Prospect of the Week: Willis McGahee
One area the program has always had both quality and quantity is in the offensive backfield. From the days of OJ Anderson to Mike Rozier, Edgerrin James and most recently Clinton Portis, the Hurricanes find productive feature runners that project well to the next level.
The depth at the running back Miami fielded the past five years has been absolutely amazing. Edgerrin James leaves and James Jackson takes the hand-offs but when Jackson gets injured Clinton Portis steps up to the plate and when Portis was dinged the ball went to Frank Gore. Even with that we are leaving a few names out of the mix. Now that Portis is running roughshod for the Denver Broncos and Gore is nursing a season ending injury the call's gone out to the next great Hurricane back, Willis McGahee, a college ball carrier that may just be flashing his skills on Sunday's in 2003.
Prior to the 2002 campaign McGahee, only a third-year sophomore, saw spot duty averaging 4.7-yards on 67 carries, which placed him third on the team in rushing behind both Portis and Gore. Fast-forward the tape barely nine months and McGahee is destroying the opposition amassing 8.1-yards on 79 carriers, with an amazing 10 touchdowns; this in only five games! Four of the five games have resulted in McGahee breaking the century mark on the ground with his best efforts coming against top competition including a 204-yard performance against the Florida Gators and 135-yard day against Boston College. So is it an aberration or the shape of things to come for Miami's newest found talent?
McGahee does have the benefit of a tremendous offensive line. Even with the graduation of Bryant McKinnie and Joquain Gonzalez the Hurricane line goes six deep and all those players will either be drafted or signed as free agents over the course of the next three years. Still; he must have a good amount of skill that translates to the next level right? The answer is most definitely.
An elusive runner with tremendous footwork, McGahee displays patience, vision. possessing both the physical abilities and running instincts to be effective at the next level. Following his blocks, he quickly bounces it to the outside avoiding piles or slides off would-be tacklers and displays a burst of speed through the hole with the quickness to immediately get through it. Working his runs, McGahee falls forwards when tackled, picking up the extra yardage and can handle a lot of carries during four quarters or take the hand-offs deep into a game, getting stronger the more he's given the ball.
His innate abilities are outstanding, leading anyone to believe he is going to be a high draft choice when he leaves Miami, and the word around campus is it won't be before to long. Consider this; an area scout we spoke with while we attended the Boston College-Miami game felt McGahee is a quicker version of Edgerrin James!
His game is not without fault though; he's only an average at best pass catcher out of the backfield and does not run to his size or with the natural power he possesses but both should be ironed out with experience and the more McGahee gets accustomed to becoming a total back.
The competition gets a little tougher from here on out for the Hurricanes and McGahee starting tomorrow with cross-state rival Florida State (and eventually a fight for another national title against Oklahoma or Texas). This Saturday's game against the Seminoles could be a calling card for McGahee; FSU will be the fastest, fiercest defense the Miami offense has faced to date. They are a hard hitting bunch quick to the ball carrier and feature the nations most prominent outside linebacking pair, Michael Boulware and Kendyl Pope, a pair of juniors that carry first round grades for the NFL Draft. Factor in explosive linemen such as Darnell Dockett and Alonzo Jackson and this will be a good measuring stick for McGahee; we are betting he grades out highly both tomorrow and next April.