The Miami Hurricanes finally caught a break; not in the form of a gimmicky return, but regarding an opponent dealing with injuries, turning the ball over, the Canes scoring off said turnovers and getting the breaks needed to pull off a convincing win on Senior Day at Sun Life Stadium.
In the end, Miami outlasted Georgia Tech, 38-21—falling behind by a touchdown early, but eventually scoring 31 unanswered as the Yellow Jackets lost their starting quarterback on the opening drive and proceeded to cough the ball up four times, while the Canes were turnover-free.
A sure-fire way to disrupt the triple-option? Send the Rambling Wreck’s quarterback to the sidelines minutes into the action and chase down a true freshman all day in his place.
With Justin Thomas out and Matthew Jordan under center, the Canes had a decided advantage and made it count.
Back-to-back passes from Brad Kaaya to David Njoku and Herb Waters netted 55 yards and set up the two-yard Joe Yearby punch-in, tying the game, 7-7 midway through the first.
After trading punts on the next two drives, Jordan fumbled twice on Georgia Tech’s ensuing possession—knocked loose by Juwon Young and recovered by Jamal Carter. Six plays later Miami was in the end zone, courtesy of a four-yard Mark Walton run; set up by a 46-yard haul-in by Waters.
Another Yellow Jackets’ possession; another disaster for the visiting team. Looking for a big gain on 2nd-and-5, Patrick Skov was stripped by Ufomba Kamalu, who rumbled 45-yards to the goal line, where the ball was knocked loose and recovered in the end zone by Canes’ linebacker Jermaine Grace.
Along the way, Kamalu posterized Jordan in almost cartoonish fashion; the 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman with a super-sized stiff-arm for the young option quarterback.
Up 21-7 with 18-seconds remaining in the half, good fortunate continued to smile on the Canes as Micheal Badgley bent-in a 57-yard field goal—Miami stuffing Georgia Tech’s offense the previous drive, wisely using it’s time outs and playing with nothing to lose; working on to tack on another score, opposed to conservatively kneeling-out the clock.
Carter pulled down an errant Jordan pass on the opening drive of the third quarter, returning it 48 yards, though a personal foul on Corn Elder shaved off 15 yards. Elder made up for it with a pick on the next drive, hauling down a halfback option pass—courtesy of glove-wearing receiver Brad Stewart in the driving rain.
Five Walton-fueled plays in a row, gave the Canes another score—the freshman back tearing off runs of 17- and 12-yards, before taking a dump-off pass 25 yards for a touchdown on 2nd-and-23.
Georgia Tech picked up two late touchdowns, while Miami tacked on one more for good measure—mostly running Walton, with Kaaya finding Christopher Herndon for a 46-yard reception on 1st-and-15, where he rumbled to the two-yard line, leaving Walton minimal work for a pile-it-on score.
FOOTBALL GODS THROW MIAMI A DESERVED BONE
In role reversal fashion, it was Georgia Tech with the suspect offensive line play, while Miami’s group was serviceable. Yearby and Walton carried a combine 24 times for 83 yards and three touchdowns, while Kaaya had a 300-yard, one touchdown passing day, completing 16-of-25 attempts.
The Canes had 386 yards to the Yellow Jackets’ 373 and nine penalties (for 76 yards) to Georgia Tech playing clean as normal with one five-yard penalty. While knee-jerk reaction will have some claiming a Miami bias; the Canes led the nation with 96 penalties coming into this week, while the Rambling Wreck made a third as many mistakes all season.
Late season, meaningless conference win aside—in the grand scheme of divisional supremacy—to Miami’s credit, the Canes didn’t mail it in as they have in years passed.
Last Saturday’s 59-21 beat down at Chapel Hill and reports of heads slung low in practice all week—it wasn’t looking optimum for Miami with two games to play. In a similar situation last year, the Canes lost to two sub-par teams in Virginia and Pittsburgh after blowing a lead against undefeated Florida State.
All that said, the football gods certainly smiled down on Miami this past weekend, while flipping the bird at Georgia Tech by way of losing a veteran quarterback—in a system that relies on an experienced conductor under center—while led to a turnover disaster when a freshman was handed the keys to a quirky Yellow Jacket’s offense.
Thomas won’t soon be confused with an NFL pro bowler at the position, but the redshirt junior adds another dimension to the offense with his passing ability and Jordan simply couldn’t do that—nor could his replacement, Stewart.
Bounces going one’s way sure help with psyche—thankfully for Miami, as it certainly didn’t get any home field advantage. In typical misdirection form, the announced attendance got a boost—as did actually fans-in-seats—by way of university employees afforded the opportunity to purchase game tickets for $1 a piece.
FAN SUPPORT BOTTOMS OUT; CANES NEED TO WIN BIG AGAIN
However one tries to beef up the stats, it was another sea of turquoise as Hurricanes seniors ran out of the smoke one final time—capping off a home season where they survived a sub par Nebraska team, hung in there against a lesser Virginia Tech squad, took the worst beating in program’s history via Clemson, topped a then-three-win Virginia program, as well as this week’s depressing finale atmosphere-wise—a rain-soaked ghost-town.
From the season-opening rout against Bethune-Cookman, to this weekend’s finale against Georgia Tech—it was a piss-poor showing for a program that’s embedded in a losing culture, with more talk about flying banners, on-campus stadiums and bickering over head coaches, than actual present-day football.
Miami will take the field Friday at high-noon at Heinz Field, looking for a win against a solid eight-win Pittsburgh team, whose only losses have come at the hands of Iowa, North Carolina and Notre Dame.
Toss in a high of 65 and low of 45 for this week’s road game, as well as a gritty opponent and the Canes should have their hands full against the Panthers this weekend—though the difference between 8-4 and 7-5 seems like the least of Miami’s concerns as November draws to a close.
WIN OR LOSE OUT; COACHING HIRE WILL BE HUGE VICTORY
One month since Al Golden was sent packing, the rumor mill continues churning for the Hurricanes.
Butch Davis remains a fan-favorite, as well as former players—though Mario Cristobal continues earning mention, mostly due to Alabama ties, recruiting success and other intangibles being laid out as positives, despite behind-the-scenes chatter about the former Canes’ tight end being controlling and process-driven in a way that on paper sounds a lot like the guy Miami just got rid of.
Texas’ Charlie Strong was the coach de jour several days this past week; analysts dissecting his irritation-driven comments about being mentioned for the Miami opening, as well as insider talk that the Longhorns could still part ways with Strong—who will need to knock off Texas Tech and Baylor down the stretch, simply to reach six wins and bowl eligibility.
While Strong’s second-year rebuilding project might excuse losses to Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Texas Christian—how does one rectify knocking off a good Oklahoma team, only to get knock off, 24-0 by a below-average Iowa State squad?
Any future for Strong with the Canes will more-likely be dictated by Texas’ actions opposed to Miami’s. Do the Longhorns want to part ways with their second-year coach? Does Strong want out of a job that he might deem a bad fit? Can “The U” find a way to influence the process if it does indeed covet the one-time Florida defensive coordinator with strong Sunshine State ties?
With Strong most-likely untouchable and the new Cristobal-to-Rutgers rumors floating around, what options does it truly leave for Miami? Logic dictates that flavor-of-the-year guys like Houston’s Tom Herman or Memphis’ Justin Fuente will be courted by more-traditional college programs—the likes of South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Missouri or even Southern California.
Even if Miami tries to match the money, there’s still the x-factor of a private school in a large, diverse, metropolitan city, versus that big-fish-in-a-little-pond, small-time college town environment that so many coaches prefer for raising families and going to work every day.
Are Herman or Fuente cut out for that South Beach lifestyle and hard-to-win-over fan base that pulls for the Canes? Tough to tell.
With Miami enlisting search firm Korn Ferry to assist in the vetting out process and so many unknowns in the process, it remains wait-and-see mode for U-faithful.
Davis has been unofficially referred to as a fall-back type candidate; either by strategy or stubbornness. With Miami scoop all over the map regarding swing-for-the-fences hires, or coaches with Canes ties—most of which are from Davis’ coaching tree—it’s all setting up for a big time hire, regardless.
“The U” will either get the A- or B-lister it’s looking for search-committee-wise; or it will fall backwards into one who righted the ship two decades back.
A win isn’t most-likely with Pittsburgh on the horizon and Miami hasn’t won a bowl game since 2006. Regardless, the Hurricanes are going to nab a post-season victory in the coming weeks when a candidate steps forward, ready to take this once-dominant program back to greatness.