Seven weeks of success completely undone with back-to-back face plants. 1,066 yards and 83 points surrendered, while a No. 7 ranking plummeted to No. 24. Even scarier—the fact that Miami has lost it’s mojo, as well as a few offensive superstars.
The Hurricanes were knocked as overrated, having snuck into the Top 10 weeks back—a result of winning while others lost, jumpstarted by an early upset of then-No. 12 Florida. In hindsight it really was a case of overachieving.
Atlantic Coast Conference play kicked off weeks back and while Miami was the favorite to win the Coastal Division, it’s played like anything but. Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest all jumped on the Hurricanes early, though Miami scrapped its way to victory.
Since then, Florida State flexed its muscle, obliterated Miami and a week later, Virginia Tech’s discipline were the difference-maker in a game that will most-likely decide the division.
November 9th was circled on Miami’s calendar. The road to the Coastal Division title always runs through Virginia Tech and the Hokies have had the Hurricanes number for years. This was a pivotal moment where Miami needed to brings its best, but managed to beat itself consistently.
Stacy Coley got the Hurricanes on the board early, masterful in cutting through the Hokies’ defense for an 83-yard touchdown.
One possession later Coley coughed up a punt return midfield and Virginia Tech quickly tied the game. Seconds later Artie Burns fumbled the kickoff return midfield and the Hokies’ offense was back in action.
Early in second quarter, punter Pat O’Donnell inadvertently touched his knee to the ground when fielding a snap, giving Virginia Tech the ball on the Miami 13-yard line.
Three plays later, the Hurricanes were in a 21-7 hole. Two quarters later, 42-24 was in the books.
“We didn’t deserve to win,” head coach Al Golden said. “We didn’t protect the ball, a low snap, three big blunders to start the game, and as I just said to them, don’t let anyone say we weren’t ready, we weren’t focused. If everyone is blocking who they’re supposed to be and we return it 50 yards, we’re ready to play. We fumbled the ball. We had a good scheme and we fumbled the ball. We score early on a screen, we’re ready to play. Just really disappointing. It’s impossible to overcome those odds.”
To Golden’s point, yes it is generally impossible to overcome such mistakes, but it begs the question, why is Miami so damn sloppy two-thirds of the way through the season?
Losing to Florida State was forgivable. The Seminoles appear headed to the national championship game and are a few years ahead of the Hurricanes in their rebuild. Chalk up the lopsided loss and move on.
Virginia Tech was beatable. Sure, the Hokies are fundamentally sound and boast a good defense, but how do the Hurricanes explain surrendering 549 yards of total offense? Furthermore, how did Miami again let Logan Thomas look all-world when his success was the ultimate key to a Virginia Tech win?
Thomas finished 25-of-31 for 366 yards, two touchdowns and most-impressive, zero interceptions after tossing six over the past two weeks. The Hurricanes’ defense again made a struggling quarterback look like the nation’s best, as Thomas made play after play
The Hokies were 8-of-14 on third down conversions and owned the time of possession battle, 39:30 to 20:30.
Thomas’ signature moment came on a 3rd-and-17, one play after Denzel Perryman sacked the senior. Miami’s defense brought pressure, but didn’t account for a wide open Willie Byrn, who hauled in he pass and jetted 48 yards before Ladarius Gunter forced the fumble.
The ball was recovered by Demitri Knowles in the end zone and the Hokies were up 35-17—a fitting ending to a familiar and disastrous play.
Again Miami was faced with a signature-win type moment and stepped back instead of up. The Hurricanes’ goal this season was to reach Charlotte and play for an ACC Championship. Last night four quarters were all that stood in the way.
Virginia Tech was on the ropes, having recently fallen to Duke and Boston College. Miami was playing for injured players and for the big moment, looking to move past the brutal loss to Florida State. The Canes got the quick start that had been missing the past few weeks, but in an instant handed the game back to the Hokies on a platter—three times.
For Miami to win the Coastal it must beat Duke, Virginia and Pitt, while hoping that Virginia Tech falls to Maryland or Virginia. From the coveted driver’s seat, to praying the race leader has a last lap blowout.
There’s been so much talk about character regarding this Miami team, but in season-defining moments, the Hurricanes remain unable to get it together. Why?
WQAM’s Jon Linder took to Twitter and paraphrased Golden in the post-game press conference, saying that the head coach is frustrated that kids are saying and doing the right things all week in practice, but come game day they fall apart.
Is this team mentally shot? Too young? Too soft? Poorly coached? Talent not properly utilized? All of the above? None of the above?
Whatever it is, it needs to be identified and solved immediately as Miami must continue taking proper steps forward. 7-0 simply can’t become 9-3 or 8-4 and limping into the post-season. Not with all the positivity that surrounded the Hurricanes the past few months—a wonderful combination of on-the-field wins, as well as the victory of the year in surviving the NCAA’s wrath.
Two losses have been absorbed and season goals have died over the past two games. Miami isn’t anywhere near where it wants to be nationally and even more frustrating, is still a few steps behind in conference, as well.
Star players have been injured, others aren’t playing up to par and all remaining foes absolutely have what it takes to knock the Hurricanes off.
How does Miami respond? How do these coaches right the ship when it’s painfully obvious that kids aren’t bringing practice know-how to game day?
Coming off of 6-6 and 7-5, the Hurricanes weren’t supposed to go next-level this season. It was easy to get caught up in the rankings and hype, but how much had really changed since last season?
Miami’s defense was 116th out of 120 teams last fall. Improvement was definitely expected, but not miracles. Over half of next year’s class are made of up defensive players and an emphasis is being put on defensive line, which has been a weak link for years. Help is certainly on the way, but what happens between now and then?
That’s for Golden to figure out, obviously. The man with the 300-page binder needs to dig deep and find some answers to some tough questions. Is the issue talent alone, or is something getting lost in the translation? Does Miami have the right coaches in place, or do things need to be tinkered as three years in, the clock is officially ticking?
Much of that must be saved for the off-season as three games remain. Next up, Duke. From there, Virginia. Last up, Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes need to play for 10-2 and settle for no less than 9-3.
Neither are optimum after 7-0, but realistically both are a step up from 7-5, which was the biggest goal this year.