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Five Keys to Miami Winning the Coastal

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Expectations are once again high for the Hurricanes as we enter the heart of the offseason, and anything less than a divisional title will likely be considered a disappointment this fall.

While Al Golden has generally been commended by those in the college football community for his coaching job at Miami up to this point, the fact of the matter remains that the Hurricanes still have yet to play in the ACC Championship Game.

As the fan base continues to clamor for results on the field, the coaching staff has steadily increased the talent and athleticism at its disposal via multiple elite recruiting classes.

Expectations are once again high for the Hurricanes as we enter the heart of the offseason, and anything less than a divisional title will likely be considered a disappointment this fall.

As such, here is a look at five keys to Miami winning the ACC Coastal Division in 2014.

No. 1 – Unleash the Beast

As a true freshman in 2012, Duke Johnson finished third in the conference with 987 rushing yards despite not even registering the most rushing attempts of any player on the Miami roster (Mike James). He was on pace to easily surpass the statistical performance of his freshman campaign last season before a severe right ankle injury against Florida State prematurely ended his year.

Johnson should be back to 100 percent health well before the start of summer camp, and with Miami looking for a new starter under center, it only seems natural that offensive coordinator James Coley would rely heavily upon his star running back for production. Johnson has averaged better than six yards per carry for his career, and he will be running behind an offensive line which returns three starters in 2014.

If the Hurricanes give Johnson around 250 carries during the regular season, it will not only greatly increase their chances of winning; it will put their best player right in the thick of the Heisman discussion come December.

No. 2 – Attitude Adjustment

To say Miami’s defense has been bad the last two years would be an extreme understatement. The Hurricanes finished dead last in the conference in total defense in 2012, allowing over 486 yards per contest.

The defense was only slightly improved last fall, as the Hurricanes defense finished 13th in the league after giving up greater than 426 yards per game. The worst part was that Miami’s defense continually regressed as the season wore along. Over the final six games of the season, Miami held only one opponent under 500 yards of total offense en route to giving up an astonishing average of over 524 yards per outing.

With the manner in which Golden and his coaching staff have recruited in recent years, there really is no excuse for such abysmal performances from the defense. The Hurricanes’ defense will be littered with athleticism and experience this fall, but the unit as a whole needs to undergo a serious change of attitude in order to bring about significant improvement. It will be up to defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio to set the tone to ensure that such improvement comes to fruition.

No. 3 – Take Care of Business

Miami’s 2014 conference schedule certainly won’t do any favors for a potential run at the Coastal Division title. In addition to playing all of its divisional brethren, Miami will be forced to play Louisville and Florida State out of the Atlantic Division.

From a distance, it would appear that the Hurricanes’ cross-divisional games would result in at least one loss for the program.

With such a difficult conference slate in front of them, the Hurricanes simply cannot afford to drop a game which they should not lose along the way. More than one loss to a divisional opponent would almost all but ensure that the Hurricanes will not make the trek to Charlotte at the conclusion of the regular season.

No. 4 – No More Huffing and Puffing

The Hurricanes finished last in the conference last fall in time of possession, managing to hold onto the football for less than 26 minutes per game, a statistic which also ranked them 120th nationally.

While some coaches or players might argue that time of possession is not an important statistical category for every team, the numbers certainly reflect that Miami’s inability to control the football hurt the team on the scoreboard. On the season, Miami outscored its opponents by more than 30 points in every quarter of the game except for the fourth quarter. In the final 15 minutes of competition, however, the Hurricanes were outscored 108-87.

Much of Miami’s offseason focus will center on its conditioning program, as well as the program’s ability to maintain possession of the football. A failure to improve in those categories will undoubtedly produce similar results in 2014.

No. 5 – Reclaiming the Swagger

Though it is not a tangible and quantifiable attribute, it has become apparent that the Miami program no longer has the same trademark swagger that accompanied all of its prior championship teams.

The first step in becoming a championship team is believing in your heart that you are a championship team. The Hurricanes’ performance on the gridiron has almost always been reflective of the attitude with which they played.

Miami will introduce a set of new uniforms this fall, and the hope is that the change in jersey will reinvigorate the swagger of the program as a whole.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.