Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Kinder & Gentler Rivalry?

UM's Lance Leggett scores on an 80 yard pass from Kyle Wright

This time there weren't any fists flying, helmets thrown or bodies getting trampled--and that was just the fans in the stands. Last year's inaugural football game between UM and FIU was marred by an ugly bench clearing brawl resulting in the ejection and suspension of several players. The violence even spilled into the stands, where fans from both schools decided to take out their frustrations. So can't we all just get along?

Saturday afternoon, the Hurricanes and Golden Panthers returned to the Orange Bowl to renew their young and combustible rivalry. This time the game was played without any incidents on the field. The fans on the most part were well behaved. Sure there were a few wackos who let their alcohol consumption get out of control--especially in the west end zone. But what's a game at the OB without a few zealous drunks.

Once again the Canes beat their city rivals 23-9. But this game was hardly the easy victory most people thought. There are a couple things you can conclude from this game. First, the Golden Panthers might be getting better. FIU has now lost its last 15 games--currently the second longest losing streak in major college football behind Duke's 22 game streak. But FIU was able to do something to the Canes they couldn't accomplish last year. They scored. The Golden Panthers got a 65 yard touchdown pass from Wayne Younger to Trenard Turner and a field goal.

Secondly, the Canes have several major issues that will keep them in mediocrity. Kyle Wright returned as the starting quarterback and played okay. He made some big plays, including an 80 yard TD pass to Lance Leggett and finally made the passing game productive with 224 yards. But there were also some mental mistakes that included an interception in the end zone and inconsistancy. Defensively, the Canes secondary continues to give up big plays. FIU's passing game is not very good. But they were able to get big play for a touchdown. Younger, a freshman walk-on from Cocoa, was able to make some plays with his feet and frustrate the Canes defense at times.

A victory is a victory. But I'm not sure Cane fans should feel too good about this one. Miami has a major problem at the defensive tackle position. The Canes top three tackles are all injured. At one point backup defensive end Vegas Franklin moved inside along with sophomore backup Joe Joseph. They did a solid job. But this could become a huge concern with a physical Texas A&M team next on the schedule this coming Thursday.

Another concern is UM was unable to really put away FIU. The Golden Panthers hung around for most of the game. The Canes were a 32 point favorite and simply couldn't finish off FIU. But you have to give some credit to head coach Mario Cristobal's squad. The never quit and played hard the entire 60 minutes.

Some observations:

* Carlos Armour and Bruce Johnson started for the Canes at cornerback. Randy Phillips has been moved to safety. The secondary continues to give up big plays.

* Kyle Wright can make some beautiful throws. His touchdown pass to Lance Leggett was a perfect example. But he continues to make bonehead plays in key situations. He threw 2 interceptions including one in the end zone that killed a drive. He must show better consistancy or it will be same as last year--another mediocre and disappointing season.

* Canes freshmen running backs Shawnbrey McNeal and Lee Chambers made their debuts as kick returners and in the backfield. Both showed some flashes of speed. Thank goodness, Randy Shannon decided to remove 260 pound tight end Richard Gordon from kickoff returns.

* FIU will win a game sometime this season. I don't know who they're going to beat. But it will happen. Mario Cristobal has his hands full with a very young squad--led by a redshirt freshman walk-on quarterback Wayne Younger. But if he can continue to get 60 minutes of strong effort from his players, progress will be made.

* Gotta love the name of FIU linebacker Toronto Smith. He and fellow linebacker Scott Bryant were all over the field making plays and kept FIU in the game.

* It's rare that a punter gets special mention. But FIU's Chris Cook made a couple of beautiful punts that pinned the Canes inside at their own 1 yard line.

* The crowd of 40,915 was more than 10,000 fewer than last year. Why UM continues to schedule afternoon games is beyond me. For the love of God, please move the games to night. If you need to lose weight, my best advice is come to a Canes home afternoon game. I guarantee you'll lose at least 5 pounds. Just make sure you put on some deodorant.

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