This article was written for Canespace by DaytonCane...
In 2009 the Miami Hurricanes football team played their way to a 9-3 regular season record. It was the best record of Randy Shannon’s tenure after season's of 5-7 in 2007 and 7-5 in 2008.
The Hurricanes made tremendous improvements on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 26th nationally in total offense after being ranked 47th in 2008. Jacory Harris more than benefitted from offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s tutelage, throwing for 3,352 yards and 24 touchdowns.
The Canes enjoyed wins over teams such as Orange Bowl runner-up Georgia Tech and long time Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma, who had the 7th ranked defense in the country. The 2009 season wasn’t perfect though, as the Canes would lose 3 games in conference play including a blowout loss at Virginia Tech. Although the Canes were a good team this past season, they did not make that jump to “elite” status. If Miami wants to be a championship team again there needs to be much more improvement.
The 4 main areas of needed improvement are: Defense, Offensive Line, Pressuring the QB and Penalties and Turnovers. Let’s take a closer look at these areas and the improvements necessary to get to the next level.
Most of us that have heard the old saying “offense sells tickets, defense wins championships”, and we know that it is true. The better defensive team wins more often than not in any sport. The fact of the matter is that Miami’s defense just wasn’t good enough last season. The Canes were 40th nationally in total defense, allowing more than 22.3 points per game.
The defensive unit gave up 34 points to FSU, 24 points to Virginia Tech, 27 points to Clemson, and 27 points to Wake Forest. More telling than that is the amount of yardage Miami surrendered in some of these contests. Wake Forest rolled up 555 total offensive yards against Miami, Clemson had 410 total yards, FSU had 404 total yards, and Wisconsin steamrolled the defense with 430 total yards.
This has to change. Usually the most important categories to look at if you want to know if a team is good defensively are scoring defense, red-zone defense, third-down conversion percentage, and rushing defense. Miami was 37th in scoring defense, 64th in red-zone defense, 39th in third-down defense, and 32nd in rushing defense.
All of the “elite” teams in the country are at least in the top 15 of most defensive categories. If the Canes want to be BCS bound next season, these areas MUST improve drastically.
Offensive Line Performance:
These days in college football you need a good/great quarterback to be an “elite” team. You also have to protect that quarterback. Jeff Stoutland’s unit did an adequate job at times, but too often Jacory Harris was on the ground writhing in pain from a big hit. Canes fans vividly remember the Virginia Tech, UNC, Wake Forest, and Wisconsin games for many reasons; with the main reason being how much Jacory was bruised and battered.
Miami was ranked 100th in the country in sacks allowed, giving up 35 sacks for 258 yards. That doesn’t take into account how many times Jacory was pressured and not sacked. Miami was also 60th in the country in tackles for loss allowed with 94 tackles for lost yardage. The running game, while thought to be good by some fans, was ranked 70th in the country.
Most fans would immediately blame former RT Matt Pipho for all of our struggles, and they would be halfway right. The truth is the offensive line always shares the blame, so it was a collective effort. Equipped with several highly regarded recruits, Randy Shannon expects the line to play significantly better this fall. If the o-line imposes its will on our opponents this fall, the offense will be unstoppable.
Pressuring the Quarterback:
This directly ties in the paragraph on defensive improvement. One of the main reasons for the defense being a liability was the lack of pressure the Miami defensive line applied to the opposition. Miami was ranked 74th in the country in sacks in 2009, only registering 23. That’s down there with Virginia and Wyoming.
The lack of sacks also tells you that there was virtually no pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Christian Ponder, Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Parker, Riley Skinner, and Scott Tolzien all enjoyed fabulous protection from the Canes front four. Defensive coordinator John Lovett was often forced to blitz in order to get any pressure, which resulted in lackluster coverage in the secondary.
Recently former d-line coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt took the same position at Louisville. The man that was hired was none other than former Miami d-line coach Rick Petri, who coached such standouts as Warren Sapp, Kenard Lang, and John Abraham. The knock on Hurtt is that his teaching left a lot to be desired. That is not the case with Petri. If he can light a fire under the Miami d-line as well as refine their technique look out.
Turnovers and Penalties:
One big difference between great, average, and bad teams is the amount of turnovers they commit. If you don’t give the other team good field position or easy points it increases your chances of winning. Good preparation and communication go a long way in preventing turnovers. Miami was 45th in the country in turnovers lost with 21, and 17 of those came off Jacory Harris interceptions. On the flipside Miami was 68th in the country in turnovers produced with, you guessed it, 21. The Canes must force more turnovers in 2010 and cut their own amount in half.
Randy Shannon has pretty much mastered the concept of off-the-field discipline. Now if his team can master it on the field there will be jubilee in Coral Gables in 2010. The Hurricanes ranked 94th in fewest penalties per game, committing at least 7 per game. That number must change or this won’t be an elite team next year. Communication is the key. If you wish to stop seeing the secondary look confused before the snap then the communication must improve.
If the Hurricanes improve in these four areas there might be parades in South Florida next year. We like the sound of that idea!