Team: Miami Hurricanes
W-L: 7-5 (5-3)
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.
And then of course, there are those pesky reminders of just how underwhelming Miami’s been these last few years. This year, that fact stood out most notably with the team’s lackluster defense, which ranked a paltry 84th in the country while allowing over 30 points per game. Eight different times a ‘Canes opponent scored 30 points or more, and four of those times saw 40 or more points scored. Miami had no truly notable defenders to speak of, though we’ll give a slight tip of the cap to Denzel Perryman, who managed over 60 tackles on the season from the linebacker position. But all-in-all, this was an enormously unimpressive group all year. Boston College, who only managed 19.8 points per game on the year, put up 32 against Miami, and Notre Dame (struggled to top 23 on most Saturdays) laid 41 on them. The Hurricanes were 120th in total defense (allowed over 486 yards per game), a middling 58th in turnovers forced (22) and 115th in sacks (just 13). That sack total was the lowest they’ve had since 2006, by 10 full sacks, and the total defense numbers were among the worst this program’s put up in the modern era. If you’re looking at reasons why this team didn’t win nine or 10 games (despite the postseason ban), look no further than this side of the ball.
Many were disappointed to see Miami dish out yet another postseason ban, especially after their very encouraging 7-5 campaign. But now, as the NCAA botches the investigation, leaving even more up in the air, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. In the end, the ACC got the champ it wanted this year (Florida State) and the bowl result it wanted (big wins on national television), while Miami set itself up nicely for the future. With such a young group out there, the team has plenty of room for growth on both sides of the ball, but their success beyond eight wins largely falls on that defense. Morris and Johnson may be among the league’s best at their respective positions, but offensive talent can only take you so far. If the ‘Canes truly hope to be “back,” they’ll have to return to the hallmark of all the great Miami teams, and employ a formidable D. For their sake, they hope it happens next season, but if not, they may still find themselves in the thick of the Coastal division race anyway.