Offense making progress

After struggling for most of the Florida game against a quality defense, the Miami offense came alive this past Saturday in College Station.

The Charleston Southern game was almost like a glorified scrimmage so that doesn't really count when trying to figure out how good this year's offense is going to be. The Florida game offered some hope, as the Canes were able to put together a few nice drives, even though for the most part the offense struggled to move the ball and score points. Many people were hoping that, following an off week, the Miami offense would begin to show signs of life against Texas A&M this past weekend.

It happened and it happened in a big way. Making just his second career start at the college level, quarterback Robert Marve looked comfortable and did an excellent job of putting the ball into the hands of his playmakers.

"Robert did a great job of getting guys the ball," said head coach Randy Shannon. "The one interception, we tell him you flinch one or two times you give the corner enough time to respond to it. He flinched and that got them an interception."

Shannon and the UM coaches have talked constantly about the importance of taking care of the football -- something you don't see a whole lot of with freshman quarterbacks around college football. With just one turnover in two games for Marve, Shannon believes his young quarterback is doing a good job of taking care of the football, which in turn, is giving the offense more chances to make plays.

"He's not having turnovers," Shannon said. "Last year every eight throws we were making in a game we'd have an interception. We have 24 throws, we'd have three interceptions in a game. That was just the norm. This year Marve and Jacory (Harris) are doing great at just dispersing the ball; if nothing's there throwing it out of bounds. And they're using underneath guys, which is good. They're not always trying to take home run shots, but when they're open they take shots."

It was sophomore running back Graig Cooper, however, who got things going in the first part of the game with some nice runs. He had 77 yards on his first three touches, with two touchdowns. Cooper seemed to be running harder and with more authority than he did two weeks ago, even though the holes he was running through were a lot bigger this time around. Shannon said the opening of those wholes gave the offensive line a lot of confidence early in the game.

"Offensive line wise, we needed those runs because we've been stressing the players all week long about finishing blocks, don't be satisfied about getting in someone's way, take the extra step and go until the whistle blows," he said. "It was big that he hit those runs, and he looked pretty fast doing it. It was just a boost, because we were throwing the ball pretty well."

Prior to the game, the coaches made a switch in the starting offensive line unit when they inserted Tyrone Byrd in at right tackle and moved Chris Rutledge to right guard. The move seemed to pay off well for the Canes.

"The blocking was more effective," Shannon said. "We really challenged the offensive line on doing those type of things. You saw Rutledge at guard and Byrd at tackle. We rotated those guys with (Joel) Figueroa and Orlando (Franklin), the two young guys, not having them in at the same time, just alternating those guys to get a veteran in with those young guys."

Shannon knows the importance of the offensive line to the potential success of this offense and he was very pleased with how well they played as a unit on Saturday.

"The offensive line stepped up because it was great protection and they were blitzing," Shannon said. "It was great protection for the quarterback. If the offensive line steps up, now let's take the next step and see who else steps up. But the offensive line has to keep going and get everyone going."

After Shannon said he'd like to get the wide receiver down to about seven a few days prior to this game, nine Miami receivers saw action and all of them had at least one ball thrown in their direction. Without an established go-to receiver, the Canes are trying to get the most out of this approach.

"I think that's the norm," Shannon said. "We have so many guys on special teams. Sam Shields played three special teams; (Leonard) Hankerson played two. You can't wear guys out on giving them 50, 60 plays in a game. If we gave Sam 50 or 60 plays yesterday Sam wouldn't have been effective as a flier."

The coaches try making it a point to get the best quality players on the special teams units, despite whether or not they are starters.

"That's what you have to do," Shannon said, "especially when you have young guys coming in because most young guys don't think special teams, they think (about) numbers. We show them, for instance, you take a Randy Philips, Glenn Cook on special teams, older senior guys. Javarris James, before he was hurt, was on punt team. We go back, pull out old film and show them where Edward Reed was playing special teams as a senior, Sean (Taylor) was, (Kellen) Winslow was as a true freshman. They see those guys, `Wow, they did it, we can do it.'"

With several receivers still in the rotation, Shannon is hoping some guys will emerge and senior Kayne Farquharson certainly had a nice performance and he wasn't alone.

"The last two weeks we worked on the receivers getting better," Shannon said. "He did a nice job, him and Thearon Collier. The tight end Dedrick (Epps), I got on him. He supposedly runs 4.5 (and) Jason Fox runs him down from behind. He broke a tackle and got upfield. All those guys did a great job yesterday, the inside slot guys had a great game."

Despite the strong offensive performance from the Canes, there were little things that prevented the team from scoring even more points. Hankerson's motion penalty took away a long touchdown to Collier. Tight end Richard Gordon had a penalty down by the goal line on a potential touchdown drive. Those are things the coaches will have to continue working on with these guys.

"It was Kayne the first time and Hank the second time," Shannon said of the penalties on the receivers. "Like anything, you keep working on it. We never had that problem all year long. Guys get antsy a little bit. Like Richard Gordon going in to score, he flinched trying to get a jump start on the snap count. That's two on snap counts, one on illegal formation. Illegal formation is unacceptable. We work on that too much."

So while the team is fresh off a strong offensive performance against Texas A&M, they know there's still a lot of work that needs to be done if the team is to accomplish its goals for this season. It all starts with North Carolina this Saturday.

"We're just going to take advantage of what people are trying to do to us," Shannon said. "Every game is different. We're judged by what we do in practice and what our personnel can dictate, how we can use those young guys."

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