Unlike last season, the Miami Hurricanes have experienced a lot of unnecessary trouble en route to an 8-0 start. Slow starts, special team miscues, and a large number of penalties have forced Miami to play from behind several times, which has helped contribute to the ‘Canes falling into the No. 2 spot in the AP poll, and out of the top two in the BCS standings.
Tomorrow, a slow start or any type of foolish miscue could result in disaster for the Hurricanes as they face Tennessee (5-3) in Knoxville. The Volunteers, an early season favorite to challenge Miami for the national championship, instead have been bitten hard by the injury bug, and therefore, are looking to get back into the top 25.
Although the Hurricanes look like the much better team entering the contest, the team is not taking Tennessee’s disappointing record for granted.
“Whether they are 0-5 or 5-0, they are still going to give us 110 percent,” said linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
One thing Miami was able to do in their 42-17 victory at Rutgers last Saturday was re-establish the run. The ‘Canes picked up 195 yards on 35 carries, with all but eight of those yards going to sophomore Willis McGahee. Miami needed some extra confidence in their running attack going into tomorrow, when they will be facing an experienced and quick Volunteers defensive line.
The Hurricanes could also use a big game on the ground to take some pressure off quarterback Ken Dorsey, who will be playing with an injured wrist. The injury isn’t expected to give Dorsey many problems though, and his offensive line isn’t worried about it either.
“He[Ken] told us that it wouldn’t affect the way he throws, especially since it’s not on his throwing arm,” said offensive lineman Chris Myers. “We are concentrating more on establishing the run and we aren’t going to concentrate on him unless he tells us otherwise.”
On defense, the ‘Canes made some changes up front, implementing an eight man front on the line of scrimmage throughout much of the Rutgers game. The move worked, as Miami gave up just 78 yards against the Scarlet Knights, after surrendering an average of 330 yards on the ground over the previous two contests. The secondary also turned in another strong performance, giving up just 117 yards through the air.
The defense will need to continue their strong effort against one of the more balanced offenses in college football. Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen, who has thrown for 1697 yards and nine TD’s this season, represents the best QB Miami has faced since Florida’s Rex Grossman. The Vols also average 143 yards on the ground, and boast a strong group of receivers, even without sophomore Kelley Washington, who will be out with a concussion.
“They have the potential to be[a top 10 team],” Vilma said. “As far as the running game and the passing game goes, they can click together and be a very dangerous team.”
However, the two most recurring problems for the Hurricanes were the ones that helped Rutgers hold a 17-14 lead after three quarters last weekend. Miami committed 13 penalties for 120 yards, including several that negated potential big gains. Head coach Larry Coker says Miami has to play smarter in order to decrease its average of nearly 10 infractions a game.
“We’re not a dumb football team, but we’re making some dumb mistakes,” Coker said. “Those are things we’ve got to rectify, and we will make personnel changes because of some of the penalties.”
Special teams also hurt Miami severely up in Piscataway, especially in the first half. The Knights blocked a PAT attempt from placekicker Todd Sievers and a Freddie Capshaw punt. The latter was returned for a Rutgers TD, giving the Knights a 17-8 lead at the time. Coker blames himself for the miscues more than the personnel on the field.
“To me, it wasn’t a personnel problem, it was a coaching problem,” Coker said. “I take responsibility for that.”
Although Miami regrouped in the fourth quarter to score 28 unanswered points, it wasn’t enough to keep Oklahoma from overtaking the Hurricanes in the AP Poll. More importantly, the Ohio State Buckeyes jumped the ‘Canes in the all-important BCS standings, holding a .44 lead. Still, Coker downplayed the change in the polls.
“We’re not going to apologize for a 25-point win,” Coker said. “The four (undefeated) teams that lost, they would love to have had a one-point win.”
According to Coker, Miami has put together several of their best practices this week. The players are looking to improve their play in several areas this weekend, and most importantly are focused on getting off to a quick start, something that might be necessary to keep their Fiesta Bowl chances alive.
“We don’t really know the reason why we haven’t started out of the gate much quicker,” Vilma said. “We are looking forward to finding out the reason and putting it behind us.”
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.