ACC Football: Hurricanes Look To Make Most Of Spring, As Pressure On Golden Mounts

He doesn’t really reveal much here, but Al Golden talked to the press after yesterday’s practice/scrimmage. Courtesy of CanesAllAccess.

There may not be a hotter seat in college football than the one Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden sits on entering spring practice for the 2015 season. Golden will be entering his fifth season at Miami, only amassing a 28-22 mark thus far, including consecutive bowl losses. Golden was given slack early after inheriting the fallout of the Nevin Shapiro debacle, and being bowl ineligible in both 2011 and 2012. However, a school with five National Championships to its name expects results and the pressure is mounting on Golden to produce.

The 2013 season brought progress for Golden and the Hurricanes as they finished 9-4 overall, with a 5-3 mark in the ACC. 2014 brought regression with a 6-7 record, and a 3-5 finish in conference. The manner in which they arrived at their sub .500 record was an especially bitter pill for the Hurricanes to swallow as well. Miami was 6-3 entering their November game against archrival and defending champion Florida State, a contest that they were the stronger side in for much of the night. The Hurricanes were up by as much as 16 points in the first half and maintained a three-point lead with three minutes to play before falling to the Seminoles 30-26. They wouldn’t win again. Miami lost their next three games after the demoralizing defeat to Florida State, including an Independence Bowl loss to South Carolina.

Last season wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Hurricanes. In freshman Brad Kaaya they found their quarterback for the foreseeable future, and junior Duke Johnson took his place among the greatest running backs to come through Coral Gables. Kaaya won the team’s vacant quarterback job last spring, and didn’t look back. He threw for 3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions while staking his claim as one of the elite signal callers in the ACC. Johnson meanwhile, set the Miami school record for rushing and all-purpose yards in only his third season on the Hurricanes, a great moment in an otherwise up-and-down season.

Entering the 2015 spring practice the Hurricanes are faced with more questions than answers. Will Kaaya be able to avoid the sophomore slump that notoriously plagues many athletes? Johnson is gone, leaving a year early for the NFL, how will Miami replace his stellar production in the backfield? The same question for departing wide receivers Phillip Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford. The trio of Johnson, Dorsett and Walford carried the Hurricanes offense in 2014, will Kaaya have enough targets to remain effective? And will Golden be around long enough to see the fruits of his 2015 and 2016 (early, but loaded thus far) recruiting classes come to fruition?

The void left on the receiving corps will likely be filled by a familiar face to Hurricanes fans. Redshirt senior Rashawn Scott has stood above the rest of the receiving corps early on in spring practice, as he will attempt to rectify a once promising college career that has had its share of ups and mostly downs. His freshman season at Miami in 2011 ended with a broken collarbone six games into the season. He missed time during his sophomore season due to a suspension, and again faced a short season in 2013 due to a shoulder injury. He missed all of last season due a broken collarbone before a game was played. The injury was only expected to keep Scott out for six weeks, but proved especially troubling despite rehab. Early in this spring practice he has received praise from Golden and Kaaya, and is expected to be a key contributor for the Canes in 2015. Despite all of the setbacks, Scott’s route running ability and solid hands could prove invaluable to Miami this season if he can stay on the field.

Miami will now likely depend on a running back-by-committee format rather than the dominant, one man show of Johnson. Sophomore Joseph Yearby should be at the top of the backfield depth chart for Miami in 2015. Yearby only had 86 carries a season ago, but made the most of it with 509 yards, one touchdown, and a nearly six yard average per carry. Yearby is a speedy, five-star quality running back who has a chance to be a special player during his tenure as a Hurricane. Fellow sophomore Trayone Gray and junior Gus Edwards are also expected to contribute to the rushing attack, with Edwards being the third down and short yardage specialist.

Much like the Hurricanes offense, the defensive unit has seen the departure of several popular names, and the rebirth of others. Seniors Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister have moved on from Miami, as has third-generation Hurricane lineman Anthony Chickillo. Perryman and Armbrister accounted for two of the top three Hurricanes in tackles in 2014, combining for 166. Armbrister had a year of eligibility remaining, but chose to take his chances in the NFL draft. The linebacking corps will now rely heavily on junior Jermaine Grace and senior Raphael Kirby, two players who began to step up for the team last season. Grace had 60 tackles and three sacks, while Kirby had 54 tackles and two interceptions.

Being a Hurricane was part of the “family business” for Chickillo, who is the third member of his family to do so. Despite having a tenure at Miami that was underwhelming given his five-star status during recruiting, he has been receiving praise during NFL preparation and stood out in the East-West Shrine Game. New defensive line coach Randy Melvin should still have plenty to work with up front in 2015, including the returning Al-Quadin Muhammad. The defensive end missed all of 2014 with issues off the field involving a confrontation with a fellow student, but retaining three years of eligibility due to the suspension. Muhammad has stood out on the defensive line, a unit Golden has praised early on in this spring practice as a whole. He will be counted on to build upon the small, but solid sample he showed during his freshman campaign.

2015 will no doubt bring pressure and elevated expectations to Golden and the Miami program. Another lackluster season could spell an end to the Golden era, but a return to the 2013 version of the Hurricanes could stave off the naysayers. If the poise Kaaya showed in 2014 holds up enough for him to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” and his new offensive weapons provide support, Miami could push Georgia Tech for the ACC Coastal crown.

Follow me on Twitter @GQuintero_84. Like us on Facebook and check out @InsideTheACC.

Leave a Reply