The Hurricanes enter Thursday’s contest against West Virginia with a 4-0 record. They will probably be 5-0 on Friday morning. So what?
The perfect record should be no surprise to anyone except the most extreme pessimists and ultra-concerned Hurricane fans. Sure, there have been a couple of twists and turns along the way. The five-point victory over Florida was supposed to look more like the 41-16 score in Gainesville last year. And Miami’s last Big East contest in Chestnut Hill was expected to be a major test, not a 33-14 laugher.
But if you look past the flawless record, the No. 2 ranking, and the steady play of Frank Gore and most of the defense, there are several problems with the ‘Canes that need to be fixed. Problems that can quickly erase that zero in the loss column.
So, with beginning of the second trimester rapidly approaching us, let’s evaluate the Hurricanes’ performance through the first four games.
Take away the last 21 minutes of the Florida game, and everyone would be noticing Brock Berlin’s seven turnovers compared to five touchdowns much more. I am not saying he doesn’t have great potential or that his receivers are always helping him. But the next few games will reveal whether Berlin is an elite QB going through the learning process, or one who won’t ever graduate past being a mid-level signal caller. In a limited role, Derrick Crudup has been fine.
Frank Gore has proven to be the ultimate workhorse of the offense. He’s averaging 113 rushing yards a game on 21 carries, has shown a strong ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and his blocking skills are severely underrated. We only wish he broke a few more tackles. UM has the most depth at this position in years, with Jarrett Payton and Tyrone Moss both playing well.
The fullback position, on the other hand, has very little depth with only two players healthy. However, Kyle Cobia is putting together his best season as a ‘Cane.
Wide Recievers/Tight Ends
The most disappointing aspect of the team so far has been the receiving corps. Kellen Winslow, who many (myself included) thought had a good chance to be the first Heisman winner at tight end, has just 15 receptions and a single touchdown so far. At the same time, no wide-out has helped pick up the slack or prevented opposing defenses from double-teaming #81. Kevin Beard had a career game against Florida, but has had just 33 receiving yards since. Roscoe Parrish has been non-existent, one 50-yard TD notwithstanding. And the one pleasant surprise, Ryan Moore, is still dropping too many passes.
For a starting unit with its left guard (Joe McGrath) still on the sidelines, as well as two others (Vernon Carey, Carlos Joseph) in and out of the lineup with injures, the numbers have been pretty good. Chris Myers and Carey anchor a line that has allowed only three sacks this season, and has opened up holes for 166 rushing yards per contest. The O-Line still was outplayed by the Gators front four, however, and their eight penalties in that game was unacceptable.
While they haven’t been overly spectacular, the defensive line has erased most of the concerns of skeptics. This is especially the case at left defensive end, where Baraka Atkins (3 sacks) is a star in the making, and freshman Bryan Pata offers the total package. Vince Wilfork has matched Atkins’ sack total, even with the constant double and triple-teaming “Big Daddy” faces. And Orien Harris has been able to fill some of Wilfork’s void, although the third DT, Santonio Thomas, has gotten off to a slow start.
After struggling to stop the run early in the season, the LB core made big strides against Boston College, helping hold Derrick Knight to 83 yards. Jon Vilma and D.J. Williams lead the team with 25 sticks apiece, although both have missed their share of tackles. Rocky Mcintosh got his first significant action against the Eagles, and Darrell McClover has proven to be more than just a special teams standout. Leon Williams is a superstar waiting in the wings.
They didn’t play that well against Florida, but otherwise the nation’s top-rated pass defense in 2002 has picked up right where they left off. Sean Taylor (3 interceptions) is a playmaker almost in the same vein as Ed Reed, while Al Marshall has outplayed Kelly Jennings at right cornerback. The secondary has done a better job aiding the front seven in stopping the run, and Antrel Rolle corner blitzes have caused problems for opposing offensive lines.
The kick return team can be summed up in two words: Devin Hester. The freshman gives UM their best returning threat in a long time. Two punt returns for touchdowns this season isn’t bad either. The coverage, for the most part, has been first-rate.
The performance of punter Brian Monroe leaves much to be desired, however. Monroe has averaged just 34.5 yards per punt, including a crucial five-yarder against UF. Place-kicker Jon Peattie has been consistent from within 40 yards (5-5), as coach Larry Coker hoped. His lone miss was from 42 yards against La. Tech.
I like to evaluate a head coach’s performance on how the crucial game situations are handled. Larry Coker has been forced to make one major decision, and keeping Berlin in the Florida game solidified Coker’s status as one of the nation’s best coaches. I would like to see defensive coordinator Randy Shannon continue to implement more blitz schemes, and it wouldn’t be Hurricane football, of course, without a plethora of penalties.