September 2, 2019

COLLEGE FOOTBALL UPSETS & CHANGING OF GUARD MUST SERVE AS CAUTIONARY TALE

With Miami opening its season a week early, resulting in a bye for this official opening weekend for college football—one can only hope these kids witnessed what took place across the country and that head coach Manny Diaz will find a way to use it at a teachable moment for his players.

Week One had its share of drama, but no primer an example of what not to do than the debacle at Doak Campbell Stadium, as Florida State blew a 31-13 lead to Boise State—giving up 23 points unanswered, despite the advantage of the game being relocated from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and kickoff being moved from primetime to high-noon.

Even with the venue change and moved-up time, the underdog who traveled 2,300+ miles never flinched and found a way to outlast the home team; a national championship-caliber program that prides itself on better athletes and superior conditioning—which the Seminoles obviously thought was enough to carry them to victory. It wasn’t.

Miami and Florida also boast similar state pride; having dominated in an era where the Canes, Gators or Seminoles would wear visiting opponents down in the Sunshine State heat, taking over games in the fourth quarter—especially Miami, who’s “four fingers” tradition started by way of late-game domination and grinding out wins.

This is a pivotal time for these Florida programs who make up “The Big Three”—which Diaz is well aware of, growing up in Miami, watching the Canes in the Decade of Dominance era—as well as witnessing probation in the nineties, rebuilding for the early 2000’s and backsliding yet again, thanks to low-rent coaching hires and a decade-plus of football where the Miami’s former president didn’t care to put money towards athletics.

How Florida State’s Willie Taggart or Florida’s Dan Mullen choose to attack this program—and mythical Sunshine State air of superiority based on past success—is on the two of them. The concern here is Miami and wanting to make sure Diaz and staff can inject the Hurricanes’ rich history into the modern era, without allowing these kids to believe that growing up playing football in South Florida instantly makes them better than other players across the nation—to the point where they aren’t putting in the required work.

Yes, there is a competitive advantage growing up and playing in sweltering conditions—but as Florida State learned against Boise State—it still takes next-level effort and execution to finish the job. The era of opposing teams wilting in defense just by seeing a “U”, a spear or a script “Gators” on a helmet—long gone.

BRONCOS’ TAKEDOWN OF ILL-PREPARED SEMINOLES; EYE-OPENING

For those who chose to watch the Seminoles take on the Broncos—it was obviously a tale of two halves. Florida State jumped out to a 24-6 lead early in the second quarter. To that point; business as usual. An early Boise State fumble resulted in a 38-year Cam Akers touchdown run. On the ensuing possession, a 75-yard dump-off from James Blackman to Tamorrion Terry that went for the score.

“Speed Kills”—or so that looked to be the case early-on.

Boise State couldn’t find the end zone, twice setting for field goals—while a 10-play, 76-yard drive for Florida State showed that the Noles could drive methodically downfield, as well.

Blackman fumbled when sacked midway through the second quarter, leading to the Broncos’ first end-zone visit—but the Noles exploded again, Blackman hitting Terry again for 17 yards before finding Keyshawn Helton for a 58-yard touchdown to regain momentum. Boise State on the the board with another field goal, but down 31-19 at the half things weren’t looking good for the road dog.

(In our best ESPN 30-For-30 voice) “What if I were to tell you, Blackman’s touchdown pass to Helton with 4:07 remaining in the first half would be Florida State’s final score of the day….” — because that’s precisely how things played out. The Seminoles punted on six of eight second half possessions; fumbling once and turning it over on downs in the final two minutes.

Equally as bad; an opportunity to stop Boise State from taking the lead early in the fourth quarter, when a jarring hit popped the ball loose after George Holani picked up 12 yards and a first down on a pass from true freshman Hank Bachmeier—only to see undisciplined Seminoles’ defenders go full-blown Keystone Cops, falling over each other to half-recover, half-pick-it-up—while Broncos’ tight end Garrett Collingham went full fundamentals-mode, jumping on it and securing the ball.

Two plays later, Boise State punched it in and a would add a field goal on their next possession after a Seminoles’ three and out. Florida State got  the ball back with just over two minutes remaining—picking up eight yards on 4th-ad-4, only to have it called back for holding. On 4th-and-13, Blackman scrambled for nine yards, resulting in a turnover on downs and an upset in the books for the Broncos.

CANES VICTIMS OF THEIR OWN SLOP; GATORS BARELY SURVIVED

While we’re certainly harping on Florida State here, let’s be clear—Miami also fell victim to sloppy play last weekend against No. 8 Florida, blowing ample shots to win the game late. Just as the Noles pissed away a would-be first down on their final drive, the Hurricanes saw a fake field goal called back in the fourth quarter—which ultimately led to a missed field goal attempt after the drive stalled.

Miami got another crack after that, when Florida bone-headedly threw late and Feleipe Franks was intercepted by Romeo Finley—only to lose 30 yards in one tick off the clock thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct call, followed by an illegal block on first down.

Lest the Gators ride high and mighty over their win against the Canes, a reminder that a squad that went 10-3 last year and was expected to do big things in 2019—starting with rolling unranked Miami. Instead, Florida looked beyond sloppy and pedestrian against a UM team with a r-freshman quarterback, a brand new offensive staff and a first-year head coach.

Florida could’ve put a short-term stranglehold on “The Big Three” with a dominating win over Miami—also having whipped Florida State last November, 41-14—but instead left Orlando with more question marks than answers; especially in regards to Franks, who regressed since closing strong in 2018, throwing two interceptions, fumbling once and wasting time mixing it up with the crowd instead of leading his teammates.

The old adage that the road to the national championship ran through the state of Florida—as the winner of Miami versus Florida State or Florida State versus Florida was oft in the driver’s seat for a spot in the title game throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s; that ship has sailed.

The Noles are the last to capture a championship; winning it all in 2013 thanks to a Heisman-worthy season from controversial quarterback Jameis Winston. Prior-to, the Noles hadn’t won it all this century, while the coach who brought them that forgotten promised land—Jimbo Fisher—bailed for College Station and a fat Texas A&M paycheck as things were bottoming-out in Tallahassee.

The Gators had a strong run with a Heisman-winning quarterback of their own, as Tim Tebow led them to the 2008 national championship—two years after Urban Meyer brought home a ring in his second season at the helm in Gainesville. Once things took a step back in the post-Tebow era, Meyer did his best Fred Sanford and leaned on some made-up health issues to walk his way out of the job.

Since then, not much to boast about as Mullen is the third hire in the post-Meyer era; Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain were a combined 50-33—each with a few ups, but more downs than expected; winning the SEC East three times in seven seasons, but never a conference title.

TWO TRUE POWERS; EVERYONE ELSE VULNERABLE IF THEY SLIP

College football has been turned on its collective ear over the past several seasons as there is more parity in today’s game than ever before. Alabama has been the king of that mountain for the past decade under Nick Saban—who’s brought five national championships to Tuscaloosa since 2009, while losing the title game twice in that span; both to Clemson—who is the newest national power, but only after it took Dabo Swinney a decade to go from upstart, to contender, to champion.

Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State all make up that next tier—knocking on the door, but struggling to kick it in; though Meyer got the Buckeyes there in 2014 for their first title in a dozen years since robbing Miami in the Tempe desert—but outside of that group, no one else has truly broken through consistently.

Even scarier; the amount of unthinkable upsets that are occurring annually. Back in 2007, Appalachian State did the unthinkable—going into The Big House and upsetting No. 5 Michigan, 34-32 in Ann Arbor. The game was talked about for years and became somewhat of a red flag warning for big time programs; a worst-case scenario type game that could happen to you if you weren’t prepared.

Fast-forward a decade and David versus Goliath-type match-ups like that became much more common place.

Two years back lowly Troy went into Baton Rouge and upset LSU; an SEC Power and perennial national title contender that is often one half of the game-of-the-year when playing division rival Alabama. A few years prior, Georgia Southern went into The Swamp and upended the Gators, 26-20 for Florida’s first-ever loss to an FSC program in the school’s history.

Last year; three notable upsets—Eastern Michigan taking down Purdue, BYU upsetting Wisconsin at Camp Randall and Old Dominion topping Virginia Tech in Norfolk.

Two weekends into 2019—Tennessee lost to Georgia State in Knoxville, Nevada knocked off Purdue and Wyoming upset Missouri; the Tigers expected to make a run in the SEC East as one of a few true threats to beat Georgia—doing so with former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, who had his shot late, but couldn’t overcome the 37-14 hole his defense put him in entering the fourth quarter.

There was also a close call in Ames as Iowa State—finally getting respect and it’s first-ever Top 25 preseason ranking under trendy, up-and-coming head coach Matt Campbell—needed three overtimes to survive Northern Iowa; member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, while the once-hot Kevin Sumlin saw his Arizona Wildcats came up a yard short (literally) at Hawaii last Saturday night.

There was also a mild upset when North Carolina—with Mack Brown back in charge—took down South Carolina in Charlotte. The Tar Heels were a 2-9 program in 2018, losing seven of their final eight, leading to the release of seventh-year head coach Larry Fedora. While the game was sloppy and UNC almost gave it away late to the Gamecocks, it should have Diaz and Miami on high alert that the Heels aren’t going to roll over next weekend.

North Carolina has always played Miami tough in Chapel Hill and with Brown injecting some life and passion into his UNC squad, further proof that there will be no conference gimmes this fall.

“THE BIG THREE” NEED TO TAKE INVENTORY WHEN REBUILDING

There’s no doubt it’s understandably hard for Miami, Florida and Florida State to accept their current places in the college football landscape—having all been on top in the past, while the state itself once represented championship football at it’s highest level; the three programs with a combined 11 national titles the past 37 seasons, having left a few championships on the field, as well.

That being said, a true assessment of where one’s at, as well as a a logical estimate of where there sport currently resides—and what it will take to be a contender again—are all critical if the Canes, Gators or Noles are going to take their programs next-level anytime soon.

Florida survived it’s opener against Miami, but has work to do—while the Canes, even in defeat, showed they’re not the same lifeless, underachieving program they were last season under Mark Richt.

As for Florida State, last year’s 5-7 run—the Noles’ first losing season since 1976— might just prove to the tip of a shit iceberg. Where Mullen and Diaz look to have their respective programs on comeback tracks, of sorts—Taggart won’t soon shake off a blown 18-point lead, a proud defense that surrender 621 yards, as well as a second half shutout for new offensive coordinator Kendal Bries; though to be FSU’s biggest off-season pick-up.

All in all, Week One for college football proved to be a good one to witness from the sidelines as there were enough cautionary tales to last any potential contender an entire season.

In short; buckle in tight as college football looks to be a bumpy ride for many this fall.


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.


While it’s easy to get frustrated with the advent of social media or college football message boards and all the harm that wave of technology has brought to the sport—there are some modern-day benefits as well; starting with videos like these.

Where fans used to be limited to morning-after newspaper quotes from a post-game presser, or at best—critics giving their Monday morning take on the big game, via sports talk radio—we’re now in an era where videos of a head coach breaking down film and offering up and in-depth study of a game is easily accessible for those who want it.

The embedded clip below is a 21-minute deep-dive between Miami head coach Manny Diaz and long time voices of the Hurricanes; Don Bailey Jr. and Joe Zagacki. Where the latter two can go full-blown homerism, these in-depth segments aren’t capable of being fluff pieces—as it’s an assessment of the X’s and O’s; what went right, what went wrong—and why.

Understandably people are still frustrated by the loss to Florida; though many are (obviously) dragging over a decade’s worth of anger-over-irrelevancy into their inability to process the loss.

This video won’t suddenly make a loss to the Gators somehow feel good—but Diaz’s assessment of things should at least bring some comfort at the Canes’ newest leader seems very clear-cut on what was, what should be and what it will take to get things corrected.

First 13 minutes is a recap of the Miami / Florida match-up—while the final eight minutes of the segment features Diaz and Bailey Jr. breaking down film and individual plays / drive from the game.

Honestly, if you don’t have time for the whole thing, at least make time to watch from the 13:00 mark on. Fans love harping on social media about losses being unacceptable and what not, without a fair assessment of what played out, as well as a slowed down look at every aspect of the play—the good, the bad and the ugly.

August 29, 2019

MANNY DIAZ SHOW : BREAKDOWN OF MIAMI VERSUS FLORIDA

While it’s easy to get frustrated with the advent of social media or college football message boards and all the harm that wave of technology has brought to the sport—there are some modern-day benefits as well; starting with videos like these. Where fans used to be limited to morning-after newspaper quotes from a post-game presser, […]


Months back has someone offered up a scenario that unranked Miami would find themselves down four, ball in hand mid-field with just over four minutes to go against No.8 Florida—one of any three quarterbacks without a turnover in their first start, while the Canes’ defense forced four turnovers—most would’ve considered it a dream scenario; especially considering the state of ‘The U’ the last the University of Miami played a football game.

Incredibly that was the exact situation Saturday night in the season-opener against Florida, but Miami couldn’t close—out-slopping the Gators, who scored late and held off the Canes for a 24-20 win—complete with five lead changes.

We mentioned last week around these parts that most opening games between quality teams tend to be lost, or given away more than one team stepping up and truly winning it—which was precisely the case here. Miami was 2-of-13 on third down conversions, Florida was 2-0f-10. The Gators turned it over four times, while the Canes’ lone turnover ultimately turned out to be the biggest of the game—both timing- and field position-wise.

Miami’s young offensive line struggled mightily, giving up an ungodly number of sacks—10—while roughly the entire team missed the “play smart” message delivered by Jimmy Johnson weeks back when he dropped by campus; UM with an obnoxious amount of penalties—14-for-118 yards.

UF wasn’t much better, getting clipped nine times for 100 yards—which should’ve been even more egregious considering the non-holding call on the Gators’ first touchdown and a missed false start on their final score. Big XII officials completely whiffed in their season debut; ESPN commentator Chris Fowler uttering the world “controversial” a few things throughout the course the evening—though Miami finished off the officials’ hack-job by shooting itself in the foot more than once; saving the worst for late.

Having hung in there the majority of the evening; weathering the storm and holding Florida off—clinging to a 13-10 lead late in the third quarter—the guy who was supposed to be Miami’s difference-maker made the biggest blunder on the night.

THE BREAKDOWN & THE ONE THAT ULTIMATELY GOT AWAY

Fielding a punt around the Canes’ 11-yard-line, Jeff Thomas couldn’t bring it in. The Gators recovered and three plays later, took the lead on their second cheap touchdown of the night—the first, a 66-yard dump-off to Kadarius Toney where UM cornerback Trajan Bandy was literally held twice on the play, yet no call.

To Miami’s credit, it immediately answered the score after Thomas’ fumble with an electric, 50-yard scamper by the resilient DeeJay Dallas, snatching back the lead, 20-17. The defense got back out their and did their part, as well—forcing the night’s third turnover when Amari Carter intercepted Felepie Franks, returning it 22 yards to the UF 25-yard line.

The Canes attempted to answer the Gators’ opening-drive fake punt with a fake field goal on 4th-and-1—Bubba Baxa scampering four yards—which a(nother) holding call negated. Miami got new life by way of an unnecessary roughness call on 4th-and-7, but in the name of all things bad juju, Baxa whiffed on the 27-yard chip shot and Florida paid no price for their mistakes.

To the credit of Dan Mullen, and the demise of a Miami defender out of position—safety Gurvan Hall—Franks dropped a dime to receiver Josh Hammond, who took if 65 yards before being brought down. Three plays later Franks punched in what would prove to be the game-winning score.

With half a quarter remaining, Miami still got two cracks at a comeback—but couldn’t capitalize. Thomas attempted to redeem himself with a 32-yard return that gave the Canes some of the best field position they’d seen all night—while Jarren Williams went back to early targets wideout K.J. Osborn and tight end Brevin Jordan, who hauled in a 25-yard reception just before halftime to give Miami it’s first lead since the opening drive.

Facing a 1st-and-10 from the Gators’ 31-yard line, some poorly-timed trickery with quarterback Tate Martell in the game, resulting in a loss of one—followed by an incomplete pass by Williams that set up a dreaded third-and-long that only gained two yards.

With faith in Baxa out the window—and little belief Miami would see the ball again—Manny Diaz opted against a 47-yard field goal attempt and saw Williams sacked on fourth down.

Inexplicably—Franks attempted to throw on fir first down with 4:20 remaining—and was picked off by Romeo Finley, who returned the errant pass to Florida’s 25-yard line, but staying with the disastrous theme of the night, Miami found a way to lose 30 yards in a matter of tick of the clock.

A double-bird salute from safety Al Blades Jr. cost the Canes the first 15 and an illegal block on first down locked on another—moving Miami all the way back to it’s own 45.

From there, the rest was a messy blur for both sides. Over the final 10 plays, Williams was sacked three times and fumbled twice (both recovered by Miami), while Florida committed two pass interference plays—one on 4th-and-34, another on 3rd-and-12—that gave the Canes new life.

A 12-yard reception by Mike Harley got Miami as close as the 24-yard line with under a minute remaining—where a game-winning field goal would’ve been an option had Baxa not missed earlier, or Diaz chosen to go for three instead of keeping the ball in his quarterback’s hands on fourth-and-long—but that was all she wrote after a sack and two incomplete passes that turned the ball over and downs.

While it’d be easy to point to a defining play here or there in a four-point loss—fact remains there were too many, each of which that could’ve been a difference-maker. Miami simply didn’t play the smart, disciplined, clean game it needed to take down the No. 8-ranked squad in a season-opener.

Yes, Florida looked like hot-garbage at times, as well—but the Gators could better-afford to not play their best as the more-experienced bunch year two under a coach who got them to 10 wins last year. Miami—in it’s first game under Diaz, with a brand new offensive staff and a r-freshman quarterback making his first start—couldn’t; those couple of extra mistakes proving to be the distance in jubilation and an upset, versus loss and heartbreak.

Despite doing some things right—resilient play, overcoming adversity, not quitting—too many pivotal moments went the wrong way. Still, the Canes were ultimately in it until the end despite that, and never stopped swinging.

“We talked about all off-season about developing a backbone, being able to withstand a punch … and then that happened the second half when we fumbled the punt and they score on the short field and a couple times where it’s like, well, I don’t know,” Diaz explained post game.

“Maybe it’s not your night and you can kind of let go of the rope and I thought our guys looked those situations in the eye, fought through them, and ultimately gave ourselves a chance to win the game with 10 seconds left in the game throwing the ball in their end zone.”

“Like I said, that’s what a big time program should do. You don’t pat yourself on the back for not quitting but it is something. And that was a big point of our off-season.”

As expected, the reactions to the game and loss are split—some imploring logic and liking much of what they saw; penalties and mistakes withholding—while others are letting emotion get the best of them; taking out 15 years of frustration on one game.

SEGMENT OF UM FAN BASE CONFIRMS THEY’LL NEVER ‘GET IT’

Message boards are generally the underbelly of the sports world; fans with quirky handles spewing anonymous venom and in this case, many seeming like they actually want Miami to fail, simply so they can be correct in their attacks. One game in, Diaz is already seeing the honeymoon end (with this portion of the fan base), after eight months of solid off-season moves.

Game One, with a brand new offensive staff, a brand new quarterback, three freshman on the offensive line—not to mention a 7-6 program that ended with a 35-3 bowl game thud last December—and some of the attacks were written like it’s year three and things should be humming smoothly.

Canes fans generally get a bad rap. Most of it isn’t fair, but when you see some of these bullshit comments and a complete inability to acknowledge that this Miami squad—mistakes aside—looked light year’s better than the lifeless bunch that took on Wisconsin at the end of 2018; it’s impossible to not acknowledge some moronic behavior. A sampling from one critic on Saturday night:

“This sloppy performance had beautiful hunts of Al Golden team with some notes of the late great Randal Shannon.

I’m calling you out Manny Diaz. You’re on notice. Until proven otherwise, you’re just a Cuban Randy Shannon without the forehead dent or top-ranked class in the country.

Let’s see if the sequel is better than the original, which flopped after being propped up and hyped for the same reasons. Can he win the Coastal or is he another Temple coach—all hat and not cattle.” 

Those who disagree are considered to be a “jabroni”, while this critic also suggested a Penalty Dunce Cap for Diaz—going along with all of UM’s other sideline jewelry: “This way every time your undisciplined team commits a penalty you can pose for the camera, dog.”

Sadly, if you’ve followed this program for decades—you absolutely know “that guy” and could’ve set your watch by comments like this, no matter if Miami scrapped and lose to Florida by four, or no-showed and got rolled by four touchdowns—as the imbeciles have zero ability to discern between the two.

Fact remains, there’s a portion of UM’s fan base that believes the magic captured between 1983 and 2002 (sans that mid-nineties probation hiccup) should be replicated without a hitch; by a private school that really had no business crashing the party in the first place.

CANES FOOTBALL WILL REMAIN A MODERN-DAY UNDERDOG

Where football reigns supreme throughout state schools in the SEC, Big XII and Big Ten—coaches treated and paid like gods, while fans flock to stadiums on Saturday afternoons just as religiously as they attend church come Sunday—that will never be the case with the ‘The U’.

Miami spent 15 years—from the 2001 national title season, until two months before Al Golden was fired, late 2015—with Donna Shalala as university president; a woman who loved the medical program with passion, but didn’t give a rat’s ass about athletics.

The result, a few low-rent hires that kept the Canes wandering around purgatory for a combined nine years as both Golden, and Randy Shannon before him could barely tread water—let alone rebuild what Butch Davis created half a decade prior to Shannon replacing placeholder Larry Coker

It’s no coincidence that four months after Shalala’s departure, UM athletic director Blake James and the Board of Trustess green-lit the hiring of Mark Richt—made possible by Shalala’s replacement, Dr. Julio Frenk, operating in a hands-off manner in regards to athletics.

Despite the bigger paycheck, Richt didn’t prove to be a home-run hire on the field—but bringing in a seasoned veteran who ran a storied SEC program for 15 years certainly helped behind the scenes, as the former Georgia Bulldogs leader rolled up his sleeves and worked to bring his alma mater into the modern era, facilities- and infrastructure-wise.

Still, the hiring of Richt broke a long-time Miami pattern of rolling the dice on low-cost up-and-comers, over stroking a fat check for a proven entity.

The moment the University of Miami grew a pair and hired a coach with Richt’s resume—December 2015—is the moment this program finally proved it actually gives two shits about rebuilding it’s proud football legacy. Everything that happened the 14 years prior on Shalala’s watch; smoke and mirrors and going through the motions.

Fans can piss and moan about how unacceptable it is that UM’s been irrelevant for almost two decades, but it doesn’t change the fact that Miami is still less than four years into truly building a modern-era football program.

The hiring of Diaz is merely Phase Two and a continuation of the groundwork Richt laid. Blowing everything up and starting from scratch for the fourth time in 13 years would’ve been disastrous—as well as it would’ve been unnecessary as the defense has been successful since Diaz revamped it in 2016, meaning only the offense needed to be retooled.

ATTITUDE & OVERALL ENERGY; BIGGEST OFF-SEASON CHANGES

Miami dug in for the fight on Saturday night against Florida—which wouldn’t have been the case had Richt not stepped down, bringing Diaz back home from his 18-day stint in Philly; allowing him and a brand new offensive staff to spend eight months changing the culture, while flushing out old bad habits and reversing negative muscle memory.

If last year’s Canes had an ounce of the fight shown last Saturday night—a that 7-5 regular season would’ve been 10-2 and Coastal Division champs; as those limp-dicked losses to Virginia, Georgia Tech and Duke simply wouldn’t have happened.

No, none of that makes a loss to Florida feel any better—but take solace in the fact Miami players and coaches are pissed off, too. Lest not forget, they’re the ones who actually put in the work all off-season—on the field and in the weight room—not on message boards or social media.

“I thought our guys played with a lot of courage. I think they played with a lot of effort,” said a frustrated Diaz in his post-game presser.

“But it doesn’t matter because we lost the game. We did not come here to play with courage and effort. We came here to win the game and it’s not okay at the University of Miami ever to lose to the University of Florida. Everybody in that locker room feels the pain of that right now.”

Some will chalk it up as coach speak or just words, while those who believe in the current transformation will take solace that this group will get back to work over the coming weeks, eliminating mistakes and chasing down a Coastal Division title—which is the ultimate goal of The New Miami here in 2019.

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.

August 26, 2019

PENALTIES & MISTAKES DOOM MIAMI HURRICANES IN QUEST TO UPSET RIVAL FLORIDA GATORS

Months back has someone offered up a scenario that unranked Miami would find themselves down four, ball in hand mid-field with just over four minutes to go against No.8 Florida—one of any three quarterbacks without a turnover in their first start, while the Canes’ defense forced four turnovers—most would’ve considered it a dream scenario; especially considering […]

August 24, 2019

‘THE NEW MIAMI’ READY FOR DEBUT; FLORIDA GATORS AWAIT

After months of anticipation, game day is finally here; college football getting the ultimate kickoff in 2019 for the sports’s 150th anniversary; Miami versus Florida—in primetime, with all eyes on this big-time showdown.

The Gators roll in No. 8 in the country, while the Hurricanes are in that all-too-familiar Others Receiving Votes category; understandable and expected on the heels of a six-loss season, a head coaching change and no proven quarterback—though it doesn’t properly speak to the overall talent level of this squad.

Most have Florida tabbed to take care of business on Saturday night—albeit in much closer fashion than the Gators’ delusional fan base and some of their players are predicting. All that to say, games aren’t played on paper, because if so, last season’s eighth-ranked preseason team—Miami—wouldn’t have gotten boat-raced by LSU in 2018’s season-opener.

PRESEASON RANKINGS BASED ON YESTERDAY’S NEWS; NOT TODAY’S

Preseason predictions are a fickle beast. For the most part, Miami earned a Top 10 ranking going into last fall due to a 10-0 start that included a primetime massacre of then-No. 3 Notre Dame. A regular season-ending loss at Pitt was swept under the rug as the Canes locked up their first Coastal Division title in 14 tries—while a loss to defending national champion Clemson in the ACC title game was expected and also forgiven.

A one-loss Wisconsin squad outlasted Miami in the Orange Bowl; which also wasn’t completely held against the Canes when going into 2018, as a 10-3 record—just as Florida posted in last year—looked good on paper and fit an on-the-rise narrative.

In reality, Miami still had some glaring weaknesses that were fast-exposed against LSU in Dallas, while the Tigers ultimately surprised with a brand new quarterback—Ohio State transfer, Joe Burrow—and a head coach few were expecting to turn a corner so quickly; Ed Orgeron, a perennial assistant who’d struggled in all previous head coaching stints, but ultimately had a break-through season.

That’s not to say Miami is—or isn’t—this year’s LSU, that Manny Diaz is destined to get everything right in his first game leading the Canes, or that r-freshman quarterback Jarren Williams can do game one what Burrow did in his first start; the Tigers’ quarterback cutting his teeth as a back-up the year prior. This is simply a reminder that when a team believes its own hype, as well as those preseason accolades bestowed upon them—things can sometimes go south quickly. Last year’s Canes are living proof and the jury’s out regarding how the Gators respond to their early positioning.

Entering Saturday’s opener, it’s hardly a shock that Florida thinks they’re hot shit—with an air of superiority like it’s 200 and not 2019; when Dan Mullen was calling plays under Urban Meyer and rolling into a new year as defending national champs, opposed to the former offensive coordinator entering year two with an inaugural season that truthfully wasn’t as strong as the 10-3 record it posted.

DEEP-DIVING THE GATORS’ 2018 CAMPAIGN & STUMBLES

Give Florida props for a convincing bowl win over Michigan; though one would be remised to not acknowledge the 62 points the Ohio State laid on the Wolverines in the regular season finale for a seventh-straight series win, which certainly took the piss out of the *other* UM and left them flat  for bowl season.

Those three losses? Falling to Kentucky at home (for the first time in 31 years), an understandable 19-point loss to rival Georgia (a title contender and pride of the SEC East) and a 21-point home loss to Missouri; a game that saw starting quarterback Feleipe Franks benched in favor of Kyle Trask— thought it was a short-lived move as the r-sophomore broke his foot in practice days later, allowing Franks to return by default for a home showdown against South Carolina.

The Gators trailed by 17 late in the third quarter before scoring 21 unanswered to avoid the upset against the Gamecocks; who finished 7-6 and fell to Virginia in the postseason, 28-0.

The point in this quick history lesson; Florida’s perceived invincibility and the supreme confidence in Franks both seem built on a similar house of cards to last year’s Miami hype. Maybe the Gators are the real-deal and will prove it Saturday night—but there’s at least room to question if this team is as good as they believe they are.

Miami’s off-season approach has been the exact opposite—and with good reason as one can’t run their mouths when on the wrong end of a 35-3 post-season ass-kicking; on that forced former head coach Mark Richt into early retirement; the keys tossed to his former defensive coordinator who was 18 days into his new stint as head coach at Temple University.

Diaz drove home the we-have-no-business-talking mantra home from early on, when he posted 7-6 signs on tackling dummies all over UM’s new indoor practice facility and encouraged his players to take out their frustration there—not on their smartphones, offering up any bulletin board material.

Hurricanes players have been suspiciously quiet and even-keeled these past few months, while the Gators are spewing noise any time a microphone is stuck in one of their smug faces.

“I don’t really see them as a challenge. I just see them as another team really, because I feel like my whole team—we face big-boy teams,” defensive end and linebacker Andrew Chatfield said about Miami months back. “They faced one SEC team and got smashed by LSU last time I checked. But whatever though, it’s just another game.”

A spirited rivalry dating back to 1938—of which the Hurricanes have taken seven of the past eight is, “just another game”. Upperclassmen should’ve thought about muzzling the r-freshman, but instead many chose to pile-on when given the opportunity.

HOW FAR APART ARE MIAMI & FLORIDA AS NEW SEASON GETS ROLLING?

Regarding Miami, there’s been understandable outside focus on the setbacks of 2018—yet a short memory regarding what this program successfully managed to do in 2017; the same way few recall that four only managed to win four games while the Canes were rolling heads en route to winning the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Simply put; the Canes are as far removed from a successful 10-win season as the Gators are dropping six of their final seven in 2017.

Also ignored; as quick as Miami ascended, it crashed down hard the following year—and as bad as Florida was two years back, it won 10 games year one with Mullen; begging the question, are these two teams really as far apart as the way the narrative is being written for 2019’s opener?

What about the monster hit the Gators have taken to an offensive line that was masterful in protecting Franks; buying him time and opening up holes for Lamical Perine and other running backs? Long gone are Martez Ivey, Jawaan Taylor, Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson—paving the way for a lot of youth on the Gators’ line, similar to what Miami is dealing with up front. Any way you slice it, it’s a step back for Florida—while despite the young line, Miami can only improve based on the offense they fielded a year ago.

For both Miami and Florida, each taking on a team of this caliber for an opener deserves the tip of a hat—as it’s always advantageous to work out the kinks against a doormat, or two. Neither gets that luxury this season; both putting their balls and pride on the line Week 0.

Of course facing a foe like each will face this early in the schedule will also alter overall game plans; both head coaches well aware early match-ups like these are usually lost more than they’re actually won. Translation; whoever eliminates mistakes, excels in special teams and get a few fortunate bounces is usually the team that prevails in what should be a low-scoring affair with its share of three-and-outs and rusty timing.

INTANGIBLES OUTWEIGH OVERALL GAME PLANS & STRATEGIES

As far as an X’s and O’s breakdown goes for this one; throw it all out the window for this one as there are simply too many unknown in a late August match-up like this.

Yes, Florida has an advantage with Franks under center—but how will the junior quarterback respond behind his young and green offensive line in the face of UM’s pass rush? Last year #13 had the benefit of protection that he simply won’t have against a Miami fronts seven that has some talent on the defensive line, as well as some of the best linebackers in the nation in Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney—heavily-relied upon seniors who only returned when Diaz was handed the keys to the kingdom.

Williams will deal with the same pressure on his end as the Canes’ line is also inexperienced—though a safe bet new offensive coordinator Dan Enos keeps the newbie reeled in a bit; whereas Franks and his blend of confidence and experience could lead to him taking more chances that might backfire. Miami, and new defensive coordinator Blake Baker, also have years’ worth of film on Franks and know his tendencies, while Williams is an unknown and expectations are low in regards to his carrying the Canes—which could be also blessing in disguise if this game somehow goes UM’s way.

Back to last year’s opener at LSU; Burrow was the biggest question mark for the Tigers—the Canes banking on the transfer turning the ball over. Instead, he had a clean outing (11-of-24 for 140 yards) and played all the part of game manager. By season’s end; Burrow was the MVP of the Fiesta Bowl in LSU’s win over Central Florida—the unknown signal caller playing a big part in a 10-3 season.

Special teams should also have a massive impact on this season opener. For Miami’s sake, it better hope kicker Bubba Baxa has shaken off any of last year’s freshman jitters that left points on the field—while the punting game immediately got an upgrade when former Australian football player Lou Hedley transferred to Coral Gables (by way of City College of San Francisco); a move that could prove MVP-worthy based on the UM’s punting woes the past few seasons.

While it’d be a disservice to LSU—and a handful of the teams that beat Miami last season—it’s impossible to not bring up how often the Canes lost field position battles due to the inept Zach Feagles, as well as his replacement Jack Spicer. Against the Tigers, Feagles first three punts were short, giving LSU the ball at mid-field—which led to 13 first half points. Toss in Baxa having a 45-yard field goal attempts blocked and quarterback Malik Rosier coughing up a painful-to-watch pick-six and it’s no mystery the Canes were in a 27-3 halftime hole they couldn’t dig out of.

Miami looked outmatched by LSU; not so much talent versus talent—but due to holes at quarterback, offensive play calling and shoddy special teams play; all of which continued into ACC play and were a common theme en route to 7-6. If nothing else, simple addition-by-subtraction will play into the Hurricanes’ favor as Richt has yielded to Diaz, Enos has installed a more up-to-date offense and Rosier made way for Williams; who realistically should’ve been given his shot last season based on upside and potential, versus Rosier’s experience and Richt going the “safe” route in a weak Coastal Division.

Aside from all those aforementioned intangibles, it can’t be ignored that literally all the pressure here is on the eighth-ranked Gators; Florida expected to take a step forward this fall, while Miami comes in a bit more stealth and undetected—on the heels of a six-loss season, a new head coach, an entirely new offensive staff and a brand new quarterback. Attention has already been paid to UM’s favorable schedule this year and many have the Canes continuing to improve as the year rolls on; earning them a division title and a crack at defending national champion Clemson in the ACC title game.

With no real pressure on Miami to perform game one—it can afford to play loose and to pleasantly surprise the nation should it pull off an upset that really isn’t all that unthinkable.

ALL THE PRESSURE ON THAT TEAM FROM UP NORTH; THE GATOR

Florida—like Miami last season—is coming off a step-forward season and is expected to go to the next level this fall; hence the overconfidence and belief pouring out of Gainesville; something the Canes are familiar with after so many false starts the past few years, which begged all the, “Is ‘The U’ back?” queries by the media and college football analysts anytime UM did something noteworthy.

There’s a different type of pressure when you’re on the mend and expected to grow year two under a new head coach—versus year one; proven by the fact there were no real expectations for Mullen in 2018 having taken over a four-win team. Anything he did was gravy, but after reaching the 10-win mark—Florida faithful have high expectations for his second act.

Conversely, everything for Miami has come up roses since the morning after losing the Pinstripe Bowl last December—starting the moment Richt abruptly retired and walked away from a multi-million dollar buyout; not wanting to hold his alma mater over a barrel. Had Richt stuck around for a fourth season, the following would most-likely be true as the Canes roll into Camping World Stadium on Saturday night:

— Diaz would be the head coach at Temple University and two former defensive assistants would be running the Canes defense this season; barring either Ephraim Banda and Jonathan Patke didn’t ultimately follow him to Philadelphia as the Owls’ new staff came together. Morale was low after that Wisconsin-sized beat-down. Instead, Banda is co-defensive coordinator and continued working with safeties, Patke handles strikers and special teams and Diaz brought in Blake Baker to run the defense, opposed to simply promoting from with in.

— Quarterman and Pinckney would’ve left for the NFL a year early and the Canes would be breaking in a young, inexperienced group of linebackers this fall—instead of that position being rock-solid and the soul of the defense. The Canes would also be without the services of speedster and special teams demon Jeff Thomas; who was dismissed by Richt, appeared Illinois-bound but earned his way back on to the team through a sit-down with Diaz.

— Richt would’ve made minimal changes to his offensive philosophy—under protest; his hand forced by UM’s administration and the Board of Trustees—which would’ve created some form of contention as coaches don’t like pencil-pushers and suits telling them how to run their program.

Gus Felder would still be Miami’s strength and conditioning coach instead of David Feely; who’s had an immediate impact on this team since his arrival—getting this Hurricanes’ program in the best shape it’s been in for over a decade.

– The much-criticized Stacy Searels would still be coaching UM’s offensive line instead of NFL veteran Butch Barry; another immediate-impact guy who is getting underclassmen to play above their level, resulting in true freshman Zion Campbell winning the left tackle job while r-freshman John Campbell turned heads in his quest to lock down the right tackle position.

— Miami also wouldn’t have robbed the Transfer Portal blind, reeling in Tate Martell, Trevon Hill, K.J. Osborn, Chigoze NnorukaBubba Bolden and few other immediate-impact kids who are going to be difference makers this season.

Even scarier, all signs were pointing towards William transferring out between the end of the regular season and the bowl game last year; leaving the Canes with with N’Kosi Perry, who would’ve gotten the job by default (over freshman Peyton Matocha)—opposed to the spirited competition on Greentree where Williams came on strong late, beating out both Martell and Perry; all three of them better for it.

— Lastly, there wouldn’t be The New Miami and this new-yet-old-school attitude that Diaz has been infusing. The new head coach kept things rolling defensively, while injecting some life and swag into his offensive players—with links to the past and a focus on competition; pushing players’ buttons in the style of greats like Jimmy Johnson—who Diaz is leaning on as a mentor and bringing around to inform his current players about the way it was done during that Decade Of Dominance.

While none of these feel-good reminders necessary mean the Hurricanes are going to upset the Gators on Saturday night—they are all worth mention as important pieces to this storyline; one that seems to have been reduced to, “7-6 last year, a new head coach and a quarterback playing his first game”. Seems everyone is overlooking Miami; which is just fine as the Canes are definitely relishing the opportunity to fly-under-the-radar for this one.

Again, on paper—Florida should prevail as they’re one year ahead in their rebuild—but dammit if it doesn’t feel like something special is brewing in Coral Gables since Diaz took the reins.

Maybe it’s all that TNM hype, this renewed energy, former players and coaches buying in—coupled with a slew of off-season victories for a program out of the spotlight for way too long—but there’s a nagging sentiment that UM is being devalued here and that the Canes are going to play off of and respond to that.

On the 27th anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Andrew—it seems like another type of storm is fittingly brewing.

Logic says Gators—but the intangibles are saying the Canes pull a fast one on an unsuspecting Florida team that isn’t giving Miami its due, and doesn’t seem as good as their current hype.

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Miami 23, Florida 20

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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.

Manny Diaz released the Miami Hurricanes’ depth chart for the Week 0 showdown against the No. 8 Florida Gators in Orlando on Saturday October 24th—with things pretty much going as expected.

The full list is below, but some quick thoughts before diving in:

— Common knowledge that Jarren Williams has locked down the starting role, but to date no second-string quarterback has been named between Tate Martell and N’Kosi Perry. There have been rumblings of Martell moving to wide receiver, but can’t see that happening until (1) Williams has fully locked down the job for the season or (2) Martell winds up in the third slot behind Perry.

Curious to see if offensive coordinator Dan Enos works Martell into Saturday night’s game plan at any point; goal line or short-yardage situations, etc.

— Only two running backs are currently listed on the depth chart; DeeJay Dallas and Cam’Ron Harris as his back-up. Strange to not see a third name there; be it Lorenzo Lingard (who is working his way back from injury and was recently cleared), Robert Burns—or even fullback Realus George.

Understandable that coaches might not want to push Lingard this soon in the season—having torn his MCL in practice last October—but curious who winds up in that third spot as the Canes realistically won’t stay two-deep at running back come Saturday.

K.J. Osborn, Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley are the three go-starting receivers, with Brevin Jordan locking down the tight end position. Williams will have some weapons at his disposal, barring the line can do their job protecting and buying time. (Side note; still incredible that Thomas worked his way back into the fold after parting ways with Miami late in 2018. His return was such a fortunate offensive bounce.)

— True freshman Zion Nelson locked down the left tackle position, while r-freshman John Campbell earned tremendous praise throughout camp, en route to being named starting right tackle. Have to love a head coach walking the walk in regards to saying he’d put the best guys out there—and then doing so. Thinking back to past regimes where “experience” won out on the depth chart over “talent”—it’s refreshing to see competition and rising to the occasion as deciding factors.

Scott Patchan got the nod as one of the starting defensive ends, but have to believe Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill is going to see his fair share of snaps Saturday night and will eventually be ‘the guy’ at that position. Shoulder surgery last season sidelined Hill—as did his issues with Hokies head coach Justin Fuente, but all signs point to Hill being ready to go on what is already an upperclassman-heavy defensive line.

— Neither Al Blades Jr. or DJ Ivey have locked down a starting cornerback slot—opposite of Trajan Bandy, who is good to go on the other side. Both Blades and Ivey have had strong camps—while Blades has also been named captain for that group several times during camp. The sophomore was also thrust into a starting role in last year’s opener against LSU when Bandy was ejected for targeting early in the first quarter; so that could provide a slight advantage experience-wise come Saturday.

— Seeing the name Lou Hedley at punter is so comforting when having flashback to Miami’s special teams woes last fall. Field position was a disaster against the Tigers last September in Dallas. Here’s hoping Hedley’s presence gives the Canes a distinct advantage that wasn’t an option last year at this time.

— Last but not lease, thrilled to see starters, speedsters and next-level guys like Thomas, Osborn and Dallas on both punt and kick returns. Vintage Miami teams always put their best guys on special teams, but again, somewhere over the past decade-plus there seemed to be more second-string guys returning punts.

Diaz explained in today’s presser the distinct scoring advantage special teams has with a wide open field, opposed to guys lining up with 1st-and-10. Would love to see this decision rewarded Week 0 with one of these guys doing something special, in a season-opener where both offenses will play it somewhat safe early, as they get their feet wet.

OFFENSE

Quarterback
Jarren Williams
Tate Martell -or- N’Kosi Perry

Running Back
DeeJay Dallas
Cam’Ron Harris

X-Receiver
K.J. Osborn
Brian Hightower
Dee Wiggins

Z-Receiver
Jeff Thomas
Mark Pope

F-Receiver
Mike Harley
Marshall Few

Tight-End
Brevin Jordan
Will Mallory
Michael Irvin II

Left Tackle
Zion Nelson
Kai-Leon Herbert

Left Guard
Navaughn Donaldson
Cleveland Reed

Center
Corey Gaynor
Jakai Clark

Right Guard
DJ Scafie
Queman Traore

Right Tackle
John Campbell
Zalon’tae Hillery

DEFENSE

Defensive End
Jon Garvin
Gregory Rousseau
Jahfari Harvey

Defensive Tackle
Jon Ford
Chigozie Nnoruka

Defensive Tackle
Pat Bethel
Jordan Miller

Defensive End
Scott Patchan
Trevon Hill
Jahfari Harvey

Striker
Romey Finley
Gilbert Frierson

Middle Linebacker
Shaq Quarterman
Sam Brooks

Weakside Linebacker
Michael Pinckney
Zach McCloud

Cornerback
Al Blades -or- DJ Ivey

Safety
Amari Carter
Robert Knowles
Keontra Smith

Safety
Gurvan Hall
Bubba Bolden

Cornerback
Trajan Bandy
Te’Cory Couch
Christian Williams

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kickoffs / Field Goals
Bubba Baxa
Camden Price

Punter
Lou Hedley
Jack Spicer

Long Snapper
Clay James
Mason Napper

Holder
Jack Spicer
Lou Hedley

Punt Returner
Jeff Thomas
K.J. Osborn
DeeJay Dallas

Kick Returner
Jeff Thomas
K.J. Osborn
DeeJay Dallas

August 19, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES DEPTH CHART AGAINST FLORIDA GATORS

Jarren Williams has been named starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes’ 2019 season opener against the Florida Gators on Saturday August 24th; primetime in Orlando—and if paying attention to the soundbites as of late, the pick isn’t as surprising as it might seem on the surface.

The redshirt-freshman beat out redshirt-sophmore N’Kosi Perry as well as fellow redshirt-sophomore Tate Martell; the former Ohio State back-up quarterback, star of the Netflix series QB1: Beyond The Lights and an even bigger sensation in the off-season’s Transfer Portal; where he quickly chose Miami back in January.

Reactions are varied—most outsiders using this opportunity to trash the brash Martell on social media, opposed to followers of ‘The U’ deep-diving into the battle itself, as well as the reasoning behind first-year head coach Manny Diaz and new offensive coordinator Dan Enos opting for Williams; the least experienced, biggest question mark of the group.

Williams spent most of 2018 nursing an oblique strain, only seeing action in one game—Savannah State—where the the-then true freshman was 1-of-3 through the air for 17 yards, with two rushes for two yards, with a score. Meanwhile, Perry started six games for Miami and saw action in 11—while Martell saw mop-up duty for the Buckeyes in six games last season.

Since Diaz’s takeover end of December and the addition of Enos—by way of Tuscaloosa, days after Alabama was rolled by Clemson in the national championship; the most-integral part of #TheNewMiami has been rebuilding a Hurricanes’ offense from the ground up—and with good reason. On five different occasions in 2018, Miami was held under 17 points. The Hurricanes averaged 358.8 yards-per-game—105th among 130 FBS programs nationally—and only 5.59 yards-per-play, which ranked 75th.

Absolutely unfathomable for a program that made its name running up the score, while earning the moniker “Quarterback U” due to so much previous success at the position.

ENOS’ PLAN REQUIRED BEST PASSER, MOST WELL-ROUNDED GUY

For all good former head coach Mark Richt did behind the scenes for the University of Miami during his three-year run—the former Florida State offensive coordinator (who coached up two Heisman winners for the Seminoles, as well as a few hopefuls during his 15 years at the helm for Georgia)—his offense at UM was downright atrocious, antiquated and ineffective; to the point where Diaz’s first move was to gut that entire side of the ball, coaching staff-wise.

With Williams officially named starter for game one, it’s worth doubling back to January and picking through Enos’ press conference and approach to how he’d rebuild Miami offensively; the ultimately key phrase, building a system around the current personnel.

“I’ve been around different teams that have had different personnel groupings that have kind of been the best for that particular team—those are going to change probably from year in and year out,” Enos shared during a radio interview on 560 WQAM when hired. An important sentiment to remember as it means this current decision was based on everything that currently makes up the squad Miami will field in 2019; offensive line woes, mostly youth at wide receivers, a lack-of-starting-experience at running back—but some depth at tight end.

Enos is primarily a student and proponent of the West Coast offense, though he’s modernized things by implementing some spread, as well as run-pass-option into his scheme. Keeping defenses off-balance is the mantra; so a system where running backs and tight ends are lined up as receiving threats for short passes to help spread out the defense, setting up the long ball—it requires a specific skills set out of a starting quarterback.

Outside of the challenge of getting the ball in the hands of players—defensive identification and knowing how to read what’s being thrown at them, while improving overall mechanics—Miami needed the right guy who checked off the most boxes going into the new season.

Knowing this to be the case over the past eight months—it forced all three hopefuls to be evaluated under a specific criteria, en route to figuring out who is best-suited to step into the most-important role on this current Hurricanes’ squad.

Weeks back Enos shared some telling tidbits on Williams, Perry and Martell. Praise for the former Buckeyes’ back-up seemed mechanics-related—the work Martell put in on his own to better his grip of the ball—while positive things were mentioned about Perry’s “slow arm” getting quicker, while taking a step forward maturity-wise by making the ACC honor roll.

All that to say, Williams seemed to get the more in-depth critique—hyped for his body fat going down and getting stronger overall. The 6-foot-2 prospect beefed up to 230 pounds during a stagnant 2018 season, but has gotten himself back into 210-pound playing shape. Enos also praised his mechanics, called Williams “a very natural passer” and stated that he was much-improved regarding previous lower-body issues—dropping back, overall balance.

Diaz has also been vocal regarding what he deems most-important when it comes to a starting quarterback; nothing higher on his list than an ability to avoid critical errors.

N’Kosi Perry and transfer Tate Martell looked to have the leg up experience-wise, but in the end Miami coaches went with Jarren Williams’ total package; head, arm and overall size.

UNPACKING 2018’S QUARTERBACK INCOMPETENCE FOR ‘THE U’

When looking back on the 2018 season and completely unraveling after a 5-1 start—inconsistent quarterback play was the culprit in every preceding loss.

Perry’s two early interceptions at Virginia put Miami in a hole it couldn’t dig itself out of—and when yielding to Malik Rosier, No. 12 delivered one of his many late turnovers that ultimately were the difference-maker in a 16-13 road loss.

At Boston College two weeks after—coming off a bye to regroup—the Canes pulled to within three at halftime, down 17-14—only to see Rosier give it away completely over the next thirty minutes. An early second half interception led to an easy Eagles’ field goal and another pick on the ensuing drive, deep in Hurricanes’ territory, led to a one-play BC touchdown—pushing the lead to 27-14, where it’d stay.

Even with late chances to rally, Rosier couldn’t convert—taking sacks, missing receivers and looking generally lost under center; scrambling instead of letting plays develop, or missing his opportunity to make something happen. On four possessions after BC’s final score, Rosier was 6-of-14 for 42 yards, sacked twice, with a fumble that UM recovered.

The rest of the season had a bit of a rinse, wash, repeat type of feel. Rosier and Perry were a combined 13-of-38 for 111 yards in an ugly home loss to Duke; Miami leading 12-7 at intermission and outscored 13-0 in the second half for a 20-12 loss.

Perry was back in the saddle at Georgia Tech a week later, but two first half fumbles—one by Perry—led to 10 points for the Yellow Jackets; nightmare turnovers and short fields surrendered when playing a triple-option team that thrives on ball control.

Miami responded with a win at Virginia Tech; made possible by a turnover-free outing from Perry, while the Hokies’ gave it away three times in a 38-14 loss—while a win against Pittsburgh came courtesy of a 168-yard performance from Travis Homer, with a score, as well as a punt return from DeeJay Dallas.

Perry was a paltry 6-of-24 for 52 yards; the Canes’ lowest passing outing since a 2007 loss to Georgia Tech—his final outing of the year, giving way to Rosier for his second off-the-field infraction of the season (questionable Snapchat posts that resurfaced).

Rosier was 5-of-12 for 46 yards and three interceptions in a 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin; a game that was 14-3 until the defense finally broke in the final minutes of the third quarter.

Two days later Richt retired and this offensive offense was finally put out to pasture for good.

Recapping the 2018 season isn’t the walk down memory lane UM fans prefer to take, it’s an important reminder as to both how off-base quarterback play was last year—as well as how quickly winnable games got away from the Hurricanes during a 7-5 regular season that realistically would’ve been 10-2 with at least semi-consistent play under center.

Upside; Miami would’ve won the Coastal Division for a second consecutive year and at least gotten a crack at eventual national champion Clemson; another good teeth-cutting moment for a program working towards contention again.

Downside; the heat wouldn’t have been on Richt to change the offense, meaning there wouldn’t have been the bow-out moment that led to The Diaz Era, Enos, big time Transfer Portal moves and this new optimism in regards to TNM and this new track Miami appears to be on.

Short-term losses for (hopefully) big-time, long-term gains.

WILLIAMS TALKING THE TALK; NEEDS TO WALK THE WALK

Regarding Monday morning’s announcement that Williams was the choice; Diaz stated, “We feel like Jarren has the great upside due to his passing ability, his instincts and his determination”—while others who watched all three quarterbacks in camp also shared the belief that Williams was the best all-around of the bunch.

Williams also hasn’t been short on confidence—while that determination to lead the pack never wavered after rumors of transferring surfaced during bowl practices last fall; even in the wake of Diaz bringing on Martell, or 4-star Tyler Van Dyke committing to Miami’s 2020 class.

“I feel like I’m an elite passer,” Williams shared recently. “I can make all the throws, even in tight windows. What a lot of people don’t know is that I can extend plays with my feet. I’m not a slow guy. I can tuck the ball and get 15 yards. I can make a guy miss, but I am a pass-first guy. I stand in the pocket and trust the pocket and get the ball to my receivers.”

Standing in the pocket, trusting the pocket and getting the ball to receivers. As mentioned earlier, none of the above were a strong suit of Rosier or Perry in 2018.

In defense of both, Miami’s previous offense was flawed—putting both in way too many third-and-long situations where there was no time to stand in, or trust any pocket—but even in favorable situations, both struggled last season—as did Martell in practices and scrimmages since his arrival in Coral Gables.

Arriving on Williams less than two weeks before kickoff against Florida ends the waiting game and allows the Hurricanes to go into full game-plan-mode for the Gators—as well as giving Miami’s new starting quarterback time to let his new reality settle in.

“I feel like I’m a tough guy. I have passion. I feel like I have the intangibles to really be that guy. You’ve gone one shot and when I get my shot, I’m going to be prepared for it,” Williams said. “When I get the opportunity, I am going to make sure I do what I do.”

The opportunity is here and the time is August 24th. Now it’s time to do what you do, Jarren—as the ball’s completely in your court.

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.

August 12, 2019

JARREN WILLIAMS; NEW STARTING QUARTERBACK FOR MIAMI HURRICANES

The Miami Hurricanes are gearing up to take on the Florida Gators on August 24th—one week earlier than expected—as part of ESPN’s way of getting the 150th season of college football off to a raucous start. The Sunshine State battle—in primetime—will be the only game of the day, raising the stakes and bragging rights on what will already be a spirited battle.

The Miami-Florida rivalry isn’t the only thing making a comeback this season; ItsAUThing.com will return after a two-year hiatus. After returning to resurrect the long-running allCanesBlog.com in 2017-2018, we’ve decided that an unfiltered, brash, pull-no-punches platform better fits the narrative we prefer to run with—as well as The New Miami that head coach Manny Diaz is touting.

Having covered Hurricane athletics for the past quarter-century, it’s hard not to be overexcited by what is taking place since the arrival of Diaz and a shift into those old-yet-new-school attitude being implemented by the first on-brand head coach UM has seen since Butch Davis pulled out of town over 18 years ago.

Larry Coker was a good man and obvious short-term answer for a championship-built squad in 2001—but by 2004, the luster had worn off, recruiting had dropped off and the hard-ass, self-disciplined type of kid that Davis brought on and coached-up had been replaced by frontrunners who only saw the glitz and glam that came with being part of a program on top; not all the hard work that went into building that foundation in the late nineties.

Randy Shannon checked off boxes in regards to a former championship era player leading the program—but a CEO and face of the program, the former linebacker was not. An inexpensive hire in 2007 when the university wasn’t content to invest much into Hurricanes Football—the assistants were as second-rate as the product on the field and by the end of year four, change was in the air yet again.

Al Golden talked the talk at his presser and had the look of a head honcho, but in the end proved to be an empty suit—as well as off-brand, bringing his Penn State stylings south, instead of trying to do things the Miami way and adapting to what he had as his disposal. In Golden’s defense, he was sideswiped by an NCAA investigation and scandal weeks before coaching his first game at UM in 2011—but fact remains that the job wasn’t desirable and the Canes had to roll the dice on another up-and-comer type; crediting Golden for turning around a dismal Temple program and hoping those efforts would translate to success in Coral Gables. They didn’t.

Days after a humiliating home loss to Clemson—58-0— Golden (and his 3-4 defense) was sacked; halfway through his fifth season at the helm.

Mark Richt fell into Miami’s lap months later, after his 15-year stint in Athens came to an end. Leaning towards retirement and calling it a career, the former UM quarterback couldn’t pass up the opportunity to resurrect his alma mater.

Year one was a respectable 9-4; capped off with the Canes’ first bowl victory in a decade. Next up; the first double-digit win season in 14 years and a 10-0 start that brought ESPN’s College GameDay to campus for the first time in the show’s history. A seven-game losing streak to Florida State was broken, while Miami kicked Notre Dame’s ass all over HardRock in primetime and won the ACC’s Coastal Division for the first time in 14 tries.

A three-game losing streak—Pittsburgh to end the regular season, Clemson in the conference title game and Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl—put a damper on a year where UM (briefly) rose to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, but it set the stage for a Top 10 ranking in 2018 and a chance for the program to finally take a step forward. Instead, the Canes backslid their way to 7-6 and Richt gracefully bowed out after a lopsided bowl loss—again to the Badgers.

While Richt ultimately didn’t get it done on the field—his efforts behind the scenes at the University of Miami created a ripple effect that will definitely earn him an assist if and when Diaz turns the program around.

Whether it was putting up $1,000,000 of his own money towards and indoor practice facility, upgrading the nutrition program for his players or getting the administration out of the dark ages in regards to monies allocated for assistants—those efforts are the foundation for this *new* Miami that Diaz is working to build attitude-wise—while the increased pay for coordinators is what also paved the way for Diaz to take over as defensive coordinator in 2016.

REASON FOR EXCITEMENT THIS TIME AROUND

The purpose of this quick coaching tree history lesson; a reminder how long it’s been since Hurricanes fans truly had something to be excited about. There wasn’t a buzz when Coker took over; just a sigh of relief that Miami kept it in the family with the hire as the program was in true championship form. Shannon was semi-comforting as he too was a “Miami guy” and had succeeded as a coordinator. With names like UConn’s Randy Edsall or journeyman offensive mind Marc Trestman tied to the opening at the time—Shannon seemed the most-logical choice.

Red flags surrounded Golden, due to his flimsy resume and style of ball he opted for—but it was a beggars-can’t-be-choosers era for UM as the brand had lost some luster and football wasn’t a priority to then-president Donna Shalala. Fingers were crossed that his “process” would yield results, but in the end it was a oversized 300-page binder full of platitudes and fluff.

Richt wasn’t as exciting as those who were clamoring for Davis to return, but it was the first time UM hired an established name—a successful 15-year head coach from the SEC who was a proven recruiter; 15 years at Georgia, preceded by a decade at Florida State coaching the offense to two national championships—with two Heisman-winning quarterbacks—under the legend Bobby Bowden. Knocks that Richt “couldn’t win the big one” were expected—but on-paper, giving a once-successful Bulldogs’ leader South Florida’s best athletes; it wasn’t far-fetched to think he could succeed, barring he got a second wind after a lengthy career was winding down.

All that to say, if central casting sent over the Hurricanes’ ideal coach; it’d be the 45-year old native who grew up going to games at the Orange Bowl during the Decade of Dominance with his father, Miami’s eventual mayor. A brash and confident son of a Cuban immigrant who ultimately willed himself into coaching, taking an unorthodox path into the profession as a grad assistant at Florida State; breaking down film and stuffing envelopes.

“I’m the quintessential Miami story because my dad was born in Cuba and my mom was born in the Northeast, and they came together in Miami, an Irish-Catholic transplant and a Cuban immigrant,” Diaz told the Miami Herald soon after his hiring late 2018. “All the changes and friction Miami went through to make it what it is today were being defined in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, when my family arrived and when I was growing up. Miami became Miami and the Hurricanes were coming to prominence in the ‘80s. It is all intertwined.”

This quirky UM head coaching gig is a multi-pronged best. A strong knowledge of the X’s and O’s of the game is a no-brainer—as is understanding how to run the program itself, making the right hires, being a tireless recruiter, etc. All would be job requirements at any top program across the land—but unlike most other places, the culture is, and always will be, the Hurricanes’ x-factor. When it comes to said culture, can’t think of many who understand it at the level Diaz does—but in a total package-type way and an ability to bring it to life.

It’s also a different total-package sport than it was a few years ago, forget about decades back. Diaz’s youthful energy, fiery ways, social media prowesses and and understanding how to motivate and relate to today’s players—it can’t be overstated enough. Nick Saban has been college football’s benchmark and the old guard for years now, but anyone who doesn’t see a guy like Dabo Swinney as the present and future in regards to who kids want to play for—they’re completely missing what’s going on.

A hard-ass in regards to accountability and getting the job done, tempered with having fun and staying relatable—that’s your prototypical head coach in 2019—and Diaz fits that mold.

BUCKLING IN FOR ANOTHER EXCITING RIDE

Covering the Canes has always been a labor of love, but over the past 15 years—it’s been more of a grind than a passion project, due to the ongoing downtrodden state of the program. The storyline grew stale; constantly in “rebuild” mode—while trying to convince oneself that this go-around with a new leader would be different than before. Year after year passing, with Miami’s proud legacy and most-recent championship further and further in the rear-view.

While some of that of that is certainly still the case—at some point Miami eventually had to get the right break that led to landing the right guy. Highs and lows, ebbs and flows, yin and yang—they’ve always been a part of Hurricanes’ folklore. Those serendipitous championships in 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 and 2001—the highest of highs; but there were also some low lows.

Missed title shots in 1985 (Tennessee, Sugar Bowl), 1986 (Penn State, Fiesta Bowl—disaster in the desert) and 1992 (Alabama, Sugar Bowl)—as well as having a chance to play for a title stolen from the Canes in 1988 (Cleveland Gary never fumbled in South Bend) and 2000 (FSU in title game after Canes beat the Noles?). As for that 2002 season and that one …. two … three … four … five … FLAG; no words are necessary.

There was also probation and a deserved punishment in the nineties, followed by a bogus investigation two decades later that was completely unjust and damaging—as well as murders (Marlin Barnes, Bryan Pata, Sean Taylor, Shane Curry, etc.) and untimely deaths of other UM greats (Jerome Brown, Al Blades, Chris Campbell, JoJo Nicolas, Tyrone Moss, et al.). Hollywood couldn’t script a story about University of Miami football as the authentic twist and turns would feel completely sensationalized.

This Canes program has been to hell and back—the operative word there, “back”—as Miami always seems to find a new way to rise from the ashes. Yes, Diaz is another unproven guy lacking head coaching experience—but something still feels different about the overall fit this time around, as well as the state of the program he inherited from Richt; the infrastructure itself, as well as the overall talent level.

Sure, there are still some holes—offensive line not where it needs to be, while the quarterback position is still yet to find the next chosen one—but this transition doesn’t feel like Coker to Shannon, Shannon to Golden or Golden to Richt. This one feels different; like UM finally got their guy and that some fine-tuning is needed here; not the giant overhaul past regime changes have brought.

Seeing this unfold in real time and feeling this to be the case, it got the writing juices re-flowing—much like those late nineties when I first started covering UM.

Miami wasn’t “back” by 1998—the second year I was covering the Canes (for the now defunct, but legendary Grassy.com—and later CanesTime.com)—but those who’d followed the program for years could tell that the Canes had taken a step forward and that things were going the right direction.

Knocking off a second-ranked, undefeated, title-game-bound UCLA squad that season—it wasn’t as much of a shock to insiders, as it was the rest of the nation—nor was seeing Miami top Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic the following year, while hanging tough with No. 2 Penn State and No. 1 Florida State during regular season games in 1999. UM was transitioning from “hopeful” to “contender” and it made for some good writing, forecasting and storytelling—a sentiment that, “UM isn’t there yet, but pay attention because the comeback is underway.” 

While no one is expecting a run like Miami saw at the turn of the century; 46-4, two national title game berths, one championship, hitting for the then-BCS cycle; Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, Orange—and complete domination of the sport, as well as the NFL Draft—that hopeful-to-contender transition is again under way, which makes for ideal writing conditions.

Back in the saddle covering Hurricanes Football and ready to see a Diaz-led Miami retake it’s place amongst the sport’s elite. It’s the storyline we’ve been waiting for and it finally feels like “The U” is set to become a contender again. Buckle in and enjoy the ride.

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.

August 6, 2019

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