Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Things have changed at Miami.
It’s not as if the Canes (6-2, 3-2 ACC) have regressed, though they haven’t been as formidable in the past four games as they were in the first four games, and the national spotlight has dimmed since losing in overtime to Clemson on Oct. 24. Miami is still a very good, nationally ranked football team, but heading into Saturday’s homecoming game against Virginia, the Canes have shown some vulnerabilities.
“We’re not the same team that we were in the first four games of the season,” said Miami coach Randy Shannon. “We had a lot of guys then that were healthy like Ryan Hill, Pat Hill, JoJo Nicolas, Eric Moncur, Ray Armstrong, Sean Spence and Jordan Futch, and right now those guys are out. We have some guys on the team that need to step up. As coaches, we are going to keep grinding the other guys to step up. We are teachers and need to teach them every day and that is one thing we will do every day to finish out the season strong.”
The possibility of a 10-win season still remains, and that would be quite an accomplishment considering the grueling schedule Miami has had this year. It seems as if people have forgotten how much credit the schedule was given in August, when the first four games were deemed by many as one of the most unforgiving starts to the season in the country. Miami fared better than many expected, though, losing only on the road to Virginia Tech and knocking off three ranked teams in the process.
Since then, though, the defense has taken some hits, and quarterback Jacory Harris has thrown eight touchdowns and six interceptions, and been the victim of too many sacks. Miami is tied for 107th in the nation with an average of three sacks allowed per game. ("I’m not really beat up," Harris said. "People always call me too skinny, but I have survived taking hits this far.") The Canes allowed both Clemson and Wake Forest over 400 yards each of total offense.
After back-to-back tight games, Shannon cut practices to an hour this week to help his players stay mentally and physically fresh heading into the Virginia game. The fact they’re a year older and more mature allowed him to run faster, shorter practices. When you’re down to only three linebackers on the roster who are playing, though, there’s not much of a choice other than to back off a bit.
Futch was starting to play more at linebacker to spell Spence, and it seems as if the Canes have struggled to develop depth at linebacker since Shannon took over. Hill and Nicolas would’ve helped out in the secondary because they’re veterans. Technically, the Canes are only missing two true starters -- Pat Hill at fullback and Spence at linebacker -- but the team’s depth and experience has definitely decreased over the past few weeks.
Harris said the injuries can’t be an excuse.
“We need to go back to how we started off the year,” Harris said. “We have some injuries but that happens and we need to fight through it. We have depth at every position.”
Just not as much as they started with.