Previewing Miami

In this 11 part series I will break down and predict each Clemson football game for the 2004 season. Of course, much can and will change as fall practice commences and the season progresses.

So by no means do I envision a scenario where I am perfect, but the hope is to give a realistic view of where Clemson, and the rest of the ACC, will fall in the upcoming season.

Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Week #2: Previewing Georgia Tech
Week #3: Previewing Texas A&M
Week #4: Previewing Florida State
Week #5: Previewing Virginia
Week #6: Previewing Utah State
Week #7: Previewing Maryland
Week #8: Previewing N.C. State

November 6th
Clemson at Miami

November replaces October and Clemson still has an outside shot to share an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. Florida State already will have two losses while the Hurricanes will be undefeated. The Tigers will have a chance to officially move into 2nd place in the conference with a win and be merely one game behind Miami for first place.

This will be the 9th game of the year for the Tigers who are off to a 6-2 start on the 2004 season. As I predicted in the previous articles in this series, Clemson will enter the game 4-2 in the ACC race. I predict that Miami will enter the game 7-0 (4-0 in the ACC) with wins over Florida State, Louisiana Tech, Houston, Georgia Tech, Louisville, N.C. State and North Carolina.

Larry Coker is in his 4th year at Miami, compiling an astonishing 35-3 record to date. The Hurricanes are coming off an 11-2 season in 2003 with wins over Louisiana Tech, Florida, East Carolina, Boston College, West Virginia, Florida State (twice), Temple, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes lost to Virginia Tech and Tennessee.

On offense, Miami returns 5 players from last year's team that averaged 394 yards a game (2nd in the Big East and 41st in the nation). There are major questions at quarterback for Miami despite the fact that Brock Berlin returns as a starter. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound senior completed just under 60% of his passes in 2003 for 2,419 yards. Nothing too shabby about that. However, Berlin threw 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions along the way for an offense that sputtered down the stretch. There is a reason Berlin transferred from Florida…he could not win the job for the Gators and he is not the kind of QB you would expect Miami to put on the field.

In addition, there are rumors that Berlin will be on a short leash this year with fellow senior Derrick Crudup and redshirt freshman Kyle Wright pushing for playing time. It would not be shocking to me if Berlin is not in the lineup in week 9 when the Tigers travel to Coral Gables.

Compounding the problems for Berlin in 2003 was the lack of a running game. The Hurricanes were 5th in the Big East in rushing last season, but after Frank Gore was injured, Miami could barely run the ball at all. Gore returns (presumably healthy) after surgery on his knee last year. Because this is Gore's second time having surgery, there is skepticism internally at Miami as to whether Gore can regain his true form. A healthy Gore (back to his original form) could help lead Miami towards a championship hunt. But Gore's backup, Tyrone Moss, lacks the spectacular playmaking ability of his peer. Moss did total over 500 yards after taking over the job from Gore, but Miami's running game never recovered from the loss. If there is a silver lining, it will be in the offensive line which I will cover in just a moment.

Kellen Winslow Jr. is gone, and maybe that is a good thing for Miami as far as the distractions the "Wacky One" gave the team. Also gone are reserve receiver Kevin Beard and Jason Geathers. The problem is none of the current Miami wide receivers really stand out on paper. Ryan Moore and Roscoe Parrish are excellent receivers, but both are coming off major injuries. Akieem Jolla and Darnell Jenkins will be counted on to step in and play major roles. And Miami signed a stellar class of receivers in Cedric Hill, Khalil Jones, and Lance Leggett. But this group, as a whole, is undistinguished and we'll have to play the wait and see game with them to see if they are going to be a talented bunch or not. My guess is not.

Brock Berlin threw 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season as the Hurricanes struggled down the stretch.
The strength of the Miami offense is most certainly the offensive line, which returns 3 of 5 starters this season. Preseason All-American tackle Eric Winston has shown he can be dominant at times. Rashad Butler mans the other tackle, even though he weighs in at less than 280 pounds. Guards Tony Tella and Chris Myers along with center Joel Rodriquez give the Hurricanes the best interior offensive line in the ACC. With the question marks surrounding Berlin at quarterback, expect the Miami coaches to utilize the talent and depth on the offensive line to establish the running game early in the season to take the pressure off Berlin.

On defense, Miami returns 4 players from a defense that gave up only 257 yards a game last year (1st in the Big East, 2nd in the nation).

The defensive line in particular is extremely talented throughout the two deep depth chart. Leading the way is tackle Orien Harris, who harkens memories of Warren Sapp with his quickness and ability to make the big hit. Santonio Thomas and Kareem Brown will battle it out of the other tackle position, but both are talented enough to start at most ACC schools. The ends are scary quick and very strong; led by Baraka Atkins. Thomas Carroll anchors the other end position, giving the Hurricanes two of the best defensive end tandems in the conference. The defensive line is very good, and it should make running against the Hurricanes almost impossible as the season progresses.

Miami loses all three starters at linebacker, something that is highly unusual in big time college football. While the incoming freshmen are talented, depth becomes a major issue. Roger McIntosh now emerges as the leader of the corps, having made only 23 tackles last season. Leon Williams was a top recruit from the 2001 class and he will now be asked to replace Jonathan Vilma, the heart of the Miami defense in 2003. Tavares Gooden takes the other backer spot after playing in 13 games last year as a true freshman. As hard as it to imagine, the linebackers could be a liability for the Hurricanes in 2004. The good news is that the defensive line and secondary is so good that it will take the pressure off the linebackers.

For some reason, Antrel Rolle returned for another year at Miami instead of going to the NFL. That's good news for Miami, who now has a true shut down corner unlike most others in the nation on one side of the field. Kelly Jennings, who is not quite as big as Rolle, is every bit as quick and as he gets more and more experience he should be a nice compliment on the other side of the ball. The safeties both have talent to burn despite limited experience in games. Sean Taylor and Maurice Sikes will be replaced by equally talented players in Greg Threat and Brandon Meriweather. The problem in the secondary, much like that at linebacker, is with depth. Any injuries in the secondary could spell doom for the Miami defensive backfield.

On special teams, Brian Monroe averaged a disappointing 35 yards per punt last year and he could be pushed for the job by a host of challengers, led by Jon Peattie. Peattie was All-Big East last year as a kicker, hitting 22-28 field goals and he has been practicing hard in the off season with his punting technique.

Summary And Prediction
Miami comes storming into the ACC and the assumption is that they are going to walk through unscathed in their very first year. The truth of the matter is that if the Hurricanes would have come into the ACC with their 2001, 2002, or 2003 teams, they could very possibly have run roughshod through the league.

But this team is a half step off of those other three squads, mainly due to a senior laden class that graduated and the underclassmen that jumped early after the 2003 season. The losses don't cripple the Hurricanes; it just makes them more vulnerable with very little quality depth in some important positions. Added to that mix is the unpredictability of Brock Berlin, who was anything but good down the stretch for Miami a year go. Anybody who watched Miami play Virginia Tech and Tennessee know that this Hurricane team has some issues it must address if they are going to win the ACC Championship.

Is it possible that Berlin and Gore will shine? Yes. Is it possible that the freshman wide receivers will live up to their recruiting hype and step right in as playmakers? Yes. Is it possible that the three new linebackers will stay healthy and provide playmaking ability that is close to that of their predecessors? Yes.

But all those possibilities could also turn the other way and cause major headaches for Larry Coker. In the end, I think Miami will fall somewhere in between great and above average. This is not the scary team of two or three years ago, although it is arguably the most talented team in the ACC (even slightly ahead of FSU).

As for the Clemson game in particular, the Tigers have some advantages they can exploit. Clemson should be able to move the ball through the air if they can give Charlie time against that excellent Miami defensive line. While the running game may be tough to establish for Clemson, the quick slants and reverses should work well against the good (not great) Miami linebackers.

And on defense, there is a potential to pin your ears back and go after Berlin if Miami does not improve drastically in the running game in 2004. Much like FSU, Miami can become rather human if they don't remain two dimensional, and Gore just has too many question marks surrounding his health.

All that being said, I did not expect Clemson to win this game. I had already typed the majority of this article prior to Practice Gate Saturday in Clemson. As I left, Jack Dunlap (aka Scoobysnack) asked me what I was going to predict this week in my article. I told him Miami, and he proceeded to give me an earful for about 10 minutes straight on why Clemson was going to beat Miami. And he was not just giving me wishful thinking; his arguments were valid and compelling. Despites Scooby's best efforts, I still left Clemson Saturday feeling good about my pick that Miami would beat Clemson in early November.

But when I heard the tragic news of Jack's untimely death on Sunday morning, I felt compelled to go with the wisdom he unleashed on me in the final hours of his life. In memory of Scoobysnack, my pick has changed.

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