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 Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #43, Phillip Dorsett

Miami’s Phillip Dorsett is #43 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Miami’s Phillip Dorsett is #43 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

We’re less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 43, Phillip Dorsett, WR/Miami (Last Season: NR)

Miami’s passing game was a roller coaster ride last season, sometimes way up (see the ACC-record 566 yards through the air against NC State) and others, way down (just 155 yards two weeks later against North Carolina). So you’ll have to excuse Phillip Dorsett for a resume that wasn’t overly gaudy in 2012: 58 catches, 842 yards, four TDs. But just like the passing game overall, when Dorsett was at his best, it appeared the Hurricanes’ offense was as well. Miami was 3-1 when he had at least 100 yards receiving, and 4-1 when he caught at least six passes. In two separate games he amassed over 180 yards (both wins), plus had three different games where he averaged over 20 yards per reception. He may not be utilized to his full potential just yet, but Dorsett has the makings of being one of the conference’s top big play threats now as a junior.

Beyond a slightly erratic passing game that slows him down somewhat, Dorsett must also compete with the fact that he’s just 5’9″ — smaller than many corners and just about any safety. But he uses his speed (4.4-second 40-yard dash time) and strength (weighs in at a solid 187 pounds) to beat defensive backs off the snap when they play him a bit too close to the line of scrimmage. There’s a distinct possibility Dorsett could get shifted to a more distinct slot role this year — especially since he’ll be lining up opposite the 6’2″ Rashawn Scott — but that also may not be a bad thing. He’s got the speed to beat cornerbacks in confined spaces, and can outrun any linebacker in the conference. In sets where Duke Johnson is also in a pass-receiving role, defenses could end up with their hands full, even if one or both just serve as a decoy to get Scott into a one-on-one coverage situation down the field.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Sammy Watkins is the ACC's Top Receiver, But Does a Different Team's Wideouts Outpace Clemson's?

Sammy Watkins is the ACC’s Top Receiver, But Do a Different Team’s Wideouts Outpace Clemson’s?

While we’re still (barely) over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the wide receivers and tight ends (we’ve also covered running backs and quarterbacks thus far). Like virtually every other conference in the country, you can’t necessarily call the overall receiving product in the ACC “stellar.” For some reason we’ve arrived at a dearth of talent at the position of late. But nonetheless, the league still possesses a strong group of receivers at the top, plus a ton of depth, even on the teams that are lower on this list.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual wide receiver or tight end is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of pass catchers is. Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between the seventh and eighth team is almost entirely negligible (especially in the case of this position). Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

1. Florida State Seminoles: FSU just has too many players who can catch the ball in the open field, and that’s a good thing, especially when fielding an inexperienced quarterback. After a productive season last year (57 catches, 741 yards, six scores), Rashad Greene looks ready to take a huge leap forward for this group, and could be one of the better pass catchers in the ACC. Along with Greene, look out for Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, especially Benjamin, who could end up being a breakout player for the ‘Noles this season following a productive freshman campaign. At tight end, Nick O’Leary should continue his improvement, but with so man other players looking for the ball, it’s uncertain how many passes are thrown his way.

2. Clemson Tigers: Replacing Brandon Ford (TE) and leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson certainly has their work cut out for them. But you can’t underestimate the receiving depth Chad Morris and Dabo Swinney have built on this Tigers roster. After an uneventful offseason, Sammy Watkins should be back to his freshman year form, which immediately takes the load off of Adam Humphries and Charone Peake. While not overly experienced, the two still caught 66 combined passes last year, which should trend even higher in 2013. Tight end is a question mark, though Stanton Seckinger likely has the inside track to starting there.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels: In year two of Larry Fedora’s offense, it’s time opposing teams started to fear this group. Quinshad Davis put up one of the best freshman receiving seasons in ACC history last year and there’s little doubt he’ll continue to produce at that level again. And he’ll have help, too. Fellow starter Sean Tapley brings further speed on the outside, while tight end Eric Ebron will be putting his athleticism to use against linebackers and corners alike. Ebron’s slated to be one of the best TEs in the country this year, and one look at his 6’4″ 245-pound frame leaves little question as to why.

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ACC Football 2013 Payback Games: Miami

Last Season's 41-40 Loss to Virginia in the Final Seconds is a Game Miami Would Prefer to Forget

Last Season’s 41-40 Loss to Virginia in the Final Seconds is a Game Miami Would Prefer to Forget

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2012. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2013.

As part of our 2013 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: Miami Hurricanes

Opponent: Virginia Cavaliers

Last Year: Loss, 41-40 at Virginia

This Year: November 23 vs. Virginia

At 5-4, and 4-2 in a down Coastal Division, Miami was actually thinking about playing in the ACC Championship Game for the first time. No, this wasn’t the best ‘Canes team the ACC had seen, but sometimes it’s more about the luck of the draw. After beating Virginia Tech the week before, Miami was in the driver’s seat and with a victory over lowly UVa, would’ve been a near-lock to head to Charlotte. But then they allowed a late 10-point lead to evaporate — the final strike coming with just six seconds remaining on the clock — and that was it. Coastal hopes dashed, it set in motion another self-imposed bowl ban for Miami (hopefully the last one). Perhaps if they’d won this game, we’d have seen a different outcome there.

Setting the stage for the dramatic finish: a back-and-forth game featuring 900 yards of total offense had seemingly given way to the Hurricanes at around the 11-minute mark in the fourth quarter. Up 38-28 following a long touchdown strike from Stephen Morris to Phillip Dorsett, Miami’s beleaguered defense just needed to hang in there for a little bit longer — and they almost did. It took Virginia around five minutes to score a touchdown to make it 38-35, but then an intentional grounding penalty ended up rewarding Miami with a safety with just four minutes to go, making it 40-35. Four minutes and 13 seconds later, UVa quarterback Michael Rocco would complete his out-of-nowhere master class (29/37, 300 yards, four TDs), completing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee in the back of the endzone for the one-point lead. And yet somehow, Rocco was the quarterback basically run off campus…

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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 Football Player of the Week, Week 5: Stephen Morris, Miami

Miami QB Stephen Morris is the ACC Player of the Week for Week 5

Each week, we’ll be identifying the best ACC player from that weekend’s games. As always, it’s a completely arbitrary award with no specific criteria beyond the vague concept of “excellence.” No, we don’t take write-ins.

ACC Player of the Week, Week Five: Stephen Morris, QB/Miami

Building off his big numbers against Georgia Tech in week four, Morris went off again against NC State — this time to the tune of 566 yards and five scores. His passing yardage total was both a school and conference record, and was much-needed in a game where the rushing attack was virtually non-existent. Considering how unheralded he was compared to the conference’s other elite passers coming into this season, it’s been a pleasant surprise for the ‘Canes to see his arrival as a playmaker and leader in clutch situations. While Miami’s defense has struggled to stop opponents thus far, if Morris can keep them in games with his arm, it may not be as big of an issue as we once thought.

Honorable Mention:

Phillip Dorsett, WR/Miami (7 catches, 191 yards, 2 TD)

Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (409 total yards, 4 TD)

Alex Amidon, WR/Boston College (8 catches, 193 yards, 2 TD)

DeAndre Hopkins, WR/Clemson (11 catches, 197 yards, 1 TD)

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