Win At All Costs

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Shannon's clean ship wasn't good enough for Miami.

Shannon's clean ship wasn't good enough for Miami.

Randy Shannon helped Miami’s football program make big strides with regard to discipline and academic achievement. Unfortunately for him, those positives weren’t enough to outweigh some noticeable negatives: not enough victories and not enough fans in the stands at Sun Life Stadium.

A few months after giving Shannon a contract extension, Miami athletics director Kirby Hocutt decided Saturday that Shannon no longer was the right man to lead the program. Hocutt fired him in the wake of a 23–20 overtime loss to South Florida that took place in front of 26,369 people and dropped the Hurricanes to 7–5 this season.
Hocutt said he didn’t base his decision on the final game, but this much is undeniable: When the tradition-rich program located in South Florida loses at home to an unaccomplished program called South Florida (located in Tampa, by the way) led by a freshman walk-on quarterback, there’s a problem.

In many ways, Shannon fell victim to the championship expectations that he helped create. He was a linebacker at Miami from 1985-88 and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater for 13 seasons, playing a role on three of the program’s five national championship teams.

Shannon restored Miami as a premier destination for the nation’s elite high school talent, bringing in highly rated recruiting classes. Fans and alumni expected those classes to turn Miami back into “The U,” but the Hurricanes have yet to play for an ACC title since joining the conference. So as Miami continued to fall out of contention for championships despite having talent that analysts agreed was championship-worthy, someone had to pay the price.

Shannon finishes with a 28–22 record, including 0–2 in bowl games, in four seasons as head coach of the Hurricanes. That ledger includes a 16–16 mark in ACC play, including a 10–10 mark against Coastal Division opponents Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Shannon made some mistakes during his tenure, most recently when he started true freshman Stephen Morris at quarterback against South Florida after originally saying that Jacory Harris would be his starter when Harris returned to health from his concussion.

But Shannon also did plenty of good things, which Hurricanes fans will realize in the years to come. Just check out Miami’s depth chart leading up to the South Florida game: Only five of the 25 offensive players on it are seniors, and just seven of the 24 defensive players listed are seniors. The offensive line loses just one of its top 10 players next season, and the defense loses just three starters.

Bottom line: The next coach — whoever that is — will take over a Miami program in better shape than the one Shannon inherited. And no one should be surprised if the Hurricanes win big in 2011.
The only question will be whether Shannon could have done the same if given the opportunity.

Scoreboard
Boston College 16, Syracuse 7
South Florida 23, Miami 20, OT
Virginia Tech 37, Virginia 7
Florida State 31, Florida 7
Maryland 38, N.C. State 31
North Carolina 24, Duke 19
South Carolina 29, Clemson 7
Wake Forest 34, Vanderbilt 13
Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34

Championship Game Set

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher probably said it best when he described Saturday as “a perfect day for Florida State football.” Two games were important to the Seminoles, and both produced the result that the Seminoles desired.

First — and most important in Fisher’s mind — Florida State ended its six-game losing streak against rival Florida by thumping the Gators in convincing fashion. Minutes later, Maryland wrapped up a victory over NC State to give the Seminoles the Atlantic Division title and send them to the ACC championship game for the first time since 2005.

Florida State (9-3, 6-2) will take on Virginia Tech, which extended its winning steak to 10 games with a dominating victory over Virginia, on Saturday night in Charlotte. The Hokies (10-2, 8-0), who became the first team to go through ACC play undefeated since Florida State in 2000, have won 10 games for a nation-best seventh consecutive season.

The flip side to the thrill of victory for Florida State and Virginia Tech was the agony of defeat for NC State. The Wolfpack (8-4, 5-3) would have played in the ACC championship game for the first time had they defeated the Terrapins, but they couldn’t hold on after taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

NC State resembled a team of destiny down the stretch when it pulled out wins over Florida State and North Carolina thanks to an improbable fumble recovery and a touchdown pass that coach Tom O’Brien called “a prayer.” But dropped passes, including a couple that could have been touchdowns, and an inability to contain Maryland’s passing game prevented the Wolfpack from grabbing one more close victory.

“We had all those chances, and guys who usually take advantage of those chances didn’t make the plays,” O’Brien said. “It’s just a tough way to end a heck of a season and what could have been a chance to keep going. But it didn’t turn out the way we would have liked.”

Smith Enjoys Record Day

Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith saved his best performance for the final game of the regular season. Smith posted career highs across the board against NC State with 14 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns. He tied a school record for receptions in a game and became the first player in Maryland history to catch four touchdown passes in a single game.

Smith’s effort helped Maryland overcome its lack of production in the running game. Quarterback Danny O’Brien completed 33 of 47 passes for a career-high 417 yards, the first 400-yard passing game for a Maryland player since Scott Milanovich in 1993, as the Terrapins (8-4, 5-3) finished with a net minus-9 yards rushing.

“Torrey has been able to make big plays all year long,” Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said. “We saw early on that he was kind of hot, so we wanted to feed the hot hands. They’re a good defense, and we weren’t able to run the ball consistently enough, so at some point you just have to go with what’s working.”

Smith’s big day also paved the way for some individual milestones near the end of his junior season. He became the second player in school history to go over 1,000 receiving yards in a season, set a single-season school record for touchdown catches (12) and broke the school record for career all-purpose yards (5,183).

BC’s Williams runs … and runs … and runs

Andre Williams entered the weekend with 34 carries in his brief college career. Then Boston College’s true freshman tailback surpassed that total in one afternoon.

Filling in for injured star Montel Harris, Williams rushed for 185 yards and one touchdown on a school-record 42 carries to lead the Eagles past Syracuse.

“I’m a little tired, but I feel fine,” Williams said after helping Boston College (7-5, 4-4) earn its fifth consecutive victory. “Coach now knows he has more than one back and he can be comfortable with me in the game.”

Williams spent a large portion of this season as Boston College’s third-string tailback, but unforeseen circumstances allowed him to show his talent in the regular-season finale. Backup Sterlin Phifer left the team last month, leaving Williams as Harris’ backup. Then Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing and has more career rushing yards than any junior in ACC history, suffered a knee injury last week against Virginia.

Williams rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries in relief of Harris against the Cavaliers, and he moved into the starting role against Syracuse after Harris had arthroscopic surgery Monday.

“I can’t say Andre surprised us because we knew he had that ability,” Boston College left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “I’m sure you saw him bursting through those holes. He just runs with no fear. It was impressive. He was running like a man possessed.”

Tigers Turn To Boyd

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney changed quarterbacks after Kyle Parker threw an interception that South Carolina’s Antonio Allen returned 37 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd entered the game, giving the Tigers a glimpse at their future.

“I was a little surprised to get the call,” said Boyd, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 73 yards. “I felt like I didn’t have a lot of opportunities and a lot of reps this season, so this really helped me out a lot. It was really a confidence booster.

“We have a lot to look forward to with this young team. We have a bowl game coming up, and we have to help the seniors go out victorious.”

Parker tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins on Clemson’s first possession, but he struggled for the rest of the night. He completed just 7 of 17 passes for 117 yards in his final regular-season game. Parker is just a sophomore in terms of football eligibility, but he is likely to pursue a professional baseball career next year.

“I always want the best for Kyle,” Boyd said. “I wish he could have finished his last game here, but I think everything happens for a reason. Hopefully this will lead to some good things.”

The Tigers (6-6, 4-4) were short-handed once again in the backfield, with leading rusher Andre Ellington still bothered by his toe injury. Ellington, who missed Clemson’s previous three games, carried just one time for no yards against the Gamecocks because his foot still didn’t feel right.

Ellington will have surgery soon and won’t play in Clemson’s bowl game.

Extra points

• Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers has to wait for a bowl game to get another chance to break the school’s single-season sack record. Bowers, who had recorded a sack in a school-record nine consecutive games heading into the weekend, had none against South Carolina. He has 15.5 sacks this season, just shy of Keith Adams’ school-record 16 sacks.

• Four turnovers and Scott Blair’s first missed extra-point attempt in 78 tries short-circuited a dominant effort by Georgia Tech’s offense in the Yellow Jackets’ loss at Georgia. The Yellow Jackets racked up 512 total yards, including 411 rushing yards, and a season-high 38:14 of possession time. Georgia Tech also ran 92 plays and picked up 32 first downs, its highest totals in those categories since 2000.

• Miami senior Leonard Hankerson became the third player in school history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, joining Eddie Brown in 1984 and Andre Johnson in 2002. Hankerson, who had nine receptions for 127 yards against South Florida, went over 2,000 yards receiving for his career.

• North Carolina dominated Duke — just not on the scoreboard. The Tar Heels outgained the Blue Devils 519-275, amassing more than 500 yards of offense for the first time since 2004. North Carolina also controlled the ball for a season-high 39:33 of possession time en route to beating Duke for the 20th time in the last 21 meetings between the teams.

• NC State’s run defense was strong in the month of November. The Wolfpack, who held North Carolina and Maryland to a combined minus-16 rushing yards in the last two games, allowed a total of 140 rushing yards on 132 attempts (1.06 yards per carry) in four November games. NC State helped its cause in those games with 16 sacks, which count against rushing totals in college football.

• Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor enjoyed his final game at Lane Stadium, completing 13 of 23 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown against Virginia. Taylor became the school’s all-time leading passer (6,532 yards), surpassing the previous record of 6,508 yards set by Bryan Randall from 2001-04.

• Wake Forest snapped its nine-game losing streak thanks in part to two blocked punts against Vanderbilt. The Demon Deacons blocked two punts in a game for the first time since Nov. 29, 2008, their last game against the Commodores.

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Athlon looks back the final week of the regular season in the ACC.