Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook once wrote that “The University of Miami is not a campus with visible school spirit, just visible tan lines.” Frattinghard.com recently listed the school on its “schools that are fratting a little harder today” list. Hurricanes TE and Richmond native Dedrick Epps says of the school’s football team, “we don’t quit. We’re Miami.”
Epps specified that he and his mates “didn’t quit” in last year’s 48-0 loss to Virginia, the school’s last-ever – and worst-ever – loss in its 70-year stay at the storied stadium. Quitting may not have even been an issue in that contest, which featured embarrassed football alumni and at least one soon-to-be-decommitting high school recruits on the home sideline. Head Man Randy Shannon admitted “we couldn’t get anything started.”
Coach Shannon has insisted all week that this is a “different year, different team” but there may be some lingering feelings. O-lineman Jason Fox admitted that it may not “get brought up through coach Shannon, but the guys on the team remind each other of that… it was almost to a point where it was embarrassing and disrespectful last year. That’s in the back of our minds.” QB Robert Marve says “it’s something in the back of your mind, definitely. Looking at our record last year, I ran across something that stated the score and how rough the game was for us. You want to get revenge back a little bit.”
For Virginia, Miami week began with some good news & some bad news following the surprising upset in Atlanta. You want the good news first… Despite an apparent holding penalty while blocking All-American candidate Michael Johnson on Marc “ESPN can’t pronounce my last name” Verica, RT Will Barker was named the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week for his performance against GT. The Roanoke Times informs that Barker “spent considerable time lined up against Johnson” and performed admirably. Barker admitted that “getting some of the off-field issues” cleared up has helped him improve on an early season where, as the RT notes, he was “collecting holding penalties and allowing blow-by sacks.” Barker was found not guilty in his petty larceny (read: stealing beer from a bar’s cooler) on October 6.
Not so lucky is starting FB Rashawn Jackson, who was arrested on Tuesday for B&E/GL (breaking and entering, grand larceny). The NJ native and former HS and college teammate of accused grand larcener Mike Brown is alleged to have stolen a video console from a dormitory in November 2007, during last year’s football season. Jackson remains on the team, and has a November 20th court date, two days before the home tilt against Clemson.
Running behind the blocking of Barker, the rest of the O-line, and (sometimes) Jackson, has been the unquestioned hot offensive hand: Cedric Peerman. The “Running Reverend” has three 100+ yard rushing games in the four straight wins, has been excellent out of the backfield, and perhaps most notably – has eked out every possible yard each time he’s touched the ball (see GT TD photo at right). Speed and power have both been on display since returning from injuries that hampered CP earlier in the season. GT DE Morgan Burnett called Peerman “a hard runner” and a “tough back,” while Miami LB Glenn Cook calls him “a really compact, strong runner. We’re going to have to gang-tackle and make sure everybody is running to the ball.”
Head man Al Groh (VPI bball coach Seth Greenberg is a fan) is a bit more sentimental about his captain: “I’m almost uncomfortable talking about him because there’s nothing I can say about Cedric that would do him justice to anybody who saw it with their own eyes.” QB Marc Verica is a bit less eloquent, but perhaps more to the point: “He’s the heart of the team. He’s right that he’s not a flashy guy. He’s very humble. He never celebrates in the wrong way or shows anybody up. But when he hits the field, he’s a ton of fire and passion.” And, in terms of results, “we’re a different team when he’s in the game. He makes this offense go and everything revolves around him. At the end, he put the team on his back.”
And the future for CP? The CDP shares that “despite his success, Peerman said he debated attending a job fair on Tuesday at John Paul Jones Arena. If his success continues, the business world may have to wait.”
One the other side of the ball, there has been ample praise to go around for a pair of newcomers and a key veteran. In the latter group is California native LB Darren Childs, who has received perhaps the most press in history for a player with 17 career tackles. Last week we learned Childs made starters Clint Sintim (now up to #13 on Mel Kiper’s “Big Board”) & Jon Copper believe he was Antonio Appleby against UNC, and actually helped Copper on a few plays after the latter took a big hit. He believes the 3 ½ years he’s had to wait between playing a full game was “worth the wait” and has family in Caroline County. Childs has forearm tattoos that read “Trust No One,” but “felt [like] part of the brotherhood out there” on the field. This week, both Childs and NT Nate Collins drew praise for playing every base defensive snap against GT. Groh said each was “very significant in the game, and to get a win like that with those two kids, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to have to step back when the other guys come back, but now with another week to get Nick and Antonio back, that’ll make us that much stronger.” After the game, Collins admitted he was “getting my fingers pulled back” during some trench warfare on the filed. “But that’s part of football, under-the-pile stuff that no one else sees,” he said.
Also standing out was CB Vic Hall, who made his second game-sealing INT of the season. Along with CP, he is one of – in Groh’s words – “our two captains from [U.S.] 29 South.” Groh lectures that Hall has had those people poking at him like, ‘How come you’re not playing quarterback?’ We knew how valuable he was there, but now he’s turned two games for us with fourth-quarter interceptions.” And, for good measure, “clearly, we’ve got a pretty decent quarterback out there right now. So, all the pieces seem to be properly in place.”
On special teams, there was still not a lot of special play, but certainly some improvement. PK Chris Hinkebein’s kick-offs still leave much to be desired, but PK Yannick Reyering returned from injury (maybe?) to make all three extra points and a 25-yard FG in Atlanta. P Jimmy Howell only trotted onto the field once – which is pretty special – and drilled a 49-yarder to bring his season average up to 38.2. Vic Hall built on his punt return day against ECU (3-40) with two returns for 16 yards. Still pretty ARE-esque.
Down in Coral Gables, Miami has some wind of its own the win at its sails, brining a three-game winning streak (including its first back-to-back ACC wins since 2006). The Hurricanes’ offense has been lead at different times by both RSF Marve and true freshman Jacory Harris, and winning appears to have kept the controversy to a minimum – for now. Harris recently accounted for five scores in a win at Duke, and has twice been honored as ACC Rookie of the Week this season. Marve collected his own second ACC ROW award for his performance Saturday against Wake, throwing for 153 yards and running for 56 rushing more (including a long of 43).
Unlike last season’s Kirby Freeman / Kyle Wright rotation, Marve & Harris have made the most of their chances and seem to be willing to defer when the other is producing. HC Shannon explains: “Jacory will say, ‘Robert’s going to get the first down, go for it.’ And Jacory will make a nice pass and Robert will say, ‘That was sweet.’ They’re the ones directing this football team to where we want to get.” Seems perfect enough, but just a week ago, Harris’ father made a statement to the media that both QBs “want to be starters. Both need to be starters, whether it’s at the University of Miami or somewhere else.”
Epps, the TE from Richmond (Huguenot High) was once a Virginia recruiting target… but Groh’s not bitter he chose Miami. “He was over here a few times [in high school],” Virginia coach Al Groh said yesterday. “We liked him a lot, but it never seemed to get rolling here. It seemed that he was looking for more. I don’t know what more you’d want than to go to the University of Virginia and catch 50 passes a year, but it seemed as if he was looking for more. So it’s worked out well for everybody. Our guys have caught 50 to 60 passes a year, and things are going nicely for Dedrick.” Epps has 14 catches on the season, compared to 35 for the Cavaliers’ John Phillips.
Since its season-opening win over Charleston Southern (in which Javarris James had 73 yards) Miami’s rushing attack is only averaging 113 yards per game. “Baby J” sprained his ankle in the loss to Florida and has only had nine carries over the past six games. Graig Cooper has received the bulk of the work since, which has only translated into 19 carries for 92 yards in the past two weeks.
As mentioned previously in this space, Miami’s defense has been gashed several times this year, allowing 20+ points to FSU (41), Duke (31), Florida (26), UNC (28), and Texas A&M (23). Last week, a Sam Swank-less Wake Forest was held to 10 points and lost by 6 at Dolphins Stadium as the Deacons passed on a 50-yard FG attempt and missed a 40-yarder. Shannon says that this year’s team is “totally, much healthier” than last’s, especially on the defensive line, and has limited its opponents to 38 points in the 3rd quarter (while scoring 81).
D-lineman Adewale Ojomo has been a standout for the unit that now ranks 4th in total defense. The son of a Nigerian pro soccer player, he notes that ”Nigerians by nature are very confident people,” and that confidence translated into 1½ sacks, 2½ TFL, and a forced fumble against Wake.
Miami’s kicker may be confident as well, but the Hurricanes special teams coach refers to him as “an idiot.” Matt Posher may soon make the ACC media forget about Swank, as he has seven special teams tackles, has hit 12-13 FG attempts, and has six punts of 50+ yards (Jimmy Howell has one) this year. He enjoys “hitting people,” isn’t “afraid of contact,” and brags about playing “some wide receiver on [the] scout team” as a freshman. Shannon won’t let his head get too big, however. After praising a 76-yard punt against Duke, he noted that “he still seems to have a shank a game.”
One final note, the ACC said this week that the 11/8 Wake game will either start at noon (Raycom) or 3:30 (ESPNU… again), with a decision coming Sunday.
And for the record, Miami has been listed 1-2 point favorite this week. If form holds, Saturday will mark the 11th straight game against a D-1A opponent Virginia will enter as an underdog, per Doug Doughty. Over the past two years, Groh’s charges have won eight games as an underdog.