Stacy Coley's sophomore season hasn't gone the way he expected it to. But at least he's putting a smile out there for the world to see.
One of the most electrifying freshmen in the country last season (he ranked second nationally with a 21.8-yard average the 67 times he touched the ball as a receiver or return man), it's almost startling that Coley hasn't found a way to break loose yet this season.
For one, he scored 10 touchdowns last season (seven receiving). But seven games into 2014 (he missed one game with an injury), Coley has yet to find the end zone.
As a receiver in 2013, he ranked third on the team in catches (33) and second in yardage (591) and made seven starts. This year, he's started one game (Louisville) and has 12 catches (seventh-most on the team) for 72 yards (eighth-most) and his longest catch has gone for 17 yards. Last year, Coley had eight catches go for more than 20 yards.
As a return man, he's had just two kickoff returns longer than 30 yards this season (he had five last year) and just one punt return longer than 20 yards (he had five last season).
"For me, I just feel like my season isn't going as planned," Coley said Tuesday. "But right now I'm just going to keep pressing forward, keep focusing and put God first."
The thing is Coley isn't getting a ton of chances either. His 18 receiving targets rank seventh on the team behind Braxton Berrios (38), Phillip Dorsett (35), Duke Johnson (32), Clive Walford (32), Malcolm Lewis (27) and Herb Waters (23). And that's with eight of those targets coming in his only start in the opener.
Last week at Virginia Tech, Coley ran a jet sweep on a wildcat formation and picked up two yards. He had one pass thrown his way -- a quick flare pass he turned into a 13-yard gain in the fourth quarter with Miami already ahead 30-0.
"Whenever I get another opportunity or just get the ball in my hands I have to try and make something happen," Coley said.
Is it frustrating? "No. Not at all," he said. "I'm just happy the team is winning. I'm a team guy. It's not about me. It's about the team. Whatever I can do to help the team I just do it."
If he can get the ball in his hands this week he'll have a pretty good chance to score against North Carolina's secondary. The Tar Heels ranks 119th in pass defense (302.1 yards per game) and have allowed 20 touchdown passes this season. UNC is pretty good on kickoff coverage (16.16-yard average). The Tar Heels ranks ninth nationally and have surrendered just one return longer than 30 yards this season.
THIS AND THAT
> UM coach Al Golden said after Wednesday's practice that he remains in regular contact with sophomore defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and fully expects Miami's top 2013 recruit to return to the team in January.
"He's 256 now," Golden said. "He's getting stronger and bigger. He's eight weeks away, but whose counting? We're just trying to offer support, making sure he's doing the little things he needs to do and we'll gladly welcome him back in January."
> Even though he churned out a career-high 249 yards on the ground in the win at Virginia Tech, Duke Johnson said it wasn't his best game as a Hurricane and that he found plenty of things on tape to improve on.
"I don't think I've played a perfect game yet," Johnson said. "There's always something I can do better in. Like on the play where Brad threw the ball to me and it was low, but I still dropped it. That's a negative because I touched the ball with both hands."
Asked if that was his one mistake against the Hokies Johnson smiled and said: "Probably running into the bench too. That's probably a minus. That's definitely a minus."
> Carter Hucks, the eight-year-old Make-A-Wish kid who was with the Hurricanes in their wins over Cincinnati and at Virginia Tech, entered the hospital Wednesday and is set to receive his bone marrow transplant on Nov. 6. Golden said there is constant communication between Carter and the team, especially Johnson, his favorite player.
> What did Gus Edwards do better during his breakout performance at Virginia Tech? "Run behind his pads," Johnson said. "One thing we tried to tell Gus was he's not a scat back. That's not what he does. He can do it at times, make a couple guys a miss. But for the most part when he's going, we want him to run straight, run behind his pads. We tell him 'a lot of guys don't want to tackle you as it is. A lot of guys move out the way. So run behind your pads and run strong and when you get to the next level just have fun, do what you do.'"
> Offensive coordinator James Coley said quarterback Brad Kaaya had a menu of plays to choose from against Virginia Tech depending on the coverage he saw.
"He had the ability to exit out of the pass game and get into the run, which he did the first several plays," Coley said. "If he had a bad count in the box, he could go into a pass. Man, he did that all night long."
Coley said he kept telling Kaaya he was doing a great job even though he stats (7-of-16, 92 yards, 1 TD) didn't necessarily show it.
"We're starting to see the leader of Brad Kaaya, not just the quarterback Brad Kaaya," Golden said Wednesday. "We're starting to see him comfortable in his own skin and grow as a leader. Those are the two things I would say, his decision making in terms of protecting the football, as it relates to protecting the ball, then leadership, feeling more comfortable as a leader, not just a quarterback."
> Even though North Carolina ranks 109th in run defense (210.63 yards per game and 20 TDs allowed) and has just 13 sacks on the season (91st nationally), both Coley and senior offensive lineman Jonathan Feliciano, who is moving over to left tackle this week, said the Tar Heels scheme could be problematic for UM.
"They do a really good job making things look messy for you," Coley said. "They give you funky looks and things aren't they way they're supposed to be with regard to how you see a defense until a ball snaps. So, they'll make some plays especially the guys in the perimeter because of those looks and then up front they're constantly moving and bringing some untraditional blitzes."
Said Feliciano: "People aren't going to give them much credit because they're not statistically ranked high but they do a lot of things that mess the o-line up and mess the whole offense up. They do a lot of weird stunts, weird blitzes. That caught us off guard last year too. It was a close game last year and I know that they're going to come down here and bring it again."
> What does Kaaya think of the Canes running the ball down opponents throats (88 rushes for 699 yards) instead of throwing it (41 passes for 378 yards) the last two weeks?
"That's fine. Keep feeding them," Kaaya said of his running backs. "Sooner or later, playaction is coming. If they're going to play coverage, deep coverage, then we're going to keep running the ball. "
Is that what teams have been doing more? "Yeah. Certain teams," he said. "Virginia Tech came out like that. First play of the game they're playing their safeties are 30 yards deep, cornerbacks 15 yards deep. All week long we saw them load the box and play man defense and then first play they completely change all that. Maybe that's what he saw or was baiting us to throw. I don't know. It worked for us."
Said James Coley: "Week in and week out probably for the last five weeks we've gone into the first series and really within the third or fourth play, said 'Hey they're not playing what they thought they were going to play. This is different.' Part of it is because of Brad. Part of it early is because of Duke and Dorsett and Stacy with his threat he gave last year with all the screen stuff. So you get a lot of funky looks and Clive's made a presence in the middle of the field. Teams have really adapted to what they've done for us. So we've had to adjust within drives and within games some stuff we probably didn't see in practice. I'm sure it will be the same way this week."
> Coley said freshman quarterback Malik Rosier has been doing a great job running Miami's scout team this season. Rosier is one of 16 players UM plans to redshirt.
"We don't get a lot of work with him except for a few times, but he's very sharp," Coley said. "If I pulled him in to talk about the game plan for North Carolina he would know all the checks. "He may not have all the reps that Brad has, but he's definitely soaking up stuff in meetings and really it made you feel good as a coach somebody cares as much as he does to not only execute his role in the scout team, but know what's going on."
> Like Golden said last week, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio mentioned linebacker Raphael Kirby as the player who has made the biggest strides since the first week of the season.