Wisconsin rolled south with a matching 9-3 record, also looking for a tenth win and jockeying for preseason position next fall. I thought Miami would come in healthy and equally as motivated, putting together a complete game and getting the ‘W’. I was wrong.
“Swagger” became the most overused word in the college game this fall. Miami may have invented it, but doesn’t own the patent. A lot of teams have swagger these days, whether UM fans want to hear it or not.
We saw ‘swagger’ on t-shirts, in haircuts and on display for two hours straight in Rakontur’s “The U” doc… but swagger never hopped on the Turnpike north, making its way to Orlando on Tuesday night.
The Herald’s Greg Cote chimed in on all things swagger the morning after, reminding us it’s “not a birthright or something inherited as easily as Daddy’s money.” Swagger has become a catchphrase; a slogan. Back in the day, it was a mindset; a toughness that couldn’t be fabricated.
I can’t tell you how tough these young Canes are or aren’t, but I can tell you they got pushed around last night by a Big Ten team they were expected to beat.
Miami was owned in the trenches; the place where we’re told from day one that football games are won or lost.
The loss of Jason Fox had a domino effect on the offensive line that never jelled. Coaches mixed and matched all night, but never found a group that could sustain the pressure or protect Jacory Harris – the heart and soul of Miami’s offense. As goes J12, so go the Canes.
ESPN’s Ivan Maisel agrees. Check this blurb from earlier today: “Remember the crisp, accurate, confident Jacory Harris that began the season for Miami? Yeah, neither do I. The Hurricane sophomore quarterback finished the season beat up, limping and largely ineffective in the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin on Tuesday night. Until Miami coach Randy Shannon assembles a competent offensive line, Harris will remain a maddeningly inconsistent quarterback.”
Harris couldn’t get his footing and UM couldn’t run the ball against the eighth-ranked rushing defense in the nation. Wisconsin gives up just shy of a hundred yards a game. Miami ran for sixty-one and never when it counted. 2-of-11 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down.
All year, Harris’ success has been entirely dependent on the play of his line. 386 passing yards at Florida State was the result of the front four coming to play. Same to be said for wins against Georgia Tech and Oklahoma. The Canes showed some toughness early on, but faded at times down the stretch.
This wasn’t like losses to Clemson or North Carolina. Wisconsin was Virginia Tech-esque, pressuring Harris all night and taking him out of his game. What few opportunities there were, both Miami and their quarterback couldn’t get out of their own way.
Tied 7-7 and driving, Miami faced a 3rd-and-5 from the Wisconsin thirty-five. The line buys Harris some time, he fires for LaRon Byrd ten yards past the sticks. Instead, Thearon Collier laid out for his teammate’s pass. Even worse, he didn’t reel it in.
Matt Pipho can’t hold his block on 4th-and-5, Harris is rushed and sends a would-be first down pass a yard past Travis Benjamin. Turnover on downs. Momentum lost. A common theme as the evening rolled on.
Outside of an 86-yard Sam Shields kickoff return and 16-yard Graig Cooper touchdown run on the game’s first two plays, Miami never regained their mojo. The Canes were out of sync in every facet of the game, while the Badgers always seemed to find a way.
Whether it was another Brad Nortman punt pinning Miami deep or quarterback Scott Tolzien eluding a tackle, buying an extra second and picking up another third-and-long to a tight end, Wisconsin remained one step ahead of Miami.
John Clay received all the pre-game hype and proved his worth with a 52-yard run early in the second quarter. It broke the game open and gave the Badgers a lead they never relinquished. Somebody needed get a leg up early. Clay was the workhorse with 121 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
14-7 and Miami’s turn to make a statement. Harris sacked for a loss of five, followed by a five-yard illegal shift penalty. 2nd-and-20, Harris finds Collier for 12 yards. A play later, Jimmy Graham for ten.
Cooper picks up eight on back-to-back plays. 3rd-and-2, incomplete pass to Javarris James. Matt Bosher punt.
3:20 for Miami to move the ball 30 yards over six plays, all for naught. The Badgers owned the line and made the offense earn every yard it got.
Entering the game, every scouting report warned that Wisconsin would wear opponents down with Clay, opening up opportunities for Tolzien to find two highly-touted tight ends, Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham.
Even with this knowledge, John Lovett and his defense couldn’t protect the middle of the field. 10 of Wisconsin’s 17 first downs were earned off passes to the tight end, most coming in third and long situations. Everyone in the stadium knew what plays was coming. Miami’s linebackers simply couldn’t win the match up, so that Badgers never let up.
Kendricks and Graham torched Miami 205 yards, splitting thirteen receptions. Wideout Nick Toon was the lone receiver Tolzien hit – twice for 26 yards. Four passes went to running backs, for a combined 29-yard gain. A safe, effective game plan which wouldn’t allow Tolzien to lose the game. High percentage passes. Confidence in the ground game. Aggressive defense. Stout special teams play.
Entering 2010, it’s not about preseason rankings. Top ten is a great place to start, but it’s about where you wind up. Miami was unranked at the start of the season and lept to No. 8 by week three. Win ball games and things work themselves out.
The Canes need to get tougher in the trenches. Miami’s best teams had an aggressive front seven and a hard-nosed offensive line that allowed skill players to shine, ensuring that speed killed.
A strong offensive line was a key component in Miami’s 2001 championship run. Conversely, a weaker front in 2002 was as big a downfall against Ohio State as Terry Porter’s bogus flag.
Fox. Pipho. A.J. Trump. All thought to be solid recruits a few years back, but none became that next-level guy. Same to be said for five-star Reggie Youngblood, a senior last season.
What Miami wouldn’t do for an Eric Winston or Chris Myers right now – guys merely considered ‘good’ at the time, but were though to be lesser than the Bryant McKinnie, Joaquin Gonzalez, Martin Bibla and Brett Romberg-led bunch of the early 00s.
For all the blame many are quick to lump on Randy Shannon, credit this man for doing his job addressing team needs on the recruiting front. Furthermore, give him the time to field a squad with some depth, experience and upperclassmen who came in on his watch.
Miami’s weakest position received a tremendous upgrade last last week when St. Thomas Aquinas offensive linemen Brandon Linder and Jermaine Barton pledged their allegiance to The U. Malcolm Bunche went the prep school route and is on board next year, as are freshmen Shane McDermott and Johnathan Feliciano. Depth is returning.
These five will mesh with last year’s class, which not only included the highly-touted Washington, but Ben Jones, Harland Gunn, Cory White, Jared Wheeler and Jermaine Johnson.
Miami’s offensive line will get better and absolutely must if Harris is going to live up to the hype. Look no further that Ken Dorsey for proof. With time, No. 11 could pick you apart. When rattled, a completely different player.
Even more puzzling than the inability to field a top-flight offensive line, Miami’s linebackers – once the program’s strength – have become a liability. How else do you explain the Canes’ inability to shut down the tight end, be it against a Wisconsin, a Virginia or a slew of others who exploited the weakness over the years?
The Canes haven’t been strong at linebacker since Jon Vilma and DJ Williams left town after the ’03 season. A baller here or there – Jon Beason, Rocky McIntosh – solid guys without surrounding talent.
Since then, a run of guys like Romeo Davis, Glenn Cook and now, Darryl Sharpton – better than the last two, but not Vilma-esque. That’s not a knock on the aforementioned guys. Not everyone can be Ray Lewis or Jessie Armstead. Meanwhile, the Canes are losing football games.
Colin McCarthy plays hard, but he’s not the next Dan Morgan. The uber-hyped Arthur Brown? Looking more like the next Willie Williams (regarding playing time) than the next Barrow or Darrin Smith.
Miami linebackers used to dictate games and the Canes always had some headhunters back there. With former linebackers Shannon and Barrow both coaching and recruiting, there’s truly no excuse for the lack of production at the position.
From “Linebacker U” to “Linebacker Who” thanks to a few rough recruiting years.
The Canes brought in some guys who are definitely next in line – Ramon Buchanan, Jordan Futch, Shayon Green, C.J. Holton – not to mention, Sean Spence, due for a breakout junior season after being banged up for most of ’09.
Four-star Javarie Johnson will sign in February and is slated to enroll early. Three-stars Kevin Nelson and Tyrone Cornelius are Miami-bound as well. Nelson hails from Gator country and Cornelius should’ve been a Georgia Bulldog. Shannon and staff plucked both out of tough regions and made them Canes.
Entering the Champs Sports Bowl, all the talk was about both Miami and Wisconsin being primed for big time runs in 2010. Some said you could see a rematch between the two in a BCS game this time next year.
Two teams on the cusp, the Badgers have won nine-plus games five of the past six seasons. Bret Bielema has been at the helm one year longer than Shannon and is also a former defensive coordinator, first-time head coach. He inherited a better Wisconsin team that Shannon did his Miami bunch.
The Canes played arguably their worst game of the season and still had the ball and a fighting chance in the waning moments. A late scoring drive and the recovery of an onside kick an had Miami fifty-nine yards away from a comeback, with a minute and a half remaining.
A defense that gave up 17 in the first half, held Wisconsin to a lone field goal the rest of the way and when the Badgers looked ready to take one in, a defensive strip gave the Canes the ball back and kept them in the game.
Miami may have been ‘off’, but they never gave up – creating plays and fighting down the stretch. The ten-play, 79-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter – the 2006 through 2008 Canes would’ve already mailed it in.
We won’t know until next year, but should the Badgers be a force in the Big Ten, a six-point loss on an ‘off’ night won’t look as bad as most are seeing it today.
This notion that Miami would kill ’em with Southern speed while Wisconsin was a slow, physical bunch of Midwesterners – it’s played out. There’s much more parity in the game today and the Big Ten recruits players from all over the country, not just their backyard.
Two Florida kids play linebacker for the Badgers, two Texas natives and a Missouri product are in the secondary. Sounds more like a SEC defense than your stereotypical Big Ten. Only place Wisconsin kept it cornfed was on the defensive line, heavy with experienced upperclassmen and anchored by O’Brien Schofield, who was as good as advertised.
Experience is Miami’s biggest hang up and that will be fixed in time. The Canes may have twenty-one seniors departing, but the proof will come in April when there’s not another first-rounder drafted. It might be the fourth round before the first UM senior is off the board.
Compare that to an Alabama, Florida or Texas, all heavy with upperclassmen winning post-season awards and getting ready to tear up the NFL. Miami’s lone star came via second-year cornerback Brandon Harris, who reeled in All-America honors.
A year ago, Harris was a green, mistake prone freshmen. Next year he’ll be on the Jim Thorpe watch list. Further proof that high school hype only means so much. Big game experience two years in the weight room turn boys into football players.
The twenty-one departing seniors are from Larry Coker’s final recruiting class (2006) and the addition of two dozen more players by fall ensures that the ’10 Canes will truly be Shannon’s first team, full of “his” guys. Starting with some upperclassmen choosing to return.
Juniors Leonard Hankerson and Allen Bailey have both stated that they’ll return for their senior years. It’s not quite McKinnie and Ed Reed returning for a title run in ’01, but it’s a trait that old school teams embodied – kids not making a jump for the money if they’re not ready. Both would benefit from another year at the collegiate level and Miami needs the experience both bring to the table.
Many will continue to debate the point, but this is a five-year rebuild. Even with some improved talent next season, the schedule doesn’t set up nicely for a run.
Early out of conference road games at Ohio State and Pittsburgh. Season finale against South Florida at home. On the road in conference for Clemson and Georgia Tech. Home games against Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Get through all that and there’s an ACC title game in Charlotte.
Miami didn’t exactly go to the Florida Gators school o’ scheduling.
From 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4 – that’s improvement and that’s where the logically-minded fan needs to keep his or her head. Don’t play the “what if” game. Clemson and North Carolina were as winnable as Florida State, Oklahoma and Wake Forest were lose-able.
Judge the improvement. Respect the fact this team isn’t rolling over. Have faith in another solid recruiting class and a long off-season in the weight room. Cross your fingers that Shannon and Kirby Hocutt sit down in the coming weeks to make some personnel changes.
Specials Teams. Offensive line. Linebackers. No position coach is safe. Everyone deserves to be re-evaluated.
Great teams take time to come together. Recruiting. Development of players. Staying injury-free. Scheduling. Chemistry. Timing. Fate.
There’s a reason Florida went 9-4 in 2007, with a Heisman winner, and followed up with a 13-1 season and national championship in 2008. There’s a reason LSU won it all in 2007 but stumbled and went 8-5 in 2008. Each team is in someway different than the next, as are the circumstances.
Twenty-five years ago Miami faithful were ready to run Jimmy Johnson out of town after 8-5, a year after Howard Schnellenberger earned the Canes their first ring. Since then, what’s changed?
A four-game swing for Shannon in two years after inheriting the worst Miami squad in thirty years and it’s not enough. A nine-win season when many predicted a losing record (based on the schedule), yet the bitch-fest continues. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
10-3 was the goal and the Canes fell 59 yards short, despite playing one of their worst games of the season. Miami now has eight months to toughen up. Get in the weight room, put on some man weight, get healthy and get mentally prepared for a run in 2010, be it in the ACC or nationally.
That’s the truth, people. If it’s too much to handle, turn off your TV and computer until 2011, because your ‘title game or bust’ expectations won’t be met. Save yourself the headache and learn to see things as they are.
Randy Shannon has two more years to fix things, whether you’re on board or not.