Perhaps the biggest offseason move made by the Hurricanes in 2009 was the addition of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Coming to UM from the NFL, Whipple had a lot of fans excited to see what he could do with the offense in 2009. Miami's offense improved in nearly every category -- from 78th to 62nd in rushing, from 77th to 28th in passing, from 89th to 35th in total offense, and from 50th to 27th in scoring. Sure, having most of the players from last year's offense returning helped those numbers but the Canes looked like a different offense for most of the season. With most of the same skilled position players returning for 2010, it's not unrealistic to expect the Canes to continue making a march towards the top of the college football world on the offensive side of the ball. If the Canes can make a similar jump in 2010, they should have one of the top 15 offensive football teams in college football.
2) Miami's best offensive players in 2010 could be guys who haven't made much of an impact up to this point.
If you had told people back in August that Damien Berry would be Miami's best running back and Leonard Hankerson the team's best receiver people probably would have said you're crazy. However, it happened. Berry and Hankerson were arguably Miami's two best offensive players this season and neither one (especially Berry) had done much in his career up until now. So while those two along with guys like Laron Byrd and Jacory Harris should give Miami plenty of offensive playmakers in 2010, don't be surprised if other guys emerge as being real difference makers. Could one be Lamar Miller at running back? The former four-star prospect drew high praise on the scout team this year. Could it be Tommy Streeter at receiver? The former four-star player is used to catching balls from Harris and showed a glimpse of what he can do as a downfield threat with the long reception against Wisconsin. Or could it be someone like Benjamin Jones? He will likely get a look at left tackle and seems to have a lot of the physical tools to replace Jason Fox quite nicely next season.
3) The Canes are still slow starters on the road under head coach Randy Shannon.
One of the trends with this team in the previous two seasons was that they didn't start fast on the road. We were all hoping that would change this season. It didn't. The Canes played away from home seven times this season and went into the half with a lead just three times -- all against Florida schools. In fact, all three times Miami went outside the state of Florida to play a game they were losing at the half by an average score of 20-7. That makes life difficult in the second half of those games. For the season, the Canes were outscored in the first half of road games by an average score of 13-12. Not surprisingly, three of those games in which Miami was behind at the half ended up in losses. That made up three of the team's four losses this season. Good teams start fast on the road and Miami will need to start doing that next season because the road schedule isn't going to be easy with games against Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Pittsburgh among others.
4) One of the problems on defense was that the Canes, for the second year in a row, were unable to generate many big plays.
Tim Walton's unit was able to do a solid job of it in 2007 before he was fired. Bill Young's unit was unable to generate a lot of big plays. And John Lovett's unit continued the struggles this season. The Canes finished the season ranked 65th in college football in sacks. Former five-star Allen Bailey was responsible for about a third of Miami's sack total this season. They finished 87th in the number of turnovers created. Former five-star Brandon Harris was tied for the team lead with two picks. Miami just wasn't good enough on either side of the ball this season to overcome the lack of big plays generated on defense. With a high number of the players on Miami's two deep expected back for 2010, the defense should be able to create more big plays. If they do, the whole team will obviously improve. If they don't, the Canes will probably continue losing a few games each season to teams not as talented as they are.
5) The jury is still out on Jacory Harris becoming a big time quarterback.
Harris had a lot of Miami fans excited going into the season. He played well at the end of last season as a freshman. He had a new offensive coordinator who had experience with Super Bowl caliber quarterbacks in the NFL. He had an impressive group of pass-catchers to throw to. He then went out and led the Canes to a 3-1 start and had people talking about him being a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Then he started to back track. In his first four games of the season, Harris went 3-1, completed 62 percent of his passes, averaged nine yards per pass, had eight touchdowns, and five picks. Over his next four against Div 1 opponents, his numbers slipped up some. He still went 3-1 with eight touchdowns and five picks but his completion percentage went down slightly to 61 percent and his yards per pass went down to 8.7. His final four game stretch was his worst. He went 2-2, threw just five touchdowns compared to five picks, and his completion percentage (56-percent) and yards per pass (7.1) dropped significantly. Harris still has a chance to be a great quarterback at the University of Miami and he'll be the 18th most efficient passer coming back to college football next season but his lack of progress in 2009 will be a reason to hold back on the enthusiasm just a bit heading into 2010.
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