ACC: John lovett

ACC's best offseason coordinator hire

February, 17, 2011
Finally. Now that Maryland has hired/promoted a defensive coordinator, all of the major coaching changes in the ACC should be complete.

Aside from the two new head coaches -- Maryland's Randy Edsall and Miami's Al Golden -- the coordinator positions will have the most influence on the conference race. Five programs in the ACC -- Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, Duke and Miami -- will have new coordinators in 2011:


OUT: Offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill (retired)
IN: Offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers (spent past five seasons as QB coach of Minnesota Vikings)


OUT: Offensive coordinator Billy Napier (fired)
IN: Offensive coordinator Chad Morris (hired from Tulsa)


OUT: Offensive coordinator James Franklin (head coach at Vanderbilt)
IN: Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton (hired from LSU)
OUT: Defensive coordinator Don Brown (took same position at Connecticut)
IN: Todd Bradford (promoted from inside linebackers coach after a month)


OUT: Defensive coordinator Marion Hobby (hired as Clemson defensive line coach)
IN: Jim Knowles (promoted from within)


OUT: Mark Whipple (fired)
IN: Jedd Fisch (former QB coach of Seattle Seahawks)
OUT: John Lovett (fired)
IN: Mark D'Onofrio (spent past five seasons with Golden at Temple)

BEST HIRE: Rogers. His experience is unmatched, and it's what separates him from the others. That's not to say there's not experience on this list -- Knowles and Crowton are both former head coaches. That's a huge bonus. But Rogers recently completed his 36th year in the coaching profession, 28 of which have been spent at the collegiate level. Fisch coached one collegiate season, at Minnesota. Morris has one season of collegiate coaching experience. Rogers has worked with the likes of Donovan McNabb, Bryan Randall and most recently Brett Favre. His biggest strength -- developing quarterbacks -- is what BC needs most right now. Rogers knows the ACC -- he coached at Virginia Tech. That's not to say that the others won't make an immediate impact or extract drastic improvements, but Frank Spaziani's hire was worth the wait.

Miami's Al Golden hires three assistants

December, 16, 2010
Miami coach Al Golden has added three assistant coaches in a limited capacity for the remainder of the calendar year, the school announced on Thusday.

Former Temple defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Paul Williams will join the Miami staff and be allowed to recruit this week thanks to a NCAA waiver.

The three new assistants will not be allowed to coach until after Dec. 31, but are currently allowed to recruit. The NCAA waiver was approved on Tuesday.

Current Miami assistant coaches Rick Petri (defensive line), Wesley McGriff (defensive backs) and John Lovett (defensive coordinator) are required by the NCAA to cease all recruiting activities for the Hurricanes, but will remain in a coaching capacity through the 2010 Hyundai Sun Bowl against Notre Dame on Dec. 31. None of the three will be retained after the bowl game.

Golden has not made any other formal decisions on his 2011 coaching staff at this point.

D’Onofrio, Franklin and Williams led an Owls defense that ranked 17th nationally in total defense this year, 14th nationally in pass defense, 15th in pass efficiency defense and 16th in scoring defense.

“We are very fortunate to announce the addition of these three coaches,” Golden said in a prepared statement. “Their passion and desire for excellence matches that of the Miami fan base, alumni and stakeholders. I felt it was important that they be able to hit the ground running and start recruiting immediately. The NCAA waiver gave us that opportunity and should be tremendous benefit.

“On a personal note, they are great friends and coaches that I respect tremendously. They know the type of program we want to run – on and off the field – and could not be more excited about joining the proud tradition at The U.”

D’Onofrio spent the past five seasons at Temple. D’Onofrio and Golden have a long history, first as teammates at Penn State before becoming colleagues at Virginia. Williams has been with Golden and D’Onofrio since the inception at Temple. Franklin, a 19-year coaching veteran, had three stints in the NFL (Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers) as well as stops at USC and Temple over the last decade.

Golden also announced the hiring of Tom Deahn to the Director of Football Operations and Ryan McNamee to the role of Director of Player Development. Deahn and McNamee both filled the same role with Golden at Temple.

Checking in with Miami's 'other' Harris

July, 15, 2010
Miami cornerback Brandon Harris led the ACC and ranked second nationally with 1.31 passes defended per game last year. He tied for second nationally with 15 pass breakups and was third in passes defended (17). He's a well-spoken player who should be a leader on the Canes' defense this fall.

Here are the highlights of our recent conversation:

Expectations are obviously pretty high for you guys, what’s everyone within the program talking about in terms of what you guys are capable of this year?

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/J Pat CarterBrandon Harris has high expectations for himself and the Hurricanes this season.
Brandon Harris: Expectations are always high when you’re at the University of Miami, but this year coach Shannon is really focusing in on taking that next step in the college football world. For the past couple of years a lot of people have been talking about the potential we have here, and how Miami can be great. We actually think everything is in the right place this season to really take that next step and win the ACC title and be in BCS contention.

What kinds of things in particular are you seeing -- either tangible or not -- that gives you the confidence to say ‘We can take it to the next level.’

BH: Just the loyalty each and every one of my teammates has for each other on this team. Everybody has one common goal, and that’s to win it all. Everybody is on the same page with that aspect, and everyone wants to win and is willing to do whatever it takes. That really shows how great we can be. We’ve had the talent here for a while, we’ve just been inconsistent at times. We’re focusing on taking one game at a time and not getting ahead of ourselves when we have big games coming up, just focusing on one game at a time.

What did you guys learn from last year? You started off so hot and then faltered down the stretch. What happened and what did you guys learn from it?

BH: That’s exactly what we learned -- in college football when you have a very tough schedule and are playing against some great teams, when you win those games, you can’t relent after those games. You have to step it up even more of a notch because next week, the next game becomes even that more important. When you’re playing teams like Ohio State and Pittsburgh, you train to win those games, but after you win them, you have to keep on fighting, not relaxing.

So when the schedule came out and you saw it for the first time, were you like, ‘bring it!’ or, ‘uh-oh.’

BH: I was always like, ‘bring it.’ You want to play the best teams out there. It’s an honor for us to put together a schedule a lot of other teams might shy away from. But the University of Miami has never been a program to shy away from playing anybody. We want to play the best talent out there. We don’t mind. Wherever we have to go to play them. We’ll travel to away games. We just want to win ball games and hopefully get ourselves back on the national stage.

How much are you guys as players talking about that road trip to Ohio State? I know the fans can’t stop talking about it.

BH: I know the fans can’t stop talking about it at all. We mention it here and there, but really right now we’re just focusing on training this summer, getting our depth better. We’re not too much focusing on Ohio State at the moment. We know that’s going to be a big game and eventually the time for that preparation will come. But right now, we’re just focusing on each and every one of us getting ourselves better and taking our game to the next level.

What’s your analysis right now of the defense as a whole, where you guys are.

BH: The defense looks strong. We have great depth at every position, a great group of leaders lined up and ready to roll this season. Everybody is comfortable with coach Lovett’s defensive scheme this year. We have a very fast defense. We have great speed on the d-line, linebackers and in the secondary. Everybody is so excited to get the season started. You almost can’t wait.

I know. As a guy who’s been there for a while, how important do you think it is that you guys do finally have some stability at the coordinator positions? How much can that help you guys?

BH: It’s very important. That gives the defense a good amount of time to really study the scheme and understand it when they get out on the field. When you have guys who aren’t sure what’s going on, that leads to breakdowns in the defense. But when everybody is on the same page, understands the defense, you see real fast defenses flying around. The stability of a coordinator really helps that.

Obviously your name is getting thrown around for some preseason awards. How high are your expectations for yourself? What are you hoping to do this year?

BH: I’m very honored to be considered for a lot of the awards. I have very high expectations of myself, but at the same time I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself. As a team I want to win an ACC championship and a national title. I also just want to help my defense be the best secondary in the country. I want to lead the nation in interceptions and I feel if we do that, the individual accolades will fall in the middle.

Miami AD: 'It's our time'

March, 2, 2010
Youth is no longer an excuse at Miami. Depth, for the most part, is no longer a problem. And staff stability, particularly at the coordinator positions, has begun to take root. As coach Randy Shannon enters his fourth season, the pieces seem to be in place for the Hurricanes to contend for championships, starting with the Coastal Division and ending on college football’s biggest stage.

And that’s exactly what those within the program are expecting -- if not this season, than next.

[+] EnlargeRandy Shannon
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireMiami coach Randy Shannon says he thinks his team is ready to take the next step.
“Success is measured by wins and losses and competition, and success is measured through championships,” said Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt. “Randy knows the expectations that are here better than anyone. He’s lived it for practically his entire career. He has the same expectations upon himself that we do as an administration, that we do as a program. It’s nothing new.

“As I evaluate each and every program each year, you look for continuous improvement and confidence that steps are being taken to compete for and win a national championship, and I am confident that the steps we’ve taken as a football program and continue to take will position us to compete at that level. It takes time, but we’re in a period now where it’s our time. I’m confident that the upcoming season and the season that follows, what has been a young team are now upperclassmen who are determined to return the program to where it was before.”

“We all feel that way,” Shannon said.

There is enough confidence in the direction of the program that Shannon, who has compiled a 21-17 record in three seasons, will receive a contract extension, but details of the deal were not immediately available. Miami has improved every season under Shannon, increasing the win total from five in 2007 to nine in 2009. The Hurricanes have been to back-to-back bowl games, and last year went undefeated against their nonconference opponents during the regular season.

“The last three years under Randy Shannon’s leadership, we’ve taken significant steps forward each and every year,” Hocutt said. “I couldn’t be prouder of what the program represents and exemplifies in the classroom and the community and everything that they do. The performance on the field has improved, but the expectations are championships. Randy has continued to have my full support. He’s got the full support of the university and that’s what it is.”

He’s going to need it, especially with a schedule that starts with two September road trips to top 15 teams in Ohio State and Pitt. Miami surprised many with its promising start in 2009 against a similarly unforgiving schedule, but lacked the maturity and depth to maintain success throughout the entire season.

“We’ve finally got an older team,” Shannon said. “... Everybody has played two years. I was thinking to myself, I’m beating myself up, I just want to win, win, win. Sometimes people have to calm me down about things I always see. I’m going to continuously be that way as a coach, but after the season I evaluate, ‘OK, where are we at?’ I compare us to some teams I’ve been on and played on and things like that. You really don’t get good until you have your guys play a lot of football, in their second and third years.

“I think the team is starting to evolve and change into where we need to be at now,” he said. “It makes it a lot of fun because the team is starting to get my mentality and attitude, and they understand what winning is about and what we have to do. I’m going to continue to stress the point of winning and competing at a high level because of the competition that is here.”

This year, starters like quarterback Jacory Harris and linebacker Sean Spence will be juniors. It will be the second season under coordinators John Lovett and Mark Whipple. Come August, Shannon will have 15 offensive linemen to work with and every position but the secondary will go three-deep. It’s a vast improvement from having only five linebackers last year, and being forced to move players around and look elsewhere for talent, like to the basketball court, where the staff got lucky with former tight end Jimmy Graham.

“It’s the first time I’ve finally felt comfortable in three years,” Shannon said. “It’s time to take that next step now.”

ACC's lunchtime links

September, 29, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

There's still lots of football left to be played ...
  • Here's a quick rundown for Georgia Tech fans on this week's opponent, Mississippi State.
  • BC coach Frank Spaziani looks past Florida State's inconsistencies and sees only its athleticism.
  • The Noles aren't the only team that have looked different from one week to the next. UNC is still trying to figure out its identity after the loss to Georgia Tech.
  • Clemson backup quarterback Willy Korn is like every other backup -- he just wants to play. He said he remains committed to Clemson this season, but next? Who knows.
  • NC State's defense isn't getting wrapped up in its impressive stats this season. Those within the program say there's still room to improve.
  • Virginia had a productive bye week and now that the conference play is starting, views it as a new season. Al Groh got time to watch other games across the country and said he saw a lot of teams and players being anointed way too early. It's also too soon to count Groh out.
  • Oklahoma can score. Can Miami's defense stop the Sooners? Defensive coordinator John Lovett wanted to make darn sure they don't forget what happened against Virginia Tech.
  • Sure, the NFL is nice, but Virginia Tech defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor has his heart set on these three letters -- FBI.
  • There's one very good explanation for Maryland's troubles this season, and it's the recruiting on the offensive line.
  • FSU freshman defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel could miss Saturday's game at BC.

ACC mailblog: GT/Miami rewind

September, 18, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

So just how good is Miami? You asked, I answered.

Ty in Austin, Texas writes: After watching the Maimi game last night, I was impressed. However, I remember a few years ago when Clemson dismantled a strong GT team on "Game Day" TV (holding Calvin Johnson without a catch) and then promptly got distroyed by VT the next Thursday. Given that Clemson seemed to provide the blueprint on how to stop GT's tripple option last week (oh, yeah, and John Lovett was the DC at Clemson a few years ago), I'll hold my opinions on Maimi untill after VT next week - how about you?

Heather Dinich: Well, I'll be honest. So far, Miami has been the best team I've seen play. As for Virginia Tech, I think their true identity lies somewhere between what we saw against Alabama and Marshall, and Nebraska will show us that. You're right, though, in that only the VT-Miami game will provide the answer on the field as to which one is the best team in the Coastal Division.

Eric in Atlanta writes: How can the AP rankings rank Georgia Tech above Miami, then almost all reporters and analysts pick Miami to beat Georgia Tech? I think most people knew Miami was a better team on both sides of the ball, so why didn't the rankings show it? Is this proof that the rankings are a flawed system because of their obvious bias to preseason favorites?

HD: Well, I can't answer for the AP voters, but I can answer for myself, and I had GT over Miami in my power rankings but picked Miami to win. My ranking order in that case was based on what Georgia Tech did last year against the Canes, and I thought that until Miami proved otherwise, it's only fair that the Jackets get the nod there. I had both of them over Virginia Tech, though, because they had both beaten ACC opponents, while the Hokies' best win was over Marshall so far.

Theo in Charlotte, N.C. writes: Heather, I graduated in 2005 and had to go through the dark years of Marcus Vick. I wanted to know why Beamer is so stubborn and loyal to the current offensive coordinator? I look at Miami and what Whipple has done and I just gaze in amazement wishing that we had an OC that could do the same with Taylor. Why doesn't someone other than the fans call out Beamer on this? It is truly obvious that our OC doesn't have the play calling expertise nor the understanding of how to help Taylor grow as a QB. Instead of the networks always criticizing VT as a program why don't they just criticize the root, Stinespring?

HD: You guys should start a club, really. Ever hear the saying it's not the Xs and the Os, it's the Jimmys and the Joes? Well, to a certain extent that has rung true at Virginia Tech. Beamer has said repeatedly that the staff last year did the best it could with what it had to work with. An Orange Bowl win and an ACC title isn't too shabby. Mike O'Cain is the quarterbacks coach, and Tyrod Taylor is not Michael Vick. Is Bryan Stinespring the best OC in the ACC? No. But a high-flying offense isn't Beamer's style, either. I can understand the envy, though, of Miami opponents who watched Whipple work last night. But Miami, offensively, has a deeper, faster group of athletes to work with and a better quarterback.

Andru Athens in Sacramento, Calif., writes: Hey, Heather. I know you don't have high hopes for the 'Noles after their embarrassing win against Jacksonville State, but what are your feelings toward Christian Ponder? After two games, his stats have been much improved from last season. It looks as though he is carrying the entire offense on his shoulders. If Ponder continues to perform at this level, and if Florida State limps through the rest of the season, do you think that Ponder will get the national coverage and praise he deserves?

HD: First of all, I still think FSU could win the Atlantic. That division is wide open, and I don't believe that FSU's performance against Jax State was the real deal. That being said, I think Ponder so far looks like the most improved quarterback in the ACC. He's getting great pass protection from the guys up front, and so far, appears to be their best hope at winning the division. If FSU limps through the rest of the season, no, he won't get the national recognition he deserves.

Adam in Pittsburgh, Pa., writes: Heather, thanks for all the great ACC updating! I'm actually a Buckeye fan, but wanted to get your take on the Ohio State vs. Miami (FL) series starting next year. Analysts say the Bucks won't have a chance to play another "USC caliber" team for a while (to gain some pride back). Now that The U looks like it's steamrolling again, does this series have weight? Does the fact that this isn't a "new" BCS team to beat hurt them?

HD: Thanks for ditching Ritt to stop by the ACC blog, Adam. Let's wait for two more weeks and see what Miami does against Virginia Tech and Oklahoma (with or without Sam Bradford) before we reassert the Canes' status nationally. Comparing them to USC right now, to me, seems like a stretch. Miami hasn't even won an ACC title yet. Do they look capable of it? Absolutely. Would a 4-0 start put them in the top 10? It will in my ranking. If Miami keeps it up, it should be the kind of game that will provide a measuring stick for the Buckeyes.

CfieldHokie in Chesterfield, Virginia writes: Heather, all summer there were numerous posts about how a good defense would stop Georgia Tech's spread the second time around, you repeatedly stated that wasn't the case, because GT would also have another year to perfect it. After watching the Miami game, what are your thoughts on the subject?

HD: I'm surprised it took so long to get to this question. First, I think that both Miami and Clemson had ample time to prepare for it. Both started in the spring because they knew they'd face the Jackets early. Miami had 10 days to get ready for it. Those two things coupled with the fact that GT hasn't been executing it as well as Paul Johnson promised contributed to what you've seen so far. If Georgia Tech can stay out of a mental funk from this (and keep Jonathan Dwyer healthy), I think they'll improve.

Gerald Ball writes: Time for a Jacory Harris for Heisman campaign? This is like 7 TDs in two games, both conference games against ranked foes.

HD: Man, if he keeps this up and with Sam Bradford on the DL, I don't see why not. If Bradford plays against Miami, though, it could be an interesting twist in the Heisman race. Why didn't I have Harris among my Top 5 Heisman candidates yet? Because he tore up an FSU secondary that clearly has some work to do. I'll give him serious consideration this week.

Instant Analysis: Miami 33, Georgia Tech 17

September, 17, 2009

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

 Doug Benc/Getty Images
 Jacory Harris threw three touchdown passes Thursday night in Miami's win.
How the game was won: Miami’s offensive line kept the pressure off quarterback Jacory Harris and wore down Georgia Tech’s front seven. The Canes controlled the line of scrimmage, took away Georgia Tech’s pass rush (i.e. Derrick Morgan), and Harris picked apart Georgia Tech’s secondary. Miami spread the ball around, and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple had the offense the offense rolling.

Stat of the game: Georgia Tech finished with 95 rushing yards. Huh? This is virtually the same Georgia Tech offense that racked up 472 rushing yards last year in a 41-23 win over Miami, and ranked fourth in the nation in rushing yards. It's not, however, the same Miami defense. Miami outgained Georgia Tech on the ground, controlled the clock, and the Jackets were held to just 2.4 yards per carry. Even though Jonathan Dwyer was sidelined for much of the game with a shoulder injury, Miami's defense deserves credit, as Dwyer is hardly the only option in Tech's offense.

Player of the game: Harris. Again. He's such a composed presence that it's hard to believe it was only his third start. He's the real deal and on the path to becoming the next great quarterback for Miami. Harris completed 20 of 25 passes for 270 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and 10.8 yards per pass. Somehow, he played even better than he did in the season opener against Florida State and made fewer mistakes.

Unsung hero of the game: Miami defensive coordinator John Lovett. So much attention (and, quite frankly, adoration) has been heaped upon Whipple, that the job Lovett has done has been underappreciated. The Canes’ defense looked sound and executed its option responsibilities very well. It was a marked improvement from last year’s embarrassing performance in Atlanta.

What it means: Miami is the team to beat. Unlike the rest of their counterparts, the Canes have played -- and beaten -- two teams that were expected to be among the ACC’s best this season. And they beat Virginia Tech last year. With Thursday night’s win, Miami took the lead in the division, setting up a key matchup against Virginia Tech next weekend in Lane Stadium. Randy Shannon won his third straight home opener, and Miami improved to 14-2 overall and 10-0 at home on Thursday nights. The Canes have the momentum, and the nation’s attention

Game-day links

September, 17, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

It's another huge game for the ACC tonight. Personally, I can't wait. So chew on this until kickoff:
  • Georgia Tech has won four straight games in this series. Has Miami improved enough to reverse that trend?
  • If so, it'll have to figure out a way to keep Derrick Morgan off Jacory Harris. Morgan's not a bad guy, though, really.
  • Miami's offense -- at least so far -- has lived up to the preseason hype under first-year coordinator Mark Whipple. Considering it's practically a mix of Whipple's entire resume, the best name for it might just be 2009 Miami Hurricanes.
  • Miami defensive coordinator John Lovett said this is one of his dream jobs, but he's been around long enough to know that none of these jobs last forever.
  • Here are three keys for Georgia Tech against Miami.

What to Watch in the ACC: Week 3

September, 17, 2009

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

Here are a few things worth keeping an eye on in the ACC this week (by the way, these are never ranked in order of interest, just generally 10 things to watch):

1. Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. He’s on the verge of becoming the first player in ACC history with 2,500 rushing yards, 1,000 receiving yards and 1,500 kickoff return yards. And, he just might accomplish all three on Saturday against Boston College. Spiller enters the game with 2,434 rushing yards, 986 receiving yards and 1,471 kickoff return yards. Last year, he gained a career high 242 all-purpose running yards in Clemson’s 27-21 win over BC.

2. BC’s quarterback surprise. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani has been quiet about which quarterback he’s leaning toward for Saturday’s game against Clemson, as both Justin Tuggle and Dave Shinskie have had success against lesser opponents. It’s go-time now, though, and one will have to emerge against better competition.

3. Duke’s non-quarterback controversy. So Thaddeus Lewis is the starter, coach David Cutcliffe has made that clear. But Sean Renfree has also proven he’s worth talking about, and can come off the bench to direct a come-from-behind win. Definitely worth watching.

4. Miami’s run defense against Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense. It’s the key to this game, and it was the cause of the Canes’ demise last year. If Clemson could figure out a way to limit Jonathan Dwyer to 66 yards and seven three-and-outs, then Miami should figure out a way to slow it down, too, especially considering it had a bye week to prepare for it. This will be an interesting test for first-year coordinator John Lovett.

5. The trenches in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech’s offensive line will face a talented defensive front in Nebraska, and how it blocks will determine whether Ryan Williams and David Wilson can continue the fancy footwork they had against Marshall last week.

6. Florida State’s improvement level. It’s not just the secondary that will be tested by BYU quarterback Max Hall. The Cougars will challenge the Noles in every phase of the game, and they’ll have to get better blocking from their offensive line, get the running game going, tackle better and make fewer mistakes. Bottom line: They can’t play like they did last Saturday and win.

7. North Carolina’s replacements. The Tar Heels have to hold it together after losing starting center Lowell Dyer and tight end Zack Pianalto for the next three to four weeks. Ed Barham or Christian Wilson will take over for Pianalto and Cam Holland will fill in again for Dyer. The Tar Heels will need to pave the way for Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, and give T.J. Yates some time to play like he did in the fourth quarter against Connecticut.

8. Upset watch in College Park -- again. James Madison almost did it last week before losing in overtime. Middle Tennessee did it last year. The Terps’ defense has struggled mightily in its first two games, and now will be without its top cornerback, Nolan Carroll, for the rest of the season. Can Maryland avoid an embarrassing home loss?

9. NC State cornerback Rashard Smith. He’s a true freshman who earned the starting job against Murray State and is slated to start again against Gardner-Webb. He is the first true freshman to start for NC State in the secondary since 2001, when Marcus Hudson (now with the San Francisco 49ers) started four games. Smith played just 24 snaps last week, but made three tackles and a tackle for loss. He now has two tackles for loss this season.

10. Number of sacks Virginia allows. The Cavaliers returned four starters to their offensive line, and it was supposed to be the one dependable aspect of the offense early in the season. Last week against TCU, though, Virginia allowed eight sacks, the most since giving up nine to Florida State in 1997. Virginia allowed just 16 sacks all of last year. Southern Miss has five so far this season. The Golden Eagles are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and have not allowed more than 100 yards rushing during that span.

Miami's revamped defense looking to stifle Jackets

September, 15, 2009

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

Miami enters Thursday night’s game against Georgia Tech with a new defensive coordinator, a new defensive scheme, and, according to safety Randy Phillips, a new attitude on defense.
Last season, Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer had his way with Miami.

After losing to the Yellow Jackets each of the past four years, they’re hoping now for a new result. Truth be told, it couldn’t get much worse than last year’s missed-tackle-laden performance in Atlanta. Georgia Tech rushed for 472 yards in a 41-23 win over Miami last year -- the second-most rushing yards ever allowed by the Hurricanes.

On Monday, Miami’s defense watched the game film of last year’s performance.

“They were kind of upset about it,” said Phillips, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last year and didn’t play in the game. “They feel very confident this time. It’s a lot better. It’s a different scheme, different guys on the field. Some of the guys played last year, but most of the guys are new, and it’s a different attitude for the defense. We have a lot to play for. We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country on both sides of the ball. We have a lot to prove. We haven’t beaten Georgia Tech in four years. We’re just going to go out there and play aggressive and get a lot of takeaways.”

The defense will no doubt be key, including players like Phillips in the secondary. He said a lot of the missed tackles last year came from the safeties. After just two games, Georgia Tech leads the ACC with 318 rushing yards per game, but Miami’s defense limited Florida State to 110 yards on the ground. The Noles’ running game so far hasn’t quite lived up to its preseason billing, though, and this might provide a more realistic gauge as to just how much the defense has improved under first-year coordinator John Lovett.

One of their main priorities in this game will be to slow Georgia Tech B-back Jonathan Dwyer, who rushed for 128 yards on just 10 carries in the first half, including a 58-yard touchdown run.

“The biggest factor will be [Jonathan] Dwyer,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “The fullback must be accounted for on every single play. If he happens to get into the open field, we have to get him down for a 10 or 12 yard gain and then line up again. We cannot afford him to get long runs against us and that’s what makes their offense go.

“You can say the middle linebacker has the fullback, but that’s not always the case. It depends on what kind of triple option it is -- veer base, arc, midline or load-option. Depending on the scenario, certain guys have to be responsible for certain roles. Once you figure out what they’re trying to do and what we have to get done, then you have to respond to it.”

Like Clemson, Miami began preparing for Georgia Tech’s offense as early as the spring, and devoted a few practices this summer to it, as well. Shannon said there were a few things the team could glean from watching Thursday night’s game against Clemson, though “there will be a wrinkle here and there.”

Clemson held Georgia Tech to seven three-and-outs in a 30-27 loss to the Jackets on Thursday night, a 27 percent completion percentage -- the best in 11 years at Clemson -- and went 54 minutes without allowing a touchdown. The Tigers held Dwyer to 66 yards, and executed and tackled better as the game went on.

What’s their secret?

“You have to have a simple plan,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “There’s only so much you can do against that. You can’t dial up a bunch of different calls and things like that. The biggest thing you have to do is be disciplined and execute and win the matchups, and I think our guys did a great job of that. I don’t know if they’ll ever go seven three-and-outs again all season. It will be interesting to try it.”

And Miami is ready to give it its best shot.

Instant replay: Georgia Tech 30, Clemson 27

September, 11, 2009

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney admitted it -- “I got my butt outcoached in the first half,” he told reporters after the Tigers’ 30-27 loss to Georgia Tech on Thursday night.
 Paul Abell/US Presswire
 Anthony Allen's 82-yard run put the Yellow Jackets on the board.

He did, but Swinney and his entire team redeemed themselves in the second half, and should be lauded for their effort.

It’s too early to determine Clemson’s path for this season, but the Tigers showed something they didn’t last season under former coach Tommy Bowden -- toughness and resiliency. Instead of folding after falling deep into a 24-0 hole, the Tigers rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter. It seemed like they were on the verge of making an improbable comeback, and for the second time in a week the ACC delivered another nationally televised page-turner.

A few quick observations:
  • If Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan continues to play like that, it would be hard to imagine him sticking around instead of bolting for the NFL. He finished with 10 tackles (7 solo), three sacks for a loss of nine yards, and four tackles for a loss of 13 yards. It was baffling that the Clemson coaching staff didn’t try to double team him earlier, as Morgan single-handedly disrupted the Tigers’ backfield and rattled Kyle Parker.
  • As expected, Morgan is the strength of that line, and in its first real test, the Jackets’ interior guys struggled. Still, it also exposed weaknesses that linger on Clemson’s offensive line. Both teams looked at times like they needed some help up front.
     Brian Schneider/US Presswire
     Kyle Parker directed Clemson's second-half comeback.
  • Kyle Parker is going to be an excellent quarterback – as long as he gets the protection he needs. Parker completed 15 of 31 passes for 261 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He led the Tigers on four second-half scoring drives and made it a game again.
  • Clemson did a much better job of getting the ball to its top playmakers. C.J. Spiller might have been the most underutilized player in the country last year, but against Georgia Tech, he lined up all over the field and Jacoby Ford had five catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. The speed on the field was exciting.
  • The rest of the ACC better look out for Anthony Allen. Five carries for 127 yards and a touchdown – an 82-yard run on a pitch from Josh Nesbitt. Thanks to a missed assignment by a Clemson defender, Allen was freed. Still, Georgia Tech's offense left much to be desired. The Jackets were 3-of-14 on third-down conversions and kicker Scott Blair accounted for the bulk of their points.
  • Georgia Tech has to play more than one quarter. For the second straight game, the Jackets let off too easily. This is a team that needs to learn to play with a lead, extend it, and never be satisfied until the clock runs out.

If Miami was watching -- and it would be hard to believe it wasn’t -- first-year defensive coordinator John Lovett might have learned something from Kevin Steele in the second half. Clemson did a much better job of stifling that option offense and forcing the Jackets into uncomfortable throwing situations.

The lesson learned from this game is that both teams still have room to grow but are capable of leading their respective divisions. It’s not even mid-September yet, and both Clemson and Georgia Tech will improve as the season unfolds. For now, it's Miami and Georgia Tech at the top of the heap, which makes for an exciting game next Thursday.


ACC's lunchtime links

September, 3, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich


Ahem. Excuse me. I'm heading to Raleigh, so let's start there ...
  • The difference tonight will be Russell Wilson, and Caulton Tudor predicts a 28-24 Wolfpack win. With one small gesture last year against South Carolina, Wilson proved he could be a positive influence for the team. This time, the Gamecocks should see a much different quarterback.
  • Maryland's success weighs in large part -- literally -- on massive offensive tackle Bruce Campbell.
  • Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy will be making his first start against the Hokies, but he's been in this position before. In high school, McElroy was the successor to Chase Daniel. You may have heard of him.
  • FSU coordinator Jimbo Fisher has some history with first-year Miami defensive coordinator John Lovett, but the unknown of going against two new coordinators in Week 1 forced the Noles' staff to do their homework.
  • Virginia walk-on Matt Snyder's hard work has paid off, and his Rudy-esque story will take center stage on Saturday when he cracks the starting lineup for the first time.
  • Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers has made the challenge of increasing last year's sack total a family matter.
  • BC's linebacking corps took another hit this week when projected starter Alexander DiSanzo injured his shoulder. He's doubtful for Saturday.
  • Miami quarterback Jacory Harris is now the unquestioned leader of the Canes, and he has big goals for the program.

Five things to watch in the ACC

August, 19, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Here are five things that will play a role in the ACC's conference race this fall:

1. Virginia Tech's backfield. How the Hokies recover from the season-ending injury to star tailback Darren Evans will go a long way in determining their fate on the national stage, and it starts in the season opener against Alabama. They've got reasons for hope in Josh Oglesby, David Wilson and Ryan Williams, but for the most part, their talent is unproven. Until Tyrod Taylor and the receivers show the passing game is a dependable option, it's going to be up to the young backs to make the difference.

2. Health of starting quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor. Josh Nesbitt. Chris Turner. Jacory Harris. Christian Ponder. Russell Wilson. Riley Skinner. They're all backed up by players who have yet to take a collegiate snap. NC State's situation should improve with Mike Glennon, and expectations are high for E.J. Manuel at FSU, but some teams -- like Maryland and Wake Forest -- would experience a significant drop-off if their starter went down.

3. Georgia Tech's defensive line. It's the biggest question the Jackets are facing this fall, as they have to replace three of their four starters up front who combined for 87 career starts. Those within the program seem confident the previous backup experience of the new starters will help make for a smooth transition. With a league-high 19 starters returning, it's the only unknown for these Coastal Division contenders.

4. Coach/coordinator changes. The entire package at Clemson is worth watching, as Dabo Swinney was promoted from wide receivers coach and Billy Napier, at 30 years old, is now the offensive coordinator. At Boston College, first-year coach Frank Spaziani has his hands full, and introduced first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill to a team that lacks a starting quarterback. At Maryland, Don Brown's defense is sure to throw several ACC offenses off-kilter, and there's a buzz around Miami's offense that has been lacking now that Mark Whipple has arrived. And the Canes will have their third defensive coordinator in as many seasons with John Lovett. Virginia will unveil a spread offense under first-year coordinator Gregg Brandon.

5. New faces at receiver. The ACC has something it's been missing, and that's quarterbacks with experience. Problem is, many of them don't know who they're going to be throwing to. Virginia lost all of its top receivers, and so did NC State. Maryland said farewell to Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Clemson to Aaron Kelly. Duke lost Eron Riley and Wake lost D.J. Boldin. The list goes on. Beyond Clemson's Jacoby Ford and Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas, the ACC is lacking many proven receivers. Several schools -- like Miami -- have a long list to choose from, but who will separate himself?

Scouting Miami

August, 7, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Miami starts practice tomorrow, but why wait? The Canes certainly aren't hesitating to get into the heart of their schedule.

It's Randy Shannon's third year, and the college football world is growing restless for the Canes to make their comeback. There's no question Shannon is recruiting for the future, but after a 12-13 record, he needs those freshmen and sophomores to win now. Is it a fair demand considering the Canes are still very young, they're breaking in a sophomore quarterback, they've got a grueling schedule and two new coordinators?

It's probably still a year too early to think Miami is going to be knocking on the door of the top 10 BCS Standings, but there's no question their schedule sets them up for such a ranking. Even if Miami started its season 3-0, it's ascension to the top of the ACC would be seemingly overnight. On the other hand, an 0-4 start is equally as possible.

The players insist they're focused on Florida State and only Florida State, but back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will go a long way in determining the course of Coastal Division race before October. The biggest question facing Miami is how quickly can it start? Here are a few others:

1. How much will the new coordinators really affect the team's progress? Judging from what Shannon and his players have said this offseason, the hire of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and defensive coordinator John Lovett has been a seamless transition. They have already established good relationships with the players, and the players caught on quickly to what the new assistants wanted to do. In particular, the offensive players on more than one occasion have told me Whipple is like a "father figure" to them. Quarterback Jacory Harris has been soaking up everything Whipple has to say, and should flourish under his guidance. Defensively, Bill Young was a great coach who will be tough to replace, and going through three coordinators in as many seasons definitely has an impact. But Lovett's peers throughout the conference have only talked about his work ethic and their respect for him.

2. Will tight end Dedrick Epps be ready? He says he is, and he better be, because the options are limited. Epps had surgery on Jan. 26 for a torn ACL, and the position is so thin that Shannon didn't hesitate when former forward Jimmy Graham decided he wanted to use his final year of eligibility to play football. Epps, though, is proven, and he was the team's third-leading receiver a year ago with 304 yards.

3. Did Miami's run defense learn anything from Georgia Tech last year? Unfortunately for the Canes, we won't have to wait long to find out, as Miami faces the Jackets on Sept. 17. Paul Johnson's triple option offense baffled the Canes, and Shannon was disappointed his team didn't play assignment football that day. It was hardly the only time Miami's run defense was run over, though. Miami ranked last in the ACC in rushing defense, allowing 151.8 yards per game. The front seven should be better this year, especially with the maturation of hard-hitting sophomore linebacker Sean Spence, the return of injured Colin McCarthy, and a deep defensive line. Depth at linebacker remains a concern, though.

Miami spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Miami Hurricanes

2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense: 8, defense: 8, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: QB Jacory Harris, OT Jason Fox, WR Aldarius Johnson, WR Travis Benjamin, RB Graig Cooper, RB Javarris James, LB Sean Spence, LB Darryl Sharpton, CB Chavez Grant, K/P Matt Bosher, DE Allen Bailey

Key losses: QB Robert Marve, OT Chris Rutledge, C Xavier Shannon, LB Glenn Cook, S Anthony Reddick

2007 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Graig Cooper* (888 yards)

Passing: Robert Marve (1,293 yards)

Receiving: Aldarius Johnson* (332 yards)

Tackles: Glenn Cook (76)

Sacks: Allen Bailey* (5)

Interceptions: Sean Spence*, Brandon Harris*, Bruce Johnson, Eric Moncur (1 each)

2009 Schedule

Sept. 7 at Florida State
Sept. 17 Georgia Tech
Sept. 26 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 3 Oklahoma
Oct. 10 Florida A&M
Oct. 17 at Central Florida
Oct. 24 Clemson
Oct. 31 at Wake Forest
Nov. 7 Virginia
Nov. 14 at North Carolina
Nov. 21 Duke
Nov. 28 at South Florida

Spring answers

1. Temporary answer. Miami coach Randy Shannon said Taylor Cook earned the backup quarterback job -- for now. Cook beat Cannon Smith for the job this spring, and Shannon said that if the season started today, it would be Cook's job. A.J. Highsmith will join the competition, though, this summer.

2. You've got to coordinate. New offensive coordinator Mark Whipple wasted no time in implementing his new system, the players and staff were very receptive to it. Defensive coordinator John Lovett was also well received, even though it was the players' third coordinator in as many seasons.

3. Position change. Sam Shields' move from wide receiver to cornerback proved to be a good one. Shields showed he can not only provide some depth, but also possibly challenge for a starting job. He'll definitely work hyis way into the rotation, and the staff needs more consistent play from the secondary.

Fall questions

1. From hoops to helmets. Former forward Jimmy Graham has reportedly said he will join the football team this fall as a tight end, and it's a position that can use some help, especially with the knee injury to Dedrick Epps. But how much will Graham be able to help considering he hasn't played the sport since high school?

2. Tweaks to the o-line. Matt Pipho will be the new starter at right tackle, and the staff is eager to see how he handles that role. A.J. Trump moved from right guard to center, and Joel Figueroa took over at right guard.

3. Depth at linebacker. It's a patchwork effort, as several young players who were defensive backs last season were moved to linebacker (C.J. Holton, Ramon Buchanan), and Colin McCarthy didn't practice all spring but will be back. Arthur Brown is in the mix in the middle with Darryl Sharpton, and Sean Spence proved himself as a freshman, but depth is a concern.