The 2009 season officially comes to a close today regarding the Miami Hurricanes and either a 10-3 or 9-4 campaign. On paper, it’s a one-game swing, but in reality it’s all the difference in the world.
Winning or losing a bowl game; it sits with you all off-season. These Canes won’t take the field again for over eight months and you want something positive to build on, not dwell on.
Wisconsin is a quality Big Ten opponent with a matching 9-3 record. The Badgers need the win as much as the Canes, but it’s hard to believe this isn’t Miami’s time.
The Canes opened the season on a 3-1 tear when the consensus was a best case 2-2 scenario. Some went as far as to call for 0-4 and Randy Shannon fired by mid-season. Instead, wins over Florida State, eventual ACC champ Georgia Tech and an upset of then No. 8 Oklahoma. Sandwiched in between, a one-sided loss at Virginia Tech in the driving rain.
Miami had the ACC in reach the majority of the season, but stumbled against two conference foes; Clemson and North Carolina.
The Tigers took the Canes to the wire, stealing one in overtime while the Tar Heels nabbed their third straight against Miami. The common theme in both losses; turnovers.
All season the Canes have gone as far as Jacory Harris has taken them. When the sophomore quarterback is “on”, Miami has looked as good as anybody in the nation. All the early Heisman talk was indeed justified. Harris simply proved too green at times, showing he lacked the experience and poise needed year one of his run.
Against those two latter losses, Harris combined for seven interceptions, three returned for touchdowns and each more crucial than the last. The Clemson lost was easy to absorb as it proved to be a back and forth shootout, with the Tigers one play better that day. The loss at Chapel Hill was a bitter pill. Miami had 24 first downs to North Carolina’s 17 and 435 total yards to their 329. The difference in the contest was four turnovers to zero and the loss knocked the Canes from an at large BCS berth.
At 9-3 Miami looked to be Gator Bowl bound and slated for their first New Years bowl since the 2003 season, but sympathy for a retiring Bobby Bowden “earned” 6-6 Florida State an invite and sent Miami to Orlando.
ESPN recently ran Rakontur’s “30 For 30” documentary on “The U” and one has to assume these modern day Canes hunkered down in front of the TV as part of the 2.3 million folks who watched its debut.
The University of Miami wanted no part of the piece and didn’t allow current players or coaches to be interviewed, so there hasn’t been a write up mentioning what the ’09 Canes felt about Miami’s dominant run of yesteryear. Still, you have to believe these kids got a reminder regarding the legacy of this program. A little “Hurricanes: 101” shoved down their throat.
Safety Vaughn Telemaque recently called out Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, essentially challenging him to throw deep against the Canes. Telemaque hasn’t recorded an interception all year, but it didn’t stop him from speaking his mind.
The combination of a few frustrating losses, letting a BCS berth slip away, a Gator Bowl snub and some orange and green cockiness re-running every other day on ESPN, I expect a fired up group of Canes to take the field this evening. Miami will show up as healthy as they’ve been since game one and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has had a month to game plan for a Wisconsin bunch that hardly boasts the best passing defense in the game.
The Badgers have a solid back in John Clay, who’s earned most of the bowl preview hype to date. Any talk of the Champs Sports Bowl and you’re reading about his 1,396 yards and 16 touchdowns. A solid campaign, though not one article mentioned he did it against lesser talent and struggled against the bigger boys on Wisky’s schedule; Ohio State, Iowa, etc.
Shunned in all of this, the Miami rushing defense as well as three capable Hurricane backs who have impressed all year.
Miami’s defense has allowed an average of 96 yards over the final seven games, as well as two rushing touchdowns over that duration. The Canes held opponents to 3.3-yards-per-carry during the past nine games and held an explosive Georgia Tech rushing attack to 95 yards on 39 carries.
Clay’s biggest efforts came against the likes of Minnesota, Michigan. Hawaii and Fresno State. Hardly Cane caliber defenses.
The lack of love for Miami backs Javarris James, Graig Cooper and Damien Berry is been surprising as each has had their share of big games and quality runs this season. James shone brightest on the main stage against Oklahoma, posting a hard-earned 150 yards and some big runs. Cooper had his 152-yard day against Virginia, but also ran solid against Georgia Tech, Clemson and South Florida.
Berry has been the surprise this season, showing he’s Miami’s toughest back while relegated to third string status. Berry shredded South Florida for 114 yards and had some tough, game changing runs against Wake Forest, Central Florida and Duke.
Combined, this trio has run for 1,744 yards and 17 touchdowns, better numbers than Clay yet the Badgers’ running game gets the hype.
Harris will need the time to operate today and whether he gets it or not, it’ll be the difference-maker. O’Brien Schofield and crew will attempt to wreak havoc. The question remains, how does Miami’s offensive line respond? Senior tackle Jason Fox is sidelined, which means the line up will be reshuffled and freshman Brandon Washington will again be called on as he did against South Florida.
If the Canes’ line comes to play and Harris’ nagging thumb injury doesn’t bog him down, it could be another pass happy day for Miami. Time for J12 to play smart football. Cut down on the turnovers and if the thumb is still hampering him, it’s on Whipple to devise a game plan with high percentage passing plays and shorter routes that won’t test Harris’ thumb.
Defensively the Canes need to contain and pressure Tolzien, which can be easier said than done – not just because the junior quarterback can play, but because Miami has a way of making average passers look spectacular. Look no further than Clemson’s Kyle Parker and North Carolina’s T.J. Yates as prime examples. The Canes couldn’t rattle either and both made big plays in upsets of Miami.
The Badgers also sport a pair of quality tight ends in Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks. Miami needs to protect the middle of the field a the Canes have oft been damaged by tight ends in recent memory. (Visions of Virginia running the same play to their tight end three times in a row in the Orange Bowl finale… absolutely disheartening.)
The combination of four weeks to prepare, time to get healthy, the goal of a ten-win season and a chip on their shoulder due to a bigger bowl snub – it’ll be the difference for Miami. As cliche as it might be to say one team wants or needs a win more, that is indeed the case here. The Canes are as close to home as you can be for the holidays, with Orlando just short car ride away. Miami fans will be in full force and weather-wise, it’ll be home game environment.
2009 was the year the Canes were looking to break out, but fell a little short. 9-3 is vast improvement over 7-6 (2008) or 5-7 (2007), but Miami didn’t win the ACC or reach a BCS game, so all goals weren’t met. 2010 now becomes the year UM takes that giant leap forward.
A top ten preseason ranking is online the line, a slew of recruits will be watching and a healthy bunch of Canes is driven to get that fifth win. Simply put, Wisky is getting “The U” at the wrong time and is going down. Tune in at 7pm ET on ESPN to see it live.