by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

One thing is clear. New coach Al Golden is taking a pro-active approach to re-establishing Miami as “South Florida’s Team” and to re-invigorate its waning fan base. This spring Golden took the Hurricanes on the road to several south Florida locales for scrimmages. Fans outside of Coral Gables got at peek at the grunting players, and members of the team also seemed to enjoy the chance of pace from the normal drudgery of spring and to meet with supporters. To promote team unity and foster greater focus at the start of the season, Golden is sequestering his team in a hotel in nearby Coconut Grove for three weeks of August practice.

Greater focus and team discipline would seem to be just what the doctor ordered for the talented but oh-so-inconsistent Hurricanes. They were good enough to lead the nation in tackles for loss and finish 9th in sacks (with 37), 3rd vs. the pass, and 27th in scoring defense. But they were also erratic enough to finish 84th vs. the run, 117th in penalties per game, 119th in turnovers lost, and dead last in interceptions thrown (27)!

Despite the Jekyll & Hyde nature of the team he inherited, Golden, the one-time hard-driving TE from Penn State, is confident he’s got the talent on hand to make a run this season at the ACC title, which the Hurricanes have never won. Nor has Miami ever captured the Coastal Division, nor appeared in the ACC title game. But the “U.” was 7-6 last season despite its problems, which were further exploited by Notre Dame 33-17 in the Sun Bowl. And, keep in mind where Golden is coming from. When he took over in Philly, Temple was the laughingstock of college football, with a paltry three victories in its three previous seasons, one of them against Florida A&M. But in five seasons at the helm of the previously beakless Owls, Golden won 27 games (vs. 34 losses), which is about 17 more victories than anyone thought possible.

Now, with many critics saying the Hurricanes “have no QB,” Golden believes he might have two. Yes, the statistics of then-jr. Jacory Harris (54.8%, 14 TDs, 15 ints.) and then-freshman Stephen Morris (53.6%, 7 TDs, 9 ints.; started the last four regular-season games, going 2-2) were not pretty in 2010. But Harris was recovering from offseason thumb ligament surgery and was faced with three consecutive early road games at Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Clemson. Harris suffered four deadly interceptions in Columbus, but came back to win at both Pitt and Clemson. Later in the season, with Harris dizzy from a lingering concussion, Morris had enough moxie as a true frosh to engineer victories over Maryland and Georgia Tech in his first two career starts.

Now, Golden—as he did at Temple—is planning a system designed to take pressure off his QBs, either the fragile 6-4, 195 Harris or the still-youthful Morris, whoever wins the August QB competition. Golden taught his Owls how to play smashmouth football, with Temple going 9-4 and 8-4 the last two seasons. Golden intends to do the same thing in Miami, with soph RBs Lamar Miller (646 YR in 2010) and jr. Mike James (398) doing the toting.

They will operate behind an offensive line that was set to return 4 of 5 starters until massive 6-8, 345 soph LT Seantrel Henderson was scheduled for back surgery in August. However, Golden has some depth and flexibility up front, as 6-6, 323 sr. Joel Figueroa is back for a sixth year, thanks to a medical waiver after playing only four games LY. Meanwhile, RS frosh Shane McDermott has impressed enough at center that he might bump sr. Tyler Horn over to guard. Plus, 6-5, 265 TE Blake Ayles has transferred in from Southern Cal, giving the Canes a plethora of TEs/H-backs who will be used in various double-TE power sets. With his QBs better protected and then passing more carefully in more favorable situations, Golden believes they will improve. Golden is counting on sr. WRs Travis Benjamin (43 recs. LY) and LaRon Byrd (41) to reduce their mistakes and untimely drops of previous seasons. And insiders say true frosh WRs Rashawn Scott & Phillip Dorsett have a chance to make an early impact.

Seven starters return on defense (only 21 ppg LY), where the strength is the front seven, led by quick-striking sr. LB Sean Spence (111 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 2½ sacks). DE Olivier Vernon had 6 sacks LY and Adewale Ojomo had 5 more. At DT, the Hurricanes boast an assemblage of speed, size and depth that would be the envy of just about every school. The major defensive concern is at CB, where sr. JoJo Nicolas has been moved from S Jr. CB Brandon McGee has been oft-burned as a nickel-back the last two seasons. Defensive coaches are hoping true frosh CB Thomas Finnie (who enrolled early) will develop quickly. Safeties Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque each had 3 interceptions LY as sophs.

Summary...Unlike the seemingly-hopeless situation he inherited at Temple, Golden has been rewarded with a load of athletes, as predecessor Randy Shannon did a good job of re-establishing the south Florida recruiting connections of the U. Plus, this year’s schedule is not as daunting as 2010's early slate. Among other things, Ohio State—with no Jim Tressel and no Terrelle Pryor—must visit revenge-minded Miami. In fact, the Hurricanes will face a number of opponents with iffy QB situations going into this season. Thus, if Miami can run the ball, it’s got the talent on hand to both throw the ball effectively and slash its giveaways, and then to defend very aggressively. Even if Miami gets on a roll, however, some cautionmight be advised. The reputation of the Hurricanes is often difficult for them to overcome, as Miami is only 7-15 as a home favorite the last four seasons; 12-22 the last six.

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