.

> Of the 48 players Randy Shannon signed in his final two recruiting classes, three left early for the draft (Lamar Miller, Brandon Washington, Olivier Vernon all 4-star recruits) and three used up their eligibility (3-star TE Chase Ford, 4-star CB Brandon McGee and 4-star RB Mike James).

> The more eye-opening number? A total of 21 signees from those two classes either transferred or ran into academic or discipline issues. Two were 5-star recruits (defensive backs Ray-Ray Armstrong and Latwan Anderson) and another six were 4-star recruits (defensive tackle Tavadis Glenn, linebacker Travis Williams, offensive lineman Jermaine Johnson, defensive end Dyron Dye, defensive back Jamal Reid and running back Storm Johnson).

> Of the 21 players Shannon recruited still at UM, one is a 5-star recruit (OL Seantrel Henderson), four are 4-star recruits (OL Malcolm Bunche, RB Eduardo Clements, OL Brandon Linder and DT Luther Robinson), a dozen are 3-star recruits (QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, OL Jon Feliciano, FB Maurice Hagens, C Shane McDermott, DE Shayon Green, S Kacy Rodgers, LB Tyrone Cornelius among the notables) and four are two-star recruits (TE Clive Walford, TE Asante Cleveland, LB Kelvin Cain, LB Jimmy Gaines).

> UM recruited 24 defensive players between 2009 and 2010. A total of 13 either transferred or ran into academic or discipline issues. Two are in the NFL (Brandon McGee, Olivier Vernon), six are still here serving as starters (Curtis Porter, Shayon Green, Tyrone Cornelius, Kacy Rodgers, Jimmy Gaines, AJ Highsmith) and three are career backups (Luther Robinson, David Perry, Kelvin Cain).

TRANSITION YEAR

Golden had six weeks after being named UM's coach in December 2010 to wrap up the Hurricanes 2011 signing class, which makes up UM's juniors and redshirt sophomore class. He reeled in 18 recruits including 13 on defense.

Only two were four-star prospects: defensive ends Anthony Chickillo (12.5 sacks in 30 career starts) and Jalen Grimble (transferred to Oregon State this fall).

Of the eight 3-star defensive recruits, one (Dallas Crawford) was switched to running back, five are no longer with the program (CB Thomas Finnie, LB Gionni Paul, DE Ricardo Williams, LB Eddie Johnson, LB Antonio Kinard) and only two start (LB Denzel Perryman, DE Olsen Pierre). The other recruits: defensive tackle Corey King, linebacker Thurston Armrbister and JUCO defensive tackle Darius Smith (graduated) were late additions and nowhere on the recruiting radar.

The other five recruits in the 2011 class were receivers Phillip Dorsett (3-star) and Rashawn Scott (3-star), running back Kevin Grooms (3-star, now at Marshall), JUCO punter Dalton Botts (now gone) and Matt Goudis (2-star, now 7 of 11 on FGs in 2013).

GOLDEN YEARS

Where Golden has finally begun to catchup is in his last two recruiting classes.

The Hurricanes signed 33 players in 2012 (at least three more than any other program in the country).

Of that group a dozen have made instant impacts either as starters or backups. Those are: five-star prospects RB Duke Johnson and CB Tracy Howard, four-star prospects LT Ereck Flowers, WR Malcolm Lewis, S Deon Bush, DE Jelani Hamilton, LB Raphael Kirby and DE Tyriq McCord and three 3-star additions WR Herb Waters, S Rayshawn Jenkins, CB Antonio Crawford and CB Ladarius Gunter.

Another 11 serve as reserves (all 3-star prospects): DE Dwayne Hoillett, WR D'Mauri Jones, QB Gray Crow, OL Danny Isidora, OL Taylor Gadbois, DE Dwayne Hoillett, DT Earl Moore, LB Jawand Blue, TE Jake O'Donnell, CB Nate Dortch and CB Larry Hope.

But another group of 10 either never got in, aren't here anymore or ended their football careers early. Among those: 4-star WR Angelo Jean-Louis (never got in) and WR Robert Lockhart (transfer) and 3-stars prospects WR Jontavious Carter (transfer), RB Danny Dillard (transfer), QB Preston Dewey (back), QB David Thompson (baseball only), CB Vernon Davis (West Virginia), DT Jacoby Briscoe, DT Dequan Ivery (Northeast Mississippi) and LB Josh Witt (concussions).

> The 2013 class featured 19 recruits including nine four-star recruits. But of that group, only 16 are physically at UM (ATH Ryheem Lockley, WR Derrick Griffin and LB Devante Bond aren't).

A group of seven are already in the two-deep: WR Stacy Coley (4-star), RB Gus Edwards (3-star), FB Walter Tucker (2-star), TE Beau Sandland (4-star), CB Corn Elder (4-star), DE Ufomba Kamalu (2-star), CB Artie Burns (4-star).

Another four play in reserve duty and on special teams: DE Quan Muhammad (4-star), DB Jamal Carter (4-star), LB Jermaine Grace (4-star) and OL Alex Gall (3-star).

And another five appear headed toward a redshirt: TE Standish Dobard (3-star), QB Kevin Olsen (4-star), CB Ray Lewis III (3-star), OL Sunny Odogwu (3-star) and OL Hunter Knighton (3-star).

TALENT EVALUATORS

Even if you believe UM's recent struggles have to do with poor coaching, player development or play-calling, you can't ignore the amount of attrition the Hurricanes have endured the last five years.

Just because UM has had decent recruiting class rankings the last five years doesn't mean the shelves are loaded with enough talent for this program to be "back."

I spoke to three different recruiting analysts Thursday who all said the same thing: Miami is not deep enough anywhere and the overall talent isn't good enough to be a legit contender this year. And it probably won't be for another year or two at least.

Why? In part because Golden was dealing with an NCAA mess and in trying to do so probably took some players early in the recruiting process that normally wouldn't be at UM if they were sanction-free. 

The 2014 class, however, appears to be the start to the road back. The defensive line haul is impressive. Brad Kaaya is considered by many to be UM's best quarterback recruit in some time. The offensive line is also very good.

What talent is here now is young and growing. The older talent? One could argue Golden and his staff tried to squeeze as much out of it as they could.

I spoke with Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net Wednesday. Who does he like among Miami's draft-eligible 2014 class of seniors and juniors?

"None of them really," he said. "I liked Morris a lot going into the season. He's shown some ability at times this year, but at other times he just makes passes and you scratch your head and say 'What the [heck] was that all about?' Too much inconsistency.

"Seantrel Henderson. He's the same thing to a much greater degree. Off the field issues. He just hasn't seemed to elevate his game.

"I do like Perryman a lot. The thing with him is going to be size, speed issues. I think Linder is going to be a late day steal. I think Linder in the right system can be a 10-year pro. I think he's going to be a guy drafted somewhere in the later rounds.

"I do like Jimmy Gaines. In the sense he's elevated his game, his head is in the right direction. Gaines you're thinking at best a late round pick or somebody who works his way onto the roster as a free agent. And then Allen Hurns, who is probably a last day guy. That's it."

Canes land commitment from 6-4, 203-pound, 3-star WR Tyre Brady of South Dade

Tyre Brady said he always used to tell his grandfather he was going to follow in the footsteps of Andre Johnson, his favorite player, and becoming a Hurricane.

Friday afternoon Brady made that dream a reality when he and his high school coach Nate Hudson called Hurricanes coaches as they were on their way to Duke to tell them he wanted to be their 29th commitment for the 2014 singing class.

UM receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll sent out his usual "Welcome To The U" alert around 12:30 p.m., shortly after Brady said Hurricanes coaches told him they were pumped to hear the news.

Rated a three-star recruit by both Rivals and 247Sports.com, Brady is a raw, but fast and big 6-4, 203-pound receiver. He said he was timed running the 40-yard dash at 4.44 seconds this summer when he participated in a football camp at Alabama. Brady said he chose UM over offers from Florida, Florida State, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

"It was a long time coming," Hudson said. "He has tremendous versatility, plays both ways for us. But this summer he really mastered the receiver position at camps. Not all high school guys come out well-polished and he has some things to work on. He has to improve adjusting to the football, route running can get a little sharper. Other than that, he hasn't disappointed us at all."

Brady, who has 24 catches for 412 yards and six touchdowns as well as two kick returns for touchdowns, is already a full qualifier according to Hudson and will enroll at UM in August. 

"They think I can come in and help right away," Brady said. "Me being the biggest receiver they'll have at 6-4, 203, that's what I want to do."

Talking Canes-Duke with Blue Devil Nation

Earlier this week I exchanged a few questions with Patrick Cacchio who covers Duke football for Blue Devil Nation. He asked me for my thoughts on the Canes and I asked him questions about Duke. 

HIS RESPONSES TO MY QUESTIONS...

1. It's amazing to see the turnaround Duke's program has made under David Cutcliffe. What has really been the key to the Blue Devils growing from being a bowl-eligible 6-6 team to now 7-2 and in the hunt for the Coastal Division crown?

"When Coach Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, he promised fans that the Blue Devils would feature a high-flying offense that put up points. The last two seasons, he's delivered on that promise, as Duke's spread offense averaged 31.5 points a year ago and have improved to 33.4 points per game so far this season. Surprisingly, though, it's the Blue Devil defense that has transformed this program from simply bowl-eligible to ACC contender. The strong play of the defense is even more surprising since Duke entered the season with four true freshmen on the two-deep in the secondary. In September, the Duke defense allowed 58 points to Pittsburgh in a bizarre shoot-out of a game. Since their first bye week, however, it's been a completely different story. Duke has allowed a total of 59 points in their last 5 games. Even after that shaky September, Duke boasts the nation's 32nd best scoring defense and the top red zone defense in the ACC. Though they have received opportunistic plays from the young secondary, the Blue Devil defense is led up front by 3 of the top 5 tacklers in the ACC - LB David Helton, LB Kelby Brown, and S Jeremy Cash. Special teams has contributed, as well, where the Blue Devils rank in the top 5 in the conference in punt returns, kick returns, punting, and kick coverage. While the offense has slumped, Duke has found a way to win with defense and special teams; it's that balance that makes this team a legitimate ACC Coastal Division threat."

2. What's the buzz been like in Durham this week for this game? Isn't that supposed to be basketball country? Or has this football team really won the town over this year?

"It's no secret that support for Duke Football has been lacking in recent years, but with a winning team and a chance to play for an ACC Championship, there's a distinct buzz on and around campus. Last week, as the Blue Devils hosted in-state rival NC State, Wallace Wade Stadium was packed with 32,000 fans mostly in Duke blue, helping to ensure the program's first winning season since 1994. Prior to the NC State game, however, attendance was down significantly this year for the Blue Devils. The University has invested a lot into the program, and during this offseason, significant upgrades to Wallace Wade Stadium to enhance the fan experience are expected. This season has seen nearby Wake Forest, UNC and NC State struggle, making the Blue Devils the best football story in the Triangle. While tickets are still available for Saturday's game, don't expect to see the half-empty stadium of years past."

3. I know the Canes have won nine in a row against Duke, but why do Miami fans need to be worried? Who is playing well for this Duke team right now?

"Miami is still the bigger and more talented team on paper, but the same could be said about the Blue Devils' last two opponents. Duke is playing with confidence as they take a five-game winning streak into Saturday's Coastal Division showdown. The Blue Devils have been carried by their strong play on defense and special teams. I expect to see LBs Kelby Brown and David Helton continue to wrack up tackles and slow the Hurricanes on the ground. Stephen Morris will have to make accurate throws against an opportunistic Duke secondary, who welcomes back All-ACC CB Ross Cockrell this week. That being said, I still think it's the Duke offense that will be most problematic for the Hurricanes. Anthony Boone has yet to lose a game as a starting quarterback, despite giving away 7 interceptions over his past two games. The Blue Devil offense is hungry for a breakout effort and will look to establish All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder early and often. Coach Cutcliffe has emphasized the need for Duke to do a better job of committing to the run, so I also expect to see a stronger effort from star sophomore Jela Duncan and company. Much like in recent years, I think this game ends up to be a high-scoring affair, and if recent history is any indicator for these two teams, a big special teams play or two may be the difference."

MY RESPONSES TO HIS QUESTIONS...

1. Miami enters Saturday's contest on a 2-game losing streak, having recently lost two of their top offensive weapons in WR Phillip Dorsett and RB Duke Johnson to season-ending injuries. Can this offense be as explosive without those two playmakers? What adjustments do you expect to see from QB Stephen Morris and the offensive staff?

"There's no question Miami's offense missed Duke Johnson last week against Virginia Tech. The Canes only ran for 28 yards on 24 attempts and could never really establish a running game, making them one dimensional. Stephen Morris actually played well against the Hokies. What hurt him were the drops by his receivers. They've actually had 11 combined drops in the last two weeks including a pair that would have gone for touchdowns. Allen Hurns has done a real nice job stepping up in Dorsett's absence. Freshman Stacy Coley has had his moments of brilliance. But there's no doubt this offense has missed Dorsett and Johnson and will miss them Saturday."

2. The Hurricanes' are holding opponents to just 23 points per game on the season, but are coming off a game where they allowed a struggling Virginia Tech team to put up 42 points and 549 yards of total offense. What is the source of their recent defensive struggles?

"I definitely feel like there was some carryover from the Florida State loss with Miami's defense. They can't afford to have any this week and know it. The biggest issues have been missed tackles and blown coverage assignments the last two weeks. Watch the film of the last six quarters and it's a horror show. The honest truth is this defense is average at best. What helped them mask their deficiencies for the first seven games of the season were turnovers and sacks. They also were much better on third down earlier this year. Over their last 3 games opponents are converting at a 60 percent clip against Miami. Over the first six games nobody did better than 40 percent against the Canes."

3. The Blue Devils have dropped 9 games in a row to the Hurricanes; entering this year's matchup, Duke and Miami both sit atop the ACC Coastal Division standings at 7-2. What do you expect to be the keys to victory on Saturday?

"Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers. It's quite obvious both of these teams live and die with them. Last week, the two fumbles by Miami on special teams completely changed the momentum of the game. If the Canes win the turnover battle they will win this game. If they don't, Duke is going to end that nine-game losing streak."