Lt. Philip Nolan of State Of The U, the SB Nation Miami Hurricanes blog, was kind enough to answer some questions from me about Saturday's USF-Miami game. I also answered some questions for their site, which will appear over there soon.
(This is more than our usual number of questions in Bulls Recon. Astute Bulls fans will figure out why we chose this particular number.)
1. The Canes have been very up and down (getting obliterated by EMAW and Notre Dame, winning shootouts against BC and NC State, hammering Virginia Tech). Are there any trends or overriding themes coming out of this season?
LPN: Well, considering where EMAW and ND currently sit, those blowouts frankly arent all that surprising. And while the ACC Coastal is more or less a Hungry Hungry Hippos tournament, the wins have all been surprising. Miami was supposed to be a talented team that is very young, and was widely projected to win 4-5 games max. We now have a chance to end up with 7, which is fantastic considering everything. As far as trends or themes? Inconsistent offense, non-existent defensive line play, and bad defense. Other than that, big play ability and Duke Johnson.
2. This is probably the worst Miami defense of my lifetime. What's wrong with the unit in general, and where have they been most vulnerable?
LPN: This is an extremely simple answer. The defensive line is awful. our safeties and corner backs are excellent, as are our linebackers, but none of that matters without the defensive line. Our star end Anthony Chickillo was looked at as being a game changer this year, and he's almost been a non-factor because opponents can concentrate on him with no threat from the middle. it isn't going to be fixed this year, but going forward, if the line gets plugged, this defense will automatically improve.
3. The Hurricanes have been out time-of-possessioned in every game but one, and in that one they only won the TOP battle by 30 seconds. Is that related to the defensive problems? Or does the offense's tendency to hit big plays play a bigger role?
LPN: It's half and half. This defense lives and dies by the turnover. This usually means that they are on the field for quite a while because teams are able to drive on them and either score, DERP, or turnover. When the offense is out there, they tend to get the big hitter more often than they tend to string together a long drive. Not to mention the fact that Duke Johnson is a threat to return a punt or kickoff at any time, which keeps the offense off the field.
4. Duke Johnson? That's my question.
LPN: Freak show. Absolute freak show. there hasn't been a game that's gone by where something has happened that makes me incredibly happy that he is on our side, and was never going to be anything but. His recruitment was a coach's dream. He cried as a kid when Sean Taylor was killed, lived and breathed Miami football, and never once considered going anywhere else. We all knew he was going to be special before he ever got to campus, but he has blown past any expectations that anyone had of him. If there is one play that sums up what he can do perfectly, it's his kickoff return against Virginia. Specifically, his first cutback jump, and what he does after he lands. Check it - pay close attention beginning at the 6 second mark.
5. So really, what's the deal with no one showing up to home games? Is a stadium anywhere near campus even feasible? Would it matter?
LPN: It's a multifaceted issue. For starters, Miami as a sports town matches Miami as an actual town. Diverse, with many different likes, dislikes, and activities. It's widely known as a fairweather town, simply because of everything else that is available to do, and the many sports teams that play there. The main issue is the stadium situation, though. It's far enough from campus, and located at the crux of traffic congested highways, that it keeps the general fan from wanting to make the trek. The students show up, but they are shuttled from campus. Simply put, with the current situation, the team needs to win if they want to put butts in seats. A stadium on or near campus is feasible and doable, and it would make a TON of difference. There are a lot of hurdles, though, so if it is to happen, it's going to be a long, long wait.
6. I read your story about Al Golden needing to rebuild the culture of Miami football into one where everyone puts in the work instead of guys coasting on their talent. How long of a process do you think this will be, and how much will the NCAA banhammer set things back?
LPN: The process has already started. That's one of the reasons he is able to recruit so well with the sanctions looming, because he can promise the potential of playing time based on effort. Guys know that they can come in, compete, and earn a starting spot, rather than it being handed to a guy who has been there for a few years. At this point, I don't think the NCAA issue will hurt the team so much. Golden brought in a 33 kid recruiting class a year ago in anticipation of the sanctions hitting. When they didn't, that basically meant that Golden had built a lot of young, talented depth. That, combined with the relatively low senior count on the team right now, means they should be able to ride out any sanctions (assuming they aren't back breaking) with relative ease. They will hurt, but not as bad as they could have.
7. Looking back, which player did Randy Shannon most egregiously waste? It's Jimmy Graham, right?
LPN: Actually no, Jimmy Graham only played one year of football, spending most of his time on the basketball court. Even Shannon couldn't screw him up. If I had to guess, based on current NFL performance, it would be Sam Shields. Shannon stubbornly tried to force him into being a wide receiver for the majority of his career, even when he had coaches and players in his ear telling him that Shields was perfectly suited for the defensive side of the ball. He tried it his senior year, and ended up a bust, because Shannon didn't put a whole lot into him. Now look at him.
8. Recently Skip Holtz expressed an interest in continuing to play Miami after next season. Personally we feel like this is wishful thinking because USF gets a lot more out of this series than the Canes do. What's your opinion on the two teams playing each other?
LPN: I like it. It is a bit of a lopsided pairing when it comes to who benefits and how, but I think it's one of the better OOC games the Canes can play. Since it is a close proximity match up, it's easy for fans to travel to the game if they want to, and it allows recruits for both schools to come to the games and see what's the what. I would much rather Miami stick with the in-state OOC games than traveling to, say, Manhattan, Kansas for a 12pm game.
9. Miami is a 7-point favorite, or at least they were when I wrote this. Are you laying the touchdown in this one?
LPN: If there is one thing I have learned over the course of this season, it is to never, ever, bet on Miami football. Vegas knows their shit, but no one explained that to this team. With the knowledge that our two best linebackers will be back on the field for this game, and we should have our star freshman safety Deon Bush back as well, I am a lot more confident about getting a win. Then again, I was confident last year, and we all see how that one turned out. For the sake of the Q&A, I'll say that Miami covers.