ACC: Tyriq McCord

Earlier this week, I asked: Will Miami win the Coastal Division? Over 3,000 votes were cast, and the overwhelming majority say absolutely not.

Let's dig into the mailbag to see what you had to say.

Richard in Raleigh writes: You mentioned Miami had far too many concerns to overlook to be named the preseason Coastal favorites. Can this not also be said for the other 5 teams with a shot of winning the Coastal?

Andrea Adelson: Absolutely. But the Miami Hurricanes have a backbreaking schedule; and headed into the season, I am more confident in the quarterbacks for four of those teams (Duke Blue Devils, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels). As for the Virginia Tech Hokies, as long as their defense plays up to standards, the Hokies will always be in contention.




Ryan in Charlotte writes: Agree with Duke winning the Coastal. Duke's D-Line lost three, but I really don't think there will be a huge drop off in terms of production. Miami has an incompetent coaching staff, otherwise they should win it and [Frank] Beamer for not getting a real offensive coordinator prevents VT from being the favorite. Carolina every year is projected to win it and chokes consistently despite NFL talent. GT is also underrated, [Paul] Johnson has never finished lower than third in his time at GT. Pitt lost their QB and [Aaron] Donald, don't see them as being a dark horse. All of this coming from a die-hard Duke Fan.

Patrick Clark in Durham, North Carolina, writes: I'm quite surprised that you and I seem to be in the minority picking Duke to win the Coastal. Duke returns their top three tacklers, All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder, and are one of only three teams in the conference to return their starting QB in senior Anthony Boone. Throw in one of the easiest schedules in the conference and it seems to me, if you're able to put past history and stigmas aside, that Duke is the obvious choice to represent the Coastal Division and make it back to Charlotte. Are we crazy?

Adelson writes: Crazy like foxes!




Jason Freeman in Cumming, Georgia, writes: I would just like to know the insistence on picking a UNC, Miami, and now Duke! Until Duke did it last year, there has been only TWO schools that have represented the Coastal. And one of them is absolutely NEVER picked, I think you know which one I'm talking about! But what baffles me is, Duke is the favorite this season, but Georgia Tech went to Duke and embarrassed them, one of only two teams that beat them in the regular season! ... Oh and by the way, Georgia Tech beat the only other team to beat Duke in the regular season last year! And I know that Johnson isn't living up to what we thought he would do after the first two seasons. Keeping that in mind, we then were picked at the bottom in the Coastal and way surpassed expectations! But the same teams keep getting these exaggerated picks, and constantly fall under what is expected of them.

Rich in Atlanta writes: Shocking...that the media would pick Miami for the Coastal. Also funny that UNC & VT are ahead of GT. Duke maybe. Year after year, GT has the No. 1 offense in points and yardage for the Coastal (No. 1 in both categories again last year). What everyone is overlooking is that GT had the No. 2 defense in those categories last year only trailing VT. GT's average finishing rank in the Coastal is second since Coach Johnson arrived. D is on the upswing, O will produce as it always does. When has CPJ's O not been No. 1 in Coastal? Never.

Ryan in New York City writes: I'm definitely not one to downplay the Canes' woes of the last several seasons, particularly on defense. But I think most people are being really unfair in their evaluation of [Jake] Heaps. He had a very solid freshmen year at BYU before transferring due to a scheme change. Then he went to play for one of the worst coaches (Charlie Weis) at one of the worst programs (Kansas) where he got no help from his O-Line or receivers. At the very least, he's a mature player who has experienced a lot of different schemes, and will be in an offense with playmakers EVERYWHERE around him. By no means do I expect us to win the division (particularly because of the complete lack of defense), but I expect Heaps to earn the starting nod and surprise some people early in the season.

Phil in New York writes: Duke Johnson. Anthony Chickillo. Stacy Coley. Clive Walford. Phillip Dorsett. Herb Waters. Tyriq McCord. Tracy Howard.Get ready for your Coastal champs - the University of Miami Hurricanes!!!

CaliNative in SF/Miami writes: Miami and Virginia have the hardest conference schedules in the Coastal this year (Virginia's is harder because they play @FSU instead of UL). But my question is do you think if you switch Duke (or even VTech's) and Miami's schedule, do you think Miami becomes the overwhelming favorites? I mean Duke's schedule is set up only to lose to VT, UNC, and Miami. I think Miami (and UNC) are just set up so that they have to sweep the Coastal, or only have one loss, to win it. And honestly, that is the only reason I can see for not having Miami or UNC winning the Coastal.

Adelson writes: The schedule Miami has to play would be difficult for any team. One of the reasons why the Hurricanes want a nine-game league schedule is to even out the slate a little more for everyone. They have to play the Florida State Seminoles every year; their Coastal brethren don't. If Duke played Miami's schedule, then I would not pick the Blue Devils. Schedule is a huge reason why I think Duke has an edge, as I stated in the post. The schedule you play impacts how you finish, no matter how talented you are.




Al in Florida writes: You love to talk Miami down don't you, AA? I don't blame you, I would still be salty if I was a Gator fan. All Miami needs at QB is someone to get the ball to the playmakers without turning the ball over. We have the playmakers, more so than FSU or Clemson. Plus our O-line isn't too shabby. If (James) Coley can improve the O and if (Mark D'Onofrio's) D is half as good as it was last year, you can buy me a beer in North Carolina come December.

AJ Brown in Plantation, Fla., writes: The one true reason in my mind that Miami is favored to win the Coastal is because you can't ignore the talent that Miami possesses. Firstly, Miami has the best group of receivers RIGHT NOW in the entire ACC. That means that whoever starts at QB for Miami does not have to be STELLAR, but a game manager instead. Last year, the problem Miami had on offense was that Stephen Morris could not make the right reads and could not make the intermediate throws. Often times he was a one-trick pony who could only throw the deep ball. Jake Heaps, for example, may not have the arm or the pretty deep ball, but he can make the intermediate throws that Morris could not. As far as the defense, Miami SHOULD BE a lot better because of addition by subtraction. Miami had starters on the defense last season who had absolutely no business starting, like Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green, Jimmy Gaines, Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith. The players replacing them are without a doubt more talented with way more athleticism, like Dallas Crawford, Jermaine Grace, Quan Muhammad, Jamal Carter, Tyriq McCord etc. Bottom line is, I don't think you can compare the talent level between Miami and Duke as Miami has a clear advantage there. I'm not saying Miami WILL win the Coastal, but I think you're drinking too much Blue Devil Kool-Aid because you're looking at Duke's Cinderella year from last season and the fact that they're returning their starting QB.

Adelson writes: I could not resist a parting shot. Duke beat the far more talented Miami head-to-head a year ago.
During Florida State's national championship-winning season, its leader in takeaways (Nate Andrews), yards per carry (Karlos Williams) and yards per touch (Kermit Whitfield) combined to start just one game. In the current landscape of college football, talent at the top is crucial but depth is often what separates the best teams. With that in mind, we counted down the ACC’s best backups -- players who weren’t starters last season and aren't currently penciled in atop the depth chart, but who could make a major impact in 2014. While we ranked our top five, there are plenty of other contenders. This is a quick look at those who just missed the cut.

[+] EnlargeRyan Green
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRyan Green's experience should give him a leg up in the battle to be Karlos Williams' backup.
Ryan Green (RB, Florida State): Really, any of Florida State’s backup running backs could be here. Green has terrific speed and is the lone runner down the depth chart with game experience, but Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender figure to see plenty of action this season and could also produce big numbers the way this year's starter, Karlos Williams, did as the No. 3 tailback in 2013.

Wayne Gallman (RB, Clemson): Like FSU, Clemson boasts a deep backfield that could feature significant contributions from a number of runners. Still, it’s Gallman, the redshirt freshman, who seems to get the biggest raves from coaches. He could certainly find himself in a starting role before too long.

Tyriq McCord (DE, Miami): Primarily working on third downs last season, McCord showed plenty of promise, racking up four sacks, three forced fumbles and two INTs, despite not starting a game. One of those forced fumbles came against Florida, perhaps Miami’s biggest win last season.

Thomas Sirk (QB, Duke): The backup quarterback at Duke was a vital position last year when Brandon Connette finished third in the ACC in rushing touchdowns. The equally athletic Sirk seems equipped to handle that role in 2014.

Shaquille Powell (RB, Duke): Josh Snead returns as the team’s leading rusher, but in an offense with plenty of explosive talent, Powell, who averaged 5.5 yards per rush as the No. 3 back last season, figures to carve out a niche and has really impressed teammates this offseason.

Ron Thompson (DE, Syracuse): The converted tight end has the potential to be a beast on the defensive line, he just doesn’t quite have a full-time job yet at Syracuse. In limited action last season, however, he had two sacks and 20 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss.

Quarterbacks: There aren’t many teams that have completely settled quarterback situations, which means that odds are, one or more of the current backups will end up making a big difference down the road in 2014. Mitch Trubisky at UNC, Kevin Sousa at Wake Forest, Tim Byerly at Georgia Tech and, of course, Deshaun Watson at Clemson all have potential to be impact players before the year is out.

No doubt there will be plenty of other back-ups to emerge as significant playmakers this year. So, who else should we have considered? Who might take a big step forward in 2014?

Miami spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Miami Hurricanes:

1. Dallas Crawford will help on D. Miami surprised many when it decided to move Crawford from running back to safety. But the switch should end up benefiting both the Canes' D and Crawford in the long-term. Initially recruited to play safety, Crawford made himself at home in the defensive backfield and impressed coaches. He was named most improved player on defense for the spring.

2. Bulked-up Duke Johnson. While Johnson was held out of contact drills as he rehabbed a broken ankle, he did participate on a limited basis this spring. But bigger than that was the way he transformed his body. Johnson put on 10 pounds and is now up to 205. The hope is that more weight translates into better durability. Miami will need to rely on him more than ever in 2014.

3. Depth at linebacker. Coach Al Golden said one of the biggest accomplishments his team made this spring was building depth at linebacker. Miami hopes to count on all-ACC performer Denzel Perryman (now in the middle), along with Alex Figueroa, Raphael Kirby, Thurston Armbrister, Jermaine Grace, JaWand Blue and early enrollee freshmen Juwon Young and Darrion Owens.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who will cut it at QB? Miami caught a tough break when projected starting quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage and underwent surgery. Though there is some hope Williams could return before the season ends, Miami has to prepare Kevin Olsen and Gray Crow for the starting job. Olsen, the favorite to win the starting job, did not impress in the spring game. Neither did Crow.

2. Improvement on D? Coaches insisted this spring that they saw a better, more cohesive defensive unit, one in which leaders emerged in Perryman and Tracy Howard, among others. Will the progress coaches saw in the spring translate into more consistent performances during the season? Chief on the list of improvements is a better four-man rush and improving on third downs.

3. Pass rush. Speaking of pass rush, Miami was pleased with what it saw out of hybrid rush ends Al-Quadin Muhammad and Tyriq McCord this spring. Their emergence will be a huge key toward improving the Hurricanes’ pass rush. Ufomba Kamalu and Jelani Hamilton also started playing better as the spring went on, so Miami feels better about its depth across the line headed into the fall.

One way-too-early prediction:

Miami will take a step back this year. The Hurricanes go into the season with question marks at quarterback and continued questions on defense. Couple that with a difficult schedule -- featuring perhaps the most difficult crossover games in the ACC against Florida State, Louisville – and it will be tough for the Canes to match their nine-win total from last season.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami had one of the most maligned defenses in the ACC a year ago, a group that showed a modicum of improvement but lacked the overall tenacity to dominate play after play.

Coach Al Golden, faced with increasing scrutiny over defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, made a choice shortly after the season ended. He opted to believe in the power of consistency over the power of change and kept his staff intact.

Now here it is, three months later, and the Miami defense has emerged as the story of the spring. Not only is this group playing with renewed confidence and vigor, it also has gotten the best of the offense as practice has progressed.

[+] EnlargeDenzel Perryman
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsLB Denzel Perryman hopes to lead a renewed Miami defense from his new spot in the middle.
While it would be foolish to extrapolate too much from drills in March and April, it also would be foolish to discount the progress that has been made. Spring practice is valuable in several ways, as it gives coaches a glimpse of what type of team they will have once August rolls around.

“Every team is different; I say it every year,” Golden said recently. “You just don’t know the direction and the mentality and the maturity until you get that team. … We’re getting more collaboration and more unity. Communication is a big part of that. Guys are running to the ball. Guys know what they need to do; they’re willing to tackle. It’s all encouraging.”

But at the same time, Golden finishes:

“We’ve got a long way to go.”

That goes without saying. But Miami, at least on paper, seems capable of making its biggest defensive jump in three years based on returning experience alone. Eight starters and 16 from the two-deep are back. Coaches are no longer emphasizing bigger-picture concepts in practice. They are drilling down on the fine points, a sign of growth and maturity.

Their best defensive player, Denzel Perryman, is now playing middle linebacker, where he can have a bigger impact on the game. Dallas Crawford was moved to safety to help improve a position that was in major need of an upgrade.

Linebackers and defensive backs have been challenged to be more physical on the perimeter. Last season, the Miami defense gave up a chunk of big plays because it could not contain on the outside.

Third-down defense also is a major point of emphasis. Miami allowed opponents to convert 42 percent of the time on third down, and that was another big reason why the defensive performance dropped in the second half of the season.

Finally, Miami wants to improve its four-man rush. The Canes hope to accomplish that with more production out of rush ends Tyriq McCord and Al-Quadin Muhammad. Though they play on the same side of the line, there will be packages putting both on the field at once.

D’Onofrio says he has a more physical, more talented defense today than he did one year ago. But if players do not know the scheme or are out of position, talent and aggressiveness end up meaning nothing.

“We’re just trying for improvement daily, just getting guys to focus in on doing their job, and not trying to do more than we’re asking,” D’Onofrio said. “It’s easy to get exposed on defense. All it takes is one guy out of his gap or one guy to miss a tackle in the open field and it can result in big plays. We’re putting the pressure back on them to execute and the leadership within the room of trying to put the pressure back on their teammates. We’re starting to get that. We’re starting to get some guys to respond and take ownership.”

Perryman has emerged as the leader on defense after mulling over the option of declaring early for the draft. Golden said, “Denzel sees himself as a leader, and he’s not going to fail the mission. When you do things right, and you love the game as much as he loves it, you can lead.”

Golden also points to better leadership from cornerback Tracy Howard, who has been a big part of the improvement seen in the secondary so far. Better leadership translates into better communication, which translates into better energy and better performances during practice.

Coaches have seen that this spring. Now the question is how all that will translate when the games begin.

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:

Duke

Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Miami

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Pitt

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Virginia

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.

Offseason spotlight: Miami

March, 5, 2014
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Yes, the Hurricanes' quarterback battle is in the spotlight. But take your pick on the Miami defense. Every position is in the spotlight.

Spotlight: Al-Quadin Muhammad and Tyriq McCord.

[+] EnlargeAl-Quadin Muhammad
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIMiami's Al-Quadin Muhammad recorded two sacks as a freshman in 2013.
2013 summary: Muhammad was one of the best recruits Miami signed in 2013, and he played right away as a backup to Shayon Green at defensive end. In all, the former U.S. Army All-American ended up with eight tackles and two sacks as a role player. The Miami defensive front showed early signs of improvement but was not nearly as consistent as it needed to be as the season wore on. The Hurricanes did bump up their sack numbers over the previous season, but they could not muster a significant pass rush in most conference games. They also ranked No. 12 in the ACC in rushing defense.

McCord, meanwhile, was used primarily in second- and third-down packages and was used as a hybrid linebacker/rush end. He ended up leading the team with four sacks and was the only Miami player in 2013 with an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery.

The skinny: Miami has high hopes for both players in 2014. Though they play different positions, they are both extremely versatile and will be counted on to get after the quarterback. Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio praised each at the start of spring practice, saying both are long (Muhammad is 6-4 and McCord is 6-3) and strong and have an ability to set the edge or they can jam and reroute players at the line.

It is no secret Miami has to get better on the defensive line and at linebacker. Muhammad is expected to start at one defensive end spot. So far in the early going this spring he has donned the coveted black jersey, worn by defensive starters. He came into Miami with tons of hype, and now it is his turn to take advantage of the opportunity in front of him.

McCord is also trying to win a much larger role on the Miami defense. With Denzel Perryman shifting to middle linebacker, McCord has an opening to see more time on first- and second-down packages and transform himself from role player to major contributor. Miami ranked 10th or worse in the ACC in the four biggest defensive categories last season (total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense). The sack numbers, while better, still ranked Miami No. 9 in the league (29 total). For the Hurricanes to improve, they will need to rely much more on Muhammad and McCord to make plays.

Previous spotlights

Midseason report: Miami

October, 15, 2013
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Miami’s biggest question heading into the season was whether or not the beleaguered defense would improve enough to make the Hurricanes a legit contender to win the Coastal Division.

That question was answered in Week 2.

Miami and its defense made a statement with a 21-16 upset of then-No. 12-ranked Florida. The defense was the difference, as Tyriq McCord buried Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel at the Florida 17-yard line, forcing a fumble that set up Miami's final touchdown. Florida had five turnovers, and Miami had a marquee win.

Now the Canes are 5-0, ranked No. 10 in the country, and barreling down the path toward an undefeated showdown against rival Florida State on Nov. 2. Miami has 18 sacks through five games, and has allowed two passing touchdowns, tied with Florida for the fewest in the nation. The Canes are No. 9 in the country in scoring offense at 45.2 points per game, and No. 9 in scoring defense at 16 points per game. The biggest question surrounding the Canes in the first half has been the health of quarterback Stephen Morris, who suffered a bone bruise in his ankle on Sept. 21 against Savannah State. The Canes and Morris have had a bye week to heal heading into Thursday night’s game at North Carolina, though, and expectations have only risen with the Canes’ latest ranking.

Offensive MVP: RB Dallas Crawford He leads the Canes in scoring with eight touchdowns, but what’s impressive is that he’s done it on 28 total offensive touches. Crawford has scored seven times on 25 carries. He also has one receiving touchdown.

Defensive MVP: (tie) LB Denzel Perryman (team-high 34 tackles, three pass breakups), LB Jimmy Gaines (29 tackles, two fumble recoveries, 1 touchdown) and DL Shayon Green (21 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble).

Video: One Good Thing -- Miami's defense

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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Heather Dinich talks about the Canes' defense in Miami's 21-16 upset of No. 12-ranked Florida.

Al Golden gets much-needed big win

September, 9, 2013
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The 15-minute cooling-off period had come and gone, but Al Golden had not cooled off just yet.

He walked into the interview room wearing an orange Miami polo shirt, a quick change from the shirt and tie he wore during the game. Yet he had already sweated through his new shirt, and sweat still poured from his red face.

Every few seconds, he wiped his brow with a white towel as he answered questions about Miami’s 21-16 win over No. 12 Florida on Saturday afternoon.

You understand why Golden was still so worked up after the game ended. Golden was the coach with the most to lose on Saturday, given the raised expectations in Coral Gables this season. Miami has not lived up to its high standards for years. And the Canes had consistently struggled against ranked teams -- especially last year, going 0-3 against Kansas State, Notre Dame and Florida State.

Golden himself faced questions about his record in big games, too. Never once have his teams -- at Temple or Miami -- posted winning records against squads that finished the season above .500. Going into the Florida game, Golden was 8-31 against teams with winning records, 2-8 against ranked teams in his career.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Robert Mayer/US PresswireMiami coach Al Golden is smiling about the state of his program after a definitive win against a ranked in-state rival.
Players saw a different Golden last week leading up to the game. So did reporters. He tightened up a bit. There was no time to relax. This game would serve as a benchmark for Miami. Everybody knew it.

Florida and Miami might not be bitter rivals on the field anymore, but they are in their home state and on the recruiting trail. Golden has to compete against Florida for fan interest, national pub and, most importantly, recruits across the state. That includes South Florida, where the top prospects are no longer locks to throw up the "U.” Miami invited a reported 115 recruits to the game, underlying its importance.

The Gators had surpassed Miami in just about every way -- in the rankings, in recent championships, in NFL prospects and in recruiting class rankings. If Miami had any designs on beginning its climb back, it had to beat Florida.

So when the Canes did, Golden sprinted across the field like a giddy player and celebrated with his players and fans. In between the coachspeak in his postgame comments, you truly saw how much this win meant to him and to a program that has been in the headlines for major NCAA problems, not major NCAA victories.

His celebration resonated with his players, who feed off his passion and enthusiasm. Linebacker Tyriq McCord pointed to one Golden moment from a game against USF in 2011 that essentially made his decision to play for Miami. The Canes got ready to line up for a field goal to win with seconds left in the game.

“Usually the kicker has to be poised, nobody needs to be around him, they’re trying to ice the kicker and everything,” McCord said. “Coach Golden was standing there right in the middle with Jake Wieclaw, jumping around and everything. That’s the main reason why I came here. Coach Golden is like one of us, and that’s what I love about him.”

With 24 hours to reflect on the victory, Golden admitted he was completely shot after the game, having expended so much energy in preparation time and on the sideline. To celebrate, he hung around his house Saturday night with family.

It was back to work Sunday. His team came into the facility to lift and watch tape. Golden made no mention of its rise to No. 15 in the AP poll -- the first time any of his teams has ever been ranked. The giddiness was gone. The focus cannot be on the rearview; it must be ahead, especially with a week off before Savannah State on Sept. 21.

Golden says they cannot “let this turn into Mardi Gras. We don't need a week's celebration here. We all know the corrections we have to make. We're happy about the win, but we have a lot of things we have to get fixed this week.”

Still, there is something to be said for what the win can do for the team moving forward. Last year, Miami simply was not mature enough to win a big game like this. Now, it is, and that can only lift spirits and raise confidence. What Golden saw on the sideline was a team that enjoyed being in a slugfest, that did not get down when mistakes were made.

Golden saw a much more physical team. It has been years since Miami looked as physical as it did against the Gators. He also saw a more unified, team, too. Golden credits the work his players put into the offseason program.

“Nobody was complaining, there was no infighting,” Golden said. “We're in better condition than we were a year ago and markedly better than two years ago. Our mental errors are down because of it, and our tackling is up because of it. ...

“The last thing anybody sees is what you do between the lines, but that confidence started way back with what this team has done in the weight room. We’ve had great leadership. Now we go and have that win, you're right there in confidence there. The way to gain confidence is to do it.”

And the way to build a program back up is to take small steps toward a bigger goal. This was not a small step, though. It was a giant step for Miami and Golden. They now know they can win a big game without playing their best game.

But they also know they cannot allow one win to define their season. Ten games remain, including the entire ACC schedule. For Miami to get where it wants to go, this game must serve as a beginning.

Not an end.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
9:00
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Week 2 is in the books. Here are the ACC's top performers:

Miami's defense: Linebacker Denzel Perryman recorded 13 tackles and forced a fumble, and Tyriq McCord sacked Jeff Driskel late in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble that proved the difference in the game. In all, Miami forced three fumbles, picked off two passes, sacked Driskel twice and held Florida to 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. Not bad for a group that ranked dead last in the ACC in rushing defense a year ago.

Boston College running back Andre Williams: The senior carried the ball a whopping 35 times en route to 204 yards rushing and a touchdown in a win over Wake Forest. It was Williams' second 100-yard performance of the season. Williams carried the ball eight straight times on BC's final drive, running the last five minutes off the clock and helping the Eagles to match their win total from 2012 after just two games.

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown: No, Brown didn't quite repeat his impressive Week 1 performance against Florida International, but he came close. The senior threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and ran four times and scored twice more versus Old Dominion. Through two games, Brown has already collected nine touchdowns. A year ago, no Maryland QB accounted for more than 11 touchdowns all season. More good news for Maryland: Brown wasn't the only playmaker. Stefon Diggs racked up a career-best 179 yards receiving, and Brandon Ross ran for 149 yards and a score.

Duke quarterback Brandon Connette: Starter Anthony Boone went down with a broken collarbone in the second quarter, but that didn't doom Duke's chances at its first 2-0 start since 1998. Connette, a junior with just 45 career passing attempts entering the game, came on to rally the Blue Devils' offense. For the game, he completed 14 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to help Duke to a 28-14 win over Memphis.

NC State's two-minute offense: In what was hardly a vintage performance for the Wolfpack against FCS foe Richmond, the two-minute drill to end the game worked to perfection, capped by kicker Niklas Sade's 48-yard, game-winning field goal with 33 seconds remaining. NC State trailed 21-13 at the half but forced a turnover deep in Richmond territory to set up a third-quarter touchdown, then drove the ball 48 yards on seven plays in the final two minutes of action, setting up Sade's game winner, which cleared the goal post with ease. QB Pete Thomas was 4-of-5 for 31 yards passing on the drive.

ACC enjoys big wins to start season

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The statement was made, and well, Miami simply could not contain its raw emotions, perhaps because this was all so new.

Al Golden sprinted across the field with 4.4 40 speed to shake Will Muschamp’s hand. His players gathered en mass in one corner of the end zone to celebrate with fans then sprinted across the field to the end zone on the other end of the field to celebrate some more.

In between it all, an inflatable alligator float lay deflating on the field, its snout taped shut.

“We’ve been through so much,” Golden said after his team’s 21-16 win over No. 12 Florida on Saturday afternoon. “It was almost cathartic, to be honest with you. It was just 26 months unleashed there.”

Miami, trying to take baby steps back to the top, had not been able to win a big game like this under Golden. The spotlight shined on the Canes last season in games against nationally ranked Kansas State, then unbeaten Notre Dame, then eventual ACC champ Florida State. Each time, Miami wilted or failed to show up, its defense exposed as a major liability, its toughness questioned.

Everybody inside the program knew it needed this win. But the Hurricanes were not the only ones who needed it badly. So did the ACC.

The league made a statement in Week 1 with Clemson beating Georgia, vaulting the Tigers to No. 4 in the rankings. Another win against a marquee team would send ACC officials dancing from press box tables. Especially a win from Miami -- a program that has underwhelmed despite the expectation it would enhance the league’s reputation when it joined in 2004.

The Gators went in favored and seemingly had the edge up front. Miami players heard all the talk and got more motivated, developing the proverbial and cliché chip on their shoulders. They didn’t need coaches preaching all week that they needed to be the more physical team. They knew.

They also knew this game meant more than suiting up against Florida Atlantic.

As linebacker Tyriq McCord said afterward, he came to Miami to play against a team like the Gators, to have the national stage, the national spotlight, a chance to begin Miami on its road back to a championship.

With a fired-up crowd filling Sun Life Stadium, the two rivals battled gamely in the final scheduled regular-season matchup between them.

Miami matched Florida hit for hit. For once, this team could believe in its defense. Florida racked up yards and first downs and owned time of possession but could not put points on the board. Because Miami was there to make the crucial play, time and again.

Florida turned the ball over four times inside Miami territory -- three times inside the red zone. The Canes had a crucial stand on fourth-and-inches from the Miami 16 in the second quarter. Florida kept driving, and Miami kept caving just a little bit. But the Canes refused to be broken.

Meanwhile, the Miami offense struggled for most of the game against the ferocious Florida front, a group quarterback Stephen Morris called “the best defensive line I’ve ever seen.”

[+] EnlargeMiami coach Al Golden and the Hurricanes beat Florida 21-16 on Saturday in their final scheduled regular-season matchup.
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald via Getty ImagesMiami coach Al Golden and the Hurricanes beat Florida 21-16 on Saturday in their final scheduled regular-season matchup.
Morris and running back Duke Johnson are the two best players on the Miami roster. But improbably, it was the much maligned Miami defense that won the game for the Hurricanes.

“Without trust, you don’t have anything,” Miami cornerback Tracy Howard said. “If you make plays, you can talk. Trust is a big thing. The offense trusts the defense. The defense trusts the offense.”

Perhaps as improbably, the ACC went 2-2 against the SEC to open the season. North Carolina and Virginia Tech, the two teams that lost to SEC competition last week, rebounded with wins Saturday the way everybody expected against far inferior competition. Virginia did not have the same success against No. 2 Oregon on Saturday.

But the focus for the first two weeks was on the big headliners against the SEC, a conference that has owned the ACC on the field and the recruiting trail. Every single ACC team went in as the underdog, including the Tigers and Canes at home.

Many believed Clemson and Miami had the best shot at pulling the upsets. In the end, what stood out in both victories was the way they won -- with an aggressiveness and physicality that most folks associate with the SEC.

The ACC essentially out-SEC’d its conference rival in both wins. Some 755 miles to the north in Clemson, coach Dabo Swinney noticed. He ended his postgame comments after Clemson’s 52-13 win over South Carolina State by saying, “How about that ACC? Spunky little old league."

He flashed "The U" sign and walked out of the room.

Swinney has reason to brag. The ACC won only two games over ranked nonconference teams in each of the past three seasons. In just two weeks, the ACC has matched that win total. Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman put it bluntly when asked what the league’s 2-2 mark over the SEC meant:

“We ain’t no cupcake league,” Perryman said.

Two big wins in two weeks does not completely change perception, but it’s a start. The ACC should have three teams ranked in the Top 25 come Sunday. Miami has a shot to start 4-0 before a tough ACC game against Georgia Tech on Oct. 5. Florida State and Clemson also have a shot at being undefeated when they play each other Oct. 19.

As much as Golden wanted to sound a word of caution, saying this was only one game and only one win, a giddy McCord could not hold back.

“We’re back,” McCord said. "That’s all I can say. We’re back."

It appears the ACC is too.
Dalvin CookTom Hauck for Student SportsFlorida went into Miami's backyard to get a commitment from ESPN 300 RB Dalvin Cook, but the Hurricanes aren't exactly ready to concede him to the Gators.
Florida and Miami face off this weekend in what could be the last match up between these two in-state teams for the foreseeable future. The Hurricanes and Gators have had some memorable games on the field, but also some fierce recruiting battles off it. Here's a closer look at 10 recent recruiting battles -- five that Florida won and five that Miami won.

There was plenty of football this past weekend in the ACC. Here's a quick recap of everything that happened, according to each school's website or report that was emailed to the media:

VIRGINIA

The following information is according to Jeff White's report:
  • The Orange roster included the first-team defense, the Blue roster the first-team offense. Each quarterback saw time on both sides during the scrimmage, which the Orange won 18-15.
  • Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Watford entered the spring game atop the depth chart, followed by redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert and then redshirt junior Phillip Sims. Watford finished 5-for-10 for 55 yards. Lambert completed 21 of 36 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, and Sims was 8-for-18 for 89 yards.
  • Junior running back Clifton Richardson finished with 41 yards (on 11 carries), junior Kevin Parks with 20 yards (on 11 carries), junior Khalek Shepherd with 20 yards (on six carries) and redshirt freshman Kye Morgan with 18 yards (on 11 carries).
  • Led by Brent Urban (3.5), sophomore end Trent Corney (two) and redshirt freshman linebacker Mark Hall (two), the defenses were credited with 14 "sacks" Saturday.
MARYLAND
  • The Terps held a scrimmage at Middletown High School in Middletown, Md., Saturday.
  • Taking handoffs from quarterback Dustin Dailey, running back Joe Riddle rushed for more than 100 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run.
MIAMI
  • The Hurricanes held a 90-minute scrimmage on Friday night that included goal-line and red zone scenarios, and two-minute drills, in front of 3,000 fans at Naples High School. The first-team offense went 60 plays and the second team had 55 plays.
  • Quarterbacks Stephen Morris, Ryan Williams and Gray Crow combined to throw five touchdown passes to three different receivers. The Canes were without receiver Phillip Dorsett, who was in Gainesville with the track team at the Florida Relays.
  • Dallas Crawford had two receiving touchdowns, while Rashawn Scott and Allen Hurns combined for three scores.
  • Anthony Chickillo, Tyriq McCord and Kelvin Cain led the defense with a sack each.
BOSTON COLLEGE
  • BC held its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday in Alumni Stadium. The team practiced for the first half hour and then ran through a number of series with rotating quarterbacks. All four quarterbacks -- Chase Rettig, Josh Bordner, Mike Marscovetra and Christian Suntrup -- saw time.
  • Rettig started and led the team to the only touchdown on a 5-yard pass to C.J. Parsons. Bordner played in five series and rushed for 33 yards.
  • Defensively, junior Sean Sylvia returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown.
  • Running back Rolandan Finch has left the team for personal reasons.
GEORGIA TECH
  • Sophomore quarterback Vad Lee ran for a pair of touchdowns, including one 60-yard touchdown. Redshirt freshman Justin Thomas rushed for a touchdown, set up by his own electrifying 40-yard run.
  • Redshirt freshman Beau Hankins had an interception on a pass thrown by Thomas.
  • Senior Jeremiah Attaochu had a tackle for loss and Coray Carlson had a fumble recovery.
  • The catch of the day actually belonged to walk-on Marty Alcala, who had an acrobatic reception on a 30-yard pass from Thomas.
  • Matt Connors rushed for a 12-yard touchdown.
  • Junior wide receiver Darren Waller, who was injured, was cleared to play.
WAKE FOREST
  • The Deacs continued to emphasize takeaways at their scrimmage on Saturday.
  • According to the Winston-Salem Journal, linebacker Mike Olson was sidelined while recovering from shoulder surgery. Nose tackle Nikita Whitlock missed the scrimmage because he was back home in Wylie, Texas, attending the funeral of a member of his family. Cornerback Merrill Noel was in uniform, but did not play because of a sore shoulder.

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