November 21, 2016

MIAMI HURRICANES’ WIN-STREAK MUST REACH FIVE FOR SUCCESSFUL SEASON

miami hurricanes football the u north carolina state wolfpack atlantic coast conference acc

The Miami Hurricanes knocked off the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the eleventh game of the season, a week after convincingly topping the Virginia Cavaliers. Prior to that, an offensive explosion and 51 points scored against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium.

A convincing home beat-down and two back-to-back road wins now set the stage for this Saturday’s season finale; a home showdown against the Duke Blue Devils.

It should all feel better, but for some reason, still hollow and disheartening—searching for November silver linings after an October face-plant decimated all season moral; the Canes dropping four in a row against the toughest competition faced this fall, while looking at its best when pounding on nobodies back in September.

Prior to getting on the comeback trail at home three weeks back, Miami fell to a sub-par Notre Dame squad in South Bend, courtesy of yet another slow start on offense—a late comeback thwarted when the defense couldn’t reel in a would-be fumble and the Irish knocked through a game-winning field goal.

The week-plus prior, a convincing loss at Virginia Tech—a showdown that even the bleeding hearts penciled in as a loss due to the four-day turnaround, as well as a typical raucous Thursday night in Blacksburg. That came on the heels of a home setback against North Carolina where Miami chose to sleepwalk through the first half, before waking up at intermission and still coming up short.

Of course those three losses were magnified after coming on the heels of a seventh consecutive loss to Florida State; Miami missing a game-tying extra point in the final minutes that could’ve led to overtime—that Seminoles’ hex bleeding over into the following week against the Tar Heels, for a half, at least.

While the last three wins ring a bit hollow after a four-game losing streak, Miami did check off some boxes in the process. 534 yards against the Panthers, no turnovers, a fast start and strong close—a convincing way to end a losing streak against a Pittsburgh squad that went on to upset Clemson in Death Valley the following week.

From there, another meeting at Scott Stadium, where the Canes are 2-4 since joining the ACC and winless in Charlottesville since 2008. Miami racked up 450 yards on offense while holding Virginia to 289. The Canes capitalized on four turnovers and cut down on penalties; seven for 45 yards compared to the Hoos’ 10 for 110 yards—while rushing for an uncharacteristic 222 yards as the ground attack has oft been stifled.

miami hurricanes football virginia cavaliers scott stadium charlottesville atlantic coast confernce football
The Canes’ defense clamped down on the helpless Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

Whatever the reason, Virginia is a tough road showdown for Miami—yet the Canes won this one convincingly, 34-14. Yes, the Cavaliers are garbage—a two-win squad at kickoff, but lest not forget a four-win UVA team riding a four-game losing streak upended Miami, 30-13 two years back; the Canes in free fall-mode after a fifth-straight loss to the Seminoles.

PROGRESS AND LATE-SEASON SILVER LININGS

Small as it was beating lowly Virginia team, it was a step forward. Same to be said for the recent victory in Raleigh, though Miami more or less “survived” North Carolina State delivering a complete, sixty-minute performance.

Ugly play early led to a 3-3 halftime score—the Canes’ offense again coming out tepid, complete with suspect play calling. The ground game deplorable on the opening offensive possession, Miami went pass-happy it’s next go-around—freshman Ahmmon Richards with two big grabs earlier before Brad Kaaya found David Njoku on the ensuing first down.

Per the norm, a false start penalty turned a 2nd-and-4 into 2nd-and-9, head coach and offensive play caller Mark Richt again going to Mark Walton, who picked up two yards, still leaving the Canes in a third-and-long. Back to Walton again, the sophomore tore off a nine-yarded and picked up the first down.

Richards reeled in an 18-yard grab that set up 1st-and-1o from the 20-yard line—which has oft proved to be the Canes’ kryptonite. Kaaya ran for five, Walton ran for two and on third-and-short, an incomplete pass thwarted a stellar drive and Miami settled for three; a way-too-common theme this season.

Feast-or-famine offensive play calling continued; big passes followed up by runs that went nowhere, errant throws or foolish penalties—the Canes punting three more times before a missed field goal to end the half; an 11-play, 74-yard drive resulting in nada.

Passes to Walton and Richards back-to-back—coupled with a roughing the passer call—resulted in 45 yards for the Canes, with Walton tearing off a 30-yard score after finding a crease in the line and turning on the jets.

Malek Young reeled in an end zone interception on 3rd-and-8, costing the Wolfpack all-but-guaranteed points on the ensuing drive. Next possession, a one-yard Walton score—set up by a 51-yard reception by Stacy Coley.

17-3 early in the third had Miami breathing easier—but the path to a two-touchdown lead was as much a part of incompetence by the Wolfpack than next-level play by the Canes.

The Young interception was the result of a bad decision by quarterback Ryan Finley, while the late hit on Miami’s previous possession was just the spark the road team needed. Unfazed, the Wolfpack drove 70 yards on 14 plays the next possession—another almost-end zone interception overturned before running back Matthew Dayes punched it in on 4th-and-3, making it a seven-point game.

An ugly-as-hell one-minute possession followed for the Canes—Miami going ice cold after an initial 13-yard reception by Njoku. The run completely abandoned, Kaaya threw incomplete passes on second and third down before another Justin Vogel punt.

Returning to the Wolfpack-meltdown narrative, Bra’Lon Cherry muffed the punt, Jaquan Johnson recovered and the Canes’ offense had new life on the 16-yard line.

Seemingly concerned with Kaaya’s red zone abilities, Richt called three consecutive runs with Walton; who ran for eight on 3rd-and-2. Kaaya misconnected with Njoku on first down, Walton got nothing on second and a pass to Chris Herndon in the back of the end zone fell incomplete.

A gimme touchdown opportunity resulted in a 22-yard field goal attempt, which the inconsistent Michael Badgley sailed through.

Down 20-10, North Carolina State responded with a seven-minute drive that would’ve changed the tone of the game had they found the end zone—but a 14-play drive came to a crashing halt by way of a false start.

Clipping on 3rd-and-2 from the Miami 16-yard line called back a would-be score, yet on 3rd-and-18, Finley found Stephen Louis for 19 yards and a first down.

The Canes’ defense clamped down on Dayes on first and third down, but an eight-yard pick-up on second was enough for a 4th-and-1 situation from the four-yard line—North Carolina State already 3-of-3 on the day regarding fourth down conversions.

Movement. Self-implosion. Five-yard penalty. 4th-and-6. Field goal time. Seven-point game instead of three, resulting in less pressure on the Canes’ next possession—a shoddy one bailed out on 3rd-and-12 by a pass interference call.

A fresh set of downs from the Wolfpack 39-yard line, three doses of Walton in a situation where a field goal likely puts the game out of reach—the sophomore back ripped off a 24-yarder on 2nd-and-6, giving the Canes a two touchdown lead and thwarting out any chance of a comeback.

27-13 on the road against a team that took Clemson to overtime in Death Valley, while also giving Florida State a run for its money—leading the Seminoles all game until the go-ahead score with three minutes remaining—impressive on paper for Miami … on paper.

The Wolfpack certainly gave this one away—but being that the Canes have done the same on occasion this year, chalk it up to the football gods balancing things out. Shame that wasn’t the case against Florida State, North Carolina or Notre Dame—all three winnable, with “The U” unable to close.

Stuck in a slumber for weeks, Miami's offense came alive against Pittsburgh
Stuck in a slumber for weeks, Miami’s offense came alive against Pittsburgh.

PROGRESS BEING MADE, BUT STILL A WAYS TO GO

A four-win Duke squad rolls south for Senior Day this weekend and that 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff certainly works in Miami’s favor—a much different atmosphere than the Canes dealt with last Halloween in prime time, surviving the Blue Devils on a miracle kick return in Durham.

Show up with an ounce of passion and spirit and Miami ends the regular season 8-4 and in line for a decent bowl game, yet missing out on a 13th consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title—the harshest reality in all this.

Virginia Tech—with first-year head coach Justin Fuente—will wrap up the Coastal with a home win over Virginia; the Hokies going 7-6 last year under long-time leader Frank Beamer in his finale. Beamer won four ACC titles since 2004—joining the conference the same year as Miami—as well as five Coastal crowns dating back to 2005; when the divisions went into place. Over that same span, four different Hurricanes’ coaches proved incapable of even pulling off the feat once.

Soon as one wants to give the veteran Richt a pass for year one, you’re reminded that the 40-year old Fuente and his five years head coaching experience returned a six-loss team in Blacksburg and is a win away from guiding the Hokies to their first Coastal crown since 2011.

Is that an indictment on the successful former Georgia coach? Is it a broken culture at Miami? Not enough talent across the board? Maybe all three and then some.

For all the knocks the Canes’ defense took this past half decade; a faulty 3-4 defense and suspect fundamentals, it looks infinitely better than the offense–Manny Diaz running his side of the ball better than the experienced Richt, whose play-calling has come off inconsistent, rusty and pedestrian way too often this season.

INNOVATE OR DIE; THERE IS NO IN-BETWEEN

Another Canes’ site recently offered up a column about Richt sticking to his guns; running the type of system that proved successful at Georgia over the year. Power running back, pro-style offense with the standard, heady drop-back passer and what not.

The piece came off as somewhat defiant and defensive—as well as bleeding-heart; propping up Richt’s success with the Bulldogs over a decade-and-a-half, as if that prevents him from needing to evolve as others are in this modern era of college football.

Looking in the rearview or dealing with those ghosts of Hurricanes’ past; it’s the biggest drawback regarding decades of success at “The U”. Those ghosts and five championship rings loom heavy—as does the swagger, style and brand of football played, as well as the pipeline to the NFL. Present-day Miami will forever compete with teams of yesteryear and the bar will remain high.

This isn’t a time to plant one’s feet, cite past success—neither the Canes or their new coach—and follow an old blueprint in an ever-changing sport. Look across the board at what the top programs are doing; an Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State, et al. It’s 2016, not 1996–or even 2006, for that matter. Look at what’s working elsewhere and attempt to both emulate and improve-upon.

All that aside, Richt does have a secret formula worth bringing from Athens to Coral Gables; his abilities as a recruiter, a way with parents and a true heart for his players that other head coaches at today’s football factories might be lacking.

The stories over the years have been heartwarming, welcomed and are the reason Richt is respected as a man and father figure, as well as a head coach—but don’t for a minute consider him soft or see that as a weakness. Molding young men and is as important as teaching X’s and O’s. Former Canes’ wide receiver and 4-star recruit Sam Bruce learned that the hard way—dismissed by Richt months back for a minor infraction, on top of a few other setbacks that would’ve gone unmentioned elsewhere.

“I want him to handle his business, go to class, go to study hall, go to your tutors, be on time, be prepared, be respectful, do your best in every way you can,” Richt said prior to the final straw. “Go to your treatment, do your rehab, learn what to do when you’re in meetings with your coach, grow up like all of them.”

Bruce was late for rehab regarding a broken leg—which resulted in his time at Miami being over before it began.

FINISH STRONG & SHIFT FOCUS TO A STEP FOWARD NEXT YEAR

The wait-til-next-year rallying cry is a tired one, but for the first time in almost two decades, there’s reason to believe that Miami will pull out of a rut. The Canes’ last two coaches failed miserably in their rebuilding efforts, while the guy before that was handed arguably the best team in the history of the game, before crashing and burning by year six.

Butch Davis was the last Miami head honcho to take a train-wreck situation, change the culture, build depth and coach-up football players, while turning the Canes into a championship-caliber program, again. The first three years were lean, due to probation and the wrong players—but a spark year four, highlighted by a late season upset of second-ranked UCLA.

A year later Miami went 9-4; dropping a heartbreaker to second-ranked Penn State, No. 1 Florida State and second-ranked Virginia Tech; the Noles and Hokies eventually battling it out for the national title. By 2000, the Canes were firmly back.

None of that is meant to compare where Miami was, is or what path Richt should follow to bring the Canes back. It’s simply a reminder that having a capable head coach and proven winner offers up some solace.

All that’s left for this season; the chance to close strong. Beat Duke. Follow up a four-game losing streak with a four-game win streak. Win a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Send the seniors off with a bang and let Richt show his worth in January, locking down any on-the-fence recruits, making from an impressive National Signing Day.

From there, do everything it takes to field a more compete, mature and capable team in 2017—all-around better and another step closer to being a contender.

miami hurricanes football virginia tech hokies atlantic coast conference espn thursday night

It was like walking into a buzzsaw from the get-go. A spirited Thursday night in Blacksburg—coming off back-to-back losses, a four-day turnaround and the already-stretched-thin, defensive casualties piling up. The Canes’ sideline looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than an in-repair team looking for a road win to get back on track. This wasn’t going to end well.

Four hours later, Miami’s showdown at Virginia Tech pretty much followed the script; incompetence on both sides early on before the Hokies began making some plays. As has been the case in weeks’ past, the Canes had a glimmer of hope late—but as always something went awry, killing any hope of a much-needed comeback.

As a result, the bloated and padded 4-0 start has quickly turned into a nightmarish three-game losing streak set to define the season. Even worse, there’s truly no quick-fix to stop the bleeding. Miami must shift into overachiever-mode before things fully unravel.

First-year leader Mark Richt did all those post-game things head coaches try to do when making sense of a loss, but it was a wasted exercise. Taking blame for not having his quarterback ready, not doing enough to protect said guy under center and questioning his overall failed offensive strategy. Richt checked off all coach-speech boxes in the bowels of Lane Stadium—but how will that rhetoric translate in regards to having the Canes game-ready the next five weeks?

The answer to that lies in what Richt is saying behind closed doors, or when assessing the program with his coaches. One has to wonder where his head is truly at almost a year into this career change. Does the former Georgia leader feel his alma mater is in need of a full-blown overhaul, or will he stick with his process and core values, running the Canes like he did the Bulldogs and hoping for success in a weaker conference than the mighty SEC?

For the sake of this piece here, reliving and recapping last week’s 37-16 loss seems a fruitless exercise. What good will come from a dissecting a third consecutive match-up where the Canes proved they’re not a four quarter team capable of consistent success. It started with the late-game fade against a beatable Florida State squad, followed by a took-too-long-to-get-rolling showdown against North Carolina, where the Canes ran out of time.

Five days later, a shot at conference redemption as a win in Blacksburg would’ve provided a ‘hard reset’ that would’ve made it easy to chalk up back-to-back losses as a bump in the road. Instead, Miami’s offense was completely exposed by Virginia Tech—blitz-happy on crucial third downs, beating up quarterback Brad Kaaya all night and shutting down the running game, while the raucous environment rattled Hurricanes in position to make a difference, resulting in untimely mental errors.

A worst-case scenario situation that will unfortunately serve as a blueprint for opposing coaches to completely negate Miami’s offense. The Canes best be on guard.

CANES NOT AS GOOD AS EARLY HYPE; NOT AS INCOMPETENT AS LOSING STREAK

That four-game win-streak, ascension into the Top 10 and favorable defensive stats—judged accordingly by most, based on the level competition. The only ones overblowing the start; a lazy, hype-driven media that spouts a lot of gibberish when attempting to fill four hours of coverage. It’s everywhere these days. Miami is hardly immune to the practice.

Opening weekend the Longhorns outlasted the Fighting Irish in overtime; the game-winning score punctuated with a, “Texas is back!” soundbite. In the weeks since, the Horns have dropped four of their past five, with head coach Charlie Strong firmly planted on the hot seat. Next to him, Notre Dame leader Brian Kelly—whose Irish have lost five of seven after starting the season in the Top 10 and expected to make some noise.

Several preseason faves quickly found themselves shitting the bed. Stanford and Oklahoma two others preseason Top 10’s that have fallen way off. Houston showed promise and unraveled, while solid Top 25 teams like Oregon and Southern Cal have been jumped in the Pac-12; the Ducks winless in conference while Washington, Utah, Washington State and Colorado are the new frontrunners.

The storylines remain a work-in-progress on a weekly basis; yet it doesn’t stop the media for hyping teams and pulling choice information to build a case—yet when a team falls, they’re called “overhyped” by the same media who put them on the pedestal to begin with. Nice process.

An entirely separate piece could be dedicated to irresponsible journalism and a lack of depth, insight and talent by way of changes in today’s industry—but that’s for another time. The point of this rant is to honestly asses the current “State of Miami”, question how these Canes will respond regarding a season that tanked quickly and determine what it will take for a measurable step forward next spring.

That starts with a pull-no-punches approach in discussing these present day Miami Hurricanes; a transparency most covering this team will not offer up as they’re too close to the program; reliant upon players and coaches for quotes and in need of credentials that get them in the building.

Part of the machine and forced to play the game, it results in a watered-down message or standard distraction-tactics—hyping current recruits and next year’s class (putting the focus on a promising future instead of frustrating present), practice reports (guys getting chippy as they’re tired of losing’ always a go-to after a few losses) or quotes from coaches about getting back to basics and Hurricanes-style football (evoking memories of yesteryear when Miami was truly “The U”.)

It’s pointless and instead of setting realistic expectations, winds up creating false hope that leads to frustration.

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UM need more overachievers like Corn Elder; getting it done regardless of depth / talent issues.

HONEST ASSESSMENT, TOUGH LOVE FOR STRUGGLING CANES

All of that noise; it’s to avoid admitting what is painfully obvious—that Miami in its current state is not a good football team and that these Canes remain a far ways off from championship-level style of play. The Hurricanes have essentially been irrelevant for a dozen years now and its going to take some time to flush out the broken culture and negative impact the past few regimes have pushed into the DNA of this program. Three bad-fit coaches over a ten-year span; it gonna take some time to scrub that dirt off.

No doubt the Canes have some standout players and difference-makers—but not enough across the board (or depth-wise) to play the type of consistent football necessary to win divisions and conferences. 0-for-12-and-counting in regards to ACC Championships; it speaks for itself—all these facts making years of irrelevancy easier to comprehend.

Look at other programs across the nation. You know what teams pass the eye test and which ones don’t. Coaching, chemistry, game-planning and execution also required for success—but it’s not a fluke that the nation’s best squads are all loaded with top-flight talent and depth.

Alabama. Clemson. Michigan. Ohio State. Even newer or non-traditional powers like Washington, Louisville and Baylor have the talent to hang with the best. Same to be said for an arch-rival up north; having started their rebuild a decade ago—with a current roster that looks more SEC than ACC.

It’s easy to point to Miami’s one-point loss to Florida State weeks back as a step in the right direction—but it’s the seven-game losing streak the Canes have to the Noles that more indicative of the separation between these two. One program finds ways to win; the other invents ways to lose.

Still not buying it? Make yourself sit through an episode of “A Season With Florida State Football” on Showtime. Not a subscriber? Lucky you, there’s a free episode online. Spoiler alert; the Noles pass the eye test.

Four division crowns, three ACC titles and one national championship the past six seasons under Jimbo Fisher—with a handful of almost-Canes that have been Miami-killers amidst this latest streak. Superior talent, winning out—and when combined with experience and depth, makes you a champion.

Can’t be said for the Canes right now—and so be it. It’s been a shitty decade. Lots of purging in this comeback process. Miami went off course and is finding its way; led for the first time by a former player who at least understands how the program is hard-wired. Long way to go, regardless.

WHERE DO ‘U’ GO FROM HERE…

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Richt has done that. Now figure out a way to get things back on course.

Miami coaches seem aware of what they’re working with and what they want to do; it’s simply been a lack of execution. The Canes had a lot of shots the past three weeks. Instead, a nightmare scenario—three losses in 13 days; a fan base holding its breath to see if another all-too-familiar late season collapse is on deck for November.

The offensive line is a hot mess; struggling in run blocking and and letting Kaaya get killed—though often the result of poorly called, long developing plays destined to fail.

The Canes have to run the football to survive the next five games. There’s no other option and something has to give with this offense. Mark Walton and Joe Yearby are going to have to tough out some more yards and jumpstart this thing.

Kaaya has to then get on board and lead—with receivers holding on to the rock. Too many drops; adding to issues with untimely penalties and lapses in judgement on both sides of the ball. Whatever the issue with this undisciplined style of play; it starts with mental effort and a stronger mind. Like anything of importance with high stakes; it takes tremendous focus.

Smarter football down the stretch; the best way to negate depth issues and any other related roster holes.

Notre Dame is beatable; on the ropes even more so than Miami—2-5 on the season and job security-related stress for a coaching staff four years removed from a title game appearance. What was once a heavyweight title fight and marquee match-up; reduced to a slump-buster —a win providing much-needed, late-season motivation. For the loser; please try again next year.

Two bonus days to plan after playing last Thursday night. Players with extra down time to heal up. Coaches able to dial in and focus on a strategy that will give Miami’s offense the best chance to succeed; while relying on a feast-or-famine defense to make a few big plays, a la Georgia Tech.

Human nature is to fix the problem all at once; and when truly assessing University of Miami football—that simply isn’t an option. It’s going to take time, patience, strategy and three recruiting classes before these Canes resemble anything close to what “The U” was in its heyday; and that’s barring Richt uses the next few years wisely and gets it right. Last two guys had nine years combined and still failed.

Knowing that to be true, set the focus on this week and then worry about the next and the next and the next.

Come with a game plan to beat the Irish. Execute. Buy this program a week of feeling good—and bragging rights over the game’s biggest bunch of elitists. From there, get ready for Pittsburgh. Then Virginia. Then North Carolina State. Then Duke. Then the bowl game. Then closing strong on National Signing Day. Then spring ball. You get the drill.

For four hours on Saturday, may it all come together, Miami. It’s doable—so do it.

October 26, 2016

AN HONEST ASSESSMENT REGARDING THE STILL IN-REPAIR MIAMI HURRICANES

It was like walking into a buzzsaw from the get-go. A spirited Thursday night in Blacksburg—coming off back-to-back losses, a four-day turnaround and the already-stretched-thin, defensive casualties piling up. The Canes’ sideline looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than an in-repair team looking for a road win to get back on track. This wasn’t going […]

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No use in complaining as it’s how the game is played. Plus, who would listen, anyways?

The Miami Hurricanes are back in action—on the road five days after a second-consective heartbreaking loss—taking on Virginia Tech in at Lane Stadium. The Canes’ offense is struggling and even worse, defensive injuries are piling up. Miami will be without a few key defensive lineman (Gerald Willis, Demetrius Jackson and most-likely Chad Thomas) on Thursday night, while defensive back Sheldrick Redwine didn’t make the trek to Blacksburg.

A unit that’s been hanging tough halfway through the season—holding both the Seminoles and Tar Heels to 20 points apiece—will now be relying on youth an inexperience everywhere; not just at linebacker. Even scarier; the Canes’ will arguably need their offensive performance of the season to top the Hokies and avoid a third-consecutive ACC loss.

Narrative-wise, Coastal Division-related chatter continues—some having already stuck a fork in Miami, while others are again beating the drum about winning out and building cases as to how and why remaining foes are beatable. However it plays out, two conference losses down—the Canes will again be in a position of rooting for upsets and praying rivals fail, while needing some mistake-free, inspired football in the process.

CANES & HOKIES ARE THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

October 20th was circled on the calendar when this one was announced; two former Big East rivals who jumped to the Atlantic Coast Conference a dozen years back—having notched some great games in the storied rivalry; many taking place on a Thursday night.

There was also immediate intrigue regarding coaching changes at both programs; Mark Richt taking over at his alma mater, the Canes on their fourth coach in an 11-year span, while Justin Fuente took over a Virginia Tech opening that hadn’t been vacant since Frank Beamer arrived back in 1987.

Both teams enter Thursday’s showdown with identical 4-2 records, though different paths were taken to get from early September to late October. Like the Canes, the Hokies smacked around their fair share of nobodies early on—Liberty, Boston College and East Carolina. Tennessee got the better of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, 45-24—but it was Fuente’s second game and an out of conference match-up, making it easy enough to dismiss.

Also like Miami’s season, the past two weeks proved rather definitive. Where the Canes lost two winnable games to the Seminoles and Tar Heels, Virginia Tech wrecked North Carolina, 34-3 in Chapel Hill, looking tough and somewhat invincible. A week later, an unexpected loss at Syracuse, 31-17.

The Orange racked up 561 total yards—405 through the air—pulling away late with two fourth quarter touchdowns after the Hokies tied things 17-17 with 13:53 remaining. Even more uncharacteristic of the former Beamer-led program; untimely turnovers and some spotty special teams play—a fumble, interception and missed field goal in the loss at ‘Cuse.

The “normal” thing to do for the football enthusiast and passionate fan; dissecting an opponent’s stats and schedule, in effort to come up with a potentially winning formula. Regarding Miami this Thursday night on the road, it seems pretty cut and dry—the offense needs to wake from its slumber and control this game.

Syracuse proved that Virginia Tech is vulnerable; especially in regards to passing defense—meaning it’s time for Canes’ quarterback Brad Kaaya to deliver; as well as Miami’s offensive coaching staff—namely its first-year head coach.

PRESSURE ON RICHT TO GET PLAYCALLING UP TO PAR

Richt is no longer playing the role of CEO—as he did his final several years in Athens—and has assumed play-calling duties at UM. In time that could turn into something special, but as the past two weeks have proven—the veteran coach needs to shake off some rust and dust, proving conservative at times, while just plain boneheaded at others.

Too many third-and-long runs up the gut with the Canes’ smaller running backs proved disastrous the past few weeks. One week, not enough rushing to establish a ground attack. A week later, too much running and no chances taken downfield—despite speedy receivers and a quarterback who can get it there.

Equally as frustrating; an inability to solve inefficiencies with a depth-challenged offensive line. Miami certainly can’t do much about that in-season—but the play-calling can be tailored to get the ball out of Kaaya’s hands quicker; less reliant on long-developing plays that allow for big hits—like the one that caused a late fumble against North Carolina, ending the comeback and sealing their win.

One could dive into match-ups here and a bunch of nonsense keys-to-victory. Kaaya and his Hokies’ counterpart Jarod Evans need to protect the football, a next-man-in mindset has to be in place for both squads, limit the big plays—blah, blah, blah.

For the Canes, it’s less about math and more about emotion, followed by execution.

Inexplicably, Miami didn’t show up for North Carolina last week. Mental mistakes out the gate. No fire, passion or urgency—the Canes limped through the first half, held in there in the third quarter and attempted to rally late, falling short.

Any hopeful Coastal chatter aside, Miami is in must-win territory simply to turn its season around and to get back on track in regards to the rebuild and making year on in the Richt era a success. Notre Dame looms in South Bend next weekend, while November is chock-full of those pitfall-type games that bite the Canes in the ass; Pittsburgh and Duke at home, as well as Virginia and North Carolina State on the road.

A familiar Thursday night showdown at Blacksburg; it’s an opportunity to circle the wagons and potentially turn a season around—while a third loss in as many tries could send this team into a tailspin.

THURSDAY NIGHT IN BLACKSBURG WILL MAKE OR BREAK THESE CANES

Last fall Miami rolled into Durham after a hellish week; their head coach fired after a 58-0 loss to Clemson, the unexpected death of a player’s mother (Dana Smith; mother of former cornerback Artie Burns), Kaaya out with an injury and and interim coach handed the keys to the entire shit-show, being told, “Go figure it out.”

It came down to a bogus late touchdown for Duke, followed by a lateral-fueled kickoff return for Miami—but it was a turning point-type moment for the Canes. A better North Carolina team still prevailed a few weeks later, but wins against Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh propelled the Larry Scott-led squad to a 4-2 finish and 8-4 regular season.

Tonight marks this year’s Duke-type moment for Miami. Must-win territory—not in regards to any Coastal Division nonsense; but simply for the sake of the first-year Richt buy-in and setting a tone for this season’s remaining games.

October 20, 2016

THE U: STYLE OF PLAY, GROWTH & IMPROVEMENT ARE KEY REST OF SEASON

No use in complaining as it’s how the game is played. Plus, who would listen, anyways? The Miami Hurricanes are back in action—on the road five days after a second-consective heartbreaking loss—taking on Virginia Tech in at Lane Stadium. The Canes’ offense is struggling and even worse, defensive injuries are piling up. Miami will be […]

October 17, 2016

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

miami hurricanes football the u north carolina tar heels david nook hard rock stadium mark right atlantic coast conference acc

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.

miami hurricanes football north carolina tar heels acc officials atlantic coast conference bad call
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.

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.

miami hurricanes football the u eddie johnson linebacker dismissed
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

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.

miami hurricanes footbal the u florida state seminoles atlantic coast conference mark richt brad maya
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.

October 9, 2016

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

miami hurricanes football the u florida state seminoles atlantic coast conference mark richt brad kaaya dalvin cook jimbo fisher
The Miami Hurricanes let a 23-7 first half lead slip away last time they faced FSU at home.

Miami and Florida State, set to throw down yet again. Primetime, as usual, with the nation paying attention. The two have often met as top five programs gunning for national titles, but truth be told, even lesser stakes have been know to result in an Instant Classic.

At the turn of the century, the Canes took the power back—beating the Noles six-straight on the heels of an unthinkable five game losing streak, made possible by sanctions and probation in the mid-to-late nineties.

From there, the unthinkable happened—Miami and Florida State simultaneous backslid and became average. A couple of basic-bitches limping their way to 7-6 seasons; Bobby Bowden in the twilight of a lengthy career, while the Canes had a revolving door of not-up-for-the task head coaches in Larry Coker, Randy Shannon and Al Golden.

Jimbo Fisher took the reigns in Tallahassee in 2010—getting a jumpstart on the Noles’ makeover, quickly whipping the one-time power back into shape. The past six seasons; four Atlantic Division titles, three ACC crowns and a national championship, while Miami limp-dicked it with Golden before pulling the plug halfway through last season.

Out of nowhere for the Canes; a perfect storm—Golden’s epic face-plant against Clemson leading to a swift dismissal, coupled with a fat apparel check from adidas and Georgia dumping long-time head coach Mark Richt after a 9-3 regular season. Without any of the three, 2016 isn’t a proper rebuilding year for Miami and the surrounding optimism isn’t at this level.

The result; a 4-0 start—against a few patsies and two good-not-great teams—setting up another annual are-the-Canes-back moment and season-defining showdown. An added bonus; the $400M renovation to the newly-dubbed Hard Rock Stadium, which should look spectacular on ABC under those primetime lights.

THE FIRST STEP BACK TO PROMINENCE; WIN RIVALRY GAMES

Beat Florida State for the first time since 2009 and a ripple effect will be felt throughout college football. The type of moment where today’s recruits and tomorrow’s superstars will remember precisely how it happened and the emotions felt.

Lost in the shuffle of Miami’s comeback narrative; the fact that a solid, talent-heavy and experienced Seminoles squad has been reduced to “spoiler” and underdog, after being the second-ranked team in the nation weeks back.

A monster second-half comeback was needed against Ole Miss in the opener before smacking around Charleston Southern at home.

A week later, Louisville dismantled Florida State. A victory over South Florida ensued, though the Seminoles were definitely lacking an “it” factor. Last weekend, a 54-yard game-winning field goal off the foot of a spirited North Carolina kicker sent the boys from Tallahassee to 3-2 on the year and winless in conference play.

The setback almost dropped Florida State out of the Top 25, while Miami rose to No. 10 and is now a slight favorite entering Saturday’s showdown. All that said, it should also be noted that the Canes have played the 112th toughest schedule-to-date this season, while the Noles have played the third. Would “The U” be undefeated had it taken on Ole Miss and Louisville in September? Hell no.

Still, a much different scenario than anyone pictured a month ago and definitely uncharted territory for the Hurricanes—who have been a perennial underdog in this rivalry for longer than anyone in the orange and green cares to remember.

Lesser Miami teams have managed to do more; the Canes jumping all over the defending national champions in 2014, leading 23-7 late in the first half before falling, 30-26 and dropping three more to close the season, never emotionally bouncing back from the collapse.

BOYS FROM TALLAHASSEE MUCH BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD

Last year, a series of miscues on the Seminoles’ part kept the Canes in the game late—Miami even taking a one-point lead, but unable to stop Dalvin Cook down the stretch. The local product rattled off back-to-back 23-yard runs; the latter proving to be the game-winning score.

Cook smoked Miami for 222 yards and two scores last season. The year prior, only 92 yards on seven carries—41 coming on the Noles’ game-winning drive, Cook punching it in from 26 yards out for Florida State’s first lead of the night.

Cook started his junior season slow, but has picked up steam since—going for 267 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulls and 140 yards with three scores in the loss to the Tar Heels. Back home for his final crack at the Canes just up the way from Miami Central High School; Cook will again come to play.

Difference this time around—a 4-3 defense and more aggressive scheme from first-year coordinator Manny Diaz, opposed to the passive 3-4 approach favor by the former staff. Will that be enough? In short, no.

The key for Miami as Florida State enters this weekend; to prove it’s grown up as a program and it’s ready for the main stage. Even with a win, the Canes aren’t “back”—as that won’t be the case until Coastal Division titles are won, Miami reels in a few more quality classes and actually starts a season in the hunt.

THESE CANES NEED TO ADD A CHAPTER IN THEIR LEGACIES

Undefeated is sure better than two losses by early October, but lest not forget Miami rose to No. 7 three years back—a Top 10 team by default, beating on nobodies—before getting dismantled by top-ranked Florida State, 41-14, en route to the Noles’ winning the national title.

The Canes need to take the next logical step forward; playing to their potential, rising up and overachieving in the moment—opposed to wilting, unraveling and letting in-game setbacks kill their belief in self.

Miami is good enough to take out Florida State this weekend; the Noles a talented, albeit dysfunctional bunch right now seeming to lack leadership and focus. The Canes don’t have to be “better”—they simply need to be better prepared on Saturday night and close.

Year three underway, it’s time for Brad Kaaya to get his signature game. The stats have been there and the junior quarterback has the size, arm strength, character and potential NFL teams will be all over next spring, or the following year—but the California native hasn’t won a big one or led a career-defining comeback-type drive for the highlight reel. It’s time.

On the ground, the Canes lack the bigger-bodied, Cook-type back—but have two hard runners in Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby who have to get those tough yards, move the chains and break off the type of runs that made No. 4 on the other side a legend in this series.

Defensively, more of what Miami has shown the past few weeks—playing above their talent level and finding a way to overcome a depleted secondary, youth at linebacker and a defensive line in need of more playmakers in line with the greats who have suited up for the Canes when the program was a force.

Every journey begins with that first step. The Canes can take a world-class leap on Saturday night by finally getting this Seminoles’ monkey off their back. It’s all there for the taking. It’s simply a matter of Miami finally being ready to take it.

They say big time players step up in big games. Who’s ready to be big time this Saturday night?

 

October 7, 2016

FOR THE MIAMI HURRICANES, THE JOURNEY BACK STARTS WITH SHOWING UP

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