ACC

ACC: Average not good enough at Miami

Miami coach Al Golden reacts to a call during their game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Miami won 30-6.
Miami coach Al Golden reacts to a call during their game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Miami won 30-6. AP

To Al Golden’s credit, he took over a traditionally terrible college football program at Temple and made it average.

To Golden’s detriment, he took over a traditionally great college football program at Miami and kept it average.

Golden, 46, is running out of chances to prove he’s better than average. In nine seasons as a college coach, Golden’s record (55-56) suggests the water has already found its level.

At some college programs, like Temple, average is perfectly acceptable. Miami – with five national titles since 1983, the last in 2001, and nary a Coastal Division title since joining the ACC in 2004 – is not one of those programs.

Joe Giglio’s 2015 ACC Football Forecast

There have been extenuating circumstances to Golden’s first four seasons with the Hurricanes, namely the scholarship reductions and a two-year postseason ban from a long-running scandal involving incarcerated booster Nevin Shapiro.

Golden waded through those first two seasons at 6-6 and 7-5 and then posted a 9-4 mark in 2013. Last season, when the Canes were picked to win the Coastal but finished last, Golden committed the biggest coaching sin — he lost with talent. Miami had more draft NFL picks (seven) than wins (six).

And unlike the time Butch Davis pulled that particular trick at UNC (nine players taken after an 8-win season in 2010), all of Miami’s draft picks were eligible last season.

It also didn’t help that the players quit on Golden after a 30-26 home loss to Florida State on Nov. 15, losing the final three games.

Residing in a target-rich environment is both the blessing and curse of being the coach at the University of Miami. Going back to Howard Schnellenberger, and the school’s first national title in ’83, there’s enough raw talent in a 40-mile radius of campus to beat any other program in the country – despite inferior facilities and a paucity of athletic funds.

Last year, with dynamic talents in running back Duke Johnson and receiver Phillip Dorsett, was probably Golden’s best chance at a breakout, but the Hurricanes inexplicably dropped games to Virginia, Nebraska and Pittsburgh to limp to a 6-7 finish.

Even with the exit of Johnson and all that NFL talent – six of the seven picks went in the first four rounds – the cupboard isn’t empty. Golden’s recruiting classes from 2012, ’13 and ’14 each ranked in the top 15 of 247Sports composite recruiting rankings.

Last season, when the Canes were picked to win the Coastal but finished last, Golden committed the biggest coaching sin — he lost with talent. Miami had more draft NFL picks (seven) than wins (six).

Quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for more than 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns as a freshman last season. Defenses were focused on stopping Johnson, who ran for 1,652 yards, but Kaaya should be better with a season of experience.

The big question is who will help Kaaya? Sophomore running back Joe Yearby, a local Miami product, has star potential, and maybe receiver Stacy Coley can bounce back after a disappointing sophomore season, but there’s only one offensive lineman back who started more than five games last season.

The defense lost its leader in linebacker Denzel Perryman but it couldn’t stop the run with a net last season. Nebraska ran for 343 yards in its 41-31 win, and Georgia Tech ran for 318 in its 28-17 win over the Hurricanes.

Much of the criticism Golden has taken, from fans and former Miami players alike, has centered around his support for defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. Golden and D’Onofrio were teammates at Penn State and worked together at Temple.

Statistically, Miami was fine on defense last season, ranking No. 14 in total defense (329.6 yards per game) and No. 37 in scoring defense (24.3 points per game).

Given some of the holes on offense, it might take the defense, which returns five starters, to carry the Hurricanes through another difficult schedule that includes crossover games against Florida State and Clemson.

Golden has remained consistent in his belief in the program’s progress. At the ACC Kickoff, he pointed out the improvements to their on-campus practice fields and facility, plus the upgrades to Sun Life Stadium.

“Trust me when I tell you that feels good to finally have those things in place,” Golden said.

That might be, but with another six-win season, Golden won’t be around long enough to enjoy the payoff.

Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Miami at a glance

2014: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)

Coach: Al Golden (28-22, fifth year at Miami)

Returning starters: Offense (4), Defense (5), Special teams (2)

Plus

▪  In a limited role, running back Joe Yearby averaged 5.9 yards per carry (86 rushes, 509 yards) as a freshman. There are changes on the offensive line, and other candidates in the backfield, but even if he has to share more than Duke Johnson (team-best 242 rushing attempts) did last season, he should be able to get a look at 1,000 yards.

▪  He might not be next in The U’s great lineage of tight ends, but junior Standish Dobard is definitely on the All-ACC name team.

Minus

▪  Free advice for offensive coordinator James Coley: Don’t keep your horses in the barn; let them run.

Receiver Phillip Dorsett led the team with 871 receiving yards last season, but he only had 36 catches. Add in the two rushing attempts and quick math shows that is less than three touches per game for Dorsett, who went on to post the fastest time at the NFL combine in the 40 (and was taken in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts).

▪  Miami would kill for UNC’s schedule or Duke’s or Virginia Tech’s or Pitt’s or … you get the point. Alas, the Canes cross over with both Florida State (their annual Atlantic Division rival) and Clemson.

Best-case scenario

The Canes prove the media wrong again and go 6-2 in the ACC, with a win over Florida State, and win their first division title. The defense leads the way and QB Brad Kaaya gets big years from Yearby, WR Stacy Coley and former Leesville Road receiver Braxton Berrios.

Worst-case scenario

The Canes can’t find more than three ACC wins, and they go back to another lousy bowl. Need a depressing reminder, Canes Fan from 1988, that “The U” only exists in ESPN’s archives? Miami’s last six bowl games: the Boise bowl, the Emerald Bowl, the Champs bowl, the Sun Bowl, the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Weedeater bowl.

Bottom line

Maybe there’s a good reason for last year’s disappointment, other than Golden’s deficiencies; I just can’t come up with an obvious one. The ACC needs Miami to be better than it has been (41-37 in conference play), but the conference might have to wait a little longer for the glory days to return to “The U.”

Newcomer to watch

Mark Walton, RB

Some of these work out (see Johnson, Duke) and some of them don’t (see Johnson, Storm), but Miami annually pulls in a stud running back and Walton, from Miami’s Booker T. Washington high school, is the next in a long line of hyped recruits.

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