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.