The final image I have of the Miami Hurricanes 2008 season is the Emerald Bowl post-game press conference. Head coach Randy Shannon is explaining why the Canes lost to Cal 24 – 17.
I remember sitting on my friends couch seething that Miami let a bowl victory slip out of its hands. I usually don’t watch post-game press conferences because if I’ve just watched the game, I know what happened and I don’t need someone to rehash it for me. But this time I did. I was waiting for an explanation or at least an acknowledgement from Coach Shannon concerning the teams’ complete inability to run a two-minute drill.
It never came.
He did mention that freshman Jacory Harris, the first true freshman to start a postseason game for the Canes since Bernie Kosar in 1983, did some good things. And he did, as he went 25-for-41 for 194 yards and two TDs. Unfortunately, he also lost a fumble in his own territory which was run back to the two-yard line. Cal subsequently scored the go-ahead TD the next play.
He also mentioned that the upperclassmen made plays defensively. Too bad the majority of the starting defense was comprised mainly of freshmen and sophomores.
They were run over, again, by Cal. running back Jahvid Best who ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns. It was a familiar outcome for the run defense who allowed a combined total of 691 rushing yards in losses to Georgia Tech and N.C. State at the end of the regular season.
Once he was done assessing the performance of his team, Coach Shannon left the podium and walked away.
I sat there waiting for someone else to approach the microphone and assess him. To explain why UM didn’t use any of its timeouts in the final two minutes and why the offense lazily moved on the field from play to play. There was no sense of urgency aside from me ripping apart throw pillows from a couch that wasn’t mine.
Six months on and I’m done waiting. I’ve decided to chalk it up to growing pains for both a very young football team and a very green head coach. I know he’s been a stellar defensive coordinator, but head coaching is a different animal and Coach Shannon is learning through trial and error.
Speaking of which, there have been some trials and errors this off-season already.
The firing of offensive coach Patrick Nix was necessary, but distracting as was the transfer of QB Robert Marve who seems to have finally settled on Purdue as his new home. Marve had some ugly things to say about UM and the coaching staff.
On the bright side, none of this has hurt Miami in the recruiting department. The Canes have once again snagged a top ten class. The past three years they’ve had, in order, the ninth, first and seventh best recruiting classes.
Things to watch for in 2009 include:
- The maturity of the defense that, as I’ve already mentioned, was porous in run stopping, closing the season ranked 75th in the nation. The pass defense was solid, but it’s time for the front seven to catch up to their defensive brethren. The return of starting DE Eric Moncur, DBs Randy Phillips and Vaughn Telemaque, who were all injured in 2008, should bolster the D.
-Jacory Harris is the undisputed starting quarterback. It’s his team to lead and if the first spring scrimmage is any indication of things to come (17-for-18) the passing game will flourish. It also doesn’t hurt that the new offensive coordinator is former Philadelphia Eagles assistant Mark Whipple, the man credited with grooming Ben Roethlisberger into a Super Bowl-winning QB.
-The running game will be the strength of the offense. Three upperclassmen, Javarris James (Sr.), Graig Cooper (Jr.) and Damien Berry (Jr.) power this dynamic group and freshmen Mike James and Lamar Miller are impressing early.
-The very first game of the season. The Hurricanes, eager to avenge last year’s loss, travel to Tallahassee on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7 for a season-opening showdown with hated rivals, FSU. The game will be a nationally televised event on ESPN. This is a pressure-filled test that could very well set the tone for the rest of the season.
- The general health of the team by early to mid-October. The early part of the Hurricanes schedule is brutal. They kick it off against FSU, then following a bye week face in succession: Georgia Tech (9/17), Virginia Tech (9/26) and Oklahoma (10/3). If UM is still breathing by then, then they’ve weathered the toughest part of the schedule and should be calloused enough to make a run at the wide open ACC title.
What this translates to is this: 2008 was an up and down season where Miami was forced to play many young players; very talented boys battling very talented men. This year, with a season of growth, both mentally and physically, the playing field will be evened. The Hurricanes now have several components to truly contend in the muddled ACC; namely depth and experience.
Of course the one thing Miami didn’t lack last year was confidence.
Randy Shannon has been around a long time and is the head cheerleader when it comes to speeches about dominating the opposition. He’s part of the culture that created the swagger of the “U”.
If he and his staff can put it all together, these young men will have a chance to shine and people will remember why Miami was once feared.