Hurricanes must find mental focus

The UM football team has spoiled fans and silenced critics with outstanding play on the field and exceptional behavior off the field over the past three seasons. However, what they did on the field last Thursday night in their 22-20 victory over West Virginia deserves no praise at all.

In actuality, the entire season thus far should not be considered a great success. Success goes far beyond wins and losses, especially on the collegiate level. So far, this year’s squad has overlooked lesser opponents and taken the field with a cocky arrogance that has not been backed up by stellar play.

What I will proceed to rant about is obvious concerns that this football team must address; yet they never seem to address these problems simply because the bumps in the road have yet to lead to a defeat.

To begin with, the Hurricanes continuously play down to their lesser opponents, seemingly always having their next big time opponent on their mind. It is true that UM has had convincing wins over the likes of weaker opponents this season such as Louisiana Tech, East Carolina, and Boston College. But what I don’t see in these games is hunger and motivation by players. This was clearly evident in Miami’s comeback victory against state rival Florida. The ‘Canes did not take UF seriously – an opponent who came in motivated and almost got past the talent gap because the Gators simply wanted it more.

Miami is getting by on mere talent. Talent alone will not beat FSU on Saturday, and surely won’t beat Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh on the road, not to mention Tennessee’s visit to the Orange Bowl on Nov. 8.

Where else must I place the initial blame than on the UM coaching staff? In college, the role of the coaching staff plays a substantial role in motivating players on the field no matter what is at stake.

With this said, I’m not going to tell you that Miami players must treat the West Virginia game with the same ferocity and competitive drive that they will on Saturday in Tallahassee. However, they need to find some sort of middle ground, and the coaching staff must inject this competitive drive into the hearts of the Hurricane players.

Lesser opponents treat contests against the Hurricanes as their Super Bowl. Miami must realize that in order to win the National Championship, they must start placing a greater emphasis on every contest, just as they did in their 2001 title run.

Now don’t mistake a closely fought game like UM’s scare at Boston College in 2001 with how the game last Thursday was played. The Hurricanes gave the Mountaineers no credit and that showed early in the game. Antrel Rolle got into a scrap with a WVU player, and so did Kellen Winslow on numerous occasions.

Winslow is as gifted a player as there is in the nation right now, as his game-saving catch proved. But Winslow is supposed to make big plays against every opponent. So why get into it with WVU players on every successful play you make? There is a huge difference between showing confidence and competitive drive on the field than displaying arrogant swagger.

This arrogance needs to be addressed by the Hurricane coaching staff. Larry Coker must discipline his players and get the message across immediately if this team wants to play in New Orleans come January. Former UM coach Butch Davis would not tolerate any of the shenanigans that occurred against West Virginia. Does this program want to go back to the Dennis Erickson days – a time when only making big plays and winning mattered? Class and character was not required in those days and look what happened. Probation.

I know Larry Coker is a class act. However, he now faces his biggest challenge. He must make the Hurricanes more disciplined and must find a way to get these kids motivated for every contest.

The Hurricanes are supposed to make big plays and need to spend more of their energy producing on the field rather than using that energy up on the few big plays they have made this year. Frankly, this year’s squad is not talented enough to win a championship if they continue to show this cocky arrogance on the field. The same goes for not respecting the opponents. UM’s performance thus far proves this.

Brock Berlin continues to throw costly interceptions, receivers are dropping passes, and the biggest strength on this team, the defense, still is giving up too many big plays. To add insult to injury, Frank Gore is now lost for the season. In my opinion Jarrett Payton is not the answer. I hope that Coker realizes this as well. If he does, look for Jason Geathers to move back to tailback and possibly take over the starting nod in weeks to come.

With this said, I still think the ‘Canes can go unbeaten this year and win their second title in three years.

This will not be possible if the coaching staff does not fix the problems that have easy remedies. As for the play on the field, that is solely in the hands of the UM players.

I am not saying the Miami must go undefeated this season, because God knows we have all been spoiled over the past couple of years. However, they must fix the character issues and improve their mental preparation. UM can lose three or four more games this year and I won’t rag on the squad if they give it their best and do so while being focused.

Let’s just hope adjustments are made on Saturday, or else this could be a very long season.

You can reach Brian Poliakoff at