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Miami Preview

Offense

It’s getting harder and harder to believe that Miami’s offense will ever be “back” to the way it was in the early part of the decade, when stars like McGahee, Gore, Winslow, and Johnson led the Canes to lots of yards, lots of big plays and lots of wins, too.

In 2008, the Canes finished 89th in the nation in total offense at just 326 yards per game. For the fourth straight year, the Canes averaged less than 4 yards per carry on the ground, and for the fifth straight year, they had no 1,000 yard rusher. But those aren’t the only Miami offensive problems.

Over the last three years, Miami QBs have thrown 51 TDs and 55 INTs. They’ve seen highly rated high school signal callers Kyle Wright (5 star), Kirby Freeman (4 star), and Robert Marve (4 star) blow through Coral Gables like trailers in a hurricane, and with just about as much success.

For the fourth year in the last five, Miami’s yards per reception decreased in 2008. In 2004, an explosive Canes offense averaged 14 yards per reception; by 2008, that number had dropped to a paltry 10.8 yards per reception.

Rivals recruiting rankings are guesstimations at best—but they can still be valuable to us as general tools of talent measurement. By those tokens, Miami has reeled in a ton of talent at wide receiver in the last 4-5 years. But almost all of these receivers have actually decreased their production as their careers progressed (Lance Leggett and Sam Shields for example). Poor quarterback play, constant turnover in the coaching ranks, and a poor running game are all contributors, but if Miami is going to turn things around, the receivers need to channel their inner Santana Moss/Reggie Wayne and start making big plays again.

The good news (or maybe the bad news) for Miami fans is that there’s a new offensive coordinator in town —again—in Mark Whipple, and there’s a chance he can help reverse some of these nasty, negative offensive trends.

Whipple won a FCS national title in 1998 with UMass. Since then, he has worked as a QB coach in Pittsburgh (where he was fired after 3 years by Mike Tomlin) and an “offensive assistant” in Philadelphia. Curiously, he has no experience in FBS college football; his previous college stints were at Brown, New Hampshire, and UMass.

It’s hard to say what his offensive style will be—although we do know his offenses throw it a lot (and that we won’t see much shotgun). If the Eagles offense is any indication, Graig Cooper, in my opinion the most dangerous Hurricane’s offensive player, should get lots of catches in Whipple’s offense and that could be a huge boost.

This offense won’t be vintage Hurricane Offense, but don’t expect an offensive Tropical Depression either. I think this will be one of the nation’s 60th to 75th best offensive teams, depending on how much the o-line improves and the receivers step up. But the beauty of college football—and especially with this Miami offense—is that we just don’t know til the fall.

QB- Jacory Harris (61%, 1195 yards 12 TD 7 INT; 126 passer rating; 101 rush yards, 2 TD)

Harris—and Miami fans—should be thrilled that the two QB disaster of 2008 is finally over. I never really saw anything special out of Robert Marve, and his absence in 2009 will give Harris some offensive continuity—finally. He had some big games last year (4 TD passes vs. Duke, game winning TD vs. Virginia) and will almost certainly be the best Canes QB since Brock Berlin.

Relive Harris’ epic 4th quarter drive @ Virginia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XANp4c5XiYo

RB- Graig Cooper (841 rushing, 4.9 ypc, 4 TD; 113 yards, TD receiving)

Cooper is the most explosive Miami RB, and the numbers show it. He averages over 5 yards per carry for his career, and he almost got to the 1,000 yard mark in 2008. In the first possession of the Miami-UNC game last fall, Cooper looked terrifyingly good. If Javarris James doesn’t get too many senior sympathy carries, Cooper will easily get to 1,000 yards in 2009.

Texas A&M gets a taste of the Cooper Shake (at about the 1:20 mark of the video). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5BaZFpMJLM

RB- Javarris James (286 rushing, 4.2 ypc, 4 TD; 118 yards receiving)

After suffering multiple injuries (hip pointer, ankle, and neck), Javarris James just can’t run like he used to. In 2008, excluding the FCS Charleston Southern game, he averaged a shade under 4 yards per carry. His longest run of the SEASON was 13 yards. In 2007, his longest was only 23 yards. In 402 career carries, he’s had only EIGHT 20 yard rushing plays. Yes, he’s related to Edjerrin James, but no, he shouldn’t take carries from Cooper or Chambers.

WR- Aldarius Johnson (332 yards, 3 TD, 10.9 ypc)

Like most of the other Miami WRs, Johnson lacked consistency last fall. He showed his talent in an 84 yard, TD performance vs. Duke, but he also had 7 games with 2 or fewer catches. I expect Johnson to become a more consistent possession receiver in 2009.

WR- Travis Benjamin (293 yards, 3 TD, 16 ypc)

Benjamin reminds some people of Santana Moss—he’s only 160 pounds, but he’s lightning quick and extremely dangerous in the return game. Over a four game stretch (vs. FSU, UCF, Duke and Wake) he averaged 55.5 yards per game and scored 3 touchdowns. After that, he was slowed by injuries and his production dropped. Expect a breakout season of 500 or more yards in 2009.

Miami’s offense was all about the Benjamin vs. FSU. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgGhbAXIaXY

WR- Thearon Collier (324 yards, 2 TD, 12.5 ypc)

Collier is another Santana Moss look-a-like and play-a-like.

*Also watch out for 6’5 Redshirt Freshman Tommy Streeter, a former four star WR recruit who could become the Canes’ best deep threat

TE- Dedrick Epps- (304 yards, 2 TD—currently out with an ACL tear)

TE- Richard Gordon (3 catches for 24 yards)

I don’t know much about Gordon. He will be a senior, but he has just 32 career receiving yards. Tight end will be a weakness for Miami if Epps does not return.

Offensive Line

Jason Fox (T), Matt Pipho (T), Orlando Franklin (G), Joel Figueroa (G), AJ Trump (C)

When Miami fell from dominance in the early-mid part of the decade, it was a mystery to fans. How could a team once so intimidating become so weak? Offensive line play might have been the downfall. This unit returns 3 starters, and absolutely must improve for Miami to compete for the Coastal Division title.

Defensive Preview

Miami’s defense finished 28th in the nation in 2008, allowing just 317 yards per game.  In the same season, the defense played championship caliber football—and weak, uninspired football. Which Hurricane defense shows up in 2009 will go a long way in determining the Hurricanes’ bowl fate.

Miami finished 44th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense, yet they only managed 4 total interceptions on the season. The starting secondary in 2009 combined for a whopping zero interceptions in 2008. And this is the same program that produced four first round picks (Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph, Sean Taylor, Ed Reed) out of the same secondary just 7 or 8 years ago!

Early in the year, Miami held national champion Florida to just 89 yards rushing and 26 total points; a month later, they allowed 440 yards (including a whopping 280 on the ground) to an unspectacular Florida State team. In November, Miami’s defense held Virginia Tech star RB Darren Evans to just 43 yards on 17 carries; but in December, Jahvid Best torched the Hurricanes for 186 yards on just 20 carries.

Fortunately for Miami fans, the starting lineup is very experienced this year (7 seniors, only 2 underclassmen), thanks largely to the return of former starters who missed 2008 with injuries. This extra experience could help out with Miami’s inconsistency woes. As usual, Miami is stocked with talent and speed at pretty much all positions, especially defensive line. This defensive unit will be one of the top 20 defenses in the nation this fall.

Defensive Line

DE- Eric Moncur

Moncur was a monster in 2007, finishing with 48 tackles, 11.5 TFL and 6 sacks. He appeared in just 4 games last year due to injury issues, but he racked up 2.5 TFL and 2 sacks in those games. He will be one of many great defensive linemen in the ACC this year.

DE- Marcus Robinson

Robinson is a speedy end who could be one of the ACC’s best in 2009. As a true freshman, he picked up 35 tackles and an astonishing 9 TFL and 4 sacks. If he increases those totals this fall, good luck finding time to throw the ball against Miami.

DT- Allen Bailey

At 6’4 285, Bailey blends size and quickness like some of the great Miami DT’s of the past decade. He ended up 2008 with 24 tackles, 9 TFL, and 5 sacks, impressive numbers for a DT.

DT- Joe Joseph

Joe Joseph is a mammoth inside at 6’3 300 lb. He is Miami’s least proven starting d-linemen, but he produced well in 2008, finishing with 17 tackles, 4.5 TFL and a sack.

Also watch out for: DE Ojomo (22 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks) and DT Marcus Forston (18 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks)

Linebackers

LB- Colin McCarthy

McCarthy returns to the Canes’ starting lineup after missing most of 2008 with a shoulder injury. The defense struggled without him, and his return could be a big boost for the defense.

LB- Sean Spence (65 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks)

Sean Spence weighs only 202 lbs, but his production at linebacker was exceptional last fall.  He brings a ton of speed to the position, yet he can still hold up against more powerful running backs like Darren Evans.

LB- Daryl Sharpton (58 tackles, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks)

Sharpton might be the leader of the defense. He performed well in McCarthy’s absence, and should have a solid senior season in Coral Gables.

Secondary

CB- Chavez Grant (25 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0 INT)

CB- Ryan Hill (34 tackles, 0 INT)

S- Joseph Nicolas (28 tackles, 0 INT)

S- Randy Phillips

Phillips returns to the lineup in 2009 after picking up an extra year of eligibility.

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