The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Hurricanes Stumble Through Win over Houston

Last night’s 38 – 13 win over Houston was perhaps the most uninspired and unconvincing 25-point win in the history of Miami Hurricanes football. Still, it was a win and a win on the road, so it’s not all bad. It also looked like the Canes left Houston relatively free of any new, major injuries, so that was another positive thing. After that, it’s difficult to come up with much in the way of superlatives or even positives.

I’ll spare you the regular game commentary and play-by-play analysis today, but I will share some of my thoughts on the game with you:

This was arguably Brock Berlin’s best game as a Hurricane. From a statistical perspective, it most definitely wasn't. And yes, he fumbled late in the first half which lead to Houston’s only touchdown, but he didn’t throw an interception. That’s a start.

Even more encouraging was that many of Berlin’s throws were on target, but were dropped for whatever reason. Ryan Moore, most notably, dropped a number of catchable passes, including one deep ball in the middle of the field late in the game which Berlin had neatly delivered between two Houston defenders.

Moore’s confidence seems to be at an all-time low, and if the coaches can’t turn that around before Miami’s next game at Georgia Tech on October 2nd, it may be time to throw more of a size and speed combination at the defense, with Kevin Everett and Greg Olson providing the size and Sinorice Moss and Roscoe Parrish providing the speed.

The running game was also decent last night, if not spectacular. Most Canes fans are probably spending today hoping that Frank Gore is healthy and that he just sat out the second half as the coaches didn’t want to risk injury to him in a game that was fairly well in hand (although it was still closer than Coach Coker would have liked).

Resting Gore also gave the Canes some time to feature Tyrone Moss, who seems to be emerging more as a bruiser type of a back than a speed back, which may be the role Gore is capable of fulfilling if he really is healthy this year. If that’s the case, the Canes will have a nice one-two punch that will be difficult for defenses to prepare for.

Although the defense didn’t look as impressive last night as it did in the first two contests of the season, overall the defense still looked very stout. Sure, they gave up 13 points, which is relatively a lot – particularly after giving up only 10 points in the first two games. However, seven of those points resulted from a Canes turnover on the short end of the field.

Also working against the Canes was Houston’s unusual offense. While this made things a little more interesting than Canes fans hoped for last night, over the course of the season this will likely be a good thing and a learning experience that the Canes will draw on, particularly in the more challenging upcoming games, like those against Georgia Tech, Louisville, Virginia, and Virginia Tech.

I was somewhat surprised to see Miami’s defense be as aggressive as it was against Houston last night. Over the past few years Miami’s defense has been criticized for being overly conservative and vanilla with it’s play-calling (i.e. very few blitzes). In their first two games of this season though, that has been anything but the case. The Canes have blitzed so much, in fact, that one has to wonder if they’ll have anything new to show opposing offenses later in the year that the other team hasn’t already seen on film.

That trend was on display again last night against Houston as Miami blitzed and put pressure on the passer from all over the field. However, Houston’s changing formations, spread offense, and unusual play calling was fairly successful in overcoming the advantages Miami had in terms of both skill and speed. It will be interesting to see if other teams adopt a philosophy similar to Houston’s – at least at times – in upcoming games this season. If they do, it will be interesting to see if Miami counters by sititng in a base defense, which may provide them with the opportunity to use their athletic ability and speed to neutralize the offense.

The play of freshman safety Anthony Reddick was also impressive. He not only blocked a punt, but forced a fumble, which was recovered and returned for a score by Baraka Atkins. Hopefully Atkins didn't bust out with something like Marquis Weeks when asked about running the fumble back for a touchdown. Instead of using something that's as tired as "it was just kind of instinct, like running from the cops," I hope Atkins said something more along the lines of "I just ran like I was late for school and wanted to get there before the bell rang." Something, anything that would just sound a little better than what Weeks said a few weeks back. A quote like that out of a Miami player would surely generate national headlines.

Special Teams
It’s probably too early in the year to make a pronouncement like this, but Miami’s special teams look like they’re on course to be a strength of this team and a major factor in how high the Canes rise in the standings over the course of the season.

That punt returns and kickoff returns are a strong suit is a surprise to no one. That Miami’s blocked a punt for a touchdown and blocked a key field goal attempt is also no surprise. Even Jon Peattie’s solid-ness has come to be expected after his strong freshman campaign of a season ago. What is a major benefit, and was a major hole last year – possibly costing the Canes the Tennessee game – is the punting game. Brian Monroe (on kick-offs too) is providing the Canes with a field position advantage that is of relatively little help to the defense, because so far it seems to be so strong, but is of huge advantage to the offense, which continues to struggle, because they have a shorter field to work with more often than not.

Other Thoughts
If you were as surprised as I was about how dirty the players’ jerseys got playing in an indoor stadium with field turf, I think I have an answer for you – beneath the field turf, mixed in with it actually, is ground up rubber. Many of the players’ jerseys appeared to have dark streaks by the middle of the game, which I can only think was caused by the rubber.

For those of you who were scoring at home, I thought it was unfair for Houston Athletic Director Dave Maggard to reference how the University of Miami “considered” dropping football back in the mid-90s. This was a mis-statement by Maggard – it was Sports Illustrated that urged Miami to drop its football program and as far as I am aware, this was not a suggestion that was taken very seriously by the university’s administration. Regardless, the comment was mainly inappropriate because Maggard, who served as UM’s AD from 1991 – 1993, was about as responsible as any one individual for the issues that prompted such an article or a thought process from ever existing. Maggard was the head of a renegade program at the time and he left without instituting any measures to clean the program up and return it to its championship level, like Paul Dee has done. Instead Maggard did the easy thing and got out. His presentation of the subject was biased and unfair.


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