ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Sophomore Duke Johnson Headlines a Powerful Miami Offense for 2013

Sophomore Duke Johnson Headlines a Powerful Miami Hurricanes Offense for the 2013 Season

Team: Miami Hurricanes

2012 W-L: 7-5 (5-3)

Head Coach: Al Golden (13-11; third season)

Returning Starters: 12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense)

Miami has consistently had a ton of talent on the roster for over 30 years now. Obviously, that’s resulted in a lot of wins, but since the school’s move to the ACC, the same can’t be said anymore. Despite the talent brought in every season, the ‘Canes have been fairly disappointing in their new conference, made worse by the ongoing Nevin Shapiro nonsense that has followed them like a black cloud. But maybe this year’s different. After two years of willfully missing the postseason, this Hurricanes team may finally be able to realize its potential and compete for a conference championship — like they were supposed to do all along. That doesn’t mean success is assured, however.

Last year’s offense was nothing short of spectacular at times last season. Seven different times they managed to score at least five touchdowns in a game. But three more times they couldn’t top 14 points. This was a unit that capitalized on subpar defenses and struggled against solid-to-great ones — and the key was balance. Despite having Duke Johnson as one of two primary ball-carriers (Mike James being the other), the team still only picked up 1,737 yards on the ground. Johnson — by all accounts a stud playmaker — was mostly underused and yet still put up monster numbers. That self-induced rushing inequity was offset by a bipolar passing game that folks should still be intrigued to watch this fall, because unlike previous Miami quarterbacks (hi, Jacory Harris), Stephen Morris actually has the talent to lead a team — most notably because the talent around him can actually produce. Again, this has not been the case in South Florida lately, which is why many (myself included) think this is the year they get back to being an upper-crust program in college football.

As proof of what Morris can do, see his record-breaking 566-yard performance against NC State last season. His accuracy was solid (58 percent) and when he started making some smarter decisions with the ball to end the year, you even saw attempts drop down to more reasonable levels, while accuracy was above 60 for each of his last three games. Now with a full year of starting under his belt, a full offensive line returning and his two top targets (Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott) also back in the fold, it’ll be interesting to see if he takes it as a cue to pass more, or be more efficient in passing the ball. He has a security blanket in Johnson, just like he did last year. Hopefully, the offense is designed to take advantage of it more so than it was in 2012. Getting the lion’s share of the carries this season (he only had 37 percent of the team’s runs last year), Johnson should be able to well surpass the 947 yards and 10 scores from freshman year — hence why he’s been climbing so many preseason Heisman lists.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year's Hurricanes Team

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year’s Hurricanes Team

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Miami Hurricanes

Spring Practice Start Date: March 2

Spring Game Date: April 13

The ‘Canes offseason has been a mess of rumors; from Al Golden leaving the team, to the botched NCAA investigation and then the “lack of institutional control” verdict passed down. But on the field, things are actually looking up quite a bit for Miami. Should they be able to compete in this year’s postseason (I say it’s likely), they’re one of several contenders for the Coastal division crown, sporting some of the conference’s youngest offensive stars. And after robbing one of Florida State‘s top coaches (new offensive coordinator James Coley) and scoring another highly regarded recruiting class, suddenly things are appearing sunny again in South Florida.

In 2012, Miami’s offense fluctuated between awful and amazing with regularity, at times struggling to top 20 points, and at others, looking like a runaway freight train (scored 40 or more on five separate instances). So the goal this spring while installing James Coley’s new offense is to harness the latter energy even more often. With playmakers like QB Stephen Morris and halfback/returner Duke Johnson (darkhorse for conference player of the year), that doesn’t seem too hard on paper, and no doubt returning all 11 offensive starters is set to pay huge dividends. Though Coley’s value is mainly on the recruiting trail, his move within the state was actually about play-calling. Not handling those duties up in Tallahassee is what drove Coley to look elsewhere, and now he’ll look to re-harness what made him such a hot commodity after a stint as FIU‘s head play-caller. Coley relies on speed and a balanced attack — both of which Miami’s well-suited to handle, meaning we’re in for an up-tempo spring, the likes of which should please everyone at the U.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Miami Hurricanes

Amidst Perceived Turmoil, Miami Ended Up Putting in an Impressive 2012 Season

Amidst Perceived Turmoil, Miami Ended Up Logging an Impressive 2012 Season (On Offense)

Team: Miami Hurricanes

W-L: 7-5 (5-3)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Duke Johnson, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Denzel Perryman, LB

The 2012 season was an interesting one for Miami, albeit still another disappointing campaign for the team since joining the ACC. Starting the year with the threat of the NCAA hammer coming down on the program and replacing a ton of NFL draft departures, no one knew what to expect from Miami. I myself was on the pessimistic end of expectations for the team, queuing up a 3-9 finish (admittedly, misguided). And yet, even with a dark cloud and tons of questions, things couldn’t have turned out much better for the ‘Canes on the offensive end. In Stephen Morris, the team found someone who could potentially be a program-defining passer. The junior threw for 3,345 yards and 21 scores, including a 566-yard record-breaking performance against NC State early in the year. And in running back Duke Johnson, Miami found the player most likely to carry them back to prominence. Just a freshman, Johnson still tallied up over 2,000 all-purpose yards (tops in the ACC) to go with 13 touchdowns. His dynamic speed and game-changing ability on both offense and special teams were a big reason why the U took several opponents by surprise in 2012, and a large reason why they’ll continue to succeed in 2013.

But the offensive fireworks weren’t just relegated to Morris and Johnson, either. Miami’s offense as a whole was top-50 in the country in points scored, with 31.4 per game, and tied for 36th in total yards per game (440.2). Those numbers were huge spikes in production when compared to 2011’s figures as well, with Miami posting a 63-yards-per-game jump year-over-year, and a five-points-per-game increase, respectively. Between the passing game’s improvement behind Morris and top receivers Phillip Dorsett (842 receiving yards) and Rayshawn Scott (512 receiving yards), and the running game led by Johnson and senior Mike James, you start to get a much easier sense of why this team looked so much better than the editions of recent past.

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Miami Head Coach Al Golden Has Already Come Under Tons of Fire Since Taking the Job for the 2011 Season

Team: Miami Hurricanes

2011 W-L: 6-6 (3-5)

Head Coach: Al Golden (6-6; one season)

Returning Starters: 9 (5 Offense, 4 Defense)

When the ACC recruited Miami a decade ago, it was going after a program that had spent the past two decades as the sports’ most dominant program. Five national championships, nine conference championships and two Heisman trophy winners, all for a team that had also developed a bit of a (warranted) lawless attitude. While they’ve dealt with some issues before, the gauntlet for this program, after an ever-growing scandal involving former booster Nevin Shapiro, may yet to have been dropped. But as they await their fate, the Hurricanes still have some football to play. How well they manage to do so this season is up for some serious debate.

As part of the “sinking ship” mentality adopted by many in the Miami program last year, the ‘Canes offense lost six offensive starters, including all of its primary playmakers. So while there’s a pretty steep ramp at all of the skill positions, they will play with the benefit of an experienced O-line in front of them. Obviously, with so many departures, Miami coaches are also faced with decisions on who’ll be getting the ball as they try to kick-start an offense that scored around 26.5 points per game last year (good for middle-of-the-road in FBS). With their depth largely made up of new, young talent, it will not be an easy task.

At quarterback, it does appear the team is set on Stephen Morris, who has played in 11 contests over the past two seasons (with four starts in 2010). Since arriving at the U, Morris has shown glimpses of what made him such a highly-coveted recruit out of college, yet has yet to put the total package together. He’ll have the ramp to do so in 2012, though redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams is also waiting in the wings. Continue reading