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October 14, 2011
A Closer Look: Miami
CaneSport.com publisher Gary Ferman was kind enough to assist Tar Heel Illustrated with its pregame coverage of Saturday's important ACC Coastal Division matchup between Miami and North Carolina.
Ferman answered several question for us as part of our 'A Closer Look' feature on the Hurricanes, who come to Chapel Hill with a 2-3 record but optimistic that they can knock off the 5-1 Tar Heels for the first time ever at Kenan Stadium.
It's obviously been a tough season so far in a lot of ways for Miami, very much similar to the turmoil that plagued North Carolina's 2010 season. How has Al Golden handled such remarkable adversity in his first few months in Coral Gables?
Outwardly Golden is holding it together, although one can imagine that much of this came as a shock to him as he said he had no idea when he took the job that the NCAA was going to be investigating like this.
Golden has especially done a great job keeping the team focused on the task at hand instead of worrying about what might happen. And the play on the field is improving, which is a testament to his outlook rubbing off on players.
Miami's injuries have been notable this season, with Marcus Forston being the latest. Could you break down Miami's injury status as you know it heading into this game? Which players are likely to be out, and which players are questionable/game time decisions?
Injuries have hit Miami hard this season, especially on the defensive line. Two of the team's top tackles entering the year, Forston and Curtis Porter, are out for the year. And there wasn't much depth here to start with.
It doesn't help matters that Adewale Ojomo was moved from defensive end two weeks ago but then got hurt and isn't going to be 100 percent for this game even if he does suit up.
Things inside have been a mess, and now the team is burning a planned redshirt for freshman tackle Corey King so he can play in this game. That shows how things stand right there. And the team will still miss playmaking end Olivier Vernon for one more game - he was suspended by the NCAA for six games.
At linebacker the team lost one of its top players, starter Ramon Buchanan, for the year. Jordan Futch did fairly well last week as the new starter, though. The offense is the healthiest it's been, with Seantrel Henderson rounding into form off back surgery,
The good news for Miami is Lamar Miller finally at 100 percent off a shoulder injury and Phillip Dorsett is getting back to full strength coming off an injury that slowed him a bit last game. The only big injury so far this year on offense was the loss of transfer Blake Ayles, the anticipated starting tight end, for the year.
Through everything, Miami has been able to count on a pair of veterans, one on each side of the ball---Jacory Harris at quarterback and Sean Spence at linebacker. They missed the one game, but how have those guys served as leaders for the 'Canes as well as obviously being two of the most productive players on the team?
Harris typically hasn't taken on a very vocal role, although he just started to last game by addressing the team after a tough loss at Virginia Tech. That's a good sign for the Canes, as he's got to take on more of a leadership role.
Spence is trying to lead on defense, but there are just so many problems on that side of the ball that it's going to take more than just a great leader to fix them. Spence is doing his best trying to get his teammates not to freelance and just follow what coaches are preaching. But that's come with mixed results. Harris is playing the most error-free football of his career and that also figures to improve his status with his teammates.
Lamar Miller is one of the top running backs in the ACC if not the whole country. Talk about his progression this season and the things he's doing well, along with the challenge it will be for North Carolina to try and shut him down..........
The scary thing with Miller is he's put up huge numbers despite an injury that slowed him down for a couple of games. His burst and ability to make people miss is the best fans have seen in Coral Gables since Frank Gore.
He's a guy that can run inside or outside with blazing speed at 215 pounds, and he's also got great cutback moves. If North Carolina is going to hold him under 100 yards the team will need to have multiple hats to the ball every time he touches it, and if he's not hit going through the line he's got a good chance of breaking a huge run as no one is going to catch him from behind.
UNC's Everett Withers has said this week that watching Miami on film is almost like watching a mirror image of his own team because the philosophies are so similar. What are Miami's identities offensively and defensively?
On offense this is a balanced attack that tries for a 50/50 mix of run and pass but actually has leaned a little more in the direction of running the ball so far this season.
The passing attack doesn't have a go-to guy and tries to spread the ball between a big, fast receiver (Tommy Streeter) and slot types (Travis Benjamin, Phillip Dorsett). Allen Hurns and tight end Clive Walford are also threats to catch the ball on any given play, as are the running backs.
The idea of the offense is that the defense should have no idea where or to whom the ball will go on a given play. The defense would like to have the identity of a punishing, physical team. But the defensive line has been decimated by injuries and suspensions, the team lost a top linebacker, and graduation cost the Canes all their experienced cornerbacks. So this defense's only identity right now is that it's a big-play group - as in giving up big plays for the opposing offense.