Six practices into spring drills, the University of Miami finally put itself on display to the public for the first time since the 2012 season finale at Duke.
About 4,000 fans came out to Traz Powell Stadium on Saturday morning to catch the first of three spring scrimmages the Hurricanes will play. The team split about 100 plays between various situations, including goal-line, fourth-and-1 short yardage and drives that started from different spots on the field.
All in all, if there was a side to deem the scrimmage victor, it was the defense.
Outside of goal-line reps that preceded the scrimmage, the Hurricane offense scored only one touchdown, a 3-yard pass from senior quarterback Stephen Morris to sophomore wide receiver Herb Waters that capped a 65-yard drive. Even on drives beginning beyond the 50-yard line, the defense held the offense to field-goal attempts when it didn’t force a turnover or fourth down first.
Morris was sporadic with his passing. In windy conditions, he overthrew a few of his targets and toward the end of the day began underthrowing, almost as if he was overcompensating for his previous overthrows. Overall, he completed 17 of 31 passes, although there were a few drops, for 171 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Morris and coach Al Golden were pleased with his decision-making despite some of the errant throws.
“He rushed a couple of throws, throws that weren’t as crisp as you’d like to be, and he just sailed or was a little bit short on depth, but in terms of his mind and knowing where the ball should go, I think he was right on,” Golden said. “His completion percentage is really going to jump from this scrimmage to the next one.”
Added Morris: “Overall, I feel like I did pretty well. My reads were right, a couple of times I let my mechanics get to me, balls got a little high or a little too low.”
Morris’ first interception came on a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage by junior defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who then got under it and caught it, and Morris’ second pick was an underthrow on a sideline pattern that sophomore cornerback Antonio Crawford cut off on the last play of the scrimmage.
Like any other intra-squad scrimmage, the Canes wanted to make sure they came out of it free of injury.
UM almost did so and made it out relatively healthy. The only big injury came to fifth-year senior defensive end Dyron Dye, who is moving back to his original position this season after playing tight end the past two years. Dye was helped off the field after sustaining a right leg injury.
“I’m worried about Dyron Dye, but I’m just going to reserve [judgment] until we know more,” Golden said. “Other than that, I think we’re fine.”
Junior receiver Phillip Dorsett laid on the field for about a minute after dropping a pass he went to the ground for in the end zone, but he eventually got up on his own power.
Observers couldn’t tell it was just a scrimmage by the intensity the defense was playing with. Freshman outside linebacker Alex Figueroa set the hard-hitting tone early by knocking running back Duke Johnson backward on a goal-line carry.
“There’s a young man that said we’re going to sell out,” Golden said of Figueroa’s hit. “There wasn’t anybody here that wouldn’t look at that play and say, ‘That thing must mean a lot to that kid.’ ”
“That’s what we need from the defense,” added Johnson, the sophomore sensation who had eight carries for 54 yards. “We need them to execute on the goal line like that. If we need them to show us how to do it, then that’s fine with me.”
The defensive line, a position that struggled last season, recording just 13 sacks in 12 games, was able to get a push up front against a UM offensive line riddled by injury this spring, with center Shane McDermott and guard Brandon Linder being held out. Kelvin Cain had 2 1/2 sacks, and Dwayne Hoilett also registered a pair.
Asked what the offense needs to do better, new offensive coordinator James Coley, who came to UM this offseason from Florida State, said: “Finishing. It looks good the way the play is developing. Now we have to put that period at the end of that sentence.
“I love the explosive plays by the receivers and the running backs. Let’s learn how to score. Let’s get strong in the red zone, in the tight zone. Let’s get in there.”
In goal-line drills, Morris hit junior college tight end transfer Beau Sandland for a 1-yard touchdown, and running backs Johnson and Danny Dillard ran for short scores as well. The team also converted 5 of 10 first downs in fourth-and-1 drills.
UM’s second scrimmage will be Friday, April 5, at Naples High School, and the spring game will be played at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, April 13.