Last season, the Hurricanes lack of defensive communication amongst the defensive back seven was akin to a mild case of herpes. It would flare up occasionally, barely elevating the threat level to guarded, but when it mattered it would breakdown to a full blown outbreak. Don't be fooled by last season's team ranking. The nation's 33rd rated defense showed early on it was vulnerable to breaking down and susceptible to the big play. The two go hand in hand in this case as the breakdowns led to big plays in the passing game throughout the season. It is an area that will have to be improved upon exponentially to make strides on '08.
By the second game of the season, communication was a little more than "just a scare" when the ‘Canes were drummed by the #5 Sooners in Norman with an all out aerial assault with six touchdowns. Players following the game, reasoned the 85,000+ fans at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium was a primary reason for a lack of defensive back-seven communication, however throughout the season, there appeared to be more to the story. The team would focus on improving the unit's ability to consistently be on the same page throughout the year, but it would come to a head versus #19 Virginia in the final game at the Orange Bowl. The wheels came off the wagon as the Cavalier tight ends abused the Hurricane linebackers and they were never to recover. The rest is now history as the ‘Canes whimpered their way into the off-season. In December, Randy Shannon would dismiss defensive coordinator Tim Walton.
The Hurricanes entered the off-season with a need for more than a topical cream, it needed a cure. Enter former Kansas defensive coordinator Bill Young, who was hired in January as Walton's replacement. Young brings to the table a more complex defense than his predecessor, implementing an aggressive, attack style zone blitz that intends on harassing the opposing quarterback and causing confusion with the defensive back-seven. With this will come more responsibility from defenders of their assignments which makes proper team communication paramount to defensive success. Early on, the defense will see its fair share of busts as the learning curve needs to be extended for the new system, but, success will come as the defense improves on adjusting. The key here will be how quickly the Hurricanes pick up the system and make adjustments on the field against live fire. If the players adapt, the Hurricane defense could quickly approach its former dominating self under Young.
4. Special Teams.
The special teams weren't so special last year in Coral Gables. As a matter of fact, you could say it was down right mediocre, and even that might be considered generous. Coach Shannon voiced his displeasure with the unit numerous times during post-game press conferences citing missed field goals, busted kick coverage units, and a lack of playmaking in the return game as its faults and he was right. The return units ranked among the bottom 20 of 119 FBS teams in kick return average and 67th in country on punts. The kicking units weren't much better with the revolving door of place kickers and kick off specialists failed to find consistency and punting ranked 58th in the country. The coverage units were tinkered with all year to find a group that could cover dependably.
Shannon stressed this team needed an infusion of special teams position players – namely linebackers, tight ends, fullbacks, and safeties for coverage units and cornerbacks and wide receivers – speed guys – for the return game. In kind, the 2008 recruiting class included a plethora of talent that will permeate the special teams depth chart on both coverage units and the return game. There is now no excuse for poor special teams play, especially from a team that had relied on timely, game changing, and most importantly consistent special teams play in the past.
3. Offensive Rhythm, Consistency, and Balance.
Who was to blame for the 110th ranked offense that the Hurricanes trotted out every game last season? Was it a holdover personnel from the former regime that just didn't have it? Or was it the new offensive coordinator that was in over his head at a premier program at Miami? The correct answer is probably somewhere in the middle as a combination of factors multiplied into one of the worst offenses in the country.
The passing game in 2007 was of the most inept in the country. Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright combined to form the 108th best passing game in the county, a far cry from the standards the likes of Dorsey, Torretta, Testeverde, Kelly, et al set forth before them and the likes of which never want to be seen by fans of the Hurricanes again. Too often in '07 did the Hurricanes come up short with an untimely turnover or erratic execution. To combat this, the Hurricanes need to gain some semblance of consistency and with that will come the ever so important rhythm which successful offenses have. Pay special attention to the first few weeks of the season, as the offense will be put to the test early during two road contests in two of the toughest places to play in the country – Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and Kyle Field. It will test the Hurricane quarterbacks moxie and wherewithal for not only this season but beyond. It takes a special quarterback to go into those two houses and stand up to the beast within.
2. The Youth Movement.
The Hurricanes will introduce 29 new faces to fans this fall. In lieu of the worst season in a decade in Coral Gables, Randy Shannon had one goal in mind; create a team that would believe that anything short of a National Championship is unacceptable and the means to get there is one that would be accomplished by any means necessary because losing is not an option. These new faces – 14 of which will appear on the opening day two-deep depth chart (13 being true freshmen) – will have every opportunity to grab the horse by the reins and lead the team to the promise land. However, Rome was not built in a day and in kind, fans should not expect instant gratification. Shannon's promise of a bright future begins in 2008 but doesn't end there. 2008 is a year in which fans have the opportunity to watch some of the nation's top high school seniors become Miami Hurricanes and develop into the greats of the next generation.
1. Home field Advantage.
Gone is the Old Horseshoe in Little Havana. Last season was no tribute to the Old Lady as the Hurricanes went 4-3 in their final season in the Orange Bowl and its final three contests were ones for the record book as the Hurricanes put together one of their worst efforts at quarterback against NC State and its worst loss at home since the 1940's against Virginia in the last call at the O.B. Despite the whimper it went out on, its rugged appearance and archaic technology, the Orange Bowl was one of college football's most hallowed halls and saw more great games and big plays than any other stadium in college football. While the stadium wouldn't draw sell out crowds in years, the Orange Bowl still struck fear into the hearts of visitors as even a half capacity crowd could get the old structures shaking during a big moment.
The Hurricanes now turn the page to a new chapter in their storied history with a new home, Dolphin's Stadium where they'll have to make new memories, new great games, and new big plays. Fans will have to create new memories that they will have to carry with them for years. ESPN will have to find a play to replay as much as the Flutie Hail Mary. The Hurricanes will have to create a new home that strikes fear into the heart of opponents. They'll have start another 58 game home winning streak. As the Hurricanes finally turn the page on an old friend, the new one holds an unpredictable future as the new digs coincide with an overhauled roster that has its eyes set on a Sears Trophy and creating all of those new memories old fans want to recapture.