In a world where everyone was expecting to be knee-deep in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, another type of “March Madness” has become all the rage—self-quarantining in effort to flatten the ol’ curve, while hoping to get the Coronavirus under control.
Making this new bizarro world existence even creepier; the fact we’re all forced to take on this down time without the welcomed distraction of live sports. Everything has been cancelled, or postponed indefinitely—making an already strange situation, even stranger.
While nothing can replace the unknown outcome and theatre-like aspect of live competition—it’d be foolish to ignore the treasure trove of old content in existence, as well as the fact we all have more than enough time on our hands to dive back into some classic moments.
Where we’re all prone to pulling up YouTube for a condensed highlight clip and endorphin rush that comes from reliving a classic moment—when was the last time most of us dove into some classic sports footage and watched events in their entirety?
While our normal day-to-day arguably prevents us from spending four hours taking in a full game from a few decades back—this temporary down time is ripe for the experience.
While the Miami Hurricanes haven’t given fans much to boast about over the past decade, or so—no one had a better run in the 80’s, early 90’s or early 00’s. Thanks to some heroes out there who’ve taken the time to convert old footage, while uploading to the Intrawebs—we all can experience and relive some classic Canes moments.
Because live sports and new seasons are the usual, we don’t generally take the time to relive past moments in full—unlike iconic movies, classic books or beloved albums.
While most things related to COVID-19 are a nightmare and inconvenience, the lack of any live sports might not be the worst thing ever—if using the hiatus to deep dive some feel-good history. Below, a list of our Top 15 Miami Hurricanes (football) games to relive during the shut-in.
Disclaimer; we stuck to past history under the assumption that the newer stuff is still too fresh in the brain. Yes, watching Miami kick the ass off of Notre Dame back in 2017 was a epic night at Hard Rock—but less than three years old, we wanted to delve back into games that most haven’t watched in their entirety in almost two decades—so on that note, let’s dive into some vintage Canes.
(Click on the date in each entry to be taken to YouTube for the full version of each Canes’ game.)
#15 — Miami at Boston College (11/10/01) — The Canes rolled into Chestnut Hill undefeated (7-0) and looking for the program’s first national championship in a decade; and history didn’t disappoint as Boston College again proved to be a tough out at home, despite Miami being the best program in the nation.
Everyone remembers the ending; the Eagles driving late as the Canes clung to a 12-10 lead—off of four field goals due to a brutal, four-interception outing by Ken Dorsey. A late fumble by freshman Frank Gore—subbing in for workhorse Clinton Portis—on a 4th-and-4 was just the spark Boston College needed to come alive; 70 yards standing in the way of dethroning the best team in the nation; less if settling for a game-winning field goal.
When Eagles’ quarterback Brian St. Pierre hit Dedrick Dewalt for a stretched-out 21-yard pick-up on 4th-and-10—Canes fans felt the gut punch and legitimately saw a Rose Bowl-intended season slipping away.
The moment was short-lived as the football gods had their say and St. Pierre’s next slant went off the knee of safety Mike Rumph (who jumped the route), into the hands of defensive end Matt Walters, who was stripped by his own man—Ed Reed—who scampered 80 yards for a score, before Alumni Stadium knew what hit it. Final score, 18-7 and a relived Hurricanes bunch.
Were there better games in 2001? Absolutely. One could easily jump into the Canes first win in Tallahassee since 1991, or a home pasting of Washington as payback for wrecking a perfect season in 2000 and a most-likely a national championship—but there’s something about watching this Boston College scare in its entirety all these years later, knowing the outcome.
It was the Canes biggest scare of the season and the only time Miami really looked mortal—Dorsey struggling on a windy, dreary day in the northeast—and almost pissing away a title shot.
#14 — Miami versus Louisville (10/14/04) — A Thursday night game in an eventual 9-3 season where the Canes had lost some luster from their dominant ways a few years earlier. (Translation; Larry Coker wasn’t recruiting and developing talent like this predecessor Butch Davis, and it showed.)
No. 4 Miami survived and overtime season-opener against Florida State and took care of Louisiana Tech, Houston and Georgia Tech the next three weeks before offensive-minded, No. 20 Louisville and head coach Bobby Petrino headed south.
The Canes’ defense took a step back by this point; greats like Jon Vilma, D.J. Williams, Sean Taylor and Vince Wilfork all departing for the NFL months prior—putting Miami in a position where it’d have to score points and win some shootouts to prevail; something that started on this ESPN Thursday night broadcast.
Brock Berlin hit tight end Greg Olsen in the back of the end zone to strike first midway through the first quarter—but went ice cold after that, falling into a 24-7 halftime hole—while Louisville danced, whooped it up and gave Miami a dose of its own excessive celebration-type medicine.
The Canes opened the second half with a touchdown, while the Cards answered and put Miami back in a 17-point hole. Another score and two field goals pulled the Canes within four with 8:27 remaining—the entire Orange Bowl on pins and needles as Devin Hester was set to field a punt … which he sliced and diced his way through traffic 78 yards for the score, giving Miami it’s first lead of the night.
Par for the course, the Canes’ defense gave up a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive—Brian Brohm in for starter Stefan LeFors—going ahead, 38-34 with 4:17 remaining.
As he was prone to do in his two-year career as starter, Berlin led Miami on a game-winning drive—picking up 26 yards with a 3rd-and-10 strike to Lance Leggett and converting a 4th-and-4 with a five-yard strike to Darnell Jenkins inside the ten-yard line. Gore would punch it in from a yard out—like he did in the earlier comeback against Florida State, as well as a 2003 thriller when hosting Florida.
Brohm got Louisville mid-field before Antrel Rolle hauled in an interception on 3rd-and-10 to seal it, 41-38.
The following week Miami would give up 31 points and 440 yards in a win at North Carolina State—but the defensive struggles would do the Canes a week after that, falling to a a 3-4 North Carolina squad as the No. 3 team in the nation.
The hangover continued as Miami fell to Clemson at home in overtime a week later and ended the regular season with a home stumble to Virginia Tech, with an ACC title and Sugar Bowl berth on the line. The Canes wound up with a crack at Florida in the Peach Bowl and routed the Gators, 27-10—but the true highlight of the 2004 season was that thrilling comeback against Louisville—a hell of a game to watch start to finish.
(Bonus footage; shaky, pre-iPhone camera footage that I shot of Hester’s return against the Cards, which incredibly has over 100K views on YouTube.)
#13 — Miami versus Penn State (10/31/81 -or- 10/12/91 -or- 10/10/92) — All three showdowns against Penn State were epic in their own right; speedy Miami facing off against a bruising Big Ten powerhouse.
In between the early 80’s meeting and two early 90’s showdown—heartbreak as the top-ranked Hurricanes pissed away a shot at the 1986 national championship; Heisman-winning quarterback Vinny Testaverde coughing up five interceptions in the Fiesta Bowl, en route to a 14-10 upset.
The 1981 victory was special in that it was year three of the Howard Schnellenberger era—the take down of the No. 1 Nittany Lions a building-block moment for a head coach who promised a year five national title and ultimately delivered.
Jim Kelly was under center for the Canes; a junior that had upset No. 19 Penn State in 1979 as a freshman—and ready to lead Miami to victory two years later with more on the line. Miami jumped out to a 17-0 lead, let it slip away in the fourth quarter, but held on to win 17-14 when Fred Marion intercepted an overthrown Todd Blackledge pass with just over a minute remaining.
The 1991 home showdown was a key early-season win, with No.2 Miami hanging in for a 26-20 win over No. 9 Penn State. The Nittany Lions were driving late, before Darryl Spencer intercepted Tony Sacca on fourth down—much like Marion a decade prior— with just over a minute remaining.
Lots of on-brand, big-play Canes action in this one—an 80-yard touchdown from Horace Copeland and a 91-yard punt return from Kevin Williams—both of which helped Miami survive an 11-penalty, 124-yard setback.
As for the 1992 match-up; amplified even more as it was a road game against the No. 7 team in the nation one week after surviving No. 3 Florida State at home (“Wide Right II”). ABC commentator Keith Jackson said, at the time, that the back-to-back test for Miami the toughest two-game stretch he’d seen in all his years of calling games—the Canes hanging on in both.
A low-scoring affair with Miami ahead 10-7 in the third quarter; Sacca, under pressure from Jessie Armstead, attempted a screen pass that was picked off by Darren Krein and returned for a score.
Sacca pulled the Nittany Lions to three, but Miami held on for the 17-14 win—Penn State with a dead ball personal foul on a punt return in the final minutes—a potential game-winning drive starting from the shadows of their goal post with no timeouts.
Another desperation pass by a Penn State was pulled out of the sky by a Miami defender—this time, Paul White—as the Canes held on for the win.
#12 — Miami versus Texas (1/1/91 — Cotton Bowl) — This wouldn’t be considered a great football game by any on the planet, outside of a University of Miami fan.
Again, another one of those contests that has been talked about over the years because of how it played out—but probably not one that most have sat down and viewed in its entirety in a long while.
Miami felt like it was the best team in the nation by the end of 1990, but had no one to blame but itself for two regular season losses that kept the Hurricanes out of any title game chatter.
In the end, Colorado won the AP and Georgia Tech was tops in the Coaches Poll—the Buffaloes hanging in there for a 10-9 Orange Bowl win over No. 5 Notre Dame, capping off an 11-1-1 season, while the Yellow Jackets finished 11-0-1 with a Citrus Bowl win over No. 19 Nebraska.
Meanwhile, No. 4 Miami took on a one-loss No. 3 Texas team (who fell to Colorado, 29-22 early in the year); the Canes taking a 9-2 record into bowl season, having lost a season opener at BYU, behind eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer—as well as a late-October loss at No. 6 Notre Dame, 29-20.
The Canes closed with five regular season wins–as well as and early season win over No. 2 Florida State—that kept Miami in the Top 5, but on the outside looking in any way the bowl games played out. Knowing that, the Canes took all their frustration out on the Longhorns and a very bias, pro-Texas crowd and bowl week experience—starting with the opening kickoff where Robert Bailey said he was going to knock out the returner, and did.
Miami took a 19-3 lead into halftime, but blew things open in the third quarter—linebacker Darrin Smith with a 34-yard interception return for score, followed by a 48-yard strike from Craig Erickson to Randal Hill, which led to an infamous end zone tunnel, six-shooter dance as the Canes went up 33-3.
Leonard Conley tore off a late 26-yard run early in the fourth, putting the Canes up, 46-3—in a game where Miami set both a Cotton Bowl and school record with 15 penalties (for 202 yards), most of which were for unsportsmanlike conduct. As a result, the NCAA cracked down on excessive celebration—“The Miami Rule”—that off-season, resulting in the now-common 15-yard penalty, should a player even think about having fun after a big play.
#11 — Miami versus Alabama (1/1/90 — Sugar Bowl) — One of two national championships Miami captured on the road, instead of the home confines of the Orange Bowl—the other being the 2002 Rose Bowl and the Hurricanes’ last title.
Also a cool throwback to an era where a national title wasn’t usually a No. 1 versus No. 2 match-up.
No. 2 Miami took on No. 7 Alabama in New Orleans, while No. 4 Notre Dame played No. 1 Colorado in Miami—the Hurricanes learning during their game with the Crimson Tide that the Fighting Irish had knocked off the undefeated Buffaloes, 21-6 in the Orange Bowl—meaning that UM would claim it’s third national title in seven seasons with a Sugar Bowl victory. (No. 3 Michigan, also in the conversation—was promptly removed after a 17-10 loss to No. 12 Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.)
Stephen McGuire got Miami on the board late in the first quarter, giving the Canes a 7-0 lead—but Alabama quickly responded and tied things up. Erickson found Wesley Carroll for an 18-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive, followed by a Crimson Tide field goal. Alex Johnson punched in a late second quarter touchdown, pushing the Canes’ lead to 20-10, but a Bama score just before the half pulled them to within three.
The third quarter was quiet, outside of an 11-yard Rob Chudzinski touchdown—and Miami looked to put things out of reach with a Randy Bethel 12-yard haul in early fourth—the Canes lead extended to, 33-17.
Alabama went down swinging, finally getting on the board in the second half with a late touchdown and two-point conversion with 2:53 remaining—but Johnson hauled in a well-placed onside kick—allowing the Hurricanes to run out the clock for a 33-25 win.
Notre Dame was a one-loss squad that knocked off No. 1 Colorado—but that loss was a 27-10 beat down at the hands of No. 7 Miami at the Orange Bowl, ending the regular season; the Canes’ lone loss, late October in Tallahassee with Erickson sidelined due to injury and true freshman Gino Torretta under center for the 24-10 upset.
In the end, Miami was the unanimous No. 1—followed by Notre Dame, Florida State, Colorado and Tennessee.
No mincing words; year one was a complete and utter disaster for Manny Diaz at the University of Miami—on every level. It’s impossible to sugarcoat anything about a losing season; especially the fashion and manner in which the Hurricanes reinvented ways to the shit the bed.
Thrice losing as a two-touchdown favorite; the first time this embarrassing feat had been accomplished in a season in almost four decades—as well as the who, why and how regarding a three-game skid to end the season; Miami shown-up by a cross-town commuter college, a basketball school and the third-best football team in the Bayou State.
It was a worst-case scenario that quickly became a reality—on the heels of the Canes seemingly turning the corner with a late comeback at Pittsburgh, a convincing win in Tallahassee and a Senior Day rout of Louisville.
Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”—and unfortunately for Diaz, he’d been spittin’ chiclets since his catching that 0-2 uppercut that launched his inaugural season. The result; rock bottom. Deja vu all over again, yet different as this program has been punch-drunk for way too long.
None of this what anyone prepared for year one after last year’s Transfer Portal heist, an Alabama assistant taking over an anemic offense, Diaz’s swag-a-licious social media game—as well as that whole yacht-to-a-booster-event thing—but let’s be honest; that’s on the buyer’s naivete, not the salesman’s pitch.
WHO’S THE FOOL WHEN FOOLISHLY BUYING FOOL’S GOLD?
Anyone delusional enough to call for 12-0 last fall—as well as expecting to roll Florida in the opener, while begging for a crack at Clemson and treating the Coastal like it was a gimme—those rubes deserve everything they got last fall, and then some.
Diaz was Miami’s fifth hire in 14 seasons; taking over a program 16 years into it’s move to the ACC, with nothing more than one lowly divisional title, after being poached from the Big East to bring more football cred to the basketball conference.
Those stuck in yesteryear can bitch-moan-and-complain about the expectation level; it doesn’t change the fact these Hurricanes are 97-71 dating back to that Peach Bowl ass-kicking—40-3—courtesy of LSU back in 2005, and a 35-3 massacre in the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl. It was a Brooklyn-beatdown so bad, veteran head coach Mark Richt called it a career within 24 hours of Wisconsin owning Miami a second post-season in a row.
Richt survived a decade in the SEC, dealing with pent-up Georgia fans itching for their first championship since 1980; yet not one title game appearance—yet three seasons in that Coral Gables meat-grinder; an instantaneous decision that retirement sounded more optimum than a fourth go-around at rebuilding The U.
ALL THESE RECENT MOVES, NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP
One year in Diaz just might’ve gotten the worst out of the way—courtesy of the type of humiliating debut that forces fast change. Even the most-stubborn leader couldn’t double-down on what he just witnessed out the gate; his hand immediately forced.
When one can officially get past the Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech debacles—it’s easier to fall into that blessing-in-disguise place, as the past six weeks Diaz has been aces with literally every move he’s made; all made possible by the horrific nature in how year one played out.
Going back to the final week of last December, the following has occurred for Miami, just after that post-season shutout in Shreveport was in the books:
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos was “relieved of his duties”; the news leaking before the the bowl game even kicked off. 9-4 and winning out arguably would’ve staved off that execution, but it’d have been a ruse of a season, as Enos was off-brand and not wired for the Miami job from the get-go. This had to be done and it was; the former Alabama assistant not even lasting a full calendar year at UM.
A byproduct of this move also sent offensive line coach Butch Barry packing, as well—Barry with ties to Enos from their Central Michigan days, and equally as useless, as the only thing worse than Miami’s quarterbacks room in 2019 was anything having to do with an offensive line looked as terrible in December as it did late August.
Any preconceived notions about what Diaz thought Miami’s offense could and should look like; shattered by Enos’ incompetence—to the point where the spread offense was finally welcomed at UM and a guy with a strong acumen for running it was hired in SMU’s Rhett Lashlee.
Losing seasons don’t often produce great hires, but Diaz appears to have landed a good one in Lashlee; whose stock went up even more the moment his presence helped Miami reel in Houston quarterback D’Eriq King as a one-year transfer—far and away the top Portal quarterback option this cycle.
In an off-season where it was reported the Hurricanes’ three gunslingers got lost in a THC-induced fog—the entire dynamic was flipped on its ear when UM landed King; to the point last year’s starter Jarren Williams bolted for the Portal, while N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell quietly became afterthoughts; No. 5 most-likely the back-up, while No. 18 will probably move to wide receiver for good.
While the mere mention of Martell will prompt chatter about Diaz’s off-season efforts in 2019 not yielding the intended efforts—if one is deluded to the point they see the move as nothing more than just “bringing on another quarterback”—opposed to the difference between an inexperienced kid with potential, versus a bonafide Heisman candidate; again, there’s no fixing stupid.
Hardly a stretch if one were to say Miami literally lost three games last season by way of the kicking game—Florida, North Carolina and Georgia Tech fast come to mind—leaving the name Bubba Baxa painfully carved into UM folklore; payback for all those years of trashing FSU kickers.
In a welcomed twist of fate, the same Jose Borregales who played a part in FIU upsetting Miami—he’s now a Hurricane and an immediate upgrade to one of UM’s most-troubled positions.Toss in the addition of Temple defensive end Quincy Roche as an immediate starter, as well as last year’s west coast transfers—Jaelan Phillips and Bubba Bolden—this Canes’ defense is primed to be a feisty bunch come fall.
Lots of early-year chatter about Alonzo Highsmith returning to his alma mater; a name that sounded ideal out the gate, but less feasible when picturing a 54-year old with eight years of NFL experience, working towards a GM-type role—taking a step back into an assistant athletic director-type position which has become en vogue in college football, as the head coaching position has become a bigger beast.
The knee-jerk go-to—present company included; a dig that neither Diaz or Miami’s admin wanted an alpha-type dog in the position. The notion was quickly dispelled when former safety Ed Reed was brought home in a Chief of Staff role.
The most-jaded were quick to call the Reed hire a PR move; funny, as this same contingent roasts UM for “not caring about football”. If the latter is true, why bother with making moves to appease the fan base—and when has Miami’s athletic department ever proven PR-savvy?
Fact remains, Reed is as much an alpha as Highsmith—and the the Hall of Fame safety wouldn’t have returned to his alma mater for a fluff role.
Yes, the 41-year old will answer to Diaz, per the org chart, but Reed already has a finger on the pulse—much like Highsmith did when discussing UM—especially in regards to the ongoing theme of a broken culture.
“It’s not a complicated thing,” Reed shared soon after his hiring. “These kids just have to humble themselves … The problem is the people they are surrounding themselves with are the people who are giving them the glory when they haven’t done anything … It’s about being with your teammates and having that accountability. I am not telling you not have fun, because we did have a lot if fun—but we did it together.”
Regarding the job itself, Reed will serve in an advisory role to Diaz—involved in strategic planning, quality control, operations, player evaluations and their development—as well as team building, student-athlete mentorship and recruiting, “as permissible under NCAA rules”.
It will take a few years to truly measure the effects of the Reed hire and the overall impact it has on the program, but in an era where lots of college football programs are adding a position like this—it’s hard to have anything negative to say about the return of an all-time Hurricanes great, as well as the de facto head coach of the 2001 national champs.
Wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield was poached by Penn State weeks back, which no one seemed to care about, as Miami’s wide receiving corps was a mixed bag in 2019 under the first-year position coach.The departure proved to be addition by subtraction for the Hurricanes when Diaz replaced him with veteran Rob Likens; last seen as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator—but with a strong resume across the board.
Likens pent seven years under Sonny Dykes; a proponent of the Air Raid offense, which fits the mold regarding the staff Diaz wanted to hire with this move to the spread.
Last, but hardly least—a National Signing Day surprise with the last-minute addition of 4-Star safety Avantae Williams to the 2020 class. Williams was a former Canes verbal commit a ways back and appeared to be a full-blown Gators lock, before a change of heart and arguably one of the biggest surprises that first Wednesday of February.
Williams was ultimately the highest-ranked player of the class; the top safety in the nation, according to some—and the move itself vaulted Miami from the 18th-ranked class, to 13th—as well as second-best in the ACC, only behind Clemson.The Canes also benefitted from a coaching change at Washington State, nabbing wide receiver Keyshawn Smith late in the process, after Mike Leach left the Cougars for Mississippi State—as well as picking up cornerback Isaiah Dunson days before NSD.
Combined with the addition of the top running backs in Dade and Broward County—Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton, respectively—as well as Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback, Jalen Rivers on the offensive line and a defensive line trio including Chantz Williams, Quentin Williams and Elijah Roberts—it was a hell of a haul, considering 6-7 and the way Miami faded down the stretch.
SIX WEEKS OF CHANGE; THE REMEDY?
When taking full stock in the past month and a half, it’s impossible to not praise the efforts of Diaz and the moves that have been made. Things felt beyond dismal as 2019 came to a close—to the point where most already had an understandable stick-a-fork-in-2020 approach to year two and were counting the minutes until the newbie head coach would be fired.
Instead, a handful of moves that not only can breathe life into this stagnant program—but can serve as a true jumpstart that turns things around rather quickly.
The work still has to be done—and yes, there were some off-season moves made this time last year that didn’t translate to wins in fall—but again, even on-paper, the upgrades were nowhere near as impressive as this latest haul.
Also in Diaz’s and Miami’s favor; the softest schedule the Hurricanes have seen in a good while—unlike 2021, where the Hurricanes open the season against Alabama. This coming season, the opposite as Miami starts off against Temple, Wagner and University of Alabama-Birmingham—all at home.
WEAK 2020 SCHEDULE COMES AT IDEAL TIME
The first road trip takes place late September when Miami heads to East Lansing to take on a Michigan State program that’s been in a downward spiral for years—and just experienced head coaching change, which should play to the Hurricanes’ favor.
Pittsburgh at home, at Wake Forest a few days later and then North Carolina in Miami—a much easier out than facing the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The Canes head to Virginia on Halloween; Charlottesville always a tough spot—but without Bryce Perkins under center, the Cavaliers are also in rebuild-mode on some level.
Florida State treks south early November, Miami heads to Virginia Tech the following week and close the regular season with a road trip to Georgia Tech, before taking on Duke in the home finale.
Hardly a Murder’s Row schedule for the Hurricanes—and one that affords some early breathing room for King, Lashlee, Justice and a revamped offensive line to get their footing—opposed to opening with a Florida (2019) or LSU (2018), getting tagged in the nose and struggling to regain composure.
September is a lifetime away and the next measuring stick for the Hurricanes will be spring football, where the goal is for Greentree to continue morphing back into that place that breeds competition and brings out the best in Miami kids.
From there, summertime—when coaches are hands-off, but players must take on a leadership role and guys need to self-motivate out of nothing more than a desire to be the best—which is what championship programs do.
FIND IDENTITY; EMULATE OTHERS WHO GET IT DONE
A prime example; Clemson players adopted an in-season, team-wide social media hiatus years back—and it remains in place as the Tigers continue chasing titles. Meanwhile, Miami has literally had to discipline players for social media conduct and has to many me-first guys posting individual moments of glory to the platforms from games the Hurricanes lost as a team.
Clemson is now 101-12 since adopting this player-driven social media policy—”We don’t have time to be on social media, to be honest—so it’s no big deal,” senior defensive end Austin Bryant shared a week prior to the 2018 season, where the Tigers went 15-0 and won the national title—so safe to say, it has merit.
Champions don’t become champions overnight, nor are high-caliber coaches all winners out the gate; Dabo Swinney having his struggles early on in Clemson, before finding his footing, creating his team’s identity and becoming the top-tier guy today.
The road to success is always paved with failures; but it’s those setback moments where growth occurs. Diaz and his Canes certainly stumbled out the gate—but many of those potholes got smoothed over this off-season, giving reason for optimism in 2020 and a logical, legitimate step forward year two for Miami’s homegrown head coach.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
The only connection Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow has to the Miami Hurricanes is a pedestrian, 140-yard, zero-touchdown outing in the 2018 season-opener—the then-junior’s first outing with the Tigers—where the newbie game-managed his way through the outing and did enough for LSU to take down UM in convincing fashion, 33-17.
Just over two-dozen games later, Burrow took home the most-coveted individual trophy in college sports and has his undefeated Tigers atop the College Football Playoff rankings—one game from leading LSU to their first national championship season since 2007, on the heels of a record-setting, eight-touchdown performance in a rout of No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, 63-28.
Whether the Tigers win it all this year, or not, The Burrow Effect and a 24-3 run behind the former Ohio State transfer proved undeniable. LSU won an SEC Championship, removed the Alabama monkey off its back and dominated Georgia in the conference title game—none of which would’ve been possible without the level of stability, maturity and leadership provided by a next-level quarterback.
In what now feels like a lifetime ago, Miami earned the moniker Quarterback U—as a handful of gunslingers helped lead the Hurricanes to five national championships, while a couple picked up their own Heisman Trophies along the way.
FROM ‘QUARTERBACK U’ TO ‘QUARTERBACK WHO?’
Incredibly, a position that was once a strength for The U, has since become arguably the weakest link—as Miami hasn’t fielded a next-level quarterback, since Heisman contender Ken Dorsey was hauled down in the backfield on 4th-and-Goal in double overtime and Ohio State stole a national championship 17 long seasons ago.
Brock Berlin was serviceable over the next two seasons, but since then an undistinguished list of never-was guys who didn’t live up to the hype.
Kyle Wright rolled in a next-big-thing 5-Star from California, only to land at Miami while the program was circling down the drain. Four offensive coordinators later, the Wright era didn’t live up to the hype. From there, things didn’t get much better—and at times, proved even worse.
Kirby Freeman, Robert Marve, Jacory Harris, Stephen Morris, Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier—all in part responsible for that 97-71 run the Hurricanes endured from the 2005 Peach Bowl through the 2018 Pinstripe last December. Miami has won the lowly Coastal Division once in 16 tries and to date is still yet to win an ACC Championship, despite being brought in to give the prestigious basketball conference a little bit more football street-cred.
Manny Diaz replaced Mark Richt this time last year, but the result wasn’t much difference—Diaz stumbling to 6-7 his inaugural season, on the heels of Richt going 7-6 before an abrupt retirement, days after Wisconsin laid a 35-3 beatdown on the offense-less Canes at Yankees Stadium. Whatever magic Richt tapped into after that 10-0 start in 2017; it quickly faded as the long-time Georgia head coach finished his short stint at Miami 7-9 from that point on.
Much like Richt, Diaz was also answer-less at quarterback—giving r-freshman Jarren Williams the nod in fall, only to wind up in a game of musical quarterback much like Richt had with Rosier and N’Kosi Perry in 2018. Perry again came off the benched and had a few bright moments, but ultimately backslid and regressed—opposed to taking firm hold of a wide-open opportunity—while Williams looked as lost down the stretch against Florida International and Duke, as he did earlier in the year against the likes of Florida and Virginia Tech.
Tate Martell rolled south from Columbus with his fair share of hype; an undefeated-in-high-school, Las Vegas-bred, phenom-type who played a back-up role at Ohio State, before transferring to Miami early this year.
Where many were drawn to Martell’s inherent *swag* when he showed up on campus in spring—fact remains, he couldn’t beat out the likes of Williams or Perry, slipped to third on the depth chart, had a failed position switch attempt (to wide receiver), before returning to quarterback and taking two personal leaves from the team over the final month of the season—for what appeared to be relationship-related drama with an insta-famous model girlfriend playing a part in driving a wedge between Martell and his family.
Despite all those off-the-field woes for Martell, the third-stringer was desperately tossed in for an seven-play series during Miami’s lackluster showing in the Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech—where the Hurricanes were blanked, 14-0 and yet again embarrassed on a national stage—dropping it’s final three games of the season to vastly inferior competition.
Any who beat the Martell drum, citing his high school resume or limited garbage-time highlights from his Ohio State season—saw nothing more than an undersized mobile quarterback, running for his life—with almost no attempt to look downfield or to move the ball through the air.
Martell’s lone completion—a seven-yarder on third-and-short—looked about as crisp if he’d have thrown it with his left hand. On the ensuing 3rd-and-13, Martell was sacked—in what could most-likely be his only-ever appearance under center for the Hurricanes.
Williams was a useless 9-of-20 on the day, throwing for 94 yards and an interception—while Perry, inserted later than he should’ve been, based on Williams’ lack of production, was 5-of-13 for 52 yards and a pick.
Meanwhile 250 miles southeast of Shreveport, Burrow remains the king of Baton Rouge—a kid who single-handedly changed LSU’s narrative under journeyman head coach Ed Orgeron, through his drive, belief and next-level maturity that Miami’s three quarterbacks combined, can’t hold a candle to.
NEXT-LEVEL QUARTERBACKS TRANSFORMED LSU & WSU
For those who haven’t watched Burrow’s seven-minute speech at the Downtown Athletic Club, it’s worth investing a couple of minues—especially for Miami fans who have been duped over the years into thinking the Hurricanes have found their next great quarterback.
Aside from Burrow proving to be a quality, level-headed kid and a textbook picture of redemption—his success and Heisman-worthy season serve as a harsh reminder how far off track Miami will remain, until it finds a true leader under center.
Burrow showed up in Columbus in summer of 2015, a 3-Star prospect out of Athens, Ohio—wearing Mickey Mouse t-shirts, SpongeBob pajama pants and usually had a green tongue, due to a penchant for caramel apple lollipops.
Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer rode Burrow, telling him he belonged in Division III football—while teammates took to calling him “John”, as quarterback J.T. Barrett cornered the market on the name “Joe”. Godforbid Burrow mustered up the courage to speak up in a team meeting, quarterback Cardale Jones was always quick to cut him off:
“Hey John, shut the f**k up.”
What looked like an overnight sensation type story, in reality was a “four- or five-year process”, according to Burrow—three years of working his ass off at Ohio State, while never taking a meaningful snap—but eventually earning the respect of the coaches and staff for standing in the pocket, taking hits in practice, continuing to develop and never changing his overall demeanor.
“Adversity is a key component in building the component in building the kind of players to success the next level,” Burrow shared earlier this season. “I’m forever grateful I went through that adversity.”
Compare that to short-lived news out of Coral Gables this time last year that Williams was planning to transfer from Miami over a lack of playing time as a true freshman, while Perry found himself in hot water twice months earlier in regards to social media stupidity and distractions. These issues, as well as Martell’s rocky journey these past few weeks—and it’s no wonder why Miami’s quarterback woes have had a ripple effect through the entire offense.
Where an unfavorable quarterback situation can make a bad situation worse—the right guy at the right time can literally change everything. Look no further to the 2018 season and how things played out in Pullman, Washington when Mike Leach hijacked the plans of Gardner Minshew; the East Carolina transfer seemingly headed to Alabama in a back-up role, hoping to glean some knowledge under the tutelage of Nick Saban before entering the world of coaching with his playing days in the rearview.
Instead, Minshew dove head first into learning the Air-Raid offense—studying with Hal Mumme; one of the architects of Leach’s preferred scheme—arriving in Pullman over the summer and earning the starting job in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, after the graduation of long-time starter Luke Falk, as well as the unexpected suicide of Tyler Hilinski weeks after the Cougars closed out the 2017 with a 9-4 record.
After starting his career as a walk-on, spending the following year at a junior college and briefly losing his starting job at ECU—Minshew received an offer that ultimately shaped his path.
“Do you want to be a back-up at Alabama, or lead the nation in passing,” Leach asked in that now-famed phone call. “We’re going to lead the nation in passing one way, or another.”
The Minshew Effect took over Pullman last fall; from the fake mustaches worn by fans during that magical season, to teammates elevating their overall level of play, as their one-year quarterback option was a tour de force.
“He had a tremendous impact on our team. He’s a tremendously competitive player,” Leach told The Seattle Times after the Cougars fell to rival Washington in a snow-plagued Apple Cup. “He’s had a bigger impact on our team than any other player has had on their team. And he did it in a short period of time, which was even more impressive.”
Lest any think Leach was exaggerating with his praise of Minshew, look no further than this year’s version of Washington State—a 6-7 thud of a season, with Anthony Gordon under center, while Minshew miraculously played his way into a starting role with the Jacksonville Jaguars, having been taken in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft.
After losing a 67-63 shootout to UCLA earlier in the year, followed by a 38-13 beating at Utah a week later—Leach unloaded on his Minshew-less squad in his post-game presser after the Cougs were boat-raced by the Utes.
“We’re a very soft team,” Leach shared. “We get a lot of good press. We like to read it a lot. We like to pat ourselves on the back and if we get any resistance, we fold.” The Cougs’ seventh-year head coach also called his players, “fat, dumb, happy and entitled” in the same rant.
Like Minshew a year before him, Burrow will take his talents to the NFL come spring—expected to be an early first-round pick—and while the Tigers won’t soon slip to sub-.500 like the Cougars in 2019, LSU will most-definitely feel the after effects of losing a player and leader of Burrow’s caliber.
Where one great player at a key position can elevate and entire team, program and fan base—the lack of that type of game-changer can breed a a deadly culture cocktail of entitlement, immaturity and self-absorption; as the individual paths remain more important than team goals.
THE U: STILL IRRELEVANT AND IT’S OWN WORST ENEMY
Miami’s lack of maturity and broken-culture problems run deep, though some frustrated with losing ways try to pawn off all culture-related chatter as a Diaz excuse—ignoring the validity of the sentiment and long-running nature of this cancer.
Aside from the lack of a stable, mature, team-leading quarterback—the Hurricanes continue taking hits in regards to not-ready-for-prime-time players leaving early for the NFL, instead of heeding sound advice putting in one more year at UM to up their stock.
The latest to bail early are troubled wide receiver Jeff Thomas and defensive end Jon Garvin—both of which had average seasons, at best—leaving Diaz to play the role of coach, mentor and advisor, which apparently fell on deaf ears.
“We are not convincing them to stay,” Diaz said. “We have all the date, so we let the data talk. We show them all the slots of money that is guaranteed. When does the guaranteed money start to really dip? It is between rounds two and three and certainly after the first 100 picks—it really plateaus. You show them what it all amounts to.”
Thomas returned to Miami this off-season, after a late-season suspension in 2018—not seeing eye-to-eye with Richt and staff—and appearing to be headed for Illinois, before Diaz and the talented junior-to-be hashed things out and the speedster returned for what ultimately was a disappointing second chance.
Thomas had 31 receptions for 379 yards in 2019, with three touchdowns—and again found himself suspended a second consecutive season, missing games against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. Over that span he also saw his special teams role going to Buffalo transfer K.J. Osborn, who out-worked Thomas since arriving on campus earlier this year.
Garvin expected to have a breakout season with Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson departing at the end of last year, but wound up taking a step backwards—37 total tackles in 2019, compared to 60 in 2018—yet still felt that forgoing his senior year was in his best interest.
Even worse, the fact that so many of these current Hurricanes aren’t learning from recent mistakes made by former teammates.
Two years back, RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton were two players that would’ve benefitted from a return in 2018—yet both bailed out, even after sitting down with coaches and experts who gave them a realistic outlook on where the would both go in the upcoming draft. The day both announced, Richt had a “good feeling” both heard his message and expected the two defenders to return.
“That was the goal of the meeting, to give them the most information possible and the most NFL information as possible and talk about how the Draft works and how second contracts work. Talk about what it is like to leave with a degree and to be a leader on the team,” Richt shared on the Joe Rose Show, days after losing to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
Richt also hoped that Miami’s 10-3 season, a modicum of next-level success and the Hurricanes almost reaching the College Football Playoffs would have an impact on both.
“I think we smelled the Playoffs and didn’t get there, but I think that is something every young man would like to experience in college.”
Instead, both took to social media with an air of over-confidence and entitlement—ignoring the advice of coaches and Draft experts, stating that both felt ready for the next level, despite evidence to the contrary.
“I think it’s the best decision for me,” wrote McIntosh in his post. “I love being a Hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step.” Norton echoed the same sentiment hours later with his declaration. “I love being a Hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step in realizing my dreams of being an NFL football player.”
Despite what both “felt”, McIntosh was ultimately taken in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, while Norton slipped all the way to the seventh round. A year, Jackson also left prematurely and was a fifth round pick—which is where some experts expect Garvin to go.
DIAZ MUST (RE)BUILD CULTURE WHERE PLAYERS STAY
Players leaving college early to chase NFL dreams is hardly an epidemic proprietary to Miami—but one would be hard-pressed to find a program besides the Hurricanes that has dealt with as many cautionary tales as of late; guys told to their faces they’d be day-three picks, at best—each to man with an, “I hear what you’re saying, but still think I’m ready” approach, underscoring these culture- and entitlement-related issues.
Entering 2001, Miami saw then-head coach Butch Davis push safety Ed Reed and left tackle Bryant McKinnie to return for their senior seasons—knowing the Hurricanes were knocking on the door of a national championship. Despite both being sure-fire, first round talent—Reed and McKinnie retuned, helped UM earn that fifth ring and both were first rounders in spring of 2002.
Clemson saw something similar in 2018 when defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant returned for their senior seasons—a bitter taste in their mouths after getting knocked out of the 2017 Playoffs as a one-seed, but getting revenge against Alabama upon their return, rolling the Crimson Tide, 44-16, capping off a 15-0 season.
Miami could’ve retuned every would-be senior the past couple of years and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things—as all aforementioned examples were well-oiled machines, much like LSU this season—with next-level quarterback play like Burrow has on display; Ken Dorsey the guy for the Hurricanes in 2001, while Trevor Lawrence burst onto the scene last fall and became the first true freshman quarterback to win a national championship since 1985.
Still, next-level talent aside—part of the culture change that needs to take place in Coral Gables remains directly tied to players showing more maturity and unity, with less entitlement and self-absorption running rampantly through the program.
Guys like a Burrow, Dorsey or Lawrence don’t grow on trees—but success breeds success and winners want to be around winners. Somewhere along the way, the Miami Hurricanes lost their way and started confusing faux swag with deep-rooted passion and desire.
For those caught in that negative loop, bringing The U down one loss at a time—may the path, drive, humility and appreciation if this newest Heisman Trophy winner inspire the next wave of potential Miami greats, who want to be the foundation of a rebuild and will die trying to get this Hurricanes’ program back on the map.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
If the Hurricanes played the Blue Devils in late November, getting outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter and falling 27-17—and no one was there to see it—did it even really happen? (Unfortunately, yes—it did.)
For any willing to waste their time seeking out the *why* or *how* of that disastrous outing—just re-read anything written about Miami’s disturbing loss to Florida International the week prior, as it’s all the same nonsense. The Canes again showed up flat, played down to the level of competition and fell to an inferior opponent that it should’ve run out of the stadium—followed by some coach speak about how this type of sub-par football needs correcting.
Rinse, wash, repeat—as the misery continues.
All of this failure obviously falls on first-year, first-time head coach Manny Diaz—who went through the ringer this fall, by way of an up and down season that couldn’t have ended with a bigger, uglier thud than what was on display these final two weeks—getting embarrassed by a commuter college and basketball school, no less.
Diaz seems to have somewhat diagnosed the Hurricanes’ problems—breaking down and identifying things in his sadder-by-the-week post-game pressers—but has made zero headway in correcting any of these glaring issues. Miami managed to show up flat in all three post-bye week games this fall, as well as Duke—despite Diaz inexplicably praising his team’s “effort” in shell-shocked fashion in the bowels of Wallace Wade Stadium last Saturday evening; after stating post-FIU that the Hurricanes were fortunate to have the game against the Blue Devils to right the ship.
Miami has also fallen thrice this season as double-digit favorites; something that hasn’t happened in college football in over four decades; UM’s 15-year decent into irrelevance reaching yet another low. Nice work, fellas.
INABILITY TO RESPOND TO ADVERSITY REACHES NEW LOW
This program felt like it was at least starting to turn a corner with earlier wins at Pittsburgh and Florida State—as well as that rout of Louisville and solid offensive performance in the home regular-season finale. The Hurricanes handled three average opponents, with a chance to close strong by way of a five-game win streak—something that could’ve at least taken a little bit of the sting off of early-season losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
Instead, by Diaz’s own admission, his players viewed that three-game win-streak as some back-on-track accomplishment—allowing the Canes to drop their guard and mailing it in for their two final showings.
Call it what it is; Miami thought a lackadaisical effort was more than enough against a Florida International squad it felt it could out-talent—and even in the wake of that loss, still didn’t roll into Duke pissed off; bringing that same low energy against a team ripe for a knockout blow, riding a five-game losing streak into their home finale.
“That effort was about pride,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said post game. “I watched our defensive front literally twist, scratch, claw, anything they could to rush that quarterback. I watched our offense never say die.”
The Blue Devils hadn’t won a football game since October 12th (when they beat lowly Georgia Tech by 18 points) yet were still able to muster up the balls and heart to close strong against the Hurricanes—even with a post-season berth off the table as a 5-7 team.
Meanwhile, the bad taste from FIU and what Diaz called one of the darkest night’s in UM’s history—on the hallowed grounds where the Orange Bowl once stood, no less—still wasn’t enough for Miami to show the college football world it could bounce back from sheer embarrassment.
If that ain’t a culture and entitlement problem, then what the hell is?
Unfortunately, Miami’s issues run deeper than most care to admit; a perception problem that should force Diaz, his staff and his players to take a long and hard look in the mirror this off-season—as should many in this fan base who refuse to admit the degree to which the college football landscape has changed; inexplicably feeling the Hurricanes should remain the consistently dominant force it was decades back, yet nothing tangible or logical to back that sentiment up.
QUIT COMPARING PRESENT TO PAST CANES’ GLORY
Weeks back, I deep-dove the $200M investment the University of Georgia made into it’s football program—the majority of it coming from alumni donations, that will never be a reality at a small, private school like the University of Miami—with a fan base made up of mostly non-alum that don’t write checks—but will donate towards flying angst-fueled banners or putting up disgruntled billboards, treating UM more like a pro sports franchise than one’s beloved alma mater.
Fact remains, the Canes gamed the system decades back—bringing a level of speed and athleticism to the sport, before others had caught up or college football became the big time, big money machine it is today; one where UM is still looking for consistency and a way to compete, built on some unique traits and those few benefits that come from it’s storied history and premium location.
Another ingredient that always made the University of Miami special during its Decade Of Dominance era was that combination of authenticity and full accountability—guys who took pride in building the foundation, up through those who would do everything in their power to maintain that level of excellence; not wanting to be the class that let streaks die, or ones who let down the legends who played before them.
The iconic Alonzo Highsmith—an integral part of the Hurricanes becoming a national power in the first place, and one of the first local greats to stay home to play for Miami—defined swagger back in spring as the following:
“Swag is watching Michael Irvin running routes, wearing a 30-pound weight vest after practice, in like 100-percent humidity. Swag is running hills at Tropical Park are you’ve done all your work with the strength coaches. It’s the whole team showing up tor un in combat boots on the beach. That’s swag. It’s never missing a practice. It’s practicing like every day is your last day. You don’t get swag because of a haircut—or because you pound your chest because someone said you were a 5-Star. Swag is something that is earned. You don’t just give it to somebody.”
Diaz, a student of Hurricanes football—45 years old, growing up in The U‘s heyday and seeing this all the dominance and authentic swag first-hand—knows the difference between a facsimile and the real thing; and there’s little genuine about this present-day Miami program.
While there are a handful of players talking the talk and backing it up, there are still too many pretenders; guys more concerned with sharing personal highlight moments on social media, in games where the Hurricanes were flat-out embarrassed—the same type of guys dancing on the sidelines, like the attention whores they are, instead of doubling down their efforts and being disgusted with this level of mediocrity.
Practicing like every day like is your last day? How many reports were there this fall about bad sessions or guys being checked out after some early losses? Swag earned—when guys are rocking sideline hardware and posing for cameras, while their counterparts are going three-and-out, or letting an opposing offense answer with a score?
While UM was a truly dominant force for a full decade all those years ago—that condensed period between 1986 and 1992 saw this program go an unprecedented 78-6—winning three national championships (1987, 1989, 1991), leaving two on the field (1986, 1992) and having another opportunity stolen (1988). Even that rare two-loss season (1990)—no one doubted that the Canes were the nation’s best by year’s end; simply pissing away a title shot with a season-opening road loss—before rolling into bowl season ranked No. 4, demolishing the third-ranked team in the nation and racking up over 200+ yards in celebration penalties, putting their own personal “F**k you” stamp on what was considered a “disappointing” season.
TODAY’S CANES LACKING ESSENCE OF PAST GREATS
Anytime the Hurricanes did stumble back in that era; the response was to always bounce back in dominant fashion—the setback used as fuel, as the old adage held strong; the last team anyone in the country wanted to play was a pissed off Miami squad, on the heels of a loss.
Contrast that to what the Hurricanes have become over the past decade-plus; a mid-tier ACC program that was 97-71 from the embarrassing 2005 Peach Bowl loss, through that 35-3 curb-stomping Wisconsin dropped in the 2018 Pinstripe. Even that lucky-bounce 10-0 start in 2017 was followed by a 7-9 before Diaz was handed the keys after Mark Richt prematurely retired; Richt guilty of two four-game losing streaks over his three seasons in Coral Gables.
In a few bright moments in 2019, Miami showed it could bounce back; responding to the Virginia Tech loss with a takedown of Virginia (fueled as much by the Cavaliers’ red zone incompetence as the Canes’ improved defense)—as well as a hang-tough, grind-it-out win at Pittsburgh days after falling at home to a one-win Georgia Tech squad (the Panthers also with their own red zone woes, though the Canes’ defense certainly proved resilient.)
Still, the bad outweighed the good and any progress went to hell in a handbag when getting out-worked at Duke in pride-less fashion, days after being throughly embarrassed by FIU—both of which immediately put Diaz back at square one and reeling, while waiting to hear what third-tier bowl game Miami will have to try and muster up some excitement for. [Editors Note: As of Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes are officially headed to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA to take on Louisiana Tech on December 26th.]
The only “positive” about 6-6 and heading to a garbage bowl; it leaves Diaz nowhere to hide going into 2020—something already being expressed an unnamed, longtime Board of Trustees member and another “high ranking executive involved in UM’s administration”—as reported by the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson days back.
While no one is forcing Diaz out the door after 6-6, a line in the dirt was drawn regarding where things go from here—expected as UM remains desperate to stop the bleeding in regards to this long-running era of irrelevance.
“Manny better straighten out this mess,” shared the trustee. “He better figure it out, but they’re not getting rid of him after one year”—which in reality, is fair considering how long-running this UM football backslide has been.
DIAZ: ROCK BOTTOM WITH TWO-GAME LOSING STREAK
Had the Canes closed out with a very-doable, five-game win-streak—it would’ve allowed the first-year leader to shape a positive narrative and to sweep some glaring weaknesses under the rug; taking up an 8-4 finish after a 3-4 start, and some proverbial corner turned—one that could’ve led to an Orange Bowl berth.
Instead, those “everything is under review” or “under investigation” comments Diaz made in reference to his team getting embarrassed by FIU—he has no choice by to turn that same scrutiny toward himself and every decision he made since taking over 11 months back.
It’s impossible for Diaz to speak of a “culture problem” or “brokenness” within his program, without admitting what he’s personally done to feed into the underserved cockiness—based on what this program was decades back, or what he hopes it can someday be again—while conveniently ignoring 15 years of mediocrity and pushing an incomplete narrative that things can turn quickly; which seems to be a go-to motivator.
Diaz admits his team has an “inherent arrogance” around it—again, based on this program’s past success, as well a bar that’s been set as a result of the glory years—but quickly followed up with examples of other program’s bottom-out moments and their ascension back to the top, with no tangible explanation of the work, growth or execution that happened in-between to make the rise possible.
Back in spring, it was the example of Miami beating Notre Dame soundly in 2017—derailing their entire season—only to watch the Irish reach the College Football Playoffs the following fall, where they fell to eventual-defending champs, Clemson and finished their season 12-1.
Post-FIU, again, in the wake of an unthinkable loss by Miami standards—Diaz chose this moment to draw a comparison to a front-runner capable of winning it all this season.
“Two years ago, Troy went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU, who right now is the number one team in the country. Things can change, but it needs to change. It has to start with myself and the coaching. We have to do a lot better job of coaching our guys.”
The mere mention of these Hurricanes in the same breath as 2019 LSU or 2018 Notre Dame is completely irresponsible and as amateurish as any early-season talk about a then four-loss Miami team being “a handful of plays away from being undefeated”—as some way to soften the blow of a brutal start to the Diaz era.
As the old saying goes, Manolo—if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle. Enough with the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve rhetoric.
For a head coach so caught up in the analytics, statistics and metrics of this sport—there seems to be a huge disconnect when it comes to language and understanding the important science and psychology of words. Concepts like “if” or “should” can be dangerous when used to justify or explain how close one was to achieving the ultimate goal—only to fall short—yet Diaz leaned on both months back, with a half-assed explanation of what should’ve been expected out of his Hurricanes this fall.
“If we get our team competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set, we should be in the mix to go to Charlotte [home of the ACC Championship] every year, starting this year,” Diaz shared at the ACC Kickoff media event back in July.
That statement is as empty and pointless as saying that if Miami scored more points than everyone on their schedule this fall, the should win the national championship.
CANES A CONSTANT DISAPPOINTMENT SINCE JOINING ACC
As Miami’s fifth head coach over the past 14 seasons—not to mention, a Canes history buff well aware that UM has never won an ACC Championship and only has one Coastal Division title in 16 tries—Diaz should be painfully aware that this program hasn’t been “competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set” since the team Butch Davis left behind in the early 2000’s faded away under Larry Coker.
Sure, based on where things were 16 years ago, Miami theoretically should’ve been in the mix to go to Charlotte every year since the championship game was introduced in 2005—hence why the Hurricanes were invited into the ACC to begin with; to help bring more football prestige to a basketball conference—yet over a decade-and-a-half on board, that hasn’t happened.
Diaz called out his team’s “arrogance” after falling to FIU, explaining that, “Our blind spot is where there is an expectation to win.” The shell-shocked coach continued, putting his foot in his mouth, before quickly working to clarifying his official point regarding a standard:
“When things get good around here—and a three-game winning streak shouldn’t be ‘good’—but even that, when the sun does come out here, I think our team picks up on the natural arrogance that we have.”
Outside of it being Diaz’s job to counter that arrogant attitude and to have his team ready for “lesser” competition—he should be working daily and situationally to squash out this undeserved, unwarranted entitlement too many in this program possess.
Instead, the Miami-bred leader fuels it with his own actions—yet can’t understand why there’s a deep-rooted problem with his players. Hindsight is always 20/20, but after stumbling to 6-6 and losing so many games this fall in epic fail fashion—Diaz must now own every move up to this point and learn from them as they get dissected.
It’s easy to be brash when undefeated in spring; a fan base again rallying behind the hope a new coach brings—quickly over Richt after three short years, as the former Georgia head coach ran out of gas quickly after taking over his alma mater—fielding one of the blandest offenses in the history of Hurricanes football.
Diaz was brash out the gate and quintessential Miami; rolling into a booster event on an 88-foot yacht, while delivering a witty Twitter game. There was even that WWE-style, lights and smoke-filled practice event where the new coach was out there with his players, tackling dummies that had “7-6” scrawled across the front—some seemingly cathartic exorcizing of demons and shedding skin, while going into a new era—all of which now ring extremely hollow as the product on the field didn’t deliver and things looked as off as the did a year ago.
DIAZ’S OWN ARROGANCE FUELING UM’S BROKEN CULTURE
Diaz also set and a culture that feeds into players’ arrogance when, for lack of a better term, he allowed the inmates to run the asylum. Troubled wide receiver Jeff Thomas was given a second chance this year, after a late season suspension in 2018, followed by him ultimately leaving the program for Illinois—only to return after Diaz replaced Richt.
Had Thomas thrived upon his return, the move wouldn’t have been questions—the same way Diaz’s pre-season antics would’ve been seen as fresh and inspiring, had the Hurricanes put together a 10-2 type of season and won the Coastal.
Instead, Thomas underachieved, underperformed and found himself suspended for multiple games a second consecutive season—as well as reportedly getting called out in a heated team meeting months back, for being selfish, lazy and ultimately being a detriment to his team—relying on his natural talent and being good, instead of working his ass off to be great.
Transfer quarterback Tate Martell is another personnel-related position that is feeding into this soft-ass culture, where Diaz needs to be taking a harder stance against accountability. Aside from not finding a way to inject the talented prospected into a sluggish offense—there have been two, separate leaves-of-absence over the span of a month for the former Ohio State quarterback the Hurricanes pulled from the Transfer Portal.
While one must be delicate in regards to the realities and hardships of mental health these days, it’s impossible to ignore the narrative social media is painting—one showing Martell as a young guy who might’ve out-kicked his coverage a bit in the dating world, by way of an attention-starved Instagram model (one with 875K followers) and a fun-fueled South Beach-type existence—to a point where football appears secondary and the relationship has caused strife with his own family; by way of a mother taking to Twitter to trash the girlfriend in a public forum.
There are always three sides to every story—yours, mine and the truth—but it’s hard not to feel Diaz sold a little bit of his soul this fall in regards to preferential treatment given to both Thomas and Martell; hoping the receiver and special teams speedster could be a difference-maker, while seemingly hanging in there with the fan-favorite quarterback, as the premise of him transferring out and doing well elsewhere would never get lived down.
Instead, a worst-case scenario as Diaz missed a legitimate opportunity to put his foot down, taking steps towards breaking this culture of entitlement—again, identifying a problem, but unable to fix it—while neither Thomas or Martell had positive impact on a Hurricanes’ team that could’ve easily stumbled to 6-6 without either of them.
While Miami was getting its teeth kicked in by Florida International and Duke, Martell wasn’t with the team—which didn’t sit well with a few vocal UM greats and past national champions—Brett Romberg and Joaquin Gonzalez—who had a little social media back-and-forth on the subject.
“How many ‘mental days’ do you remember anyone getting? Then appearing in photos smiling and enjoying Thanksgiving holidays with your girlfriend and buddies while you’re teammates are getting throttled on TV for the second week in a row,” Romberg shared with Gonzalez—which prompted the following response from his fellow big-ugly:
“6-6, que mierda—and we are still accommodating people like Tate Martell.’When he is ready, we will be here’ [a reaction to Diaz explanation of the situation]—you kidding me? That s**t would not have gone down back in the day, you are either here or you are not!!”
Even the phrase, The New Miami—which was obviously meant as a long-term goal for what Diaz wants this program to grow into; it was poorly explained and executed—while Diaz played up #TNM on social media with recruits.
Meanwhile, fans chose to ignore 15 years of deep-rooted issues at Miami; coaching turnover, average performances on the field and no tangible steps taken over that span to get UM back on a better trajectory—running with the newly-coined marketing term as some insta-fix; immediately expecting a new attitude and energy on display this fall—some going as far as to call for a 12-0 run, a season-opening victory over Florida, another Coastal Division title and belief (by the truly overzealous) that Miami would be ready for a crack at Clemson.
Cocaine is a hell of a drug, y’all.
Yes, the hope is to get Miami to a place where it’s a consistent divisional favorite—but some tough-guy expectation and talk of some forever-ago standard that hasn’t been upheld since the turn of the century? Especially when this fourth new head coach since 2007 was taking over a program 7-9 since that miracle 10-0 start in 2017, en route to that lone Coastal Division title, before getting rolled by Clemson in the ACC Championship?
CHANGES MUST BE MADE IN 2020; INNOVATE OR DIE
The Current Miami doesn’t need to be reminded of what it’s capable of when it plays at its highest level; it needs to be constantly brought back down to earth regarding how far removed this program has been from that type of success—housebroken like an unruly dog, with it’s nose rubbed in shit until it gets the message.
Each new generation of Hurricanes must create their own legacy and can’t ride the coattails of what other greats have done in years passed—creating said legacy getting harder each passing year Miami doesn’t find its footing and stays irrelevant.
To Diaz’s credit, he and his staff have spent this past week pounding the recruiting trail and looking to lock down the next great generation of Hurricanes—each next class providing hope that they will eventually be the group who started the turnaround.
The early signing period is days out, with National Signing Day under two months away—and while nothing matters until the ink is dry—the getting has been good and UM has picked up some solid commitments from kids who look like future ballers, even the wake of this late-season stumble.
With a new wave Hurricanes set to get on board in 2020, no better time for Diaz to do a hard reset—rethinking the rookie mistakes he made in 2019—while also revisiting his 2017 brainchild, which obviously needs tweaking.
Where the Turnover Chain was a game-changer for Miami—and college football as a whole, two seasons ago—it’s become a distraction as the Hurricanes have stumbled to a troubling 13-15 record since that fast 2017 start.
The beloved Cuban link was a motivational tool it’s inaugural season—the Canes jumping from 67th nationally in turnovers forced in 2016, to 13th in the nation in 2017—but it’s literally become a participation trophy in 2019; players rushing to the sideline to don the hardware and mug for cameras, while an inconsistent offense retakes in the field in a game Miami is en route to losing.
Per the aforementioned Herald piece by Jackson, the jewelry isn’t sitting well with the way it is currently on display.
“The other thing they’re not happy with is the bling shit,” the executive shared, regarding UM’s Board of Trustees members. “The Turnover Chain, the rings, the dancing on the sidelines—you look like an idiot when doing that with a 6-6 team.”
Where the Miami of yesteryear could tell the BoT to shove their sentiments up their ass—as the product on the field backed everything up—the complete opposite is true now; as there’s simply no talking when playing .500 football. Just shut up and get back to work.
Shelving the jewelry long-term would be a bit aggressive; as the jewelry is vintage Magic City—but only when Miami is taking care of business. The fact it’s not; Diaz must take ownership and responsibility for this thing he created—rewriting the rules and fully realizing that fine line between ultimate motivation and a lethal cocktail of self-absorption and self-promotion.
These kids completely missed the point regarding the hardware these past two seasons—while Diaz couldn’t have whiffed more by introducing Touchdown Rings as a reward for 2019, on the heels of last season’s setback and with too many questions regarding how this offense was going to execute and perform.
Lastly, there also needs to be a long, hard look at this current staff when Diaz works towards an off-season epiphany and ways to right the ship. 7-6 wasn’t good enough to carry anyone over from Richt’s offense staff last year—and with that record Miami’s best-case scenario for this season, barring it actually shows up for a meaningless bowl game, how does Diaz deal with his one-year old staff are this disaster of a campaign?
Dan Enos was poached from Alabama as some “quarterback whisperer”—one Miami paid a reported and unprecedented $1.2M for, no less. A dozen games in, no Hurricane quarterbacks look vastly improved—while the offense has regressed. Enos constantly trying to out-clever the competition, while sticking with a quarterback under center and long-developing run-pass-option plays that don’t get the ball out of guys’ hands quick enough—behind a garbage offensive line.
Similar cases can be made for offensive line coach Butch Barry—whose unit has struggled all fall, while getting knocked technique-wise by former UM lineman—as well as defensive coordinator Blake Baker; so green he needed Diaz’s help midseason when the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles in that overtime loss to a one-win Georgia Tech team.
When stumbling to 6-6 in the fashion Miami did; it’s cause for some serious alarm—and cranks up the heat on a first-year head coach much more than it would’ve had the Canes eked out 8-4 with wins over the Golden Panthers and Blue Devils. While one might struggle to call those two final losses “blessings in disguise”—failure at that level truly leaves Diaz exposed; forced to make some tough decisions this off-season, or to gamble by staying put—which could put him one step closer to pissing away this dream job opportunity.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
This was the type of game that the Canes easily could’ve let slip away due to a slew of reasons—but none bigger than showing up unprepared and not bringing the fight; which thankfully hasn’t been the case the majority of this inaugural season for Manny Diaz and staff. Even in early losses to Florida, North Carolina and Virginia Tech—Miami played scrappy, overcame early error and was in position to win all three games late, before ultimately not getting it done.
To Louisville’s credit, it brought the fight, as well—496 yards on the day, while dominating time of possession—but three turnovers, sloppy-as-hell play (14 penalties for 121 yards) and an inability to stop Miami’s offense, ultimately led to the 31-point blowout.
MIAMI OFFENSE ROLLED ALL DAY; CANES’ D LIMITED CARDS
Early on, it appeared nobody was going to stop anybody; the Canes marching 92 yards on its opening drive—highlighted by a 41 yard hook-up from Jarren Williams to Mike Harley; low-lighted by back-to-back face-mask penalties on the Cardinals that set DeeJay Dallas up for any easy five-yard punch-in on 1st-and-Goal.
Louisville answered with an 80-yard strike to speedster Tutu Atwell; the former Miami Northwestern product shining early back home in front of the local crowd, tying things back up—despite some early self-implosion from the Cards.
If there was any oh-shit-type-feeling that Miami was in for a shootout and questions about the offense bringing it, they were quickly answered when Williams went back to Dee Wiggins on a 67-yard touchdown strike on first down—a play similar to last weekend’s dagger in Tallahassee; the 56-yard early fourth quarter strike that pushed the Canes’ lead over the Noles to, 24-10.
Special teams delivered for Miami, as well—K.J. Osborn helping flip the field in the return game, while Al Blades Jr. partially blocked a punt—both leading to short fields and quick scores—which was ultimately the theme of the day; the Hurricanes showing up in “all three phases of the game”, which coaches especially love to go on about in the wake of a lopsided win.
Diaz touched on this, as well as what finally sparked a turnaround after a slow start to the season.
“The best part is the players get it. They know it is all about their accountability and connections to one another. It is in the little things. We see it in practice. It is like parenting a child. At some point they have to learn and they have to mature,” Diaz explained post-game.
“We have a very young football team. We did not honor very many seniors. We have some young guys that are maturing and starting to get it and they recognize what wins. That has been the most encouraging part.”
CANES TURNED A CORNER AT PITT; HAVEN’T FLINCHED SINCE
After a loss to Virginia Tech, followed by a gritty win over Virginia, only to backslide with an inexplicable loss to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—this season was in disarray, leaving many to openly wonder when these aforementioned young guys were going to mature, get it or recognize what wins. Thankfully that flip soon switched.
The same DJ Ivey that was caught slipping on two plays against the Yellow Jackets that directly cost the Canes 14 points—strutted into Pittsburgh the following week and hauled in game-changing interceptions in a 16-12 slug-fest that Miami pulled out. That road game against the Panthers is also where the season changed at quarterback, with Williams re-entering for a ceiling-hitting N’Kosi Perry, tossing the game-winning touchdown to Osborn; a 32-yard strike with under a minute remaining—Williams coming in cold and delivering.
Where Miami looked like it might’ve turned a corner that Friday night against the Cavaliers, it took two more weeks for things to finally come together—setting the stage for that “perfect storm” moment in Tallahassee the first weekend of November. Florida State’s rough season aside, Miami finally put together what was its most-perfect performance to date; improved offensive line play, Williams hitting the deep ball and a spirited defensive performance—highlight by Greg Rousseau, the one-man wrecking crew.
The Canes took another step forward against the Seminoles, showing they could handle not just adversity, but prosperity—winning a key rivalry game and coming in hot off the comeback at Pittsburgh, opposed to flat, like it did against lowly Georgia Tech days after topping Virginia.
This win over Louisville—again, not a perfect outing—was another big moment for this rebuilding-type season under a first-year head coach. The Cardinals aren’t world-beaters, coming off a 2-10 run last fall that saw the second coming of the Bobby Petrino era coming to an end late in year five.
POTENTIAL TO GET ‘OUT-COACHED’, DIAZ & CREW CAME WITH A PLAN
Scott Satterfield was tossed the keys in the off-season—after a successful five-year stint at Appalachian State, where he won the Sun Belt Conference title three years in a row. A combined 29-9 record over that successful run and known as one of the more-successful, on-the-rise offensive minds in the game, Satterfield had an immediate impact at Louisville his inaugural season—bringing a 5-3 record to HardRock this past weekend; those three losses coming against Notre Dame, at Florida State and Clemson.
Based on recent history and Hurricanes’ muscle memory; it was hardly a stretch to think Miami might not roll in prepared against Louisville. Despite some solid defensive play by Diaz’s squad the past few weeks, the Cardinals’ offense was averaging just over 444 yards-per-game going into this showdown—meaning this wasn’t the week the Canes could afford to struggle moving the ball—and they didn’t.
Five of six offensive possessions in the first half, Miami scored touchdowns—only punting once, with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter, after an incompletion on 3rd-and-7. Leading 28-14 at the time, the defense forced a quick three-and-out and the offense stayed aggressive—Williams scrambling for 12 yards on a 3rd-and-9, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass to back-up tight end Will Mallory on a 3rd-and-8.
When the Cardinals got back after it, trying to trim the lead before halftime—a seven-play, 57-yard drive was thwarted by way of an end zone interception by the surging Ivey, on 1st-and-Goal from the UM 18-yard line; a ten-yard holding call the play prior, putting Louisville and quarterback Micale Cunningham in a lurch.
Up 35-14, the Hurricanes received the opening second half kickoff—driving 66 yards on six plays, for another score; a 36-yard strike from Williams to Harley—made possible by offensive coordinator Dan Enos finally committing to the run these past few weeks; Dallas scampering for 20 yards on the first play from scrimmage and Cam Harris picking up 12 more, two plays later.
The Cardinals answered on the ensuing drive and the Canes punted, only to be bailed out by more clutch special teams play; this time Jimmy Murphy diving on a ball muffed by Atwell—the fan-favorite, senior walk-on getting his first Turnover Chain moment in his final home game. Three plays later on a 3rd-and-15, Williams found Harley again—this time for a 28-yard score, that proved to be the dagger, putting Miami up 49-21 with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter.
Camden Price tacked on a field goal for good measure in the waning moments of the third quarter—getting the Hurricanes to a nice looking total of 52 in the box score—though a 58-yard touchdown run by Hassan Hall middle fourth quarter gave the Cardinals a meaningless score, making things look slightly less lopsided.
POTENTIAL TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT; CLOSE BOWL SEASON STRONG
With two games remaining—a bye this weekend before Florida International at Marlins Park and a road finale at Duke—Miami is in very good position to finish 8-4, which seemed almost unthinkable late day on October 19th after the Hurricanes slipped to 3-4 after falling in overtime to the Yellow Jackets.
There were a few different trains of thought coming into the 2019 and year one of the Diaz era—those who expected #TheNewMiami to be some instant-fix, screaming about an undefeated season and rolling Florida game one—and then the more-logical crowd; frustrated with 15 years of irrelevance, but realizing nothing was getting fixed overnight.
For the latter, the season goals weren’t as clear-cut definition-wise—win x-amount of games, win the Coastal and beat both in-state rivals, as anything less is unacceptable—or things of that nature the win-now crowd was demanding. Progress can get lost or ignored in a loss, just as a win can mask deficiencies few (outside the coaching staff and players) take time to dissect when basking in the glow of victory.
Realistically speaking, the goal for this year needed to be growth, progress and the Hurricanes taking steps towards looking like the Miami of old. Yes, there were still three conference losses in the books by late October; the Canes still carrying on the annual tradition of reinventing new ways to drop winnable ACC match-ups—but the recent habit of fading down the stretch after those disheartening Coastal Division setbacks has dissipated.
Miami won four of its past five conference games, against the meat of the schedule most expected to be the most-troubling—Virginia on a short week, at Pittsburgh, at Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of a rivalry game.
All that’s left to do now is close strong; putting in on Florida International—former head coach Butch Davis on the other sideline, in a monstrosity of a stadium built on the hallowed grounds of the beloved Orange Bowl—and taking care of a Duke team that’s lost four of its past five games going into this weekend; the Blue Devils most-likely 5-6 for the finale against the Canes, needing a win for bowl eligibility.
While the Coastal Division is still a mess, Miami’s three losses mean at least a half dozen things have to fall into place for the Canes to back into a match-up with Clemson—something that’s completely moot without a win at Duke, so no reason to put any pointless energies towards what is nothing more than a pipe dream right now.
Crazily, the Hurricanes might actually be in better shape by not winning the division—as an 8-4 record is prettier than 8-5, which most-likely is the result of a showdown with the defending national champions—leaving Miami an outside shot at reaching the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl; insane as that sounds.
If no ACC team is ranked in the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 25, sans Clemson—the Orange Bowl gets to choose its ACC team to face a foe from the Big Ten, the SEC, or Notre Dame—and the way things are playing out, Wake Forest doesn’t look like it will be ranked (barring an upset of Clemson this weekend); all of which would leave the hometown Hurricanes the most-attractive ACC match-up for the Orange Bowl, despite a four-loss season (should UM win out.)
Improve, get better and look more like Miami. It didn’t seem like that would be the case as recently as a month ago—but credit to Diaz, the staff and these Hurricanes players for a mid-season hard-reset that looks set to save year one, setting up for a strong recruiting haul and step forward in 2020—which is precisely what the University of Miami needs to (finally) get back to contending ways.
The Miami Hurricanes knocked off the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday afternoon on a national ABC broadcast; a one-sided beatdown that could’ve been worse as the Canes struck early and the Noles never found their footing.
Pro tip; marinate on that statement for a little bit and find a way to enjoy the moment, as it hasn’t been the norm. Not this season and not in recent history. Aside from Miami already racking up four losses this fall, Florida State has dominated this rivalry over the past decade—blowing out the Canes on occasion, while stealing some close ones when they were the better team, or things were evenly matched.
For those saying, put this game in the rearview—on-to-Louisville; let the team take that approach. Fans should bask in the glow of beating a rival. Made this point last fall with the on-to-Virginia crowd, only to see Miami drop four in a row after the comeback against the Seminoles; which made savoring that home win against Florida State—the first since 2004—all the more important.
Miami has now taken three-in-a-row in the series; winning in Tallahassee in 2017 behind a gritty Malik Rosier—ending a seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles with a last-second touchdown—as well as overcoming the rivalry’s biggest deficit in 2018 when N’Kosi Perry helped the Canes overcome a 27-7 hole, en route to a 28-27 comeback win.
This time around, it was a confident Jarren Williams—another first-year starter in the series—throwing for 313 yards, two touchdowns and protecting the football in the 27-10 rout. Yanked weeks back after a three-interception first quarter against Virginia Tech, Williams yielded to Perry before entering late in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh last weekend, where he delivered the game-winning strike to K.J. Osborn.
Williams’ performance against Florida State wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to like as No. 15 finally connected on two big deep balls for touchdowns—an early 39-yard strike to Jeff Thomas that kicked off the scoring, followed by a 56-yard dagger to Dee Wiggins that pushed Miami’s lead back to 14 points early in the fourth quarter.
There was also an effective 34-yard strike to Mike Harley on a 3rd-and-4 late in the second quarter, setting up a six-yard DeeJay Dallas touchdown run, extending the lead to 14-3 at the half—Dallas deservedly cashing in after a huge block that afforded Williams the time to find Harley.
Better pocket awareness, coupled with an improved offensive line and better blocking schemes—Miami, to its credit, is showing signs of improvement going into the final third of the season, while Florida State is in full-blown disaster-mode.
While both teams have seen their share of offensive line struggles, the Hurricanes have finally reached a respectable level of play—unlike the Seminoles, whose line was reminiscent of Miami’s in the season-opener against Florida. The Gators smacked Williams around all night back in August, tallying up 10 sacks—while here in early November, the Noles let the Canes’ front seven in their backfield—where Miami notched a season-best nine sacks; four of which were credited to freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau, who was become virtually unstoppable.
Miami tossed quarterback Alex Hornibrook around like a rag doll all evening; a welcomed sight to see the Seminoles’ starting quarterback harassed from start to finish—but a bonus as the Wisconsin transfer played the game of his career against the Hurricanes in the 2017 Orange Bowl, where he earned MVP honors. This time around, sent home battered and bruised—and deservedly so.
As much as Miami rolled in with a stellar effort and solid overall game plan, the complete opposite can be said of Willie Taggart—who dropped to 9-12 overall since taking over Florida State last fall. Having seen what inexperienced mobile quarterbacks have done to the Hurricanes’ defense this fall—even a newbie like Virginia Tech’s Hendon Hooker—Taggart still opted for the immobile, average-armed Hornibrook, over the erratic-yet-athletic James Blackman.
Similar knocks apply to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles; a name that had some Miami fans overly-concerned as a threat when hired by Taggart in the off-season. Briles spent the first half forcing Hornibrook to throw too often, with Miami’s safeties dropped deep—instead of trying to establish something on first down with the electric Cam Akers—only to put it all on Akers’ shoulders early in the second half; overly-reliant upon their WildCam direct-snap package, too little too late.
Admittedly, not much offensive good was going to come behind Florida State’s porous offensive line play—especially with Miami’s all-out aggression on defense—but both Taggart and Briles deserve criticism for going with Hornibrook and not finding more creative ways to involved Akers.
In the midst of writing this piece, news broke that Taggart has been relieved of his duties; the Florida State brass having seen enough after a 9-12 run since last fall—to the point where they’ll eat his remaining $17M contract and hope to reel in a better fit next time around.
Tallahassee burning and another Seminoles restart aside, the Hurricanes have now won three of their last four overall; games circled on the pre-season schedule and considered the most-defining of the year—Virginia, at Pitt and at Florida State. Losses to lesser squads like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech definitely took some shine off of this mid-season run—but in looking at how things have played out, it appears both of those games served as cautionary tales and motivational tools that ultimately seems to be helping these Hurricanes turn a corner.
Having given up 42 points to the Hokies; a sloppy five-turnover, 11-penalty outing—head coach Manny Diaz reinserted himself into the defense’s preparation and days later Miami clamped down hard on Virginia— stuffing the Cavaliers in the red zone and holding them to nine points. After a lethargic outing against Georgia Tech the following week, where the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles and DJ Ivey fell asleep on two plays—costing the Canes 14 points—Ivey hauled in two interceptions at Pittsburgh, while the defense allowed another field goals-only performance, in a 16-12 victory.
A road victory against the Panthers is also where an unintended quarterback quandary ultimately played itself out, sans any controversy—Perry seemingly hitting his ceiling over the course a few starts, with Williams saving the day with a game-winning drive that obviously played into his getting the nod for Florida State week.
Diaz’s choice of Williams as QB1 was confirmed in the rolling of the Noles, as there were enough flashes of what coaches felt this Miami team was capable of months back with No. 15 at the helm. Improved offensive line play (finally), receivers growing up, a secondary coming together and a kicking game that isn’t a full-blown liability—the Canes have somewhat dispelled the myth that a team is what their record says it is; looking and feeling better than the 5-4 staring them back in the face.
Of course all that’s left to do now it continue winning and building off of what’s taken place over the past four weeks; the mostly-good (Virginia, Pittsburgh and Florida State) as well as the bad (Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech), that led to some hard resets and ultimately helped right the ship.
One big knock on Miami in 2019 has been a lack of an identity; who are the Hurricanes and how do they react and respond? Over the first half of the season, it was a question impossible to answer—but over the past few weeks, things are coming into clearer focus.
Defense is again proving to be the calling card as the line has found an ace in Rousseau and others like Nesta Silvera and Trevon Hill are finding their groove and playing with a nasty streak. At linebacker, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney quietly continue taking care of business and making plays—while a secondary that was tentative early, has seen player like Ivey, Gurvan Hall, Al Blades Jr. and Bubba Bolden finding their identity, which has helped a veteran like Trajan Bandy fall back into the type of player he was as a freshman in 2017 while playing along side guys like Sheldrick Redwine, Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson.
Offensively, the Canes were completely identity-less the past few years; right up through 2018 where Miami ranked 104th in total offense. As this year took off, a shoddy offensive line didn’t much help any inexperience at quarterback with Williams—which lent itself to Perry getting a few mid-season starts, as his mobility helped mask line deficiencies. As things have started to level out a bit there, Williams is looking more like the guy coaches expected when giving him the nod back in August—especially with the deep ball now added to his arsenal.
Days after the win, Hurricane Sports rolled out their post-game social media content—where a pre-game quip from Diaz set the tone for the highlights that would soon unfold.
“I don’t know if you can feel it, but there’s something different, man. I have not see this type of focused-aggression, to be honest, since Notre Dame . Guys, today is the day it all comes together. Offense goes down the field. Defense get the stop. Kicking game makes the game-winning play. All three phases start clicking today in Tallahassee,” Diaz shared, before his Canes aggressively took the field.
The win seemed to mark the first time this season the pre-game chatter matched the product on the field—coaches’ expectations and desires meshing with the belief of the players, as well as their overall effort and execution. The fact it happened at Florida State, sending the Seminoles to their version of rock-bottom; a third head coaching change since a three-game win streak for the Canes got underway—priceless.
With three-quarters of the season in the books, Miami has three remaining—Louisville at home for Senior Day and one final bye week to rest up, before a quick crosstown jaunt the Orange Bowl’s old, hallowed grounds to take on Florida International at Marlins Park—before a regular season-ending road trip to Duke. Mathematically, the Canes are still technically in the running for the Coastal Division—but it’s hardly worth touching on as a dozen things would have to fall into place; starting with winning out.
As Diaz continues building The New Miami—again, a long-term attitude and culture adjustment; not a quick-fix—a huge step forward is taken every time the Hurricanes can show up ready to play, coming off a win or a loss. Miami has struggled in times of prosperity, as well as despair—ill-prepared the week after a big win, as well as multiple-game losing streaks—unable to pump the failure breaks.
Winning at Florida State in that environment at Tallahassee was big for this Miami squad; equally as big, hitting the ground running against an upset-minded Louisville squad. The Cardinals are 5-3 on the season; losses against Notre Dame, Clemson … and at Florida State, while wins have come against Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Boston College, Wake forest and most-recently, Virginia.
Much like Florida State going between Hornibrook and Blackman, Louisville has played musical quarterbacks with Evan Conley and Micale Cunningham since starter Juwon Pass had season-ending surgery back in September. Conley mostly led the charge in a shootout win against the Demon Deacons, while both were used (rather ineffectively) when the Tigers routed the Cardinals. Cunningham got the majority of the snaps in the recent win over the Cavaliers; throwing an early touchdown to Tutu Atwell to tie the game in the first quarter and running for another in the fourth to take the lead for good.
Cunningham is precisely the type of shifty, athletic, mobile quarterback that has given the Hurricanes fits all season—moving the chains on third down, while doing enough with his feet to buy receivers time to get open—while Atwell is another of many Miami natives (Northwestern) over the years, who will return and look to break big playing in front of the hometown crowd this weekend. The Cardinals’ roster has roughly a dozen kids from what would be considered the State of Miami; all with a chip on their shoulders.
Louisville are hardly world-beaters, but lesser teams have given the Hurricanes fits a week after a gritty win or a shitty loss. Saturday represents another step-up moment where Miami has been prone to step-down. Take care of business against the Cardinals and handle the Panthers, which would put these Canes at 7-4 entering a finale at Duke, with a chance to accomplish a hell of 2019 rebound; especially based on how things looked at 3-4 a few weeks back.
The Canes’ offense held the Panthers to four field goals and the Cavaliers to three, while scoring 16 and 17 points respectively—clamping down defensively in the red zone, while managing to eke out enough scoring to outlast the competition.
The biggest difference between these two victories over the Coastal Division’s best competition; the State of Miami … quarterbacks. N’Kosi Perry held it down against Virginia—leading an early drive and punching in another late, though stagnant-as-hell in-between.
Against Pitt, another early score—but Miami only had 10 points on the board at halftime, despite the defense forcing three turnovers. The Canes’ lone touchdown came with 12:00 remaining in the second quarter when Cam Harris punched it in from a yard out, capping a four-play, 17-yard scoring drive courtesy of a second DJ Ivey interception.
Perry also had a short field on 30-yard drive that ended with a Camden Price 22-yard field goal; unable to get anything going—which had Manny Diaz and Dan Enos going back to Jarren Williams for a mid-fourth quarter spark.
After a quick three-and-out, Miami’s defense immediately got the ball back and Willams took over at the Canes’ 38-yard line, driving 62 yards—including a quarterback run on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. The play was reminiscent of a fourth down scramble Perry had against Virginia; a play that fit the narrative that he deserved to start over the less mobile Williams.
A first down pass to tight end Brevin Jordan fell incomplete, but on 2nd-and-10 from the Pitt 32-yard line, Williams found KJ Osborn through a tight window; the receiver bouncing off of two Panthers’ defenders as he scampered for a 32-yard game-winning score; Pitt unable to get anything going in the final minute, especially after a few dropped passes—a Miami opponent finally un-clutch with the game on the line.
THE U : BETTER RESPONSE TO ADVERSITY THAN PROSPERITY
The win upped the mood a bit, though only slightly as 4-4 is nothing to celebrate and too many remain caught up in the ones that got away. Understandable, but in all reality—the early Florida and North Carolina losses aside—it’s hard to not picture the same record for the Canes after the last month of football.
Had Miami come back against Virginia Tech, hard not to believe there’d have been less intensity against Virginia—opposed to the next-level defensive focus in practice that led to a more spirited effort. Same to be said for last weekend. Missed tackles against Georgia Tech and an overall lackadaisical effort—cemented by Ivey taking two plays off that resulted in touchdowns—had the Hurricanes dialed in tackling-wise, while Ivey hauled in two interceptions.
Translation; it took Miami getting burned to wake up and react accordingly. These Hurricanes needed to learn the hard way this fall, for whatever reason—but the fact they’ve responded to the adversity is a big step forward for a program that’s been stepping-down for years when backs were to the wall.
Of course all this begs the question—with four games remaining—what happens next?
In the wake of those early two losses and Miami getting back to 2-2, the hope was that the Canes would shake off those stumbles and quickly autocorrect into the best-case scenario type team coaches hoped for in the preseason; quarterback play setting in, a green offensive line playing better, a young secondary tightening up and a kicking game finding its way.
Instead, Williams unraveled against the Hokies and none of those other areas of inexperience rose to the occasion—causing mid-season chaos that continued for a month, but legitimately might’ve subsided with the win at Pitt.
Each week has felt like it’s own one-game season in 2019, halting any turn-a-corner talk as Miami was picking and choosing when it would, or wouldn’t show up. Beat Virginia, mail-it-in against Georgia Tech.
That said, something felt different about Pitt and talk of a lay-it-all-on-the-line team meeting the Thursday prior-to; it explained the feel and energy Miami had at Heinz Field last Saturday—with manifested in a belief the Canes were finally going to get that late fourth quarter, game-winning drive that’s alluded them all season.
CANES’ CLOSED DOOR BREAK-DOWN; OWNERSHIP TAKEN
“Pretty much everybody you think of as a leader on this team said something,” said offensive lineman Jakai Clark, days after Miami returned home victorious. “And it all meant something to everybody, especially me.”
Osborn, who caught the game-winner, was vocal—as was fellow transfer Trevon Hill; another one-year Miami guy, while Shaq Quarterman was the lone four-year starter who also embraced a leadership role and spoke up. Beloved walk-on Jimmy Murphy was also called upon; a favorite of fans and teammates for his passionate play and love for the program—everyones words still resonating with Clark almost a week later.
“Obviously after a meeting like that, first day, everybody is gonna be locked in—trying to do their best,” Clark said. “But seeing it in practice today and seeing it carry over is a great thing. And seeing it in the locker room. After that meeting, guys started talking more. Before that, we talked, but it wasn’t like a family type thing. After that, everybody got their feelings out. I feel like we’re more of a family now.”
Wide receiver Mike Harley admitted he spoke directly to two talented, albeit selfish players and did what he could to try and help set them straight.
“Not calling anybody out, but I pointed out two talented guys on our team that play a major role. I told them you have to step up,” Harley shared. “You have to work harder than what you’re doing because you’re talented and we need you on this team.”
While no names were mentioned, hard not to imagine fellow receiver Jeff Thomas—suspended for Georgia Tech and Pitt, but back for Florida State—wasn’t one of those targets. In hot water last fall—to the point where he parted ways with the Canes, appeared Illinois-bound and retuned after having a sit-down with the recently-hired Diaz—it’s been a disappointing comeback for the junior; starting with a muffed punt against Florida that led to a touchdown, right up through this recent sit-down.
Whether Harley’s words resonated with two self-absorbed teammates, or not—Diaz appreciates that his team is starting to understand what it takes to be successful, but is quick to point out that all problems are far from solved.
“Any one’s individual success is tied to our collective success and if somebody is not pulling their weight, it is hurting their fellow teammates,” Diaz explained. “I think what we know now at least is we know the roadmap—and I think our guys understand what works and what doesn’t work … You’re either being a Cane, or you’re not being a Cane.”
Part of that heavy burden; knowing what Florida State represents and the importance of this game on deck.
UM & FSU; EACH NEED WIN AS BAD AS COUNTERPART
While nothing can erase the four losses already racked up by late October, Miami has the ability to close this season strong—which all starts with a third-consecutive takedown of a Florida State program that had won seven straight before the Canes’ comeback victory in 2017; that streak-ending game completely changing false invincibility narrative that kept Miami from closing late so often in the rivalry over recent years.
Emerge victorious on Saturday and games against Louisville, Florida International and Duke immediately feel conquerable—where a loss to the Seminoles allows doubt to creep back in; as well as the fear of a hangover for the home finale next weekend against the Cardinals.
Records-wise, Miami and Florida State are both sitting un-pretty at .500—but it’s hard not to feel like the Hurricanes are slightly more well-rounded and presently stable program; even with this year one of the Diaz era and a sophomore season for the maligned Willie Taggart up north.
Both programs have weak-sauce offensive lines, though Miami’s feels like it’s made some sight improvement over the past few weeks. Each also has been playing musical quarterbacks; the Canes settling on Williams for this week—riding the momentum from last Saturday’s comeback win.
Alex Hornibrook—the Wisconsin transfer who carved Miami up in the 2017 Orange Bowl—did the heavy-lifting last weekend as Florida State rolled a sub-par Syracuse squad; throwing for 196 yards on 26 attempts, while protecting the football. James Blackman showed up on the final drive—a 35-17 game already in the bag—after a 27-for-43, 280-yard, two-touchdown outing in a road loss at Wake Forest a week prior.
Where Miami welcomes back DeeJay Dallas and has a two-headed monster regarding #13 and his counterpart Cam’Ron Harris, Florida State has seen Cam Akers go next-level the past two weeks; going for 144 yards and four touchdowns against Syracuse and 157 yards with a score in the loss at Wake Forest.
Akers ran for a pedestrian 46 yards and was held in check during last year’s match-up at HardRock, but did put up 121 yards against the Canes in Tallahassee in 2017. The skills are there; it’s simply a matter of Miami keeping the talented back in check—which truly is the name of the game all together.
While Miami incredibly held the Cavaliers and Panthers to a combined seven field goal, while keeping both out of the end zone over eight quarters—it inexplicably surrendered 70 points to the Hokies and Yellow Jackets; turnovers the backbreaker in the former, poor tacking and shit overall defense effort the culprit in the latter.
The Canes dug themselves into a 27-7 hole last fall against the Seminoles, which resulted in an epic comeback for Miami—who hadn’t beaten their arch-rival at home since the 2004 season; four years before abandoning the Orange Bowl and moving north.
As thrilling as comebacks can be, trailing by 20 points early in the third quarter and only having seven points on the board—relying on stout defense, two forced turnovers and a couple of short fields—it isn’t something you can bank on; especially on the road in a rivalry game.
Going punt, punt, touchdown, punt, fumble, punt, turnover on downs, punt and punt—before a forced fumble turned things around; it was one of those games where winning saved everything, but certainly didn’t cure it—and in many ways masked the offensive deficiencies that would’ve been under a microscope without the comeback.
LEAST MISTAKES/BIG MOMENTS; KEYS TO VICTORY
Mid-game offensive lulls or falling into early holes; both have reared their ugly heads this season in all four losses—as well as the last two victories, where stalled drives mid-game were thankfully bailed out by solid red zone defense, as well as clutch scoring late.
The X’s and O’s of this one aren’t hard to figure out. Williams needs to protect the football for Miami, while looking more like the clutch performer he was last weekend in Pittsburgh, opposed to the game-manager he was earlier this year—not getting the Canes in trouble (prior to Virginia Tech), but not driving the offense, either.
Offensive line play needs to stay at the level it’s been, as the Hurricanes absolutely need to establish the running game with Dallas and Harris—something Enos has been quick to bail out on, impatient and relying on a one-dimensional, while completely ignoring the backs he has at his disposal.
All that aside, defense is again the key for Miami. Whereas the Hurricanes used to only go as far as their quarterback would take them, this program in present day is shackled to the success of its defense and the ability for that side of the ball to take over the game.
Turnovers were the difference in the road win against Pittsburgh last weekend, as were red zone stops that thwarted both the Panthers and the Cavaliers, weeks back—including a late third quarter fumble by Virginia on a drive that looked destined to result in points.
The little things; they obviously matter to great teams—but might even be more important for a program trying to rebuild (yeah, the r-word—deal with it) as the margin for error is less, as can be the resolve in moments of adversity. Miami and Florida State—once powerhouses in the truest sense of the word—are in that similar place on-the-mend spot, where both will bring fight Saturday afternoon, where the one who makes that big time play, or avoids that disastrous moment, will most-likely prevail.
On paper—as well as on the national level—it might lack the luster of years passed, but all that critiquing seems to go out the window once the pregame skirmish gets underway and that ball officially gets kicked off, as Canes versus Noles just brings out the dog in both these teams.
For both, a chance to *save* a season that’s had some bumps and bruises—but for Diaz and a Hurricanes’ squad that feels that some air-clearing and recently stepped-up play was a mini-milestone—a chance to prove Miami is closer to the team it thinks it is, than the hit-or-miss squad on display so often this season.
Turn that corner. Beat the Noles.