Game Three : Miami 31, Pittsburgh 3

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For all the preseason hype about Pittsburgh as Big East frontrunners and Dion Lewis being a Heisman candidate, the Panthers looked like the same outmatched bunch they were a decade ago when Miami consistently pounded them as conference rivals.

For the Canes it goes down as a convincing 31-3 win; especially for those who missed the game and simply saw a box score or ticker this morning. Miami’s defense was suffocating, giving up 232 total yards; most of which came on the final two drives in garbage time with the UM’s third stringers in the the game.

Miami forced five straight three and outs to start the game, with the Panthers not registering a first down until midway through the second quarter. Lewis rushed for a mere 41 yards on the night, while quarterback Tino Sunseri spent most of the evening on the run, never given any time to gain composure or build momentum.

The investment in Rick Petri seems to be paying off as the Canes’ defensive line has been living in opponents’ backfields three games into this young season. Miami’s front four looks tougher in the trenches and has a nose for getting to the ballcarrier, leading the national in tackles for loss.

At linebacker, the Canes are finally coming alive, as well and while this unit won’t make anyone forget the names Jon Vilma or D.J. Williams anytime soon, both Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence have stepped up their games and for a program that spent the past few seasons relying on a Romeo Davis or Glenn Cook, the improvement is welcomed.

DeMarcus Van Dyke and Ryan Hill registered interceptions as part of a secondary still coming together, though that collective unit still has a ways to go. There’s talent and potential, but not enough consistency that you always trust the unit to bend and not break. There’s a feel of some upperclassmen who haven’t reached their potential, some guys due for a breakout year and some younger ones still learning the system. It time they’ll jell, but right now there are still some ‘hold your breath’ moments when that ball is in the air and by season’s end we’ll have a better assessment regarding this unit.

As this defense grows and gives fans reason for excitement, question marks still remain with this offense – especially during the first half of last night’s contest. Stats aside, Jacory Harris had another up and down first half. Two early interceptions on deep balls proved forgivable as Miami’s defense didn’t allow Pittsburgh to capitalize, but in the grand scheme of his progression as a player, they were as frustrating as the four thrown at Ohio State two weeks back simply because they keep happening.

More than the turnovers, Harris seems to have lost a little of his his mojo and he needs an assist from this coaching staff in getting that back. Watching highlights from wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma last year, Harris was a different player. There was bounce in his step whereas these days he appears to have the weight of the world – or at least Coral Gables – on his shoulders.

Hometown kid who wants to put the local program back on the map. Legendary high school success and history to live up to. (Seriously, how many times in 2008 did we hear announcers comment that Harris hadn’t lost a football game since junior high?)

Miami is a tough city with a demanding fan base. (Just ask superfan Douglas Diaz.) It’s chewed up many a player that didn’t live up to the hype. Harris is at a pivotal point in his career and simply needs to take a deep breath, realizing that he doesn’t have to do this alone.

Heisman-winner Gino Torretta stated that he threw many 80-yard touchdowns which were nothing more than a dump off to a running back in the flat or a ten yard slant to a speedy wideout. Ken Dorsey did the same. It’s about utilizing playmakers, finding the open guy and minimizing mistakes.

In the end, Harris got the job done and led Miami to victory, coming alive in the second half, playing mistake-free football and moving the ball. Still, early on the performance didn’t flow and you have to wonder how that will play out against more physical and loaded teams down the stretch. Not every defense will be as decimated by injuries and suspensions as Pitt.

For Harris, shaken confidence at times. Short-arming some passes. Not always on the same page with receivers. Underthrowing or poorly placing a deep ball. That shouldn’t be the case game three into his junior season; not if he’s the elite quarterback many think he is.

Randy Shannon catches a slew of heat from this fan base, but with the defense humming and the offense sputtering, when do the ‘haters’ start putting some heat on Mark Whipple?

Whipple was brought in as offensive coordinator, but was also given the title of assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. He has head coaching experience, he’s won at that level and spent time in the NFL tutoring two of the bigger names this past decade; Donovan McNabb and Ben Roethlesberger.

This is year two for both Whipple and Harris as ‘starters’ in Miami’s offense and when you’re seeing some of the same mistakes as last season, it’s frustrating as you expect more from both.

Four of Harris’ six interceptions on the season came when he was looking for Travis Benjamin, with some blame being spread around to quarterback, receiver and coordinator. The Harris-to-Benjamin connection seems to work when the speedy wideout has a few steps on a defender, but if it’s a jump ball the defenders usually win out.

Look back at long touchdowns or receptions against Florida State, Oklahoma and Clemson last year, in contrast to the several interceptions when these two attempt to hook up under anything less than perfect circumstances. Benjamin is generously listed at 5’10” and 175 pounds in the media guide and hasn’t proven that he can out muscle errant passes away from the competition. If there’s one play to scrap from the playbook (at least until Harris has better control on the deep ball) this is the one.

Higher-percentage passing plays and more emphasis on the ground game, are the recipe until Harris has that ice water running through his veins again.

After holding Pitt to a quick three-and-out to start the second half, Whipple did just that. The Canes took over mid-field and two quick passes to Benjamin were followed with a quick run with Lamar Miller (on 2nd and 1, looking for the first down) and a 19-yard touchdown strike to Hankerson.

The passes to Benjamin were nearly identical (albeit going opposite directions), moving the pocket, rolling Harris out and throwing ten-yard passes. Build your quarterback’s confidence. Get him and his wideout back on the same page and in a groove. After hitting Benjamin twice, Harris looked much more comfortable floating one to Hankerson for the score.

Same with the ensuing possession; Harris completed an 11-yard strike to LaRon Byrd, endured a sack and after Miami recovered a muffed punt, came to back to hit Benjamin for a ten-yard touchdown, on a well designed roll-out — on the heels of a 27-yard run by Berry which took some pressure off.

Miami hardly played a perfect game and still rolled a quality opponent by four touchdowns – on the road. Whipple helped Harris find a groove offensively and ran for 118 yards with Berry and Miller and had balance (32 passing attempts to 29 rushing).

Defensively there were a handful of misses and mistakes, but generally speaking Miami swarmed, made plays and shut down a few quality athletes.

Three games into the season there are more answers than questions. If this team can get out of its own way, this can be a very successful season and the win at Pitt showed glimpses of what can be in store if guys focus and take care of business. Mistakes did Miami in at Ohio State and with ACC play underway next week, the really are no more mulligans. Three of the next four include Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina – physical football teams that will look to rattle Harris, following the Buckeyes’ blueprint for success, while fielding quality athletes that can go toe-to-toe with the Canes.

Pittsburgh was absolutely a ‘must win’ game and based on that alone, the 31-3 victory provides something to build on. Some questioned how Miami would react to the Ohio State loss, Shannon’s post-game rant and the distractions which came from Twitter-gate and the racist comments Harris received. This team focused, put all that in the rear view and played a complete game – right down to forcing second half turnovers, picking up a few fourth quarter touchdowns and some third stringers on defense keeping the Panthers out of the end zone late.

Next up, a brutal road trip to Clemson. At one point many thought this would be a cinch, with C.J. Spiller moving onto the NFL but after watching the Tigers hang very tough at Auburn last week, this is a physical team that will come to play in their house; a notoriously tough road venue.

If Shannon has his kids ready, Whipple has the offense game plan and the defense again decides to swarm and make plays, there’s not a game left on this schedule that the Canes can’t wait. Again, it’s just a matter of that little two-letter word “if”.



19 thoughts on “Game Three : Miami 31, Pittsburgh 3

  1. Great job Defense! Nice work guys!

    Harris still needs to cut out the INTs, especially in throwing long balls. Stick to the short to intermediate passing game. And a few drops by our WRs, but alot of nice catches too.

    We need to adopt a conservative, run run run and short pass game, similar to what Alabama rode last year to the 'Ship. Healthy dose of Berry, mix in more Miller, and a few well placed balls to Hank in the intermediate range, and we can go 12-1.

    Go Canes!

  2. Good win. Would still like to see more of a commitment to running the ball. When will coop be back? I think running the ball in away games is crucial especially in road games cause harris really seems to struggle on the road. Also would like to see a big for set with hankerson bird johnson and streeter all split out wide no defense in the nation could line up with that.

  3. If they hadn't fumbled that punt and had that late interception they would have had you. :p

    I keed, I keed.

    They also would need to be able to run the ball. Or pass block. Your D looked really good. Your INTs kept it closer than it was but at least they weren't in your terriotry so all they did was stopped you from getting points and didn't put Pitt in position to get easy points.

  4. I was very impressed with the D. Can you say domination. I remember a lot of Pitt players getting banged up and carried off. Also a ton of 3 and outs. Their dominance helped disguise the turnovers and kept Miami with good field position most of the night.

    I agree with Carl Garcia
    "need to adopt a conservative, run run run and short pass game, similar to what Alabama rode last year to the 'Ship. Healthy dose of Berry, mix in more Miller, and a few well placed balls to Hank in the intermediate range, and we can go 12-1"

    This offense is still finding itself. I was impressed with the Fast break No Huddle Drives. But, I think ball control running and quick hitting passing game are the keys to a unstoppable offense.

    All in all, Great bounce-back win. Bring on the Tigers

  5. The D looked great. They only got the one turnover late, but man they were all over Pitt.

    JHarris though is terrible. Every time he needs to just throw the ball away, he throws it to the opposite team. JUST THROW IT AWAY ! ! ! ! ! I agree with the above and would like to see more running. Berry and Miller could be killers if given the chance. With the way the defense played this game should have been 24-0 at the half. Mistakes by the offense are just killing me.
    Tackling was much improved. Far less penalties. The coaches just have to get through to Harris on the value of the ball.
    Clemson next, athletic QB, who we don't have a great history with. We need to be solid in all phases.

    GO CANES ! ! !

  6. Thank GOD we won this game. Living in Pittsburgh, I may have had to leave town if we lost this game.

    I was very happy to see alot of CANES fans last night at Heinz Field!!! Great meeting some of you! Especially the ones from Miami.

    To the PITT fans…..Was the Walt Harris years really that bad? At least you went to a bcs game under harris. Coach douchebag has done nothing for your program and it's obvious that the "protege" Coach Randy Shannon has out performed the "mentor" Wannstedt on AND off the field!

    C.A.N.E.S!!! CANES!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. A win is a win, so I'll take it. We all know we were a bit sloppy, but the second half was much better than the first. Good win, and time to focus on Clemson.
    -Columbus Cane

  8. Definitely a much needed victory in terms of confidence for this team. I was a little disappointed to say the least in Benjamin and Jacory. Not because they didn't play well, but it still seems like the little things tend to plague them. On the 2nd INT, it looked like Jacory got a little greedy, even though the PITT kid made a great play, there still was no need to make that throw. And someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it just looks like if the ball isn't thrown flawlessly, Benjamin gives up on the route too soon and doesn't fight for it. I only thing defensively I saw that puzzled me a little bit was dialing up a blitz on 2nd-and-28. Not sure the last time I saw something like that. Again, I'm not trying to be pessimistic in any sense, but even everyone said in an interview that they aren't far away. Just need to correct the little mistakes.

  9. I think Colin needs to move back outside. He is to slow to play middle and plays better on outside. I cringe when he's in a one-on-one.

  10. I think Colin needs to move back outside. He is to slow to play middle and plays better on outside. I cringe when he's in a one-on-one.

    FLIP, with Kylan Robinson the only other option right now, C-Mac has to stay in the middle.

    If someone else can emerge as they year goes on, I'm sure we'll see the move, but right now he's the most experienced and best overall option. Definitely better outside, but I'd rather McCarthy at mike than Robinson.

  11. Great win for The []_[], and great win for The ACC!!!

    We win a road game to a Major BCS school who will probably be in their Conference Title race by 28 freakin points!!! Was it pretty? NO! Offense, Defense, Special Teams, and Coaching ALL have some work to do! J12 was 21-32 for 200 plus yards, 2 TD's and 2 INT's. 2 bad throws out of 32, I'll live with.

    Fans need to learn to enjoy a good win! It was still the 3rd game of the season after 2 weeks off. In the 2nd half, Whipple and Harris made adjustments and Harris was 8-10.

    I will continue to say that Miami will not face a another team this season who collectively has the talent, the coaching, or the atmosphere of 9/11! NO ONE! Miami will be just fine and will run the table! Will it all be pretty? NO, but they WILL be victorious!

    Learn to enjoy ugly wins!!!

  12. I'll take it – a win is a win. So does anybody know if Jacory was injured on that sack? I've read some rumors on other sites he has a sprained AC (shoulder) joint, and it could take a few weeks to heal. yikes…

  13. I clicked through to the twitter page you linked to of Douglas Diaz.

    And I am sorry I did.

    What an ignorant, hate-filled idiot this Douglas is. Can't wait till Shannon wins the 6th and 7th titles (and more) to shut morons like that up.

  14. Winning is good, even better, by suffocating defense. What was the word? offense wins games, defense wins champions.

    I just don't understand the way RS blame Benji on J12's INTs, however. Come on, coach. Protecting your QB is always good, but why bringing in another player? is he mentally tougher? or is J12 too important? This is bullshit, 100 percent.

    The only problem to J12 is that he is trying to do too much, while he just need to play his role. Did Bama won champ because of their QB? or did we lost in 2002 because of our QB? Look, no matter how important, QB is still part of the team. The coach need to let J12 know that he is part of the puzzle. Just play your role, make sound decision, and everything will be fine! Don't focus on Picks, focus on play and Win!


  15. "Randy Shannon catches a slew of heat from this fan base, but with the defense humming and the offense sputtering, when do the 'haters' start putting some heat on Mark Whipple?"

    Maybe b/c this only Whipple's 2nd season at Miami. And Shannon already ran his previous OC out of town. And despite his genius, our HC is now only 5 games over .500 for his career.

    You talk about giving Shannon some time (like 5+ years) but in turn give no leash to Whipple.

    You can't have it both ways.

  16. I think that Coach Shannon is a coach of a different era. He emphasizes defense and doesn't seem obsessed with putting up 60 points on offense each game. Thursday's performance reminded me of the old school Canes teams that I watched as a kid in the 80's/early 90's. The defensive front was overwhelming and I think their depth there is tremendous. Ojomo still doesn't seem like he's back to 100% either.

    I looked back at the 89 team's record

    and when they played Pitt the final score was 24-3. Although Pitt may have been better then, the score was comparable. The old school canes typically didn't let a team get into double digits. I saw an interview with R. Hill in which he noted that the team takes it seriously when a touchdown is given up. That attitude is reassuring.

    Hopefully, the offense will make a few adjustments. But, I had no major problems with the overall performance.

  17. Maybe b/c this only Whipple's 2nd season at Miami. And Shannon already ran his previous OC out of town. And despite his genius, our HC is now only 5 games over .500 for his career.

    You talk about giving Shannon some time (like 5+ years) but in turn give no leash to Whipple. You can't have it both ways.

    You honestly hold Shannon — a first-time head coach entering year four on the job — to the same standard as the experienced Whipple, with SIXTEEN YEARS head coaching experience, a I-AA national title, a Super Bowl ring, NFL position and assistant coaching experience?

    Your argument absolutely has it both ways and is completely biased with the "five games over .500" nonsense.

    2007 and 2008 are a wash. Shannon didn't even bring in his first class until '08 and in '07 fielded a lesser version of the'06 team that finished 7-6 (losing three first rounders in Beason, Meriweather and Olsen).

    Shannon's first two years were a direct result of the dog of a team he inherited. He's 11-5 since the start of the 2009 season, when he finally had some talent / depth and began showing improvement … but if you want to stack the deck against him, criticizing him for the team Coker left and not putting any heat on the experience Whipple, that's on you.

    Whipple called a good game against Pittsburgh, but in past games he's gotten too pass happy (especially with an injured quarterback last year) and the lack of a running game hurt. When you have a rattled, shaken quarterback, you must bring his confidence up by leaning on the running game a bit and forcing an opposing front seven to defend the run.

    A thirty-year coaching vet and offensive guru should know that whether he's been in the system going on two years or twenty years.

  18. Wow – I clicked on the link to Douglas Diaz's Twitter messages. This guy calls himself a fan? What a joke. He is a clueless, bigoted moron. D-Bags like him don't deserve to be able to wear Orange and Green and cheer for the Canes. A complete pathetic loser. Probably a social reject that Tweets because he can't get anybody to actually talk to him. Doulas Diaz = tool!

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