On a two-game losing skid and with a tough road test Saturday afternoon against much-improved Duke (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), things might not be going in the right direction for the slumping 23rd-ranked Hurricanes.
But off the field, coach Al Golden has continued building his best recruiting class to date. And analysts say Miami’s list of 28 pledges is loaded with enough talented linemen that fans won’t be complaining about the defense for much longer.
“Getting [Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas defensive tackle] Anthony Moten to commit [Wednesday night] was the cherry on top of a really impressive defensive line haul,” said Chris Nee, who covers Florida State and serves as the state of Florida’s recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com
“Although they improved on the defensive line this year with those transfers, the depth still isn’t there. I think that’s why when games wear on teams take advantage of them. It’s not about having 11 players, but really 22 or 32 they can rely upon every Saturday. That’s what they’ve done with this class. They’ve gotten guys that will help them next year and in three to four years, too.”
Charles Fishbein of EliteScoutingServices said Moten (the highest rated of UM’s five defensive tackle commitments according to Rivals) and Hialeah Champagnat’s Travonte Valentine (6-3, 286) are legit NFL prospects who will come in with enough size and polish to contribute right away. Nee believes Booker T. Washington defensive end Chad Thomas (6-5, 250) and junior college defensive tackle Michael Wyche (6-4, 330) are also key players among UM’s eight defensive lineman commitments who should also make an instant impact.
“Moten has played a lot since the ninth grade, can put pressure on the quarterback, play inside or out in the 3-4 [formation],” Fishbein said. “I think the last two years UM started doing a nice job improving its back four with Tracy [Howard], Deon Bush and Artie Burns. Now, it’s the front four they’re really addressing.”
Before UM climbed all the way up to seventh in the BCS rankings and began its free fall, Golden had been saying for weeks the program still lacked the depth it needed.
“Look if you’ve got to go get kids from other schools in May and June [defensive line transfers David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow] you’re not where you want to be,” he said Monday. “We’re still trying to develop depth. Nobody wanted to listen to me five, six, seven weeks ago. We’re not back. We’re building.
“We finally got the [NCAA] gloves off and we get to go fight a fair fight. We’re going to go fight a fair fight. In the interim, we’re going to keep developing these guys, keep moving the program forward.”
Nee said Golden did a good job in his first three recruiting classes landing talented blue-chip recruits like running back Duke Johnson and Howard. But negative recruiting from the NCAA investigation by other programs “definitely hurt them,” and at times forced Canes coaches to take early commitments from players who otherwise probably wouldn’t be at Miami.
“In the end, you have to get kids in there, take bodies to build depth,” Nee said. “This class is different. The top 10, 12, 15 of this next signing class -- especially the defensive guys and o-lineman they got and then Brad [Kaaya] at quarterback -- those are guys that are going to be major contributors and reasons why Miami will gradually move up.”
JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director for 247Sports, said he understands why UM fans are upset about giving up 42 points to a Virginia Tech offense that isn’t very good statistically. But he doesn’t blame UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s scheme.
“If you want an example of a program that has recruited its way back to prominence it is Florida State,” Shurburtt said. “Miami can definitely do the same thing. Right now there’s just a talent deficiency and lack of depth on the overall roster. There’s no doubt Miami’s a much better football team. But FSU has been at this, they’ve gone through it over the last five years from being an ACC runner-up to ACC champion to national championship contender.
“You’ve got to stack great recruiting class upon great class upon great class to be back. That’s what Alabama and Florida State have done. Miami is really just getting started now.”