Saturday, August 10, 2013

season preview: Miami Hurricanes


8/30: Florida Atlantic (Fri.)
9/7: Florida
9/14: BYE
9/21: Savannah State
9/28: @ South Florida
10/5: Georgia Tech
10/12: BYE
10/17: @ North Carolina (Thu.)
10/26: Wake Forest
11/2: @ Florida State
11/9: Virginia Tech
11/16: @ Duke
11/23: Virginia
11/30: @ Pittsburgh

Skip: Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, NC State, Syracuse

2012 results:

Boston College: W, 41-32
Kansas State: L, 52-13
Bethune-Cookman: W, 38-10
Georgia Tech: W, 42-36
NC State: W, 44-37
Notre Dame: L, 41-3
North Carolina: L, 18-14
Florida State: L, 33-20
Virginia Tech: W, 30-12
Virginia: L, 41-40
South Florida: W, 40-9
Duke: W, 52-45

Record: 7-5 (5-3); 2nd of 6, Coastal Division

Projected starters:

QB: Stephen Morris (Sr.)
RB: Duke Johnson (So.)
WR: Allen Hurns (Sr.)
WR: Phillip Dorsett (Jr.)
WR: Herb Waters (So.)
TE: Clive Walford (Jr.)
LT: Ereck Flowers (So.)
LG: Jon Feliciano (rJr.)
C: Shane McDermott (rJr.)
RG: Brandon Linder (Sr.)
RT: Seantrel Henderson (Sr.)

DE: Olsen Pierre (Jr.)
DT: Curtis Porter (5Sr.)
DT: Luther Robinson (5Sr.)
DE: Anthony Chickillo (Jr.)
LB: Thurston Armbrister (Jr.)
LB: Jimmy Gaines (Sr.)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Jr.)
CB: Ladarius Gunter (Jr.)
CB: Antonio Crawford (So.)
S: Rayshawn Jenkins (So.)
S: A.J. Highsmith (Jr.)

K: Matt Goudis (So.)
P: Pat O'Donnell (5Sr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Al Golden, 3rd season

Media prediction: 1st of 7, Coastal Division; ACC runner-up


2012 1st team: none
2012 2nd team: RB Duke Johnson, KR Duke Johnson
2012 HM: G Jon Feliciano, OT Seantrel Henderson, G Brandon Linder, LB Denzel Perryman
2013 preseason: G Brandon Linder, RB Duke Johnson

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Miami is a semi-heavy favorite this year to effect a return to glory, if glory is winning the division and losing in the championship game.  The reason: their offense.  Plenty of reason to think the Hurricanes' offense can carry them through the season.  The defense will be another matter - as might the still-hanging matter of the Nevin Shapiro investigation.

-- Offense

The scary thing about Miami will be its ground game.  ACC freshman of the year Duke Johnson split carries almost evenly last season with Mike James, and gained 320+ yards more than James did.  Johnson was just shy of a 1,000 yard season despite the platoon (averaging almost 7 yards per carry), and with James graduating, Johnson should have an even bigger role in the offense this year.  Miami otherwise returns only about 30 combined carries among its other backs, making Johnson the full-time focus.

He runs behind a very experienced offensive line, particularly on the interior.  Both guards, Jon Feliciano and Brandon Linder, earned honorable mention all-ACC last year.  They, as well as center Shane McDermott, started all 12 games at their respective positions last year, and Feliciano and Linder are both third-year starters this season.  Barring injury, the combination of such extensive O-line experience and Johnson's talent makes the Miami rushing attack one of the surest things in the ACC this year.

On the exterior of that line, the occasionally mercurial - and massive - Seantrel Henderson returns to lock down the right tackle position.  Henderson returned midseason from an injury last season and bumped Ereck Flowers to the bench after Flowers had started the first few games at tackle; Flowers now returns to the starting lineup to get first crack at left tackle.  The impressive thing about Flowers is that he had held that starting role as just a true freshman, so the ceiling here is very high.  Flowers, if he starts, will be pushing Malcolm Bunche to the sixth-man role on the line; Bunche was the starting left tackle for all 12 games last season, and provides flexibility as he can play either tackle or guard.

Quarterback Stephen Morris also gives Miami the confidence that comes with having a senior signal-caller.  Morris's most impressive stat last season was his 21 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions.  He also gets a full complement of familiar targets.  Morris spread the ball around pretty well last year, throwing touchdowns of 50 yards or more to six different players.  The top receiver was Phillip Dorsett, catching 58 balls for 842 yards, and there's plenty of depth as well.  And size; Allen Hurns is 6'3" and Herb Waters and Rashawn Scott each stand 6'2".  All are, or can be, very good, productive receivers, although none are in the elite echelons of talent, and Scott is working his way into the good graces of the coaches after having his 2012 season cut short due to suspension.  Tight end Clive Walford is another weapon, hauling in 25 catches last year.

The star of the offense is almost definitely Johnson, if he doesn't hit a sophomore slump.  Miami is a little thin at tailback behind him, but deeper than most teams everywhere else, and the offensive line is easily one of the most experienced in the league.  The depth of the receiving corps makes up for the fact that there isn't a particular elite talent, and Morris does a good job of making it all click.  The Hurricane offense will be tough to stop this year.

-- Defense

To live up to their expectations, though, the defense will have to be better than it looks.  To start with, it was one of the ACC's worst in 2012, and then the linebacking corps took a major hit in the offseason with off-field troubles taking three regulars off the roster.  The silver lining to that is that the revolving door at linebacker from 2012 means there are still experienced players left.  Denzel Perryman is a rangy playmaker and moves from the middle to the outside this season; Perryman missed three games but would've been on pace for 85 tackles had he played all 12.  Also on the outside is Thurston Armbrister, who had 40 tackles in four starts and eight games as a reserve.  Senior linebacker Jimmy Gaines has been a part-time starter for most of his career and is in line to hold down the job on a full-time basis this year.  These three guys are decent - Perryman more so than the others - but not spectacular, and the offseason losses of Gianni Paul and Eddie Johnson put a huge dent in the depth.

Defensive tackle is another dodgy position.  Seniors Curtis Porter and Luther Robinson are awfully inexperienced for seniors; in Porter's case it's because of an injury-riddled career.  The backups are no more experienced than the starters, and much younger.  The Canes are in much better shape at defensive end and could at times slide Olsen Pierre inside in order to get him on the field at the same time as Anthony Chickillo and Shayon Green.  The three can really be considered co-starters at DE, with Chickillo being the main pass-rushing threat and Pierre and Green being better against the run.  Miami didn't bring much of a pass rush last season, and Chickillo is more or less the only one who'll bring consistent pressure.

Competition in the secondary is heated right now.  At cornerback, Ladarius Gunter - probably Miami's best returning CB - is being pushed hard by Tracy Howard, who jumped into the rotation immediately as a freshman in 2012 and acquitted himself fairly well.  Redshirt freshman Nate Dortch is also working hard for playing time against Antonio Crawford, who played on special teams last year and sparingly as a cornerback.  This is a unit with major experience and productivity issues that will have to take a major step forward if Miami is going to improve.  Safety is in better shape - there is competition as well, but among better, more experienced options.  Deon Bush made a big impression as a true freshman last year, Kacy Rodgers started seven games, and these are the currently listed backups.  A.J. Highsmith and another player who played a great deal as a freshman last year, Rayshawn Jenkins, are the rest of the two-deep; even if the position isn't quite settled at the moment, Miami should find some good answers at safety.

But as a whole, with such shakiness at corner and the lack of a consistent pass rush, Miami will have a tough time defending the pass.  If Porter and Robinson have good seasons at defensive tackle, they can improve against the run, but then, there's a lot of room for that, too.  This defense simply has to get better if Miami is to make it to the ACCCG as predicted.

Edit: I forgot, when writing, that our formerly very own Justin Renfrow would be eligible to play right away for Miami this year.  At the very least that'll help shore up Miami's depth at defensive tackle, and Renfrow should be able to compete for a spot in a three-man rotation.

-- Special teams

New kicker and punter this year.  Matt Goudis is largely unknown, but was fairly heavily recruited.  Punter Pat O'Donnell is a transfer from Cincinnati, where he displayed a very big leg.  He should be a top punter in the ACC this year.

-- Outlook

Simply put, I don't think Miami is a good candidate for division champion, except maybe by elimination of other contenders.  The offense will be very good, particularly the run game, but not overpowering.  And it may not be enough to win shootouts, which the defense is at risk of putting them in.  If they don't end up with another postseason ban, Miami is a bowl team and probably even a better one than the 7-5 they put up last year - but will need to take a lot of forward strides on defense to contend for the ACC title.

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