Harris, Canes excel at Whipple ball
MIAMI -- With that forced march of an opening month -- at Florida State, Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech and Oklahoma -- Miami figured to be imperiled by its inexperience. If the young Hurricanes could split those four games and live to tell about them, they would be fortified for the rest of the season.
There's nothing like the wisdom of preseason predictions, is there?
After the 33-17 rout of No. 14 Georgia Tech on Thursday night, No. 20 Miami is 2-0 and looking more and more like the favorite in the ACC Coastal Division. With new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple playing the Obi-Wan Kenobi role for sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, and a defense that redeemed itself against the Yellow Jackets' option ground game, Miami is beginning to resemble the Miami of old.
Doubt them at your own peril. Or heed the quarterback's request and keep doing so.
"We want everybody to doubt us," said Skywalker, uh, Harris. "That's going to keep us going."
Since the final score doesn't convey the Hurricanes' dominance, try these numbers. Harris completed 20 of 25 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. His last incompletion came in the second quarter. The offensive line gave Harris more time to throw than Tim Lincecum.
Speaking of Tims, the Gators quarterback may not be the only award candidate in this state any longer.
"He's a leader," Miami strong safety Randy Phillips said of Harris. "He's stronger. He's poised. He has a great arm. He's not going to force any passes. If he has to throw 5-yard passes all the way down the field, he will. He makes great decisions. He knows the playbook. He watches a lot of film. You might as well compare him to Tom Brady. Jacory Harris for Heisman."
Harris' development from rawly talented freshman to polished sophomore is credited to Whipple. As a head coach, he took UMass to a I-AA national championship in 1998, and most recently he has been a respected offensive assistant in the NFL. Yet over the last decade Whipple has finished as an also-ran in coaching searches at Rutgers, Boston College and Cincinnati. That may say more about the Big East than about Whipple.
Since head coach Randy Shannon did not allow Whipple to speak after the game, others must sing his praises. Cue the choir.
"The offense has taken his mentality," Shannon said. "Coach Whipple is a guy who feels he can score 100 points each and every game. He feels like if he calls a certain play, it's always going to work. The offense believes, no matter what play is called -- if they've got six defensive linemen and we have five receivers, he feels like the play is going to work and the offensive guys do, too."
Phillips, having faced the new offense for weeks before the season, simply described Whipple as "a blessing. He's a blessing for the University of Miami."
Harris spoke of the confidence and faith that he has in Whipple, and that Whipple has in him. And then, as if to explain how good Whipple is, Harris said, "Coach Shannon knows he can stay on his side. Coach Shannon stays on his side of the ball."
Shannon, the longtime Canes defensive coordinator, had to be proud of his team's improvement, even as he took pains to point out that this is not the same defense that gave up 472 rushing yards to the Yellow Jackets a year ago. Veterans Phillips, Colin McCarthy (strong linebacker) and Eric Moncur (backup defensive end) are all healthy after missing last season. Everyone else is a year older.
The defense, also with a new coordinator in veteran John Lovett, allowed only 95 yards on the ground Thursday night, and Georgia Tech rushed for 60 of those yards on its first possession, which Scott Blair ended with a 32-yard field goal.
The Yellow Jackets' 3-0 lead lasted 1:39. Harris threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to LaRon Byrd, and Georgia Tech never came near the lead again. The Yellow Jackets barely came near the other end of the first-down chains for a while. The Hurricanes so overwhelmed the Yellow Jackets' offensive line that Miami made 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer, a preseason All-American, rushed for 7 yards on five first-half carries before a shoulder injury kept him out of the rest of the game. The rest of the Yellow Jackets had no similar excuse. Oh, Roddy Jones had a 32-yard touchdown run called back in the second quarter for a block in the back, and that drive ended in a missed field goal, but not even Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson attempted a what-if.
"We pretty much got beat in every facet of the game," Johnson said.
Halfway through the supposed death march, Miami is 2-0, both over ranked conference opponents, and looking forward to a visit to No. 13 Virginia Tech next week. The hope of a 2-2 start now would be a devastating disappointment. For the most experienced Cane, there is a sense of accomplishment.
"Winning those first two games on national TV, all the doubt is turning into belief," said Moncur, a sixth-year senior. "They know the U is back."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.
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