October 17, 2016

MIAMI HURRICANES NEED A HARD RESET AFTER BACK-TO-BACK CONFERENCE LOSSES

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For Miami faithful, lots of hope and hype surrounding the kickoff to this latest college football season. Much of it was rooted in addition-by-subtraction; a maligned, in-over-their-heads coaching staff sent packing, while a seemingly better-suited one was assembled. Exit, Al Golden and his buffoons—enter Mark Richt and an all-around better fit.

Lost in the exciting shuffle for many; the fact that the Hurricanes were still going to trot out essentially the same group that went 8-5 last year and 6-7 the year prior—upperclassmen tainted by years of sub-par coaching, while last year’s freshest faces dealt with a mid-season turmoil and new staff by year’s end.

A lot is being made about the Seminoles hangover effect; the Canes going in the tank on the heels of losses to their arch-rival. A blown lead in 2014 led to a three-game losing streak, while a late-game comeback attempt last season paved the way to Clemson collapse, leading to Golden’s dismissal.

There’s no denying that Miami showed up flat, lethargic and mentally checked-out of this weekend’s 20-13 loss to North Carolina; but pinning all that on Florida State isn’t logical. It’s also a disservice to what the Tar Heels have grown into this past decade.

Hard as it may be for some to accept; North Carolina looked more like “Miami” than Miami.

‘U’ HISTORY: 101—A FEW MOVES THAT SENT CANES DOWN THIS PATH

Rewind to mid-November 2006. The Canes were reeling, but to what degree no one was ready to admit. Five years removed from its last national title, four years it’s last championship appearance and three years since ending a streak of four consecutive BCS games—everyone wanted to believe it was simply a down year and bump in the road.

Early losses to Florida State and Louisville were followed by bland wins over Houston and North Carolina, followed by the battle royal against Florida International and almost-loss at Duke, courtesy of a dozen player suspended.

The Canes then dropped back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Defensive end Bryan Pata was gunned down in cold blood. Road losses to Maryland and Virginia ensued. Between setbacks against the Terrapins and Cavaliers, North Carolina quietly hired former Miami head coach Butch Davis—a few years on the shelf after his short NFL stint flamed out.

Two weeks later, Larry Coker was out at Miami—an ugly 7-6 season where the wheels came off in disastrous fashion. From there, a crushing nine-year run for the Hurricanes—mistake after mistake made, crippling the program and paving the way for yet another rebuild underway today.

Ten days separate Davis’ hiring in Chapel Hill and the end of Coker’s run in Coral Gables—changing the course of both programs over the next decade.

This is the point where this article could go one of several different paths, leading to countless moot results—so let’s keep things on track. Davis was eventually dismissed by North Carolina prior to the 2011 season; caught up in an academic scandal that reached the highest levels and UNC. That said, it’s neither here nor there for the sake of this write-up.

The focus here is how Davis assembled a football program at a basketball school; bringing in blue chip talent and future first rounders, while building a winner and changing a culture.

While Davis built-up the Tar Heels, the inept Randy Shannon piled on Coker’s mess with the Hurricanes. Four program-defining years in Chapel Hill, versus four setback years in South Florida. A bonus for the Canes; Nevin Shapiro and his shit-bag ways mucking things up and bringing immediate distraction and chaos to the Golden years.

North Carolina hit reset post-Davis and went the interim route, promoting defensive coordinator Everett Withers for a throwaway season as the program regrouped. Miami chose Golden from a talentless pool that included Marc Trestman and Randy Edsall; and ultimate lesser of a few evils situation.

Withers’ run was over as soon as it began and the Tar Heels hired Southern Miss head coach and up-and-comer Larry Fedora to take over. Year one Fedora took a Davis’ built squad to 8-4; winning the ACC’s Coastal Division on paper, but banned from all postseason play due to violations from the 2010 season.

7-6 and 6-7 followed—as did a coaching change as Fedora brought on former national champion head coach Gene Chizik to run the Tar Heels’ defense. The result; an 11-3 season and 8-0 regular season run in the ACC.

miami hurricanes football the u north carolina tar heels brad kaaya acc atlantic coast conference hard rock stadium
Brad Kaaya is the least of Miami’s problems, but the junior QB hasn’t looked sharp.

As North Carolina turned a corner in 2015 with the Fedora/Chizik combo, Miami dumped a bad stock and sent Golden packing by late October. Interim head coach Larry Scott took over, went 4-2 down the stretch and Richt was the new guy in charge by December.

RICHT FEEL-GOOD STORYLINE WON’T TRUMP RIVALS’ HEAD STARTS

Looking at the timelines between the two programs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that North Carolina looks the part this fall, while Miami still comes across makeshift, inconsistent and shoddy.

The Tar Heels benefitted greatly from eight years with Davis and Fedora at the helm, while the Canes had eight-plus with Shannon and Golden leading the the charge. Meanwhile, Richt is six games into a bigger mess than he probably accounted for—fired by Georgia on a Sunday and hired by Miami the following Wednesday.

A 15-year career coming to an end and embarking on a new one 96 hours later doesn’t give one much time for deep thinking or critical analyzation.

Assessing the long-term, the Canes are right to be excited about Richt’s potential. The Miami alum was hired to rebuild the program proper; laying a solid foundation and doing away with a broken culture that started on Coker’s watch.

A proven recruiter, a man of faith—giving players Bibles (with no expectations), improving community relations, et al—this will all pay off in due time, win over parents and further build-up Richt as one of the best in the business, allowing “The U” to rebuild properly, in some ways starting from scratch.

What it won’t do; fix a decade-long problem overnight.

After falling to North Carolina—Miami dropping to 1-2 in conference play—Richt admitted some rustiness in his play calling; something he got away from at Georgia when taking on more of a CEO-type role.

Any notion or belief that Richt would just waltz back into the role of offensive guru after a multi-year hiatus; absolutely foolish. While Richt was managing things in Athens, guys like Fedora were climbing the coaching ladder—making a name for themselves as the game’s next great offensive minds.

None of that is to say Richt can’t or won’t refind his groove; but expecting next-level play year one while trying to clean-up a culture the last few guys broke? Wishful thinking.

CANES’ MYSTIQUE WON’T WIN ACC; NEED SMARTER PLAY & BETTER PLAYERS

Rough as the last two losses have been to accept, it’s time for a hard reset on expectation for year one in the Richt era. Any entitlement in regards to winning the Coastal Division and reaching the ACC title game for the first time in a dozen tries; stop it. Should this squad pull it off, great—but any blah-blah-blah about talent, match-ups and how the Canes are “better” than divisional opponents on paper; it’s all noise.

Miami hasn’t earned the right to have any conference expectations. All talk of winning the Coastal must be shelved until this program proves it can bounce back from tough losses, while showing up against beatable opponents—dropping games to four-win squads like Virginia a few years back and what not.

Show up for whoever is on the schedule that week. Bring it. Do away with the mental mistakes—moronic penalties, inexplicable drops, sub-par execution and flaws in coaching strategies—as each step and accomplishment takes you closer to the ultimate goal.

This shift in thinking is crucial as it’s flat-out embarrassing to watch in-season bargaining taking place—crossing fingers that divisional rivals are upset down the stretch, allowing Miami to back into the title game (something yet to happen to date.)

Six regular season games remain; five in conference. A few things to focus on down the stretch:

— Better protection for quarterback Brad Kaaya, who is taking an absolute beating by way of a shoddy, depth-challenged offensive line. In a perfect world, there are more bodies and a deeper pool of talent to work with. Right now, there isn’t—so you work with what you have and plan a strategy accordingly.

The Miami Dolphins are a hot mess, but found a way this past weekend to get their line working together and protected their guy under center en route to an upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Improvise. What’s the worst that happens, another loss?

— Accept the fact that this Hurricanes’ squad is void of a capable bigger-bodied running back; so quick trying to ground-and-pound with smaller guys like Mark Walton and Joe Yearby, as it’s not working. Makes you wonder if Richt is having Georgia flashbacks and thinks he has a few of those tough Bulldogs runners he’s had in years passed.

Miami was 4-of-15 on third-down conversions against North Carolina; a handful of those the result of a Walton or Yearby called upon to rush up the middle—smaller backs behind a weak-ass line and a predictable play snuffed out.

Walton and Yearby are most dangerous when given some space and the ability to make a move. Nothing is happening when handed the ball three yards behind the line of scrimmage when opposing defenses are in the backfield soon as the ball is snapped.

— Put the best players out there and let them do their thing. All due respect to fifth-year senior Malcolm Lewis and all he’s been through, but fielding a kickoff and running out of bounds on the three-yard line to start the game; a bench-worthy offense.

Special teams as a whole has been deplorable for the Canes this season and that is something that needs constant tweaking and personnel changes until the right mix is found.

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Bad call on this “score”, but the Canes have been their own worst enemy this season.

— Lastly, the mental breakdowns and emotional lapses in judgment have to come to an end. Miami was only dinged for four penalties against North Carolina—compared to a disastrous 10 for 110 yards versus Florida State—but in both cases, game changing and ultimately detrimental.

ACC officiating has been lopsided and piss-poor the past few weeks; a bogus holding call negating a Walton touchdown against the Seminoles, while a bobbled haul-in was called a touchdown this past weekend; the right call likely setting up a field goal on 4th-and-Goal from the five-yard line.

Both shit calls impacted the tone of the game, as well as the final outcome—but neither have anything to do with the mistakes the Canes are making top to bottom, which are having a greater impact on the course of the game.

MODERN-DAY MIAMI; WHERE DOES IT GO FROM HERE?

Time will tell if the short week and road trip to Virginia Tech proves to be a blessing or a curse, but Miami is in must-win territory.

Coastal dreams aside, a third-consecutive loss would send this season into a full-blown downward spiral—early wins deemed meaningless, while ten months worth of Richt hype would go right down the drain until another hopeful step forward next fall.

Even worse, the schedule isn’t necessarily forgiving.

Bad as Notre Dame has looked, no doubt the Irish will bring their A-game and South Bend will be rocking the final Saturday of October. From there, a tough home game against a gritty Pittsburgh squad.

Charlottesville is always tough on Miami and the Canes follow up that annual showdown with the Cavaliers by heading to Raleigh to face a North Carolina State squad that took Clemson to overtime in Death Valley. Last up, a home game against Duke—who is on the mend and will be revenge-minded after last year’s game in Durham.

Time to respond quickly, adjust on the fly and work with that the Canes got as anything less will result in another disastrous close-out amidst yet another rebuilding year.

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Another big stage moment ended with the Miami Hurricanes coming up short last weekend with rival Florida State in the house. The blocked extra point served as the final nail in the coffin of a 20-19 loss, though the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve moments were plenty leading up to that point.

Conservative play-calling on offense. A crucial end-zone interception. A bogus holding call negating a would-be score. Broken defensive plays allowing the bad guys to get back in the game. All were equally as brutal and played their part in another big game collapse—and with that, all must be flushed as there’s a ton of important football left to be played this season.

Look no further than recent Canes’ losses to the Seminoles for a blueprint of how not to react in the face of adversity.

That 23-7 first half lead that evaporated back in a 30-26 loss in 2014? Paled in comparison over the lifeless 30-13 loss days later in Charlottesville to a four-win Virginia team. Back home the following week, a five-win Pittsburgh squad rushed for 226 yards and topped Miami by a dozen. Insult to injury came in the bowl game when a six-win South Carolina squad played second half chess while the Canes played checkers, ekeing out the three-point win.

From 6-3 to 6-7, just like that.

MIAMI UNABLE TO RESPOND IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY AS OF LATE

Last year was no better—falling to a garbage Cincinnati team on Thursday night, before giving one away in Tallahassee against a beatable Florida State squad not firing on all cylinders. The Canes responded with a home win over an eventual six-loss Virginia Tech squad before Clemson rolled in and obliterated the home team, 58-0.

Then-head coach Al Golden was fired 24 hours later, tight ends coach Larry Scott took over in an interim roll and Miami rah-rahed its way to a miracle win at Duke and ugly home win against Virginia before North Carolina went apeshit on the Canes in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels put up 487 yards, while quarterback Marquise Williams threw and ran for a combined 210 yards and two touchdowns—throwing down “U” hands as a sign of disrespect to the Canes; something wide receiver Ryan Switzer echoed when returning a punt 78 yards for a score.

North Carolina led 31-0 at the half. Halfway through the third it was 52-7 before Miami got a few late garbage scores. A beat down quite possibly more embarrassing than the one second-ranked Clemson delivered as the Tigers at least reached the College Football Playoffs and took out the Tar Heels in the ACC Championship.

Clemson wasn’t 58 points better than Miami, but as a true power last season it’s almost easier to process. Zero excuse for such a lopsided performance at North Carolina.

Fast-foward a year and where do these two conference rivals stand? The Canes brought on Mark Richt and an entirely new staff—as well as a 4-3 defensive scheme more conducive to Miami-style play, while it’s business as usual for the Tar Heels. Larry Fedora still runs the show while former Auburn national champion head coach Gene Chizik continues revamping a defense seemingly backsliding this year.

Both programs have lost some talent, while adding some new role players, as well.

SEASON-DEFINING MOMENT FOR BOTH THE CANES & TAR HEELS

Miami’s narrative this season is pretty cut and dry; beat up on some nobodies out the gate, relied on a few defensive turnovers to take out Georgia Tech and came up a few plays short when hosting Florida State. North Carolina’s storyline is a bit more confusing.

After falling to Georgia in the opener the Tar Heels knocked off Illinois and James Madison—while giving up 23 and 28 points, respectively. North Carolina topped Pittsburgh on the game’s final drive and went on to upset Florida State the following week, by way of a 54-yard field goal as the clock hit zero.

The four-game win-streak came to a crashing halt last weekend in a rain-soaked affair against Virginia Tech; the Hokies dominating time of possession and holding the Heels to 131 total yards. North Carolina also coughed up two fumbles while the usually solid Mitch Trubisky was a disaster under center. The quarterback threw two picks, going 13-of-33 for 58 yards.

Almost makes you wish another monster storm was on the radar this weekend.

Miami is an 8.5-favorite going into Saturday’s showdown, but that’s little solace for those who have watched this rivalry over the years since the Canes joined the Atlantic Coast Conference. In good times and bad, the Tar Heels have always had a strange edge in this quirky series.

Besides the obvious—year one in the ACC when third-ranked Miami fell, 31-28 to a garbage North Carolina squad—there have been crazy comebacks on both sides; the Canes usually falling short while the Tar Heels miraculously pulled some magic out their asses.

Some of that may have been the Butch Davis effect; the former Canes’ head coach spending four seasons in Chapel Hill and going 3-1 against then-UM leader Randy Shannon—Shannon playing under Davis at “The U” in the 1980’s and three years as a defensive assistant in the late 1990’s.

Down 27-0 at the half in 2007, the Canes rallied for 20 in the third quarter, only to choke late in a 33-27 road loss. The following year, an early 24-14 four quarter lead blown in a 28-24 loss. 2009 was another gut-punch; the Canes down 23-7 mid-third, pulling to within six, driving and coughing up a fumble that went the other way for a score.

Things somewhat leveled out once the Davis-Shannon dynamic was no more, but things remained unorthodox—two-point conversion attempts changing the strategy in an 18-14 loss for Miami in 2012, yet a miracle comeback in Chapel Hill the following year, overcoming a late 23-13 deficit while relying on back-up role players.

SATURDAY’S LOSER CAN ALL BUT KISS COASTAL DREAMS GOODBYE

All of that history is somewhat moot as these two face off on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium—a must-win Coastal Division showdown both both squads. Miami and North Carolina are each coming off of losses and need a bounce-back win as much as the other.

For Miami, the strategy itself could almost be cut and pasted from last week’s blueprint. Disrupt the quarterback—in this case, Trubisky—as he’ll pick you apart with too much time. When rattled, the junior is a mistake-prone mess. When comfortable back there, damn-near a Heisman candidate.

From there, the Canes’ secondary needs to crank things up a few notches. Switzer is Trubisky’s go-to—and he’s hurt Miami in the past. Set the tone early and let the speedy, undersized senior know he’s in for a long afternoon.

The x-factor on Saturday; Tar Heels’ running back Elijah Hood—questionable after missing last weekend’s game against the Hokies. Theoretically it’s always about the highest-level of competition and going against the best—but as the Canes look to rebound from the Noles’, loss—no issues with Hood being out our limited, making the UNC offense a bit more one-dimensional.

Offensively for Miami, it’s all about balance—as well as not letting up. The Canes’ first half last weekend was a bit more aggressive, while things seemingly got conservative in the second half against the Seminoles.

Knowing the Tar Heels’ defense has been a bit spotty; a great opportunity to take more downfield shots with Kaaya and to open things up a bit. Fact remains the Canes lack a power rushing attack; fielding a pair of number two-type guys in Mark Walton and Joe Yearby, while lacking a bigger-bodied bruiser who can move the chains.

Both Walton and Yearby are threats, but the key is avoiding more up-the-middle runs—relying on a shoddy offensive line to deliver—and getting two speedy backs the ball in space, allowing them to work some magic.

The tight end was also somewhat non-existent last week. Would like to see more touches for guys like David Njoku and Chris Herndon.

All that armchair-quarterback strategizing aside, it’s all about finding a way to win—at all costs. Pretty, ugly, lucky or a perfect strategy—Miami simply has to deliver and forge ahead.

Lots of chatter about the Coastal Division and how the Canes should win it—the sentiment based more on emotion than logic, as well as impatience as this marks Miami’s thirteenth season in the ACC without repping the division or sniffing a conference championship.

The margin for error down the stretch is damn near zero—especially when factoring in Virginia Tech’s weak-ass Atlantic Division foes; Syracuse on Saturday, but no Florida State, Louisville or Clemson on the schedule. Meanwhile Miami already lost to Florida State and has a road game against a good North Carolina State squad late November.

A loss this weekend and the Canes can all but be counted out of the Coastal race—resulting in a must-win situation in Blacksburg on Thursday night and then relying on Virginia Tech to drop one of four remaining ACC games, with Miami forced to win-out.

All of that to be filed under getting-ahead-of-oneself as it’s all about responding against a good North Carolina team this weekend—one that embarrassed the shit out of the Canes, last fall.

The blueprint for success is there; it’s simply a matter of Miami showing up, executing and knocking out a North Carolina team seemingly on the ropes and struggling defensively.

October 14, 2016

MIAMI HURRICANES CAN PROVE WORTH; REGROUP AND BEAT NORTH CAROLINA

Another big stage moment ended with the Miami Hurricanes coming up short last weekend with rival Florida State in the house. The blocked extra point served as the final nail in the coffin of a 20-19 loss, though the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve moments were plenty leading up to that point. Conservative play-calling on offense. A […]

sam bruce miami hurricanes football the u st thomas
… and just like that, Sam Bruce is gone. Another would-be talent out the door before getting a chance to make his mark at “The U”.

The University of Miami severed ties with the freshman wide receiver on Monday morning, stating that the former 4-star out of St. Thomas Aquinas was dismissed “based on multiple violations of team rules and a failure on his part to meet the clear expectations established to be a part of the Miami football program.”

Way to f**king go, Sammy.

Bruce was currently serving a three-game suspension for the way-too-common-amongst-today’s-athletes social media gaffe; in this case, posing in a photo holding a firearm. The situation got Bruce booted from St. Thomas, where he wound up finishing his high school career at Westlake Prep.

It’s believed that the three-game suspension at Miami was related to that event, though Bruce worsened things by not being truthful with coaches regarding a non-football season-ending injury. Bruce was playing basketball—not prohibited, though a hobby football players are suggested to avoid—yet told coaches he was injured riding his bike.

Sources at UM have stated that there have been a long list of disciplinary issues with Bruce in his short time as a member of the program. In hearing that, a swift dismissal is truly the only option as first-year head coach Mark Richt looks to fix a broken culture and rebuild the Canes, proper.

For Miami faithful; that never-ending feeling that the hits just keep on coming. The karmic aspect of losing to Florida State due to a blown kick is lost on no one, but it’s bigger than that.

Porous offensive line play, boneheaded, game-changing penalties and a few personnel-related breakdowns all serve as a reminder that the Canes are lacking the type of depth needed to compete nationally, as well as conference-wise.

The Tar Heels head south as Coastal Division champions, having put a 59-21 pasting on Miami in Chapel Hill last fall. Are they as good as last year’s squad? A recent home pasting courtesy of Virginia Tech says otherwise, but it came on the heels of North Carolina upsetting Florida State in Tallahassee.

Regardless, a reminder that the Canes next two opponents—the Heels and Hokies over a six-day span—are serious road blocks in Miami’s quest for a first-ever division crown.

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Many Canes fans still play the “what if” game with spirited, dismissed LB Eddie Johnson.

The recently-dismissed Bruce would have zero impact on any of this in 2016; having injured himself outside of football prior-to today’s dismissal—but the parting-of-ways is indicative of a bigger problem; too many would-be greats pissing away potential legacies at Miami for moronic reasons.

Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald went in-depth on the player retention topic two Septembers ago and the numbers were staggering as 27 players were lost between 2011 and 2013; be it transfers, dismissals, not qualifying or being forced to quit football all together.

Eddie Johnson. Gionni Paul. Alex Figueroa. Derrick Griffin. Angelo Jean-Louis. The list goes on regarding players who could’ve helped do something about that 21-15 run over a the three-year span. Instead, more leaks sprung as the Canes’ program kept taking on water.

Tack on a few casualties in the 2014 class, as well as the loss of Bruce and it makes Florida State’s six-year head start on rebuilding—and seven-game win-streak—that much harder to accept.

All that bullshit these past few years; blame Al. Blame Randy. Blame Shapiro, the NCAA and anything else that fits the narrative of a down cycle. While you’re at it, make sure to blame the self-absorbed players who put self, stupidity and immaturity above team, potential and future success.

Bruce blowing a golden opportunity to be the next great Miami speedster—unacceptable in 2016 as the Canes are supposed to be past bullshit like this. That big push to keep local talent home and to rebuild the program; it was to be on guys like Bruce.

Now he’s gone—heartbreaking for him as a lifelong fan of “The U” and brutal for the University of Miami as he’s yet one more pointless casualty on the road from mediocrity to relevancy.

October 10, 2016

GONE BEFORE IT STARTED; MIAMI HURRICANES CUT TIES WITH WIDEOUT SAM BRUCE

… and just like that, Sam Bruce is gone. Another would-be talent out the door before getting a chance to make his mark at “The U”. The University of Miami severed ties with the freshman wide receiver on Monday morning, stating that the former 4-star out of St. Thomas Aquinas was dismissed “based on multiple […]

October 9, 2016

IMPROVED MIAMI HURRICANES STILL UNABLE TO CLOSE; FALL TO FLORIDA STATE

miami hurricanes football florida state seminoles atlantic coast conference hard rock stadium
It had all the makings of something special. The hard-rocking stadium. The throwback uniforms. The pre-game skirmish. An undefeated start to the season and a rival having already absorbed a few losses.

The Miami Hurricanes jumped out to another home lead against Florida State, but it was the Seminoles who again closed strong, much like they have the last two times these foes got after it, prevailing, 20-19—the foot of a kicker again defining another big moment in this rivalry.

In the end, a seventh-straight loss and the harsh reality that despite the gap closing between the Canes and Noles, the boys from up north are still a few paces ahead of the five time national championship Miami program. Doesn’t matter how or why—FSU’s “rebuild” starting back in 2010, while UM’s just got underway last December; the result continues to be the same.

The Canes are on the right track, but lack the depth, across-the-board talent and big-win experience that championship teams possess.

There are no moral victories and silver linings the morning after are impossible to appreciate. Saturday’s heartbreaker will be forever remembered by a muffed snap and batted-down extra point; The Block at The Rock. Convenient for narrative-sake in a rivalry that has been defined by missed kicks by the guys in garnet and gold—but Miami lost the game well before DeMarcus Walker swatted down a Michael Badgley point-after attempt; the junior kicker automatic in his career up to that moment.

No, this one was surrendered from the get-go when Miami’s supposedly-high octane offense sputtered and punted its first two drives, while settling for a field goal on its third—wasting some big time defensive stops; including a fourth-down stuff of the Noles that kept early points off the board.

A DOZEN OTHER “LOST GAME” MOMENTS TRUMP MISSED POINT-AFTER

Miami’s swarming defense sent quarterback Deondre Francois to the sideline after a vicious takedown by Kendrick Norton. Jaquan Johnson made the Noles pay, intercepting back-up Sean Maguire on a tipped pass and the Canes turned it into seven by way of a highlight-reel touchdown grab by Stacy Coley on 3rd-and-19—giving Miami the 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Still, the where-it-was-lost moments were all over the place; again settling for three when another offensive possession stalled out.

Francois back under center, the Canes’ defense held the Noles to 18 yards on six plays, forcing a punt. Brad Kaaya immediately went to freshman Ahmmon Richards for a 38-yard pick-up. A sure-fire pass interference call on Florida State looked to be drive-defining, but was negated when the intended receiver Braxton Berrios was hit with a facemask call—boneheaded-as-hell and taking the steam out of the Canes.

Incomplete pass to Coley. Four-yard pick-up by tight end David Njoku. Four-yard run by Mark Walton. 51-yard field goal by Badgley and valuable points again left on the field against a squad known for second-half comebacks.

The Noles responded with nine-play, 62-yard drive—including a 3rd-and-12 conversion, though eventually settling for three and cutting the deficit to 10 points at halftime, with Florida State getting the ball to start the second half.

Miami’s defense forced the three-and-out and was primed again to take control, face planted and had yet another where-it-was-lost moment, unable to close on a would-be, game-defining drive.

Kaaya-to-Richards for 12 yards on 2nd-and-7 had Miami midfield and 15 more yards were picked up when Matthew Thomas was ejected for targeting. 1st-and-10 from the FSU 34, Walton picked up three before Kaaya found Coley for 18. Another first down; the Canes in business at the 13-yard line.

False start, Coley. Momentum killer. Incomplete pass to Richards on 1st-and-15, another setback. Then the dagger—a forced pass on 2nd-and-15 with Kaaya went to Richards again; Tarvarus McFadden stepping in front for the end zone interception.

Six plays later, a defense breakdown and Dalvin Cook—the most-dangerous guy on the field, inexplicably wide open— hauling in a 59-yard touchdown reception. What could’ve been 20-3, or at worst 16-3, was now 13-10 in just over three minutes—the energy in the stadium shifting as momentum was slipping away.

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Brad Kaaya again came up a few plays too short when true consistency was needed.

KAAYA COMES UP SHORT IN ANOTHER RAISED-STAKES SITUATION

Incompletion, three-yard run, incompletion, punt. The type of unraveling that defined the past half decade of Miami football was rearing its ugly head again—and no one on either side of the ball could stop the bleeding.

A comeback was underway and everyone in the building felt it. The Canes weren’t done, but the lead was set to evaporate and Miami was on its heels. Seven plays and 60 yards later, Francois found Kermit Whitfield for a 20-yard touchdown on 1st-and-10—a brilliant read on a would-be run play, changed when Johnson blitzed for the Canes with three Florida State receivers lined up trips to the left.

17-13, Noles late third quarter—Miami trailing for the first time all season. Here we go again.

Walton, nine-yard run and six more the following play. Tack on a 15-yard personal foul and the Canes were already at the FSU 45 in just under a minute. 1st-and-10, Walton takes it 45 yards to the house. To be filed under, you-can’t-make-this-shit-up; holding on Tyree St. Louis—his “mistake” doing zero to spring Walton loose. (Translation; horse-shit call by the zebras.)

Drive destroyed, next-level dagger and a snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory type moment that Miami simply can’t purge itself of. From taking back the lead to 1st-and-20 and deflated—just like that.

Two runs by Joseph Yearby went nowhere before Kaaya’s attempt on 3rd-and-15 was incomplete.

Miami’s defense held Florida State to a field goal after stopping Cook cold on 3rd-and-2—leaving the Canes yet another final drive-type chance like the past two years, down seven with nine minutes remaining.

Coley for 17 yards on 3rd-and-8. Another pass interference fortunate break, putting the Canes across midfield. First down run with Walton loses one, Kaaya sack loses six and another takedown on 3rd-and-17—Miami’s offense unable to do anything.

The Canes’ defense rises up, sacking Francois on third-and-long—putting the ball back in Miami’s hands for one final go-around with 3:02 remaining after a brilliant 43-yard return from Berrios.

Walton runs back-to-back, netting seven yards, but gets stuffed on 3rd-and-3. 4th-and-5 from the FSU 11, Kaaya hits Coley on a rope for the score—followed by the unthinkable. Muffed hold, blocked kick, ball game.

Even with the extra point, does Miami’s defense stop Florida State’s offense with 1:38 remaining in a 20-20 ball game? Doesn’t matter. The Canes had already been gutted and exposed—a not-yet good enough squad able to seize big moments and close.

YEAR IS ONLY A FAILURE IF MIAMI ALLOWS FLORIDA STATE LOSS TO BREAK THEM (AGAIN)

Bad as Florida State looked at Louisville, or somewhat exposed in a home loss to North Carolina—when the money was on the table and the Canes were across the field, the Noles were able to rely on muscle memory, earning the type of comeback win that can jumpstart a season.

While Miami toiled in misery these past six seasons—firing Randy Shannon, hiring Al Golden, dealing with ponzi-schemer Nevin Shapiro and fighting with the NCAA—Jimbo Fisher was building his powerhouse; taking over a program in much better shape than the Canes, in the process.

Over that span, four Atlantic Division titles, three ACC crowns and one national championship—while Miami stumbled to 43-33, fought off a two-year investigation, absorbed three years probation and saw three different head coaches at the helm. None of that even addressed the negative recruiting that sent quality local kids packing or forced “The U” to miss out on some key players.

Cook and Whitfield killed Miami last night; two kids who at one point looked to be future Canes. Same for the ejected Thomas and suspiciously-quiet Travis Rudolph last night. Losing out on players of that nature each of the past several years—it shouldn’t necessarily define moments like these, but it can’t be ignored. Keep the best talent home, recruit strong and develop good players into great ones. It’s a tried and true formula, but simply hasn’t happened in Coral Gables for well over a decade now.

miami hurricanes footbal the u florida state seminoles atlantic coast conference mark richt
The Canes’ defense is improving, but had too many breakdowns to dethrone a loathed rival.

Under all those circumstances, the fact the Canes have actually hung with the Noles the past three years is a mini-miracle unto itself—though it’s no solace when surrendering late leads and losing 10 of the past 12 to an arch-rival.

However this edition’s script was written, it’s over. Another loss in the books and another learning experience to be taken. Some other morning-after thoughts about these Canes as seven games remain. In no particular order:

— Defensive breakdowns at Georgia Tech last week were brushed off by way of a few exciting sack, strip, scoop and score moments which were the difference in a 14-point victory. Exciting plays, but flukes that arguably aren’t going to occur on a weekly basis or against top-flight talent. Miami had a few blown plays defensively that were indicative of the past half decade of UM football and served as a reminder that the talent and personnel simply isn’t where it needs to be on that side of the ball.

A lot of tipped passes and balls-out play from guys like Corn Elder, Kendrick Norton and Chad Thomas—as well as the trio of freshmen linebackers—but not enough depth or difference-makers over there, yet.

— Exciting as Walton and Yearby have been over their careers, the Canes’ ground attack is suffering from not having a bigger-bodied, Cook-type back who can run hard, get the tough yards and carry a struggling offense on their backs. Gus Edwards hasn’t panned out and Mike James was truly the last slightly bigger, hard-hitting running back the Canes have boasted.

Two guys who are “lighting” aren’t the answer. The rushing attack needs some “thunder”, as well. The Canes lost out on Cook a few years back, but need to ensure that they find a back like him on the recruiting trail each of the next few years.

— For every spectacular grab a receiver has, seems there are a few drops, miscues or setbacks to go along with the good. Painful as the ground game has been, the inconsistencies in the passing game are added pressure for an offense seeking and identity.

— Lastly, with almost two and a half seasons under his belt as a starter, it’s time to assess who No. 15 is and who he isn’t. Kaaya was thrown into the fire as a freshman, has learned on the job and has put up some rather impressive numbers as Miami’s starting quarterback. He’s pegged to be a Top 10 pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, as the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder with the solid head and strong arm checks off most boxes that assure success at the next level.

What Kaaya hasn’t shown yet; the “it” factor and overall leadership great collegiate quarterbacks on championship-caliber teams possess.

Come-up-short moments against a Nebraska, Georgia Tech or Florida State as a freshman are forgivable—but that expected step forward wasn’t taken as a sophomore. Cincinnati and Florida State were would-be, hero-type moments where Kaaya could’ve put the Canes on his back and made a difference.

Even the bowl game against Washington State; an interception on a potential game-winning drive.

This recent showdown with the Seminoles was a growing-up opportunity. Kaaya took a beating behind a suspect offensive line, got his ass kicked and still threw two NFL-worthy touchdown passes to Coley. That said, the second down interception in the end zone was brutal and truly unforgivable based on the moment, the opponent and overall state of the program.

Florida State is suiting up a freshman in Francois, who opened his career with a comeback victory against Ole Miss, had a solid outing in the loss to North Carolina and took everything Miami’s defense threw at him, yet kept making plays and getting the job done.

Time is running out on the Kaaya era. Will this fan base ever see that next-level, clutch-type performance he’s capable of? Tar Heels, Hokies, Fighting Irish and Panthers on deck.

IT’S NOT HOW YOU START; IT’S HOW YOU FINISH—CLOSE STRONG

Two years ago, a blown 23-7 lead against Florida State broke Miami’s spirit and the Canes lost their final three games. A year ago, a loss in Tallahassee was followed by a a home win over Virginia Tech before Clemson came south and delivered the type of ass-kicking that gets a fifth-year head coach fired before he sits down with a coffee and his Sunday paper.

What is this year’s narrative—Miami now 4-1 with first-year head coach Mark Richt; an even-keel guy celebrated for not getting to high after a win or too low after a loss? Golden—always the disheveled, excuse-making post-game mess—proved unable to get his Canes to respond. Can Richt erase five year’s of Golden’s hold on this program five games into his tenure? He better and the hits are coming hard and fast.

North Carolina heads south next weekend—the same squad who took down Florida State in Tallahassee weeks back on a game-winning 54-yard field goal that ended a 22-home game win-streak.

Good news; the Tar Heels were demoralized after falling to Virginia Tech at home, 34-3 yesterday. Bad news; the Hokies are up next for the Canes, traveling to Blacksburg for a Thursday night showdown against the new Coastal Division favorites.

Negotiate that rugged terrain and a road trip to Notre Dame follows; the Irish unraveling, though South Bend ready to come alive when boys from Miami show up.

Losses to Florida State have defined Miami’s season the past few years and if there’s any takeaway from this year’s setback—let it be just that; forget about the Noles until next time around, learn from the mistakes and focus on the remaining seven games.

This was never a championship season for the Canes. At absolute best, a Coastal Division title was in the cards—Miami the preseason number two behind North Carolina. Another loss to Florida State hurts; but it’s only as detrimental as the Canes allow it to be.

Let the next few weeks define this season—not a few setbacks in a would-be step-foward moment in primetime this past weekend.

miami hurricanes football the u mark richt appalachian state mountaineers espn kidd stadium boone north carolina
The Miami Hurricanes weren’t given much credit for recent, expected throttlings of Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic in recent weeks. Completely understandable as smacking around patsies early September is hardly noteworthy.

The critics pointed to Appalachian State and a road trip to Boone as a mini-measuring stick for “The U”—also understandable as the Mountaineers are a quality lower-tier program. Not to mention, the Canes an unfathomable 5-12 on the road the past seventeen attempts, so this one had “trap game” written all over it.

Had this match-up taken place at any point over the past five seasons; spoiler alert—Miami would’ve shit the bed in Shakespearean tragedy-type fashion.

Instead the Canes played a dream scenario-type game, jumping on the Mountaineers early, silencing the amped-up crowd, weathering an early third quarter storm and closing strong in a 45-10 rout.

The result, a 3-0 start and ten-spot jump in the AP poll to No.15 before an off week, followed by a road trip to Georgia Tech to kickoff ACC play.

The alternate would’ve been a straight-up disaster—as proven a year ago when Miami stumbled into Cincinnati for a Thursday night showdown and got worked by a Bearcats team who finished 7-6 with losses to Temple, South Florida and San Diego State.

Unranked, 2-1 going into an off-week, local sports talk radio blowing up—and an epic fail regarding the new adidas rollout of their “Legends of The U” throwback jerseys, had things gone south at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

The only thing missing would’ve been a disheveled, hot mess of a coach, loosening his tie and rambling about getting beat in all three phases of the game and how it was all on him to get that right before shuffling off dejected yet again.

It’s cathartic to relive the Al Golden experience—forcing oneself to imagine what could’ve been this year if change hadn’t been made last fall. (Miami faithful should put Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney on this year’s holiday card list as that 58-0 pasting proved to the be the final straw.)

Instead, a still depth-starved Canes squad is playing above its overall talent level—new head coach Mark Richt injecting life into his players, staff and the Miami fan base. It’s finally safe to drop the “cautiously” and simply be optimistic about the future at “The U”.

david njoku miami hurricanes football tight end
Cynics—or those simply too damaged by the Canes’ recent Decade of Disaster—will write off the rout at Appalachian State, looking at name only and not taking into consideration the program’s body of work.

11-2 last season in their move to D-I football, the Mountaineers won three consecutive national championships less than a decade ago. Three weeks back, ASU rolled into Knoxville and had ninth-ranked Tennessee on the ropes.

A missed extra point came back to haunt the road underdogs, with the Volunteers rallying in overtime, but that hardly diminished the feat. Appalachian State proved they’re a player and Miami going to their house for the biggest home game in program history wasn’t something to be taken lightly.

RICHT GAMEPLAN & CANES EXECUTION UNITED IN FIRST ROAD WIN

For any Canes enthusiast asked to rattle off three keys to the game, nothing would’ve been bigger than the need for a quick start. Silence the crowd, take control of the game and force a solid running team to play catch-up by throwing the football.

Miami did just that, holding the home team to 18 yards on six plays before forcing a punt and then scoring on the first play from scrimmage—Mark Walton bursting up the middle for an 80-yard touchdown.

Another quick defensive stop put the Canes’ offense back on the field and Brad Kaaya immediately got busy. Dayall Harris hauled in three grabs for 26 yards, Ahmmon Richards caught two for 24 and David Njoku reeled in a score on 3rd-and-5, extending Miami’s lead to 14.

The next go-around featured a 55-yard hook up between Kaaya and Stacy Coley on 3rd-and-9 for a 21-0 score late in the first and an eventual 24-3 halftime lead.

Miami looked primed to pour it on first drive of the third quarter, going 71 yards in just over three minutes before Kaaya threw a goal line pick on fourth down from the one-yard line. Njoku ran down John Law after the 60-yard return, but six plays and a few busted coverage moments later, all the Canes’ early dominance was reduced to a 14-point lead and the home crowd was feeling it.

It’s precisely in this moment that the last incarnation of the Miami Hurricanes would’ve begun to unravel. A few conservative runs would’ve set up a third-and-long, an incomplete pass and a punt—giving the opponent field position, momentum and purpose.

Instead, Miami came out firing—Richt knowing that Kaaya wanted to make up for his blunder. The Canes still faced that third-and-long, but threw incomplete on first down before Joe Yearby was stuffed on second.

Come third, time to let shit rip—Kaaya going deep, hitting Richards for a 54-yard completion and visibly animated as the quarterback ran downfield to finish the drive. A delay of game could’ve been a minor setback, but even that didn’t matter as Yearby rolled 12 yards for the score, putting the Canes back up by 21.

From there it was merely piling-on as the defense continued to clamp down and the offense chipped away. Kaaya went back to Richards on the ensuing drive for a 62-yard gain and found Coley on 3rd-and-Goal for the eight-yard score—with Walton adding one more for good measure early in the fourth, extending the lead to 35 and quieting the “upset special” crowd.

MIAMI’S DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT MEASURABLE BEYOND STATS

While it’s tough to get jacked up on overall stats when the two previous opponents with the Rattlers and Owls, the Canes held the Mountaineers to just 2.6 yards-per-carry and 2-of-13 on third down.

For those keeping score, Appalachian State rolled for 184 yards on the ground at Tennessee and looked much more dominant—a credit to a once-maligned Miami defense.

Regarding the Canes sitting at No. 3 in the nation with fewest yards-per-carry at 1.57 after three games—it’s where they were last season that make the improvement so impressive; jumping up 112 spots from No. 115 at 5.26 yards-per-carry.

Furthermore, the Canes’ defense is doing it with three true freshmen linebackers—Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud—and defensive end Chad Thomas, whose job got harder when Al-Quadin Muhammad was dismissed days before the season opener.

Credit to first-year defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who is getting all that and more out of the 5-star end who didn’t live up to the freshman hype.

miami hurricanes football defense manny diaz appalachian state mountaineers chad thomas zach mcclound michael pinckney shaq quarterman
Miami takes its 3-0 record and No. 15 rank into a late-September off-week—solid timing as it gives Kaaya extra time to rest a swollen knee that got dinged when he turned into a defender on the third quarter interception return.

The down time also provides the Canes a necessary early-season reset and opportunity to soak up all that’s taken place these past three weeks— a solid start, exceeded expectations, unexpected praise and the necessary humility needed before diving into conference play.

Georgia Tech and their quirky offense is never to be taken for granted—though a safe bet Miami’s current staff won’t lose the time of possession battle by double as it did in its last road game against the Yellow Jackets.

Take care of business next weekend and the Canes are the undefeated, higher-ranked team when the Seminoles roll into Hard Rock Stadium for a heavyweight bout on October 8th.

Miami has dropped six in a row to rival Florida State—but based on how things have played out these past few weeks, it’s not crazy for Canes Nation to start dreaming and believing in big time football again.

September 19, 2016

MIAMI HURRICANES STRONG OUT THE GATE UNDER RICHT; POUND APPALACHIAN STATE

miami hurricanes football the u florida atlantic owls ACC mark richt defense brad kaaya

Last September the Miami Hurricanes pulled away from Florida Atlantic late; scoring 24 unanswered points, breaking a late third quarter tie in an eventual 44-20 rolling of the Owls. A year later, a completely different output and result for the Canes, who clamped down defensive, while relying on the running game in a lopsided, 38-10 win against their crosstown rivals.

Mark Walton posted a career-high 155 yards on 17 carries and found the end zone four times, while Joe Yearby added 121 yards on 20 rushing attempts—the duo picking up where the left off in last week’s blowout win over Florida A&M.

Defensively the Canes smothered the Owls, holding them to 47 yards on the ground and 167 yards passing. Miami also rose to the occasion on third down, keeping Florida Atlantic to 4-of-20 on the afternoon.

Greg Howell tore off a 38-yard score with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter, helping the Owls pull to within 14, but Walton padded the Canes’ lead with 11:44 remaining by way of a 30-yard touchdown run.

NEED MORE OUT OF NO. 15 AS COMPETITION-LEVEL RISES

While the end result moved Miami to 2-o on the season, a sub-par outing from Brad Kaaya has resulted in a split fan base. While some are hitting the panic button and citing a lack of clutch play in big moments to knock the junior quarterback’s overall body of work, others are chalking it up to a rare rough outing where the Canes’ most valuable offensive player simply didn’t have “it”.

Kaaya opened the season with an effective 12-of-18, 135-yard, four touchdown performance against FAMU in less than three quarters of play. A week later, 17-of-31 for 191 yards with two interceptions and no scores.

Kaaya seemed out of sync and sorts all day, forcing the Canes’ offense to rely on a pair of experienced backs to control the clock, move the chains and to ultimately put the game out of reach.

A 46-yard hook-up with tight end David Njoku gave the impression Miami’s aerial attack would be on-point; the Canes facing a 2nd-and-26 on the opening drive after a personal foul.

Back-to-back short runs with Yearby set up a 3rd-and-Goal from the six-yard line, but Kaaya was unable to convert, leaving Miami to settle for three. After the Canes’ defense forced a three-and-out, Kaaya was intercepted on first down of the next possession; starting down receiver Stacy Coley, which Owls’ linebacker Nate Ozdemir read immediately.

Facing a 3rd-and-11 on the ensuing drive, Kaaya again failed to connect with Njoku, setting up a punt. Moments later, a 3rd-and-5 pass to Yearby came up a yard short, forcing the ball to change hands again.

Kaaya-to-Walton came up incomplete on the next possession and the Canes didn’t convert their first third down until a pass to Ahmmon Richards went for 13 yards with 9:09 left in the first half. Walton punched it in from seven yards out a play later, giving Miami the, 7-0 lead.

Another solid defensive stand was wasted as Kaaya coughed up his second pick—pressured and attempting to launch it deep, but coming up a mile short. The turnover led to an Owls’ field goal and while FAU never threatened despite the passing game setbacks, the upgrade in competition the next few weeks will hopefully serve as motivation to Kaaya that he needs to settle in.

PRESEASON IS OVER; REAL CHALLENGES ON THE HORIZON

Kidd Brewer Stadium may only hold 21,650 bodies—but the game is a sellout and ESPN is already on board for the 12:oo p.m. ET kickoff that is far and away the biggest home game in Appalachian State history.

The Mountaineers took ninth-ranked Tennessee to the wire and fell in overtime weeks back—a would-be upset thwarted by a missed extra point in the second quarter, leading to a 13-3 advantage that was overcome in regulation before the Volunteers survived, 20-13.

ASU regrouped with a dominant 31-7 home win over Old Dominion this weekend and motivation certainly won’t be an issue when UM rolls to town next Saturday.

Passing game question marks aside, Miami certainly deserves credit for its improved defense two games into a new season. Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic certainly aren’t offensive juggernauts, but when comparing the Canes’ and Owls’ last two meetings—the defensive improvement for the home team deserves praise.

Miami surrendered 389 yards in Boca Raton last September—most embarrassing, the 223 yards given up on the ground and almost seven-yards-per-carry average. Cutting that to 47 yards with depth issues, freshmen linebackers and two games into a revamping of the defensive scheme (by way of a brand new coaching staff)—it deserves a tip of the cap and some optimism moving forward.

What it doesn’t deserve; any reading into Sunday’s headline in the Palm Beach Post alluding to signs of a “spectacular” defense this season.

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IMMEASURABLE UNTIL ACC PLAY UNDERWAY

The stats geeks will jump all over the fact that the Canes lead the nation in tackles for loss (28) and is tied with Pittsburgh in sacks (10), which is also tops—while tied second nationally in yards-per-play allowed (2.94), 16th in interceptions (3) and 17th in opponent third-down success (8-for-26) and 22.2-percent.

Others will quickly point out that eight quarters against the Rattlers and Owls led to such puffed up numbers, so pump the brakes and let the next few weeks play out—@Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, @Virginia Tech and @Notre Dame the next five foes after next weekend’s trek to the Tar Heel state.

To Miami’s credit, the defensive improvement has come in the wake of injuries, suspensions and dismissals that were serious setbacks on paper, depth-wise. Overcoming that and and playing sound, fundamental football two games into the Mark Richt era; beyond welcomed after the five-year defensive shit-show under The Wrong Brothers, Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio.

First year coordinator Manny Diaz quipped to the Post a no-excuses mantra and rhetoric about a raised standard and little chatter about said opponents—though that should understandably change when more potent offenses are being prepped for weekly.

Equally as exciting for the Canes right now; a next-man-in approach yielding positive results. The dismissal of Al-Quadin Muhammad was painful for a defensive line that needed his talent and experience, but Demetrius Jackson has jumped in tallied four sacks in two starts.

Injuries sidelined defensive lineman Courtel Jenkins and Anthony Moten, as well as cornerback Adrian Colbert. No problem as RJ McIntosh has been disrupting inside, with Sheldrick Redwine making some noise in the secondary.

The dismissal of Jermaine Grace was painful, but a trio of freshman linebackers continue playing well beyond their years—Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud proving that age ain’t nothing but a number.

“It’s not easy, but we prepare,” Pinckney told the Post. “If you know what you’re doing out there, it’s not too complicated.”

Soundbites and player-speak don’t usually mean all that much, but it’s hard to imagine many Canes’ freshman the past few years talking the talk and walking the walk like this first-year linebacker. Miami’s head coach agrees.

“You could talk about those linebackers all day,” said Richt. “How often do you have three true freshmen just show up and start playing good ball for you like that?”

The answer; not all that often—but in this case, it seems best to let the season play out and to judge the trio after some tougher competition comes their way. Still, two games in and with things trending upwards, everyone deserves some credit.

One quirky road showdown before ACC season gets underway against the Yellow Jackets late September. Survive Boone and Atlanta and Miami will be sitting pretty at 4-0 with Florida State coming to town

Everything to date has been solid and the next two weeks manageable before the ultimate measuring stick and perennial game of the year against the Seminoles. Let’s talk defensive stats after that one.

Until then, enjoy the ride and the emotions that come with a maligned program taking the necessary steps to get back on track.

September 11, 2016

MIAMI HURRICANES RELY ON DEFENSE AND GROUND ATTACK IN WIN OVER FAU

miami hurricanes football the u florida a&m rattlers mark richt hard rock stadium
The Miami Hurricanes and Florida A&M Rattlers seem to cross paths every few seasons with a similar narrative and storyline. The five-time national champion powerhouse is in need of a proper warm-up screaming early in the season, while the underdog from the panhandle emulates itself after big brother, hoping someday to make it competitive.

Two years back, Miami prevailed, 41-7. In 2010, a 45-0 lopsided affair. This time around, a 70-3 drubbing fueled by three running backs with 100-plus yards on the day—the first time that feat has been accomplished at UM since 1987 and only the third 70-plus point game in half a century.

Based on some slow starts for the Canes over the year, an impressive-enough on-paper victory for the home team—complete with a first-class experience at the freshly-renovated and newly-dubbed Hard Rock Stadium. All that coupled with a mostly injury-free four quarters made for a solid opening weekend and start of the Mark Richt era.

Canes Coming In Hot For Home Opener

To Miami’s credit, it pounced early—Corn Elder picking off Kenneth Coleman on 3rd-and-11 of the opening drive—which the Canes converted to a touchdown three plays later. Brad Kaaya found Marquez Williams for the four-yard score, though running back Mark Walton did the heavy living with a 25-yard run.

Walton–with Joseph Yearby and Gus Edwards—combined for 327 yards and four scores on 29 carries, while Kaaya was a respectable 12-0f-18 for 135 yards and four touchdowns, before yielding to Malik Rosier, who game-managed the final quarter and a half.

While under center, Kaaya spread the ball around to nine different options—no receiver hauling in more than two grabs, with Chris Herndon topping the bunch with 42 yards receiving.

Up 28-0 at the half, Miami posted seven touchdowns in the third quarter before cruising to victory with a quiet fourth. Walton tore off a 37-yard run, followed by a two-play scoring drive; Yearby going for 21 yards, setting up a 15-yard strike from Kaaya to freshman Ahmmon Richards.

Kaaya tracked down Stacy Coley for the four-yard score minutes later and after a three-and-out, Braxton Berrios returned a punt 41-yard for a quick six.

An interception by Adrian Colbert put Miami in FAMU territory, where Rosier hit Standish Dobard for a 15-yard pick-up, before scampering 19 yards to the end zone a play later. Edwards tore off a 74-yard touchdown the ensuing drive, closing out the third quarter.

The Canes should’ve tacked on another in the fourth, but fourth string running back Travis Homer fumbled in the end zone, the ball recovered by the Rattlers for a touchback.

For those rolling out of Hard Rock, or others seeing that 70-3 final score cruise by on the ESPN ticker, the reaction should’ve been the same.

Good. Nothing more and nothing less.

Everything To Be Taken In Stride

Routing Florida A&M certainly doesn’t warrant over-praise—anymore than “only scoring 41 last time around should bring criticism. Collect the “W”, file it under “win” and immediately move on to Florida Atlantic. Wash, rinse, repeat and avoid a trap game at Appalachian State before diving into the meat of the ACC schedule.

Furthermore, simply appreciate teeing off on a patsy as Week One of the college football season was less-than-kind to many who faced stiffer competition.

No. 3 Oklahoma getting upset by No. 15 Houston. No. 9 Tennessee needing a missed extra point and overtime to survive Miami’s week-three foe, the Mountaineers.

No. 5 LSU stifled by Wisconsin at Lambeau Field. Mississippi State missing a game-winning field goal against South Alabama … and that was just three days into five straight days of college ball.

Sunday delivered an Instant Classic when Texas held on in double overtime to topple tenth-ranked Notre Dame in Austin, while Monday night answered with No. 11 Ole Miss blowing a 28-6 lead to fourth-ranked Florida State; outscored 39- 6 down the stretch.

Sitting back after that whirlwind, the only stat that matters in the aftermath—1-o versus 0-1. Not that Miami even had a mathematical chance to lose to Florida A&M, but with a 12-game season and needing to get warmed up for conference play, it’s a nice little confidence-builder and notch on the belt.

The Tired Ol’ One-Game-At-A-Time Adage Applies

Looking at the remaining schedule, Miami will lose—one game, two, three or more, time will tell—but it will happen. The Richt Effect will pay dividends in the long run—and even in the short—but the Canes need more overall depth, talent, experience and a revamping of the ol’ core values and attitude before becoming a true contender again.

Alabama pantsed Southern Cal, setting the Trojans a few years back psychologically with that ass-kicking. Clemson survived a quality SEC foe in Auburn, while Florida State flexed its muscle with an epic comeback against a quality foe.

Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford, Michigan State, TCU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oregon—business as usual for good teams that have been making some noise the past several years.

Miami eked its way into the Top 25 this week—due more to those who lost, than the pasting the Canes slapped on the Rattlers. It marks the first time “The U” has been ranked since late in the 2013 season, so it should be appreciated. That said, the view from the bottom should be somewhat daunting and humbling as there’s a lot of real estate to cover if the Canes want to climb two dozen rungs higher.

Booting two defenders pre-season, losing linebacking depth after a season-ending injury to a back up (get well soon, Jamie Gordinier) and recently learning that two more defenders are sidelined due to injury for the showdown with the Owls (defensive back Adrian Colbert and defensive end Courtel Jenkins)—yet another reminder that it’ll be hard-fought season and road back.

Richt’s impact will get this thing back on track—but it’s going to take some breaks from the football gods, a healthy squad and those next-men-in overachieving for year one to be the solid leap forward a hungry fan base is clamoring for.

Next Up: Florida Atlantic (1-0) at No. 25 Miami (1-0)
Where: Hard Rock Stadium — Miami Gardens, Florida
When: Saturday September 10th — 6:00 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN3
Radio: ESPN West Palm 106.3 FM

September 8, 2016

WHAT TO REALLY MAKE OF THE MIAMI HURRICANES’ DOMINATING WIN OVER FAMU

Unfiltered and next-level coverage of The U

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