Fans got a preview of the 2002 defending champion Miami football team Saturday, as the Hurricanes ended spring practice with a full-scale scrimmage at the Orange Bowl highlighted by a strong defensive effort and an efficient passing game.
The offense outscored the defense, 35-16, in front of 14,432 fans at Fox SportsNet’s Canes Fest.
“As a team we can definitely perform better than we did today,” said quarterback Ken Dorsey. “Our team has made a lot of great strides this spring. We have worked really hard.”
The ‘Canes offense totaled 298 yards (3.2 yards per play) and scored two touchdowns (12 points), two extra points (two points), two field goals (six points), and gained 15 first downs (15 points) to amass their 35 points. The defense did not force a turnover and collected 16 points on 16 three-and-out possessions.
“The defensive group is a little ahead of the offensive group, especially in depth,” said head coach Larry Coker. “Our front seven is outstanding. The linebackers are a lot better than last season and the secondary, although young, was impressive.”
Starting quarterback Ken Dorsey played the first three series of the scrimmage, throwing for 86 yards on six-of-10 passing. Dorsey’s lone scoring drive included a 19-yard pass to sophomore tight end Kellen Winslow and was capped by a Todd Sievers 23-yard field goal.
“This is one of the best springs our offense has had in recent years and we played well today against probably the best defense we will have to face,” said Dorsey.
Winslow, who will likely replace Jeremy Shockey as the starting tight end next season, was the Hurricanes’ leading receiver with 57 yards on three catches. Redshirt freshman Roscoe Parris tied Winslow with 57 receiving yards on two catches, including the games’ longest completion of 31 yards.
“We can help our secondary get better due to the fact that we throw great receivers at them everyday in practice,” said Dorsey.
Backup quarterback Derrick Crudup called the plays for seven possessions, completing six-of-11 attempts for 70 yards and one touchdown. Crudup found reserve tight end Brandon Sebald for a 13-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
“Derrick played well today and made some progress, but he must work more on his consistency,” said Coker.
“I was really pumped up coming into the game,” said Crudup. “After the first couple minutes, I was able to relax and I got comfortable throwing the ball.”
The rushing game struggled to gain positive yardage against the Hurricanes front seven that many believe will be the best in the nation next season. The defense compiled nine quarterback sacks and held the UM running game to just over a yard per carry.
Starting tailback Willis McGahee led all rushers with 40 yards on 14 attempts for an average of only 2.9 yards per carry. Second-team running back Jarrett Payton rushed for 29 yards on 11 carries and fullback reserve fullback Quadtrine Hill racked up 22 yards on eight carries, and scored the only rushing touchdown of the afternoon.
“For us to be a good team we need to run the ball better than we have this spring,” said Coker. “Our inability to consistently run the ball is our biggest problem.”
“After the performance we had today, we need to work on everything that has to do with the run game,” said starting center Brett Romberg. “We’ll just have to go into the film room and try and improve from there.”
New faces on the defense made a name for themselves, as linebacker Leon Williams and defensive lineman Orien Harris, both redshirt freshmen, led the team in tackles with eight stops each. Starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma had two sacks and seven tackles.
“As a whole our defense played really well today,” said Vilma. “We got off our blocks with great speed and made some big plays in the backfield.”
Other defensive standouts included Defensive ends Jerome McDougle (seven tackles, one sack), Jamaal Green (five tackles, two sacks), and John Square (four tackles, two sacks).
One of the biggest question marks entering next season will be the performance of the secondary. The Hurricanes lost all four starters in the defensive backfield from their championship run. On Saturday, the secondary prevented big plays, and held the passing game to 238 yards and one touchdown.
“We really wanted to stop the deep ball and we did a fairly good job of that today,” said junior starting strong safety Maurice Sikes (two tackles). “We need to work on our consistency and get better everyday. Last year’s secondary didn’t have many bad days, and we don’t want to change that.”
Sophomore starting free safety Sean Taylor was impressive with five tackles. Taylor understands that the unit has a lot of more work ahead of them, and knows that they can be a force next season.
“We had better technique and had more enthusiasm today than we have had in spring practice,” said Taylor. “We have the ability to produce next year and want to become one of the best units in the nation.”
To no surprise, the kicking game closed spring practice with an outstanding performance. Kicker Todd Sievers made both field goal attempts of 23 and 51 yards. Punter Freddie Capshaw averaged 39.3 yard per punt, with a long of 51.
“Todd Sievers and Freddie Capshaw will be very productive for us next season just as they were in our championship run,” said Coker.
Miami begins fall camp on August 6 and opens the 2002 football season on Saturday, August 31, against Florida A&M at the Orange Bowl.