The second half of Miami’s season begins tomorrow, and according to head coach Larry Coker and several other Hurricanes, the team is “right where they want to be.”
That statement might be attributed to the ‘Canes 6-0 record, and a No.1 spot in both the AP and Coaches polls, a spot the team has held on to from the beginning of the regular season. All of that is on the line tomorrow afternoon, though, as the Hurricanes take on upstart West Virginia in Morgantown. The Mountaineers are 5-2 this season, and Coker says Miami is going to have to be on their toes throughout the duration of the contest.
“They are as balanced on offense and defense as anyone is,” Coker said. “Both complement each other real well.”
The Hurricanes enter the game with the benefit of a bye-week following the narrow 28-27 victory against Florida State. The Hurricanes were forced to come back from a 13-point deficit in the FSU contest due to an uncharacteristic 14 penalties for 109 yards, something the team spent a lot of time working on.
“We have really been trying to take what we learned from the first six games,” said offensive lineman Chris Myers. “We are trying to learn from the penalties, and we want to come out thinking no more penalties.”
Practice during the off-week was as intense as it has been all season. Coker and the Hurricanes coaching staff matched up the offensive line against the Miami defense, resulting in hours of hard labor, and according to Myers, should help the ‘Canes come game time.
“This has been the best practices we’ve had,” Myers said. “They [the defense]are probably the best guys we’ll face all season.”
The events of practice were muted last week, though, as linebacker Buck Ortega had to be rushed to the intensive care unit due to complications following arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. Ortega was released from HealthSouth Doctors Hospital on Saturday, but the incident had some lingering effects on the team during their preparation for West Virginia.
“It was a terrifying event and we were very concerned about it,” Coker said. “Fortunately, Buck’s mother and father were in control but it certainly had an effect on the team.”
The Mountaineers enter Saturday’s contest averaging nearly 442 yards of total offense per game. A large part of that number is due to the play of senior tailback Avon Cobourne, who has already amassed 1,000 yards this season, becoming only the fifth collegiate running back to reach the century mark each of his four years.
Coupled with Miami’s inability to stop the run against the Seminoles, Cobourne’s presence has given Coker something to worry about.
“Anytime you don’t stop the run, you have to be concerned about a lot of things,” Coker said.
Although Cobourne represents West Virginia’s most talented player on the offensive side of the ball, freshman quarterback Rasheed Marshall has been behind WVU’s 5-2 record, including victories against East Carolina and Syracuse. Marshall has thrown just a pair of interceptions this season, and has also gained 331 yards on the ground to go along with his passing statistics.
“Rasheed Marshall is doing an outstanding job,” Coker said. “He throws the ball a lot better than I would like and is a great runner.”
On defense, the Mountaineers haven’t let up, surrendering just over 284 yards per contest. According to offensive lineman Sherko Haji-Rasouli, much of that is due to a unique defensive formation.
“They have a real weird defense,” Haji-Rasouli said. “They play a 33 stack defense, something I had never heard of before. All you can do to prepare is look at the film and study their formations.”
The Hurricanes certainly have the advantage when it comes to the players on the field. Miami has matched the Mountaineers gaudy numbers, averaging 478 yards on offense while allowing just 264 yards on defense. However, the ‘Canes must come out with a much better first-half performance than they showed against the Seminoles, if Miami wants to continue their climb towards a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
“We have to play well every week,” Coker said. “We’ve got to handle our trips well and prepare throughout the week. It doesn’t matter where we play, we want to be who we are.”
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.