NCF Nation: Denzel Perryman

The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

BOSTON COLLEGE
C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

CLEMSON
QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

DUKE
OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

FLORIDA STATE
QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

GEORGIA TECH
OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

LOUISVILLE
WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

MIAMI
RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

NORTH CAROLINA
QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

NC STATE
RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

PITT
WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

SYRACUSE
OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

VIRGINIA
RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

WAKE FOREST
FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.
Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.

That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.

Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.

Maxwell Award

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.

[+] EnlargeJames Connor
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner set a Pitt record with 229 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State: This is not a knock on Brissett, but his inclusion is certainly puzzling considering he sat out all of 2013 after transferring from Florida, where he saw limited time as a starter and backup. However, the Wolfpack staff is high on Brissett leading the program’s turnaround, and Brissett was a blue-chip high school recruit.

WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.

RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.

WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.

RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.

Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.



Bednarik Award

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley is among the favorites to repeat as a finalist for this season's Bednarik Award.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second straight season this fall.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.

DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.

DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.

Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.

Unbeaten Miami is all grown up

October, 9, 2013
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Phillip Dorsett is 20 years old, but in Miami years, that makes him a grizzled veteran.

He speaks authoritatively when he says, “I’ve seen this team do a complete 360.”

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
AP Photo/J Pat CarterAl Golden says his Miami team is more focused this season.
So has the college football world. Miami is no longer the bumbling team filled with youngsters learning on the job, unable to hold a lead or compete against tough competition. Miami is all grown up and playing that way.

For proof, let us look at four losses from last season:

North Carolina: Miami lost a tough game at home that it had every opportunity to win. Ryan Williams came into the game after Stephen Morris got hurt, and ultimately could not convert on fourth-and-6 from the UNC 26.

Notre Dame: Miami trailed 13-3 at halftime before getting smacked in the second half and losing 41-3.

Florida State: The Hurricanes led 10-0 early, then trailed 16-13 at the end of the third quarter. But Florida State reeled off 17 straight points in the fourth quarter to win.

Virginia: Miami led 38-28 in the fourth quarter, but Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee with 6 seconds remaining to give the Hoos the 41-40 win.

Now let us look at the two most significant wins so far this season for Miami.

Florida: The Hurricanes not only stood toe-to-toe with a top-12 team, they won thanks to their defense. In three of the losses cited above, Miami played below average on defense -- especially in the Virginia game. Miami had no business losing that one.

Georgia Tech: Miami trailed for the first time all season, down 10 points in the second quarter. Yet Miami did not fold, and found a way to make the necessary plays to win.

One parallel stands out in particular between the Tech and Notre Dame games. Against Notre Dame, Miami opened the game by airing it out. Dorsett dropped two potential touchdowns. The Hurricanes, it seemed, deflated when they could not convert those big plays. Against Georgia Tech, Dorsett fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter. The Jackets recovered and scored a touchdown, but missed the extra point.

Still, momentum seemed to belong to Georgia Tech. Miami, however, did not dwell on the mistake. The Hurricanes scored three straight touchdowns to put the game out of reach. As Morris said after the game, “I think last year would have been different.”

These examples prove last year was different. But those tribulations ultimately taught Miami how to win. So has improved leadership. Miami has more seniors to rely on this year, and its freshmen and sophomores are taking on bigger, more vocal roles, too.

“We have a lot of young guys that are mature and they rally around the older guys,” said redshirt sophomore running back Dallas Crawford. “It really feels like we have no young guys. Even the freshmen, it seems like they’ve been around for years.”

Junior linebacker Denzel Perryman points to improved communication. “Overall, it’s not just one person speaking up. It’s everyone at every position,” he said. “I’ll say something, Jimmy [Gaines] will say something, another linebacker will say something.”

One more factor cannot be discounted. Miami players have had to deal with an NCAA investigation and skip bowl games two straight seasons because of self-imposed postseason bans. That adversity has served to bring everybody closer.

“We’re more focused,” coach Al Golden said. “We just have guys who have been through a lot. It’s a close group. They’re not daunted by anything. If you look at what they’ve been through, it pales in comparison. They get down a little bit and say, ‘All right, let’s go.’ I’m really proud of the leadership we have.”

This season, everybody knows what is at stake. Every single player came to Miami for a reason -- to re-establish the Hurricanes’ tradition. Opening 5-0 is a good start. But that is all it is. Though 5-0 is uncharted territory for the players, Golden has beat home the “one game at a time” mantra.

Opening 5-0 means nothing if the winning stops. Golden knows there are key areas where the Hurricanes have to improve during this bye week -- turnovers and penalties have to be the top two priorities. Miami has turned the ball over eight times and committed 14 penalties in its last two games. Those mistakes cannot be overlooked. Not if Miami wants to win a championship.

Indeed, the Miami maturity we have seen thus far will take on even greater importance as the season wears on.
When Ted Roof returned to his alma mater this past January, he asked a graduate assistant to cut up 10-play highlight tapes of each returning defensive player. Georgia Tech's new defensive coordinator wanted to see the possibilities that lay ahead for the unit he was about to take over, and he figured whatever limitations they had would present themselves soon enough anyway.

"I think it's up to us as coaches to put kids in positions to be successful, and to ask them what they can do," Roof told ESPN.com. "For me, I will be able to see what they can't do, but I want to see what they can do, because we started this thing to try and put kids in the right positions with the right job descriptions and things of that nature."

What he saw was a collection of talent that has put the Yellow Jackets at No. 9 nationally in total defense and No. 8 in scoring defense. But the Ramblin' Wreck have plenty of company up there in the ACC, as evidenced by their No. 3 ranking within the conference in both of those categories.

[+] EnlargeShayon Green, Jeff Driskel
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesLB Shayon Green and Miami have made a habit of making big hits this year and the Hurricanes, like several other programs from the ACC, are ranked among the nation's top defenses.
Six ACC schools rank in the national top 25 of total defense. Six rank in the top 16 of scoring defense. Two of them square off Saturday, when Georgia Tech visits No. 14 Miami, which ranks a spot below the Yellow Jackets in the former category and a spot above them in the latter.

"We take a lot of pride," Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman told ESPN.com. "Like the coaches tell us, like we say amongst ourselves, it's just the beginning of the season. It's game No. 5. We can't relax right here. So we've just got to keep doing what we're doing, which is just going out and executing and doing our job. We take a lot of pride in it though."

Miami has not played an FBS offense that currently ranks better than 70th. But the Hurricanes' one major win among their 4-0 start came when they forced five turnovers against then-No. 12 Florida. A unit that went through the growing pains of having 16 true freshmen play and six start at least one game in 2012 now finds itself in prime position to claim the early frontrunner status in the Coastal Division, as Miami has won its last four meetings with Georgia Tech.

But the roles are reversed this time around. Traditionally recognized for big playmakers at the skill positions -- and, in Georgia Tech's case, for the vaunted triple-option offense -- both schools have been modest offensively, ranking 38th (Miami) and 51st (Georgia Tech) nationally in yards per game.

The Yellow Jackets appeared to turn a corner defensively two weeks ago in their 28-20 home win over North Carolina, as they held the Tar Heels scoreless over the game's final 39-plus minutes. Despite a 17-10 home loss to intra-division rival Virginia Tech five days later, Georgia Tech held the Hokies to just a field goal over the game's final 41-plus minutes.

Roof said the UNC contest was a seeing-is-believing moment, as it allowed the new coordinator and his players to adjust to adversity on the fly and pull out a win.

"I think you gain some confidence and you gain some belief, and at the same time, correct the mistakes that got us into that position in the first place," Roof said. "But I was really proud of the effort."

Ironically enough, enhanced defensive play across the ACC may just be an unintended consequence of a conference that features seven senior starting quarterbacks from last year's 12-team version of the league.

"I just think it's the familiarity, in my opinion," Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu told ESPN.com. "A lot of us have been playing against each other for a while, like Virginia Tech and their quarterback, UNC and their quarterback. The guys that are senior quarterbacks, we kind of have a book on them, and you're kind of experienced, you play them a lot. There are a lot of senior quarterbacks in the conference this year. Tajh Boyd, another senior.

"So when I go into those games you kind of have almost a feel for them: You know how to rush the passer when you're rushing them. You know how to stay in your lane. Sometimes guys that can move and get out like Tajh Boyd, you know how they adjust to that. And basically just familiarity. For me, personally, I feel the same way for a lot of our players on our defense, that familiarity and experience with a lot of the senior offensive players in this league."

Ten different ACC defensive coordinators are in their first or second years with their schools. In some of those cases, such as Clemson's, Florida State's or Georgia Tech's, head coaches and personnel were already in place, and that has been evident through their defensive play this season. Other cases, such as Boston College's or North Carolina's, were part of wholesale staff changes. That, too, has been evident so far this season, with the Eagles and Tar Heels ranking 71st and 105th, respectively, in total defense.

Mark D'Onofrio, in his third season as Miami's defensive coordinator, is a seasoned veteran by ACC standards. While stressing that he cannot speak for everyone, he does see the impact of some of the new staffs and schemes starting to come along in the conference.

"Sometimes it just takes some of these programs where they have newer head coaches or newer coordinators, it just takes a few years sometimes to get your system going and get your people in," D'Onofrio told ESPN.com.

Whether better defenses are here to stay or simply current products of early scheduling will likely be answered deeper into conference play. The clearest picture may come Saturday, when Georgia Tech and Miami collide in a matchup that has averaged 51 total points per game over the Coastal Division hopefuls' last four meetings.

Roof will reserve judgment until the season ends, though he is happy to see the Yellow Jackets gain early recognition for their work on his side of the ball.

"I want our players to take pride at being great at something," Roof said. "I want them to take pride in how they work, pride in how they prepare and pride in defense at Georiga Tech. But I know this, all of it has to go together -- offense, defense, special teams. There are going to be weeks where we have to win 49-48, and I'm good with that. There are going to be weeks where we have to win 9-2, and I'm good with that, too. Bottom line is we have to do what we have to do to win football games. But at the same time, I want our kids to have pride playing defense at Georgia Tech."

ACC helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
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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.

When Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman first came into the program, he was strong enough to bench press 17 reps of 225 pounds.

Now? His max is 425 pounds, and he can bang out 33 reps at 225 pounds.

If all goes well this fall, Perryman will finally be able to show his ACC opponents just how strong he is -- and durable. After an ankle injury derailed his season in 2012, Perryman has a modest goal for 2013:

“My goal is to play all 12 games,” he said. “Keep my ankle healthy and stay healthy.”

There are high expectations for Perryman, who will be one of the veterans on the team this year. He has shown improvement this spring both on and off the field, and he will be needed to continue that progress this fall as one of the quarterbacks of Miami’s defense.

“Denzel has tremendous ability,” said defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. “He’s got a good attitude, a good mindset. He’s learned how to work. He’s learned how to work off the field, in the weight room. His mental errors this spring are really, really down. He hasn’t made a whole lot, knock on wood. He’s playing fast, and that’s what a junior should do, a guy who’s played a lot of ball and started midway through his freshman year. Last year he got banged up, so it wasn’t quite the year he wanted. I think now he’s got a chance to reflect on it, he knows after two years this is how you do it, and that’s the benefit of playing those young guys. You watch them grow up, and I think he’s growing up.”

Perryman had no choice but to grow up quickly. He played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2011 and started five. Last season, he played in nine games and started six, mostly at middle linebacker. Despite missing three games with an ankle injury he suffered against Bethune-Cookman in Week 3, Perryman finished second on team with 64 total tackles and led with 45 solo stops. He also had six tackles for loss.

Even with that starting experience, though, Perryman was still a young player figuring out the playbook.

“There were times when we were out there, and they’re trying to signal in the defense, and I call the front, and I call the wrong stunt, and Anthony Chickillo or other d-linemen correct me,” Perryman said. “They’ll turn around and say, ‘That’s not right, we’ve gotta run this stunt.’”

Not this spring. Perryman and his teammates have put more effort into studying. They’ve spent time outside their dorm rooms going over plays, watching film, and it’s paid off for the entire defense.

“Everyone is studying and watching film a lot more,” he said. “The plays are starting to become second-nature to guys. Everyone is pushing each other to get better.”

If Perryman can be as strong in his knowledge of the game as he is in the weight room -- and stay healthy all season -- the Canes could have one of the best linebackers in the ACC.

Miami suspends WR Rashawn Scott

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
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Miami starting receiver Rashawn Scott has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, the school announced Saturday.

Scott ranks second on the team with 512 yards receiving and three touchdowns on 35 catches.

In addition, starting linebackers Eddie Johnson and Denzel Perryman stayed home in Miami, and starting safety Deon Bush is also out with an injury. Perryman has a sprained ankle, and Johnson has not met the requirements for team travel.

Being without four starters is clearly not ideal for Miami, which faces Virginia on Saturday afternoon. Miami has the inside track to win the Coastal Division, but the Hurricanes have to win their final two ACC games to do so. Virginia has won two straight in the series and four of the last six, so breaking through with a win will be made more difficult without some of its top contributors this season.


Miami is now in control of the Coastal Division thanks to its 30-12 win over Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

The door is open a crack for Duke, too.

But let us get one thing out of the way right at the top: The Hurricanes have plenty of work to do if they want to win out and make it to the ACC championship game. Virginia Tech (4-5 overall, 2-3 ACC) all but gift wrapped the game to Miami (5-4, 4-2), essentially winning every major category on the stat sheet but the final score.

The reason?

Countless mistakes, from the special-teams failures to red zone failures to breakdowns at critical junctures. Logan Thomas had yet another poor outing, contributing to many of the mistakes we saw. He threw an interception in the red zone and later fumbled on the goal line with Virginia Tech trailing 20-12 in the third quarter. With another chance to drive for the potential game-tying score in the fourth quarter, he overthrew a wide-open wide receiver on fourth down, and Virginia Tech never really had a chance after that.

The truth is, Virginia Tech squandered a huge opportunity in the third quarter. The Hokies outgained Miami 107-3 and came away with zero points. In fact, Miami did not get its first third-down conversion of the game until early in the fourth quarter. That ended up being a huge play, because Miami used the confidence gained from that play to drive down the field.

The back-breaker on that drive was a halfback option play, on which Phillip Dorsett connected on a 20-yard pass to Stephen Morris down to the Virginia Tech 7. Duke Johnson ran for the 7-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Thomas had another game to forget, with three total turnovers. In the Hokies' losses to Clemson and Pitt this season, Virginia Tech had too many turnovers as well. It now appears Virginia Tech's streak of eight consecutive 10-win seasons is over.

Miami had its share of inconsistency but deserves credit for not wilting, especially after losing two key players on defense to injury -- linebacker Denzel Perryman and safety Deon Bush. Miami had worn down in its more recent games in the fourth quarter, and many thought that would happen again with the way the Hokies were able to march up and down the field.

But the Hurricanes got the turnovers and came up with the big plays when they needed them on defense. That has to be a huge confidence booster, given the way this group has struggled this season.

On offense, Johnson was outstanding once again, with 217 all-purpose yards. He had various big plays, including an 81-yard kickoff return and a 65-yard run that were absolute killers.

Looking ahead, Miami will take the Coastal Division if it wins out. But this division could come down to the final game of the regular season, when Miami travels to Duke on Nov. 24. The Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2) also have two ACC losses, so if they can get to the Miami game without another loss, that game could be for the championship spot.

VT-Miami injury reports

November, 1, 2012
11/01/12
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Here are your injury reports for tonight's game in Sun Life Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, #VTvsMIA)

MIAMI

Probable
Surgery/Out for the season:
VIRGINIA TECH

Out for Season
Probable

Miami run defense faces another test

October, 18, 2012
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The same ol' question is asked of Miami coach Al Golden every week.

So, ahem, coach: about your defense ...

This week is no exception, of course, not with No. 14 Florida State coming to town. The mismatch on paper appears obvious: Miami has one of the worst run defenses in the country; Florida State has one of the best run offenses in the country.

Miami has only held one opponent under 200 yards rushing all season. That was Boston College in the opener, a team that ranks as one of the worst rushing offenses in the nation. Overall, the Hurricanes rank No. 118 in the nation, giving up an average of 253.7 yards per game on the ground.

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe Seminoles' rushing offense, lead by Chris Thompson, is ranked No. 16 in the country, averaging 233 yards per game.
The Hurricanes have been looking for solutions every week. They have made more depth chart changes going into this week, moving middle linebacker Denzel Perryman to the outside, while Jimmy Gaines moves to the middle. Miami has started different defensive lineups in every game this season, a clear illustration of defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio trying to find the right combination to shore up his group.

He reasoned the move for Perryman was just to give Miami more speed on the perimeter, particularly since so many teams play four- and five-receiver sets these days. Miami is sure to see that out of Florida State, which likes to spread the ball as much as it likes to run the ball.

What helps is having Perryman and Gaines healthy again. That has allowed the Hurricanes to be much more productive at the linebacker position in recent weeks. But more work must be done.

"We are light years from where we want to be," Golden said. "We are making progress. ... But we are a long way away from being the type of team that gets the number of sacks that we are looking for and gets the takeaways that we are looking for. But I am pleased with their progress and obviously we are playing 20 freshmen or sophomores over there so I am encouraged they are growing and developing."

Youth definitely plays a role, and so do injuries. But Golden makes a good point. Miami has not been effective at getting into the backfield. If you take away the seven sacks the Hurricanes have made, they only have 27 tackles for loss in seven games. That means Miami is averaging less than four tackles behind the line. Last year, Miami had 73 total tackles for loss, with 23 sacks.

There were some signs of improvement last week against North Carolina. The Tar Heels only scored 18 points and Miami had its chances to win in the second half. That was far better than the week before, a 41-3 blowout to Notre Dame. Florida State has various offensive playmakers Miami will have to slow down, starting with running back Chris Thompson. The Seminoles are averaging 233 yards rushing and have scored 23 touchdowns on the ground -- both No. 2 in the ACC behind Georgia Tech.

D'Onofrio hopes a renewed dedication during practice will help his defense continue to grow.

"You play how you practice,” D’Onofrio told reporters in Miami this week. "There’s no magic pill. You just can’t come up there and be a playmaker on game day without putting the money in the bank. That’s in the film room and that’s on their own and that’s where we’re at. I think our guys are starting to realize that."

Miami must refocus on ACC play

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
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Lost in the doom and gloom of another miserable nonconference loss for the Miami Hurricanes? They still have a very real shot at winning the ACC Coastal and playing for a conference championship.

That is about the only positive to take away from a tough weekend in Chicago. And in the end, that is bigger in the grand scheme of the season than the way the Canes failed to compete against Kansas State and Notre Dame.

Forget about being outscored 93-16 in those games. Miami must focus on this critical ACC stretch to come, starting Saturday at home against North Carolina.

“We're just going to put this behind us,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said after the loss to the Irish. “We've got a big stretch of ACC games. We have to put this behind us and move forward.”

[+] EnlargeDenzel Perryman
AP Photo/ David DurochikWhy has Miami struggled on defense? Linebacker Denzel Perryman said the Hurricanes' woes are from a lack of focus.
When asked how, Perryman said, “The game’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it. Just put it behind us.”

One look at the Coastal shows Miami is in a good spot. The Hurricanes are in first place with Duke -- the only two teams in the division undefeated in ACC play. North Carolina looked terrific in a win over Virginia Tech and is going to cause major problems for a Miami defense that has not stopped one FBS team this season. But the Tar Heels are ineligible for postseason play.

Behind Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia Tech all have major problems to address. The Hurricanes already have a win over the Jackets, so at least there is an edge there.

Still, a look on the bright side is also accompanied by a stark reality. Miami has won its three ACC games in shootout style. Its defense is a mess. Perryman lamented a continuing lack of execution after the loss to the Irish. He was asked why that problem persists now that half the season is over, and he gave a remarkably candid answer, calling out teammates for having “brain farts” on the field.

“I don't know. I don't know what's going on in their head mentally,” Perryman said. “All it comes down to -- just guys doing their job.”

Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has taken his share of heat for the poor defensive performance this season, but he is working with a group that is extremely young, raw and not as talented as Hurricane defenses of the past. There is only so much you can do when your players are unable to execute, tackle properly or take the wrong angles in pursuit.

Coach Al Golden knows he has a young group, and cannot afford to be overly critical. He doesn’t want to lose his players, not with so much still at stake.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to grow up some day, and that’s a tough task,” Golden said. “We are not going to get negative. We are not going to go that route. There’s too many kids in that room that have bright futures and that really played hard. We just didn’t play well enough.”

We have seen this offense play well enough to win ACC games, in spite of its porous defense. It was disappointing to see a group that racked up 1,260 yards of offense in two games, muster just a field goal against Notre Dame. There were no quick touchdown strikes, no breakaway runs. In fact, Miami’s longest run of the day belonged to Eduardo Clements, who ran 17 yards on the second-to-last play of the game.

Duke Johnson had 11 touches on offense, for 60 yards. Stephen Morris was held to 201 yards passing. Miami was hamstrung by its own mistakes, including a litany of dropped passes -- two on the opening drive by Phillip Dorsett. Miami also had a touchdown called back on a holding call, missed a field goal and only converted four of 12 third-down attempts.

Compounding the problem was an inability to sustain drives, and the defense’s failure to stop Notre Dame. Miami had the ball for 20:52 -- and only 3:36 in the decisive third quarter.

Perhaps more than any other player on the roster, Dorsett has to find a way to put Saturday behind him. His two drops on the first series were tough to watch, and even tougher to live through. “I was already humble, but this humbles you even more,” he said afterward, a young player big enough to face the tough questions after a disappointing performance.

Dorsett showed an inordinate amount of maturity after the loss. It was a teachable moment for an impressionable bunch, one that has to be put aside the way the loss at Kansas State was pushed away. Miami reeled off three straight wins after that defeat. The Hurricanes can only hope another winning streak like that follows.

If it does, Miami could very well end up with a division championship.
CHICAGO – Phillip Dorsett knew the ball was going to him when Miami trotted onto the field to start its game against Notre Dame on Saturday night.

Quarterback Stephen Morris saw something in the Irish defense during film study early in the week he thought his team could exploit. He went to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and said point blank, “Yo, I think we should run this play right here. I don't think they'll be able to stop it.’”

That play call was an aggressive one to start the game.

Go deep to Mr. Reliable.

So Miami practiced the play all week. Felt good about it all week. Dorsett was ready for it. When the ball was snapped, he went deep. And the play unfolded the way Miami thought it would -- Dorsett got behind the defense and was wide open. Morris delivered the ball beautifully.

Behind him, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o silently thought, “Please don’t catch the ball.”

Dorsett dropped the ball.

Four plays later, Morris went back to Dorsett, in the corner of the end zone.

Dorsett dropped the ball.

Miami put together what appeared to be a perfect game plan. The Hurricanes caught Notre Dame flat-footed on that opening drive, with some pretty aggressive play calling. Miami clearly wanted to make a statement -- the Hurricanes were ready to take it to the Irish.

That, in the end, was not only the story of their dismal 41-3 loss to No. 9 Notre Dame on Saturday. It was the story of their dismal loss in Kansas State. In its two national spotlight games, against teams ranked in the top 25, Miami dropped the ball.

[+] EnlargePhillip Dorsett
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhPhillip Dorsett's drops short-circuited Miami's plan of attack against Notre Dame from the outset.
Afterward, the Miami locker room was virtually silent. Linebacker Denzel Perryman said this lost hurt worse than Kansas State.

“We prepared very well for this game,” Perryman said. “This game -- we took this one personal. We just lacked communication, lacked execution.”

That is not what you want to hear in Week 6. We were told going into this game Miami would be better prepared to handle a highly ranked team, on the road. The Hurricanes had grown up in their two come-from-behind wins. They could do this.

Clearly coach Al Golden was convinced his team could, and would, be better than they were in Manhattan, Kan.

“I thought we were ready to go, and I was as surprised as anybody that we had lost our poise a little bit in the early going,” he said.

A week earlier against NC State, Dorsett had seven catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns -- including the game-winning 62-yard score with 32 seconds left. Saturday, his two drops sent Miami spinning.

“I was in disbelief,” Dorsett said. “Obviously, that doesn't happen much to me. I got a little too excited, the ball got caught in the lights. I couldn't see it. I'm not a person to make excuses. I've got to come up with those.”

Blaming the loss on what happened on that opening series is not fair to Dorsett. There were plenty of other mistakes and missed opportunities that followed. Miami forced a punt on Notre Dame’s first possession, only to give the Irish a fresh set of downs on a roughing-the-kicker call.

Two plays later, Eddie Johnson got a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds. Notre Dame ended up scoring on the drive. Late in the second quarter, Miami started a drive at the Notre Dame 35, with a chance to close a 13-3 deficit.

Three-and-out.

Then came the dreadful third quarter, one Notre Dame dominated on the ground. The Irish pounded and pounded and Miami simply could not get a stop. The Irish scored 21 points in that quarter, as they held the ball for 11:24. They ran 21 plays and racked up 197 yards on the ground.

Miami? On three drives, it ran six plays and got two first downs.

“It was really lopsided in terms of them having the ball,” Morris said. “We didn't have much opportunities, and the times we did have opportunities, we were on the field and we were off. We can't win games like that.”

In its two games against ranked opponents, Miami was outscored 93-16. The Hurricanes gave up a combined 1,085 yards of total offense and mustered 562 of their own, with one total touchdown.

Miami had two opportunities to make a statement, and failed both times.

Golden has a young team, with young starters who are getting used to playing in atmospheres as big as the one Saturday night. That is completely understandable. But there has to be a point where we should expect Miami to be competitive in these games, and not completely and overwhelmingly overmatched.

Would the game have turned out differently had Dorsett made one of those catches on the opening drive? We will never know. But it is probably safe to say the confidence would have been higher than it was for the remainder of the game.

When Miami trailed against Georgia Tech and NC State, you never truly got the sense the players felt they were out of it. Miami could hang with them.

But Miami could not hang with Notre Dame, and did itself no favors with all its mistakes.

In the end, this game was just another squandered opportunity.
Georgia Tech and Miami play an important Coastal Division game this Saturday with some pretty important implications for both teams.

While the Jackets looked great in a win over Virginia last week, they have fallen under a Miami spell of late. The Hurricanes have won three straight in the series, outscoring them 92-34. The highest point total Georgia Tech has put up in those three games -- 17.

Meanwhile, Miami sits 1-0 in the ACC but the Hurricanes are in major need of defensive improvement and consistency out of quarterback Stephen Morris, who has been up and down this season. Given the way both teams have played in three games, Georgia Tech has the edge on paper going into this one.

[+] EnlargeTevin Washington
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireTevin Washington is looking to help Georgia Tech stop Miami's recent dominance over the Yellow Jackets.
Did I mention the Miami spell?

“I think they’ve played well and we haven’t," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said this week when asked why Miami has won three straight. "We haven’t gotten off to good starts and have gotten behind. Down there a year ago, we kind of grinded it out and got back 14-7 on a long drive that took forever to get down there. In the last 50 seconds, they scored again to go up 21-7 at the half after they ran the kickoff back. We tried to play catch up. It’s important that we get off to a good start.”

That is exactly what Georgia Tech did last week in its 56-20 win over Virginia. When the first quarter was over, the Jackets led 21-7. At halftime, their lead grew to 35-7. Tevin Washington had three touchdown runs and a 70-yard touchdown pass to Zach Laskey, who has played well since entering the starting lineup a few weeks ago.

Johnson said David Sims will be back this week so both Sims and Laskey will see time at B-back. Orwin Smith played well last week, too, as Georgia Tech racked up 461 yards rushing. Consider Georgia Tech had 469 yards rushing the week before against FCS Presbyterian, and the Jackets have gained nearly 1,000 yards on the ground in two games.

Stopping the run has been a bugaboo for the Miami defense this year, as the Canes have allowed an average of 205.7 yards on the ground this season. The pass defense has not been much better, though priority No. 1 against Georgia Tech always is to stop the run, and Miami has done an excellent job of that in the past three games against the Jackets. Only once in those three games has Georgia Tech gone over 200 yards rushing -- in 2010. Last season, Georgia Tech had 134 yards on the ground and only 95 back in 2009.

But this Miami defense is young and depleted. Injuries have taken a major toll, and Miami will be without starting middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, who was hurt in the Bethune-Cookman game last week. Coach Al Golden knows how big this task is awaiting his team, but believes his players are up for the challenge.

So long as they step up to the challenge.

"What better challenge do you have than stopping the team that's the best at running the ball?" Golden said. "That's the way I approach it, I know that's the way the defensive coaches approach it. With Denzel down, we're going to need some guys to step up. Jimmy Gaines and Gionni Paul are going to have to step up. Some of those guys that have been on the field versus this look in the past -- Tyrone Cornileus, (Kelvin) Cain, Darius Smith, (Anthony) Chickillo, (Brandon) McGee are going to have to step up for us and play really well."
Andrea Adelson had a chance to sit down with Miami coach Al Golden during a recent visit to Coral Gables. Here is a little of what he had to say.

I know depth is an area of concern. How are you working to address that this spring?

Al Golden: Any time you’re bringing in a class of 33, that’s three starting units. Obviously, those guys are going to have an impact somewhere on your depth. You never want to have a year where you take six receivers or seven defensive backs, but the symmetry at those positions was not good. It was not vertical depth. It wasn’t fifth-year seniors, fourth-year seniors, juniors, sophomores, freshmen, then incoming guys. It didn’t exist. So that was a blanket approach of trying to bring in a lot of guys to fix a depth issue. Between the depth and those guys challenging for playing time as starters, that’s going to improve our team. I’m not worried about playing young guys. We’ll find a way to get them in a game if they’re talented and they learn it and they’re in good condition. I don’t care whether they’re freshmen or seniors, I just need guys who want to execute.

You lost some senior leaders. How is that aspect of your team developing?

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Robert Mayer/US PresswireCoach Al Golden has been impressed with the physicality of the linebacking corps this spring.
AG: So far it’s been good. Mike James and Eduardo Clements at running back, Stephen Morris at quarterback. (Brandon) Linder on the offensive line has been very good. David Perry at tight end has been a nice surprise for us. Allen Hurns at wideout has done a nice job with the leadership. Defensively, (Ramon) Buchanan will be a leader for us, Ray Armstrong will be a leader for us, Jimmy Gaines has been and will be a leader for us. It’s been positive in terms of that. We just have to continue to develop leaders and give them opportunities to lead.

How about some questions that have been answered about your defense so far?

AG: I think the one thing that jumped out in the (first scrimmage) is we had a lot of linebackers that played physical. So that part of it was good. Even the young guys, [Raphael] Kirby was physical, Gionni Paul was physical, Denzel [Perryman] was physical on top of [Tyrone] Cornileus and Jimmy Gaines and those guys. Seeing that was good. We tackled a lot better in Scrimmage 1 this year than Scrimmage 1 a year ago, which was important, and we’re still trying to develop our depth on the defensive line and at cornerback. Those are two positions we need to bolster this spring.

Speaking of the defensive line, you don't have many players with starts or experience. What do you want to see out of that group this spring?

AG: I want to see, like Curtis Porter, I’d like to see him take his game to the next level. Darius Smith has got to continue to improve. Then we’re going to have a host of other guys at the defensive tackle position that need to compete and improve their game. At defensive end, Shayon Green’s had a good spring for us so far, and really at defensive end, we’re going to have in addition to what we have right now, we’re going to have three defensive ends coming in that are going to have to compete for starting jobs and also add depth.

Right now, do you have any idea of what team you will have in the fall?

AG: We have a long way to go. I just think before these other 23 players come in, because 10 are here now, you have to assess where you are at every position and see how they come out of it. We have a long way to go to get through spring ball, and then from April 14 until Aug. 5 there’s a great opportunity for them to grow and develop. It’s too early to assess where we are right now as a team.

A year into the job, what are your impressions of coaching at Miami, a place where championships are always expected?

AG: We’re not at that level right now. The first order of business when you’re trying to fix something or you’re trying to build something is to recognize where you are and then to not only plot a course but then to follow that path, follow that strategy and execute it. I’m glad the standards are where they are, and I’m glad we produce NFL players, and I’m glad we have so many things to offer young people. It’s the reason why you take the job. But we can’t jump from where we are right now to there without taking all the steps we need to take in between. We’re just trying to implement our schemes and our system and follow the process on a daily basis.

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