Win, lose, or draw—these are the type of match-ups those who play the game absolutely live for.
The seventh-ranked Hurricanes roll in as one of the most-exciting storylines of this quirky season; bouncing back from a disastrous inaugural campaign for Manny Diaz last fall—though the second-year head coach deserves credit for some swift and effective off-season moves that have Miami 3-0 and playing some electrified football months after getting shut out in a third-tier bowl game.
Moving to a spread offense and reeling in SMU’s Rhett Lashlee to run it was half the battle—but the addition of 23-year old grad transfer D’Eriq King has proven to be the special sauce that has taking things next-level so quickly for Miami.
The lone downside for the Hurricanes; King will most-likely take his talents to the NFL next spring—despite the NCAA granting players an extra year of eligibility in this COVID-defined season—meaning Miami is set to backslide on some level in year three under Diaz, but none of that matters right now.
SAY WHAT, SAY WHAT—ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN
Something magical is happening—and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to live in the moment and to count our blessings. Tomorrow isn’t promised and being consumed with down-the-road pitfalls is wasted energy. All we can deal with is what is currently starting us in the face—the next obstacle we must overcome—and for Miami, it’s a championship caliber Clemson team that hasn’t lost a game at home since 2016.
Miami’s lackluster offense of the past few years is no more. King’s arm, legs, maturity and decision-making—coupled with Lashlee’s up-tempo play calling—has the Hurricanes finally looking modern age—opposed to the stuck-in-molasses, slow-moving antiquated machine they’ve unforgivably been for too long.
All that to say, Miami hasn’t faced anything Clemson-caliber over the first three games of the season—which makes it hard to know where the ceiling is for the Hurricanes, as well as how exposed UM could look against a true contender with a two-deep that could hang with a lot of program’s first-stringers.
The Tigers finally hit the big time in 2015, in what was year seven for Dabo Swinney, after taking over halfway through the 2008 season for long-time Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. Getting promoted from within as a wide receivers coach that was part of an underachieving regime—not sure what was more impressive; the fact Swinney rose to the top of the sport—or the fact that CU’s top brass gave him enough time to build a dynasty.
FROM ZERO TO HERO; DABO’S STORY
Swinney got off to a decent start; a 9-5 run in 2009 where the Tigers managed to win a watered-down Atlantic division—but immediately backslid to 6-7 year two. In 2011, a 10-4 run and ACC title were marred by a 70-33 beatdown by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl—the type of game that could truthfully get a coached fired, but Clemson remained all in with the unproven Swinney.
11-2 and another Atlantic crown in 2012 seemed to right the ship—the Tigers eking out a win over LSU in the Peach Bowl—which led to a pre-season No. 8 ranking in to kick off the 2013. Clemson wound up taking out No. 5 Georgia in the opener and getting to No. 3 and 6-0 by mid-October, setting up a game-of-the-season showdown against No. 5 Florida State—who’d hit the ground running behind Jameis Winston.
For those who recall this one on ABC in primetime—camera on the Tigers’ busses, which were a raucous, animated site before Clemson ran down the hill, slapped the rock and planned to roll in one of those program-defining game that had eluded them for so long. Instead, Winston and the Noles dismantled the Tigers. 51-14.
Clemson remained a step behind Florida State for one more season—falling in Tallahassee in overtime—while getting wrecked by Georgia Tech, 28-6 in Atlanta late in the year, before the start of a five-year run where the Tigers went 69-5, reaching the national championship game four times and winning it twice in three seasons.
Some deeper math; Clemson’s five losses since 2015—a national championship nail-biter against Alabama, a one-point home loss to Pittsburgh (in a national championship year), a three-point road loss at Syracuse (losing a starting quarterback before halftime), a Playoff loss to a Crimson Tide team that won it all and getting smacked around by LSU in last year’s title game.
Despite this body of work—as well as an inability to admit some of Miami’s glaring flaws, Hurricanes message boards remain loaded with overconfident fans who believe a big win is on the horizon.
In defense of this contingent, this Clemson team in 2020 is not the juggernaut that went 15-0 in 2018. The Tigers are still a top program—especially with an experienced Trevor Lawrence under center, who with running back Travis Etienne, are primed to give Miami’s defense fits all night; especially with exploitable, slow linebackers and an interior line that’s struggled to stop the run.
OUTSIDER SCOOP ON CANES’ INSIDE PROBLEMS
Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel offered up a detailed piece regarding the Canes being “back”, as well as key factors in the weekend’s marquee showdown. Even better, Thamel dug deep with some “unnamed ACC assistant” chatter—where these coaches were quick to point out some of Miami’s weaknesses in a way any head-in-the-sand fan refuses to acknowledge.
“They look like ‘The U’ across the board,” one coach shared. “They have just two linebackers who are stiff and aren’t great tacklers (Bradley Jennings Jr. and Zach McCloud) and their interior defensive linemen are average. When your interior and your linebackers are both weaknesses, that’s a problem if a team can run the ball.”
Spoiler alert; Clemson can run the ball. Hell, even Louisville ran the ball effectively against Miami weeks back—averaging 4.3 yards-per-carry and rushing for 209 yards in the loss. For the Hurricanes to pull off an upset against the Tigers, Miami will need to get up on Clemson early, a la the 14-3 lead at Louisville and an ability to answer any score.
Thamel also points out that the Canes’ offensive line was one of the worst in college football last fall—giving up a whopping 51 sacks of Jarren Williams, N’Kosi Perry and even Tate Martell, who played eight snaps in the bowl game and was still sacked twice behind a porous line.
Credit to Garin Justice for shoring up the o-line on the off-season and getting it spread-ready in his first season with new look-Miami—but the line’s MVP remains King, whose elusiveness and overall play has kept the Canes front five out of trouble, or at minimum, under heavier scrutiny. Still, other ACC coaches are quick to point out what the naked eye, or super-fan doesn’t see.
“They are still a below-average offensive line,” said another opposing assistant. “Their quarterbacks slipperiness allows them not to take sacks and make plays. They haven’t played a good defense and they haven’t played a good defensive line.”
Inarguable points, tough as that may be to swallow. That said, this 2020 version of Clemson hasn’t played anyone of Miami’s athletic caliber this season, either—beating Wake Forest and The Citadel out the gate, before “only” beating Virginia by 18 points last weekend, surrendering 23 points and 417 yards to a good-not-great Cavaliers squad.
Thamel asks, “Is this the Clemson we remember”, in regards to past success and another ACC assistant who’s “studied” the Tigers, feels they’re not.
“This is not the same Clemson team of the last three years,” shared that assistant. “I don’t know if anyone is. Just look at what they lost. But are they the best team in the ACC? Yes.”
Despite what the Tigers aren’t, they’re still the cream of the conference crop and are deeper than anyone else in the ACC. Their veteran coaching staff—especially the wise old Brent Venables on the defensive side of the ball—know that Miami goes as far as King takes them on Saturday night.
“I think he’ll struggle with these guys.” another assistant coach said of King. “They’ll mix it up enough to make him sit in the picket. I’d be shocked if he can get to the edge … He’s 5-9. he’s not going to sit there and beat you in the pocket. That’s not what he does best. He’s not going to sit back there and read you Make him read the defense.”
In Thamel’s back and forth with these coaches, most felt that even a Clemson that isn’t what it was is still enough to beat Miami, as-is—though some expected the Canes to hang for at least a half.
STEP ONE; MIAMI MUST SHOW UP—PROVE IT BELONGS
While there are no moral victories and Miami is certainly playing to win—as this is undoubtably a winnable game in the quirkiest of seasons—the Canes simply can’t get blown out by the Tigers. UM simply can’t afford a repeat of what was experienced in Tallahassee in 2013 when No. 7 Miami was throttled by No. 3 Florida State, 41-14 in an undefeated match-up that sent the Canes spiraling, losing three of their final five games after that setback.
The hangover even carried over to 2014, where Miami went 6-7 in year four for Al Golden—who was relieved of his duties the following October after a sixth-ranked Clemson squad slaughtered the Canes at home, 58-0; a beating fans actually stomached as they knew it’d be the end of the schlub in the tie.
Golden was understandably shit-canned the next morning.
Should Miami be unable to spar four quarters with Clemson, the Hurricanes need to put together a gutty performance like they did in Tallahassee back in 1999 against the top-ranked, eventual champs.
The game was knotted 21-21 at the half—though an 80-yard hook-up between Kenny Kelly and Santana Moss in the waining moments of the first quarter showed that the canes weren’t backing down. The two hooked up again early in the second for Miami’s first and only lead of the day—before Florida State responded and knotted things up at intermission.
The second half was all Seminoles as their defense shut the Canes out and their offense chipped away—a third quarter field goal and early fourth quarter touchdown, putting the game away. Florida State won out, topping No. 2 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl en route to the program’s second national title—while Miami unwittingly took the moral victory of the season—falling short in a comeback to take out second-ranked Penn State at home weeks prior.
Hard fought losses to the Nittany Lions and Seminoles were building blocks that set the stage for a monster run over the next four years, where Miami hit for the BCS cycle—Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, Orange—played in two national title games, won one, had one stolen and deserved to play in a third, going 46-4 over that span
Miami’s current Football Chief of Staff, and former safety great Ed Reed was unquestionably the leader of the 2001 squad—but in 1999 he was merely a sophomore that wasn’t able to help Mike Rumph on an 80-yard hook up between Kevin Thompson and Chafie Fields, allowing Penn State to escape, 27-23.
Reed and Rumph have both shared how the adversity of that loss and busted play fueled them for years as Hurricanes, and beyond—while getting that shot against top program and highly-ranked teams is a measuring stick every potential contender must endure.
QUIRKY SEASON JUST KEEPS GETTING QUIRKIER
Clemson wasn’t on Miami’s radar this fall, pre-COVID. The Canes would’ve taken on Wake Forest this Friday night, coming off games against Pitt, Michigan State, UAB, Wagner and Temple. Instead, the Canes wound up with a measuring stick showdown against the Tigers and come in in slightly more battle-tested with King at the helm, a road win at Louisville and a home rout of rival Florida State.
This is also taking place in an odd-ball year, where home field advantage is gone and a upsets are springing up on a weekly basis.
Kansas State falls to Arkansas State week one, but rebounds a week later to upset Oklahoma?
The Sooners fall to 1-2, failing to rebound against Iowa State—their lone win against Missouri State as they limp into a Red River Rivalry—that by 2020 standards, they’ll probably win.
Mississippi State shocks defending champion LSU in the debut of Mike Leach and the Air Raid offense?
TCU goes 5-7 last fall, drops one at Iowa State but responds with an upset of No. 9 Texas?
This might not be the season anyone was expecting, but it’s the one we wound up with—and the college football world is quickly learning that nothing is as seems and everything is up for grabs any given week.
On paper, Clemson win this football game—maybe by three-plus touchdowns if in front of a packed house, too. But this isn’t on paper. there is no packed house and in this alternate reality, how it plays out is anyone’s guess.
No, Miami doesn’t have the horses to go toe-to-toe with Clemson’s two-deep. Yes, there are holes at linebackers and in the interior of the line—and yes, there’s little depth at corner, while a lack of focus at wide receiver is resulting in inconsistent play that one could handle against the Seminoles or Cardinals, but missed opportunities against the Tigers could be the difference in this ball game.
In a season where the fifth-seeded Miami HEAT hid out in the Orlando bubble and knocked off #4, #1 and #3 en route to an 12-3 and NBA Finals berth—it begs the question, why not this Miami team on this given night?
It’s hard to predict the Hurricanes upset a Tigers squad that’s only lost five games in five seasons—and hasn’t lost at home since 2016—but it’s no easier to say this talented-enough Miami team doesn’t have enough in the take to go four quarters against a Clemson squad that by all accounts isn’t the true juggernaut they were years passed.
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 one was over before it even started—a dream scenario-type evening for the Miami Hurricanes—who dismantled the Florida State Seminoles, 52-10 in primetime at HardRock last Saturday night. It was the biggest beating the Canes laid on the Noles since 1976 (47-0) and was the first time 50+ points were scored in the series. Definitely the kind of history one wants to be on in this storied rivalry.
On a grander scale, it was just the type of evening the doctor ordered in regards to the trajectory both programs are headed. Miami appears to be turning a corner year two in the Manny Diaz era—the adaption of the spread offense under first-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, as well as much-needed stability at quarterback with grad transfer D’Eriq King—the Hurricanes are college football’s most-invigorated bunch.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles continue a free fall into oblivion. A program that once was the beacon of head coaching stability with Bobby Bowden at the helm for decades, first-year head coach Mike Norvell is Florida State’s third different leader during Miami’s four-game win-streak in the series. Insult to injury came in the form of Norvell missing his first game in this rivalry due to COVID-19, laid up in Tallahassee while his team took a colossal beating.
Before this recent streak. the Canes had lost seven in a row in the series—and one One doesn’t have to look far in the rearview to drudge up some painful memories; especially at HardRock, where the Noles had won five in a row between 2008 and 2016. Visions of ones-that-got-away—local talent like Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook, playing for an in-state rival and making mincemeat of the Canes; at times felt like the bleeding would never stop—both on the field, a well as the recruiting trail.
The Hurricanes are thankfully getting back to keeping those next-level running backs at home, too—as the coming out party for both Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton continues. Knighton, a former FSU commit flipped to UM after Chaney Jr. had committed, welcoming the competition—while Chaney Jr. is one of those throwback talents who was all about ‘The U’ from day one. Both freshmen hit the ground running this fall and are proving to be ideal compliments to the hard-nosed Cam’Ron Harris, who already matched last year’s five touchdowns three games into 2020.
Miami put up 517 yards against Florida State, going into cruise control-mode at the half, sitting on a 35-3 lead. The Noles finished with 330 total yards against a Hurricanes defense that held them in check all evening. The iconic Turnover Chain made three appearances, while players like Harris declined the Touchdown Rings after his two scores, giving them to his offensive linemen instead—the culture seemingly changing one play at time.
LONG-AWAITED CULTURE SHIFT FINALLY UNDERWAY
A small gesture, but one that certainly confirms a culture shift is underway at Miami and should have fans excited about the future. First-year football Chief of Staff, Ed Reed is also already having a cultural impact—as every facet of this program top to bottom will instantly be better by way of an all-time Miami great—and NFL Hall of Famer—so closely tied to UM’s day-to-day.
Miami moved up to No. 8 in both polls and will go into a bye week 3-0 before a road trip to take on No. 1 Clemson in Death Valley—again, in primetime. It’s the ultimate litmus test in a quirky season where the Canes and Tigers weren’t set to meet, until out-of-conference games got the boot in favor of a few more in-conference match-ups—and should be welcomed by all, as getting a crack at top programs is the only way to tell where one truly stands.
Critics continue asking if the Hurricanes are “back”—the annual premature build-up of Miami, only to tear the program down if or when it gets tagged in the mouth at some point this season. Understandable as it’s good business for the media to over-hype the polarizing program that is nationally loathed, but locally loved.
As the legend Jimmy Johnson stated after the Canes’ 10-0 start in 2017—Miami won’t be “back” until that sixth national championship is claimed—but on a weekend college football went so haywire for many, UM getting to 3-0 in dominating fashion over a bitter rival; it was a hell of a way to close out September.
Those paying attention saw No. 3 Oklahoma blow a 21-point third quarter lead against a Kansas State team who fell to Arkansas State in their opener—the unranked Wildcats tearing off 24 unanswered in the upset. Meanwhile, down in Baton Rouge, No. 6 LSU was the first SEC victim of Mike Leach and his Air Raid offense—the Bulldogs hanging 623 yards and 44 points on the defending champs.
There was also No. 8 Texas barely surviving a road test at Texas Tech—down 15 with 3:13 remaining, before tying things up and surviving in overtime, despite giving up 56 points in regulation.
Meanwhile, Miami continues shocking the nation with a best-case-scenario turnaround after a dismal 6-7 run last fall—on the heels of a 7-9 under Mark Richt, after his squad’s 10-0 start in 2017.
The hiring of Lashlee, the reeling-in of King—as well as poaching a crosstown kicker in FIU’s Jose Borregales—it gave Hurricanes supporters off-seasonhope, though it was somewhat tempered based on Miami’s over-hype the past 15 seasons. Even when everything looks like it’s lining up the correct way, all hell has had a way of breaking loose for UM—dating back to that late Fiesta Bowl flag in the wee hours of 2003.
FAST START DOESN’T ABSOLVE LAST YEAR’S FLOP
Just like the Hurricanes aren’t officially “back”, Diaz also isn’t yet out of the woods after a brutal inaugural season—one that won’t soon be forgotten after the year ended with a three-game losing streak to lowly FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech, who shut the Canes out in a third-tier in the bowl game.
Toss in the fact Miami faithful have bought into fool’s gold the past decade, by way of wrong-fit head coaches, or seasons that started strong, but ended with a thud—it’s going to take more than wins over UAB, Louisville and a bad Florida State team to crown Diaz “the one”. Keeping this team level-headed after any modicum of prosperity; it was a killer in 2019, as well as recent years passed.
Again, that mortifying three-game losing streak last fall—it came on the heels of big wins over the Noles and Cardinals, when Miami got big-headed and dropped its guard. Learning from those mistakes, these Canes must be mentally prepped for the meat of the schedule with Clemson, Pittsburgh and Virginia on deck—some thorn-in-the-side ACC programs that have all caught Miami slipping.
The rout of Florida State was a definite step forward for Miami, but it also must be taken in context. The Seminoles aren’t a good football team—haven’t been in a few years now—and the Hurricanes are riding high due to a level of maturity and experience at quarterback that the program has been void of for almost two decades. Despite most knowing this to be the case, it hasn’t stopped a lot of premature and overconfident, “We want Clemson!” chatter as Miami rolls through a bye week.
In a season where the fifth-seeded Miami Heat defied bubble odds with a 12-3 playoff run that had them toppling #4 Indiana, #1 Milwaukee and #3 Boston, en route to the franchise’s first Finals appearance since 2014—it’d be foolish to not give the Canes a fighting chance against the Tigers. This 2020 sports calendar has been as quirky and unpredictable as any in recent memory—and where a neutral court and no fans put the Heat in a mano y mano competitive situation—Miami playing in a sparsely packed Death Valley is not the same as full-throttle Clemson.
Still, that is a far cry from a belief that the Hurricanes belong on the same player-to-player, competitive field as the Tigers, program-wise right now—and Miami fans failing to acknowledge this are setting themselves up for a lot of misguided frustration this season, as well as 2021 when King is (most-likely) gone and a fresh new, inexperienced face is under center.
Those needing proof, just look at the past decade-plus of Miami football and all the program’s false starts that supporters have over-bought into.
CANES LOOKED “BACK” IN RECENT YEARS, BUT WERE FAR OFF
The Canes landed on the right side of a season-opening shootout at No. 18 Florida State in 2009 and went from unranked to No. 9 in the country after taking out No. 14 Georgia Tech at home a week later. Cue the standard “we back” chatter going into No. 11 Virginia Tech, where Miami was slaughtered, 31-7. From there, eked out a one-point win over No. 8 Oklahoma in a bounce-back game—the Sooners without veteran starter Sam Bradford—and picked up wins over Florida A&M and Central Florida, before blowing an overtime loss to Clemson late October.
Miami then beat Wake Forest, Virginia, Duke and South Florida—but sandwiched between those, another loss to the Butch Davis-led Tar Heels for a 9-3 regular season that ended with a Citrus Bowl loss to Wisconsin. A year later, Randy Shannon stumbled to 7-5 in his fifth season as head coach and was fired weeks before the Canes got crushed in the Sun Bowl by Notre Dame.
In 2013—year three of the Al Golden era—Miami rolled out to a 7-0 start, hyped by a defensive-fueled win over a No. 12 Florida squad that went on to finish the season 4-8, with a bottom-out home loss to Georgia Southern. The Canes crept all the way up to No. 7 for a road showdown against No. 3 Florida State and left on the wrong end of a 41-14 beatdown.
An unranked Virginia Tech squad gave the No. 14 Hurricanes an even worse beating a week later—42-14—before Miami surrendered 18 unanswered in the final quarter at Duke the following week, knocking them out of the Top 25. Wins over Virginia and Pittsburgh followed, before getting embarrassed by homegrown Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.
The 2017 season felt different talent-wise. Malik Rosier was a question mark at quarterback, but he managed to overachieve in what should’ve been a strong senior campaign from Brad Kaaya.
Coming into the new season fresh off the program’s first bowl win in a decade, a gutsy Miami squad finally broke that seven-game losing streak Florida State, with a last second win in Tallahassee. UM seemed to gain momentum each week in “Cardiac Canes” fashion—while late game heroics against Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina kept Miami’s dream season alive and an undefeated record resulted back-to-back November primetime showdowns at home.
No. 9 Miami pulled away late against No. 13 Virginia Tech, 28-10—setting up the perfect scenario with No. 3 Notre Dame looming. ESPN’s GameDay made for an electric atmosphere, the Irish were swamped early and the Canes experienced one of those rare perfect evenings where everything just works, in game-of-the-season, 41-8 rout.
Miami survived two 14-point deficits to Virginia the following week, before the offense was exposed by a four-win Pittsburgh team in the regular season finale. Clemson rolled big in the Canes’ first-ever ACC Championship Game appearance, 38-3—before Wisconsin out-gutted Miami in the Orange Bowl; an early 14-3 lead gone by half in a 34-24 loss and three-game losing streak that took all the piss out of that 10-0 start.
Three cautionary tale seasons in recent memory—yet few seem to have learned their lesson about what it takes for Miami to be back to true contender status.
TWO-DEEP STILL WAY OFF FROM TRUE CONTENDER STATUS
Even with a win over Clemson and a would-be, socially distanced miracle season—Miami still lacks a two-deep that could hang with the likes of bigs like Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia or Alabama—and is literally one or two injuries away from a fully derailed season. Contrast that to legit contenders who reload across the board the way the Canes used to in the dominant 80’s.
Come 2021, Miami is not only set to see King headed to the NFL—a slew of would-be seniors will most-likely forego their final year of eligibility to chase NFL paychecks.
Tight-end Brevin Jordan is playing his way into a first or second round pick, while there’s no reason for Harris to keep taking that uncompensated running back abuse. Those highly-touted, former 5-Star transfers from the Pac-12—Bubba Bolden and Jalean Phillips—are both also having the type of seasons that will send them packing a year early, while Temple transfer Quincy Roche is another who will probably decline the NCAA’s bonus year—content with a solid one-year showing at UM.
Longtime Canes like Jon Ford, Amari Carter, Zach McCloud and Mike Harley all graduate—not to mention other yet to be named, would-be seniors who follow current Canes’ culture by leaving prematurely; feeling they’re ready, despite experts and scouts telling them otherwise.
All the news isn’t bad, as the future is certainly bright for Miami—the 2020 class already yielding positive results by way of what Chaney Jr. and Knighton are showing in early season toughness and work ethics as true freshmen. Quarterback of the future Tyler Van Dyke was also part of this most-recent haul, as well as quality kids like Avantae Williams, Jalen Rivers, Elijah Roberts and Chantz Williams.
The drops and inconsistency at wide receiver, by anyone not named Dee Wiggins—Miami is prepping for guys like Michael Redding, Dazalin Worsham, Xavier Restrepo and late addition Keyshawn Smith to take over; all of which seem to have the tools and toughness needed at the position.
The Canes finally landed a their first 5-Star crown jewel type player since running back Duke Johnson in defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, of Palmetto—as well as American Heritage athlete James Williams. Miami currently has the ninth-ranked class—second best in the ACC—with 22 “hard commits” and that number can grow based on how the Hurricanes look against Clemson, as well as the rest of this season.
MAXIMIZE POTENTIAL DREAM SEASON; STAY LEVEL-HEADED
In a year when up is down, left is right and little adds up—the processing and summing up of these Hurricanes remains one more thing to try and make sense of. Who are these Hurricanes right now, what will they grow into this season—and how does one temper the excitement of this season, while properly assessing where the team will be year three in the Diaz era, without this season’s key components?
In most cases, the modus operandi would be to soak up 2020 for all it’s worth and to deal with next year, next year—but the Hurricanes’ experience is always a different animal in comparison to other more traditional programs. Miami’s rich championship history, coupled with a decade and an half of irrelevance—and the embarrassment associated with that level of failure—it’s the catalyst for overbuying into false starts over the years, instead of looking at things through a more logical and reasonable lens.
While Miami continues its preparation for Clemson and looks to shock the world once again—Hurricanes faithful might want to use that time wrapping their arms around what is, what could be and what lies ahead. A special year is underway, by way of a game-changing veteran quarterback and high-octane offense—which should have all Miami fans optimistic for all things 2020.
The trick lies in accepting this season at face value, while not prematurely getting caught up in the being “back” route—or fast-tracking the timeline regarding being a bonafide contender again.
Make 2020 all it can be, close strong recruiting-wise for 2021 and identify that next crop of team leaders ready to fill the void of the mature group that is captaining the ship 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.
The cynics will fast point out that it’s only two games into a new season—but those who know, know. D’Eriq King is the winner, leader and alpha dog the Miami Hurricanes have lacked under center, on the practice field and in the locker room for upwards of 15 years.
The eventual result; a long-running broken culture is on the brink of being fixed by way of 23-year old Houston transfer—who was luckily (and inexplicably) redshirted last fall, paving the way to this one-year Band-Aid to pay big time dividends.
For all the talent in South Florida and Miami’s backyard over the years—it took a mature, veteran gunslinger from the Lone Star State to be the building block for the Hurricanes’ ascension to contender in the coming years. Imagine that.
The sports media has already stared their self-serving, “Is Miami back?” early season narrative—as it plays well to outsiders who loathe the Hurricanes; college football enthusiasts who hate to see a polarizing national brand like UM built up, but can’t wait to celebrate when this little private school from down south hits some speed bumps on their road back to prominence.
The premise of Miami being “back” also has a stranglehold on the Hurricanes Nation, fans of this once-great program both tired-of and embarrassed-by years of irrelevance—to the point where they’ll blindly buy into the hype, while trying to fast-track any successful one-off moment, making more of it than should be made.
After a decade-and-a-half of riding this up and down roller coaster—Miami fans finally have a modicum of a reason to believe—as King is all that, and then some.
CANES CAN FINALLY FIND FOOTING AFTER YEARS OF TURMOIL
This will be a special season for the Hurricanes and a small step forward that will pay dividends on the recruiting trail, serving as proof Miami is moving the right direction under Diaz—but one great player under center isn’t a cure-all for years worth incompetence and lack of proper depth and talent across the board.
A revolving door of head coaches either under-qualified (Randy Shannon), off-brand (Al Golden) or past-their prime (Mark Richt) has plagued Miami football ever since Larry Coker couldn’t build on, or maintain the juggernaut Butch Davis handed him two decades ago.
All of this turnover ultimately led to the hiring of Manny Diaz; the Canes’ fifth program face and new regime in 14 years—a reminder how much a lack of stability has been a real issue in Coral Gables and the biggest reason Miami has become a middle-of-the-pack ACC program with a 105-77 record dating back to the 2005 Peach Bowl curb-stomping (40-3) the Canes took from LSU.
Those who want to case-build against Diaz can easily go to a 6-7 run last year, an embarrassing kicking game (which cost Miami a season-opening win against Florida, and then some), no-shows against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech—as well as a general team immaturity and pointless big-headedness after wins against average Florida State and Louisville squads, which led to a three-game losing streak against Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech to end the year.
To Diaz’s credit, he went head-down and started making moves immediately after getting shut out in the lowly Independence Bowl—starting with firing wrong-fit offensive coordinator Dan Enos, and an equally as incompetent offensive line coach in Butch Barry.
Enos’ promise to run a hybrid offense that featured some pro-style and spread, proved to be an utter, basic, prehistoric disaster—one so egregious that Diaz completely bought in on a conversion to the spread, leading to the hiring of Rhett Lashlee to play-call, Garin Justice to get the o-line spread-ready and King to be the maestro who too Miami from zero-to-one-hundred over the course of eight quarters.
One can only imagine what these Hurricanes would look like in 2020 without the addition of King—N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell battling it out for the starting job, with true freshman Tyler Van Dyke. (Even without King, Jarren Williams would’ve transferred out as his welcome was worn out with the staff.)
Instead, King hit the ground running—literally—locking in the starting job and under center for a 31-14 victory in Miami’s opener against University of Alabama-Birmingham two weeks back. King tossed for 144 yards, going 16-of-24 on the night with one passing touchdown—while rushing 12 times for 83 yards and a score, against a stingy little Blazers’ defense.
ROAD WIN AT LOUISVILLE; SOLID BUILDING BLOCK
The next challenge; this past weekend’s road trip to Louisville for a crack at outlasting a feisty Cardinals’ offense—one that was vocal about seeking revenge for last year’s 52-27 loss in Miami and expecting to take a step forward under second-year head coach Scott Satterfield.
The Hurricanes rolled into Papa John’s Stadium a whopping 3-23 against ranked opponents dating back to the 2005 season—Miami’s last regular win against a ranked foe coming by way of an eight-lateral game-ending play at Duke in 2015.
Many of the Hurricanes’ road losses over recent years; the product of slow starts and an inability to find their groove until it’s too late—neither of which was the case for the King-led Canes in prime-time this past Saturday night.
After an opening drive quickly stalled, Miami’s defense held Louisville to a long field goal—followed by a five-play, 75-yard answer capped by a 17-yard strike to tight end Will Mallory on 3rd-and-1.
Cam Harris busted off a 38-yard run, putting the Canes just outside the red zone after two plays—the first, a quick 11-yard strike to Dee Wiggins, who was relatively quiet after some early action.
The ensuing possession, a 31-yard strike to Mark Pope on 3rd-and-14—a huge bounce-back play for the Canes after a 74-yard hook-up with Mallory was called back on a ticky-tack false start.
King found Mike Harley for nine yards on first down and Harris tore off an 18-yarder to get Miami back in striking distance. Two 13-yard connections with Brevin Jordan—the first on 3rd-and-11—set up a three-yard punch-in from Jaylan Knighton that put the Canes up, 14-3 in the waning moments of the first quarter and a convincing 20-6 halftime lead.
Equally as exciting as the explosive Miami offense—a sound kicking game. Jose Borregales belted an early second quarter 48-yarder when a Canes’ drive stalled. Later in the quarter, stuck in no man’s land, facing a 4th-and-5 from the Cards’ 40-yard line—Diaz trotted Borregales out to attempt a 57-yarder, which he sent down the pike.
Beyond exhilarating, especially considering Miami kickers struggled with 5.7-yard field goals last fall.
Louisville responded to the 14-point halftime deficit with a 75-yard drive to open the third quarter, cutting the Miami lead to 13—but a 75-yard touchdown run by Harris proved the perfect punch in the mouth just as the home time was starting to show some life.
The Cardinals answered with a 74-yard scoring drive—the Canes again stole their thunder in one play; this time some veteran head movement and eye contact from King sell the play, leaving Knighton wide open for a quick dump-off that led to a 75-yard untouched rumble towards pay dirt.
Two more Borregales field goals extended the Miami lead after Louisville was forced to punt. The Cards did find the end zone with another lengthy 75-yard drive, but damned if the Hurricanes didn’t answer again—this time King finding a wide open Jordan for a 47-yard score, pushing the lead to 47 -27 with just over five minutes remaining.
Louisville scored one final time and recovered an onside kick attempt, but on the fourth play of the series Zach McCloud was in the backfield, stripped quarterback Malik Cunningham and recovered the Cards’ third turnover of the night. Ballgame.
FIRST CHALLENGES OF KING ERA PROVE SUCCESSFUL
Miami’s first two challenges are in the books and a season after starting 0-2 against Florida and North Carolina, the Hurricanes are now 2-0 with wins over UAB and Louisville—with Florida State on-deck in this quirky new season.
ESPN’s College GameDay as on hand this past weekend and will make its first trek back to South Florida since Miami pasted Notre Dame back in 2017. Should the Canes push to 3-0 with a win over the Seminoles, following the bye week Miami could again catch some ESPN love the weekend of October 10th for Clemson’s biggest home game of the season.
Translation; the King effect, as well as the timing of these early season match-ups—it’s something Miami must capitalize on as it can pave the way for one of those program-defining types of classes in 2021.
Diaz and the Canes wound up with the No. 16 class in 2020—a smaller haul with only 21 commits—but still good enough to be third in the ACC, with some immediate action from guys like Knighton and his counterpart Don Chaney Jr..
Miami’s 2021 class is already 22 players deep and ranked No. 8 in the nation—Diaz and staff with two 5-Star prospects in defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, the crown jewel of The Palmetto Five, as well as American Heritage’s James Williams—who comes in as an athlete and will land somewhere on the defense.
Defensive tackle Savion Collins and wideout Brashard Smith—both highly-touted teammates of Taylor’s—also chose the hometown team. In fact, 18 of these 21 players hail from what Howard Schnellenberger dubbed The State Of Miami all those years ago; up north to Daytona Beach, over to Tampa and everything south of I-4 deemed “Hurricanes Country”.
A strong run over the next nine games is crucial as the Hurricanes need to keep this crew in tact, while finding a way to add more crown jewel pieces. In years passed, a Miami skid down the stretch has resulted in decommits, while UM failed to mine any Signing Day gold.
When taking the Miami job, Diaz was quick to point out the biggest road block and conundrum he’d face as the Hurricanes’ leader—finding a way to win with the talent he had, in effort to lure in the talent UM needs to compete at the highest level.
The old mindset of loading up on 3-Star guys who have heart and love Miami—that doesn’t jibe anymore in modern day college football. Having some of those are the heartbeat of the team; it has a place, but when one looks atop the sport—Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia—these are powerhouses loaded with top talent and a two-deep that could beat a lot of team’s first stringers.
NO IGNORING IMPORTANCE OF TALENT IN TODAY’S GAME
Two games into this season for the Hurricanes, who physically looks the part more on defense and is making textbook plays better than safety Bubba Bolden and defensive end Jaelan Phillips—two former 5-Star recruits who wound up transferring to Miami from USC and UCLA, respectively?
In the 80’s, Miami lived by the “speed kills” mantra—dominating slower traditional programs and ultimately changing the game. It was a different era for the sport and the Hurricanes had a competitive advantage that helped propel the program to four national championships over nine sense, while everyone else played catch-up.
These days, the only competitive advantage is having as much, if not more talent than one’s counterparts—reloading at the highest level and just plugging-and-playing that next crop of superstars. There’s little mystery surrounding the why it’s the same handful of top programs in the thick of things every year; dominant players in the trenches, polished skills players, elite defenders and next-level quarterbacks.
It’s a completely different ballgame when one’s offensive line is giving their quarterback ample time to dissect defenses, while their own defenses are getting in backfields quicker than the competition and creating pure havoc.
2020 MUST SERVE AS STEP-FORWARD SEASON
This dive into the semantics of the sport; it’s simply to temper the expectation of what Miami has in King this fall, with the across the board holes that still must be filled for this Hurricanes’ program.
King’s athleticism can help mask some of the ongoing offensive line deficiencies against the likes of a UAB or Louisville—but when facing Clemson’s front seven and a Tigers’ defense that can rotate players in and out at the level Miami aspires to; a reminder that it’s going to take a few more classes and bodies for the Hurricanes to build a championship-caliber roster.
That’s not to say that UM can’t overachieve this fall—as both sides of the ball can raise their level of play on the King factor alone. It just means Miami isn’t consistently ready to take care of business week in and week out at a high level just yet.
The Hurricanes also can’t waste a would-be special season like this one, nor can it afford to not build on this year’s King effect next fall. The more time Miami hovers in irrelevancy, the harder it becomes to become a national force again.
Things seemed to be turning a corner under Richt in 2017 with that 10-0 start—capped off by a 41-8 home thumping of the Irish—but the air was let out of the balloon just as quickly as Miami was starting to look and feel “back”, with a regular season ending loss to Pittsburgh, a thumping by Clemson in the ACC title game and being outlasted by Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
Miami rode that 10-win season to an eighth-ranked class in 2018, only to stumble to a 7-6 season months later—prompting early retirement for Richt, where Diaz and staff scrambled to salvage an 18-player class that ranked No. 27 in the nation. Textbook example of the type of backslide the Canes can ill afford.
Florida State week is on deck, as is a battle for state supremacy in a season where Miami won’t face Florida, outside a potential bowl game. Bragging rights are at stake as the Hurricanes look for a fourth consecutive win against the Seminoles—who roll south off a bye week and a season-opening home loss to Georgia Tech—not to mention their own head coaching turmoil with Mike Norvell now in as their third head coach since the 2017 season. Norvell found some pre-season hot water with a social media gaffe months back and now he’ll remain quarantined in Tallahassee for his first showdown with the Canes, having contracted COVID-19 last week.
Getting to 3-0 with a win over Florida State, a bye week reset before Clemson and King living up to the hype—it’s all Miami can really ask for one month in the 2020 season. That, and “The U” finally finding a true offensive identity—after toiling in purgatory the past 15 seasons. King, Lashlee and an uptempo spread finding immediate success in South Florida—such a breath of fresh air.
Where it goes from here—the rest of 2020, and beyond— is entirely up to Diaz and these trending-upward Hurricanes
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 final installment of our Top 15 Miami Hurricanes Games To Revisit While Quarantined—down to the Top Five.
The last two segments mentioned that we’re living in a world without live sports—and while deep diving some old games won’t soon replace that—these unique times give us more free time than we’re used to, so going all-in on some three-hour rewatches of some epic Miami Hurricanes games might not be the worst thing you do while twiddling those thumbs.
Quick disclaimer; we stuck to past history under the assumption that the newer stuff is still too fresh in the brain. Any classic game over the past five or ten years; a safe assumption it stayed on your DVR for a hot minute—as good moments need to be celebrated more than once when going 97-71 between the 2005 Peach Bowl and 2018 Pinstripe ass-kicking.
For this exercise, 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.)
#5 — Miami versus Oklahoma — (9/27/86) — Our favorite game of the Miami / Oklahoma 1980’s rivalry. The 1988 Orange Bowl already made the list; the #2 Hurricanes capping the undefeated 1987 season with a take-down of the top-ranked Sooners for a third-consecutive year—with a national title on the line, no less.
Still, even when playing for all the marbles, the game of the series came in 1986 when Oklahoma trekked to South Florida in late September as defending national champs. The Canes took the head-to-head battle in Norman that year, 27-14—but with #2 Miami smoked in the Sugar Bowl by #8 Tennessee, 35-7, while #3 Oklahoma took down #1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl, 25-10—the Sooners were champs.
Watching Oklahoma win a title—after beating them soundly in their house; this game was circled on the calendar for the Hurricanes the minute the 1985 season ended.
1986 would end in misery for Miami with that Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State—leaving the beatdown of Oklahoma as the high point of an incredible season for one of UM’s best team’s in history.
Vinny Testaverde would win the Heisman Trophy, Michael Irvin would become ‘The Playmaker’, Brian Blades would break-out, Melvin Bratton would dominate and Alonzo Highsmith would close out a stellar collegiate career. On defense, Jerome Brown, Daniel Stubbs, Winston Moss, George Mira Jr. and Bennie Blades were a bonafide, tone-setting force.
Pregame was the name of this showdown; from Highsmith and Bratton prank-calling great-white-hope linebacker Brian Bosworth at his hotel in the middle of the night—talking about kicking Oklahoma’s up and down the field—to Miami team captains refusing to shake hands with the Sooners at the coin toss.
Highsmith: “I ain’t scared of you, bitch. Alright now, baby.”
Moss: “Don’t be scared now, baby.”
Brown: “We’re the boss. We’re the boss.”
Early in the game, a Heisman-reel moment for Testaverde—who scrambled out of a sure loss, shedding four defenders and turning it into a 10-yard gain—and the game’s first score; a pass in traffic to back-up tight end Alfredo Roberts.
Miami led 7-3 at the half—Oklahoma almost tying things up with a dump off to halfback Patrick Collins with :57 remaining in the half, but an ineligible receiver downfield nullified the score and the Sooners had to settle for a 31-yard field goal.
Testaverde would go on to throw for 261 yards and four touchdowns on the day; including two scores in under a minute in the third quarter, the second the result of Miami’s J.C. Penny recovering a fumbled kickoff at the OU 15-yard line.
The back-to-back scored pushed Miami’s lead to, 21-3—the second touchdown, setting up the now-iconic Irvin run into the West End Zone, where he was swallowed up by the first two rows of screaming fans.
Defensively the Canes clamped down on the wishbone offense, as expected—making the Sooners’ one-dimensional. Jamelle Holieway tried to carry the rushing load, as his running backs were snuffed out all day—OU limited to 186 total yards on the ground, forcing Holieway to try and pass—which he wasn’t built to do.
Holieway did hook up with tight end Keith Jackson for a 54-yard score, cutting the Miami lead to 21-10 late in the third—but Testaverde responded with his fourth touchdown pass of the game; a 30-yard strike down the middle to Irvin, pushing the Canes’ lead to, 28-10 entering the final period.
Oklahoma got on the board one final time—Stafford atoning for his earlier fumble, punching it in from two yards out—but after a failed two-point conversion, the score was 28-16, where it remained.
“I said all week I thought we were the best team,” UM head coach Jimmy Johnson stated afterwards. “I just wanted to play and see which team was the best.”
It was Miami. Just like the year before—and the year after, with a title on the line—though neither 1985 or 1987 had the theater and build-up like this 1986 showdown.
#4 — Miami at Florida State — (10/3/87) — What’s better than beating the Seminoles? Doing so in comeback fashion and breaking their hearts when they were already tasting victory. This road showdown had all the drama and was an “instant classic” before ESPN even coined the term.
Year four of the Johnson era, the Hurricanes fell in the national title game the year before and we’re on a mission to win it all in 1987, behind first-year quarterback Steve Walsh, who replaced Testaverde, the Heisman-winner last seen throwing five interceptions in that embarrassing 14-10 loss to the Nittany Lions.
Irvin. Bratton. The Blades Brothers. JB. Personality galore and the face of the Canes—while Florida State was star-studded, as well; Deion Sanders, Sammy Smith and LeRoy Butler, to name a few. When all was said and done, over 60 future NFL player were on the field and sidelines that day.
A then-record 63,000-plus packed Doak Campbell for another one of those Game of the Century-type showdowns—most of which involved these two programs.
Smith set the tone for the Noles, rushing for 187 yards on the day against a stingy Canes’ defense—Florida State sitting on a 19-3 lead with just over 16 minutes remaining.
“I thought we had won,” Bobby Bowden shared in disbelief, after the Canes pulled off the comeback, 26-25.
Walsh found Bratton for a 49-yard touchdown and Blades for the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 19-11 in the waning moments of the third quarter. Florida State looked to add to its lead, but wouldn’t you know it—Derek Schmidt sent his 31-yard attempt wide with 6:17 remaining.
Miami responded—Walsh and Irvin finally connecting for a 26-yard touchdown and after another two-point conversion was good, the Canes tied things up, 19-19.
The play of the game soon followed—Walsh to Irvin again, this time for a 73-yard touchdown. With just over three minutes remaining, the Canes were up 26-19 after the PAT.
To the Noles’ credit, quarterback Danny McManus led an 83-yard scoring drive—hitting Ronald Lewis in the back of the end zone with :42 remaining.
Bowden, who conservatively called Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors, commending him for playing for a tie against #3 Auburn at Neyland Stadium the week prior—was set to kick the PAT, despite Schimidt’s struggles on a windy day in Tallahassee—but was swayed by McManus and kept the offense on the field.
Florida State went for two; McManus missing an opportunity to hit tight end Pat Carter in the flat, in what could’ve been a success conversion—instead throwing late and short into double coverage, where the ball was batted down by Bubba McDowell.
As fun as the game itself was, equally as enjoyable—listening to CBS’s Brent Musburger trying to hide his disdain for the Canes, while double-talking his way through the final moments and praising Bowden and the Noles as they attempted a failed onside kick, recovered by the elder Blades and allowing Walsh to kneel it out.
“I don’t really know how we lost this one. I didn’t think we deserved to lose it,” Bowden said. “We had decided before the game, and I had decided after 1980 when we lost (to Miami) by one (10-9), that I would go for the tie in the same situation, We had the extra-point team in, but I changed my mind. We had missed so many (kicks) today and the wind was really affecting our kicker … If I had to do it over, I’d kick it.”
Oh, if 1987-era Bowden only knew what was coming in 1991, 1992, 2000 and the 2004 Orange Bowl—you’d never have kicked again.
BONUS RANT: Despite Miami winning the 1987 national championship, the Seminoles were the preseason #1 team entering 1988 and the Hurricanes rolled in #6.
Thankfully the football gods had these two foes facing off at the Orange Bowl for the season-opener—with some added inspiration as Florida State rolled out the worst rap video in the history of the genre during summer.
Miami—with two reasons to put little brother in check—did just that, rolling the Noles, 31-0 on national television on September 3rd.
#3 — Miami versus Florida — (9/6/03) — Miami and Florida played annually between 1938 and through 1987—sans 1943, due to World War II—until the Gators took their ball and ran back to Gainesville, cancelling the series due to their SEC schedule.
The teams didn’t meet again until the 2001 Sugar Bowl—which realistically was a better game than this 2003 edition—as so much more was on the line; the #2 Hurricanes inexplicably left out of the national title game due to a BCS number crunch—so egregious, a tweak was made in the off-season regarding head-to-head competition, as Florida State got the 2000 nod to play Oklahoma, despite Miami beating them months prior.
The two-loss, #7 Gators rolled in as SEC Champs—expecting their conference prowess to be the difference-maker against the Canes, who hailed from the Big East. Instead, Miami punched Florida in the mouth and gave it all it could handle in a 37-20 beat-down—not to mention waxing the Gator ass on Bourbon Street the week-of, when players came to blows while out one night.
After Florida State fell to Oklahoma, 13-2—giving the Sooners their first national championship since 1985, even Bowden lamented that the Canes were more-deserving of the bid; Miami fans left to wonder what an offense with Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Jeremy Shockey, James Jackson and Clinton Portis would’ve done to OU’s defense.
The 2002 version of the series was a one-sided blowout; Miami dominating 41-16 at The Swamp—a game that was blown out of the water when the Gators we’re in the red zone, looking to cut into the Canes’ 27-16 lead when Maurice Sikes hauled in a Rex Grossman pass and returned it 99 yards for the score, while Willis McGahee had a breakout day with 204-yard performance.
The win helping springboard Miami to an eventual undefeated regular season, in what should’ve been back-to-back titles, and a win-streak reaching 35 games—if not for a bullshit call and late flag in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
Stakes weren’t as high in this 2003 showdown; Florida rolling in #18 against #3 Miami—but it was the first time these foes had met in the Orange Bowl since 1984; a 31-4 Canes rout—and the freaks truly came out at night for this epic showdown.
Toss in former Gator quarterback Brock Berlin under center (at least for a half before going shotgun) for the Canes—as well as a monstrous comeback—and there’s a reason this instant classic made the Top 3.
Another game we recommend a full rewatch as this is the quintessential type of showdown where people rely on the highlights—especially with Miami only putting 10 points on the board until the final 19 minutes and Florida turning an early 7-0 deficit into a 33-10 lead.
Devin Hester exploded out the gate with a 97-yard touchdown return—the helmet immediately off as the Orange Bowl went beserk; Canes fans falling into the dangerous trap of being the better team and expecting a rivalry game to be a cinch.
Both sides traded field goals before Ingle Martin hit Carlos Perez last in the first quarter for a 50-yard score—outrunning the Canes’ defense and giving the Gators that, we-can-hang-with-these-guys, underdog-upset belief.
An early-second quarter Berlin fumble was returned for a 34-yard score, by a taunting Keiwan Ratliff and after a 31-yard Matt Leach field goal with :15 remaining—the Gators strutted into the locker room with a 19-10 lead.
Two scores down didn’t leave Miami panicked—though only three points on offense was concerning, as was Berlin being noticeably off in his second career start for the Canes.
One play into the third quarter, one step closer to sounding the alarm as DeShawn Wynn tore off a 65-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, putting Miami into a 26-10 hole. The ensuing drive, Berlin was picked off mid-field by Daryl Dixon—flipping the field before the Canes’ defense forced a punt.
Five plays later, Berlin coughed it up for the second time on the night—Johnny Lamar hauling in at the UM 28-yard line. Chris Leak was in for Martin and hit go-to target Ben Troupe twice for double-digit gains—both on second-and-long—before Ran Carthon punched it in from four yards out, officially pushing the lead to 33-10 with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Florida never scored again—while Miami rattled off 28 unanswered, for as improbable comeback against a most-hated rival.
Berlin went shotgun and drove Miami 76 yards in just over two minutes—capping it off with a 26-yard strike to Kevin Beard, who played out of his mind the rest of the game—followed by a two-point conversion pick-up, Berlin with a shot to Ryan Moore, pulling to 33-18.
Defense returned with some extra spark, forcing a quick, much-needed three-and-out—the late, great Sean Taylor with an acrobatic pull-down from behind on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-1 that Maurice Sikes snuffed out; destroying O.J. Small for a four-yard loss.
Frank Gore ran for a quick six, before Berlin went back to Beard for a 62-yard gain—popped out of bounds at the one-yard line, setting Gore up to punch it in—the drive taking less than a minute off the clock—much to the chagrin of ABC’s Bob Griese; a Canes-hater and stiff since his Dolphins days, audibly drained while having to hype a Miami comeback.
Trailing by eight, the Hurricanes defense again clamped down—Florida coaches sticking with Leak and never going back to Martin—the freshman sacked for a loss of five on 3rd-and-8, giving the hot-handed Miami offense another crack.
Antrel Rolle broke up a second down pass at the sticks and Randy Shannon brought that third down heat; D.J. Williams blitzing and converging with Vince Wilfork, before Jon Vilma sacked Leak—lots of eventual first-round defensive talent on that 3-yard drive.
Berlin again marched the Canes down the field; 70 yards on nine plays—capped by a six-yard trick to Moore—but Miami settled for the PAT after the freshman receiver’s pointless celebratory bow; the Canes trailing, 33-32 with 11:08 remaining.
Florida chewed four minutes off the clock, but were forced to punt after a huge sack on 3rd-and-6—Gavin Dickey hit with an eight-yard loss and Miami taking our on their own 11-yard line after the punt.
From there, the storybook ending Canes will talk about for decades, while the Gators look to forget.
Berlin hooked up with Beard for 25 yards early, found Sinorice Moss for 26 yards the next play and rushed for six yards on a crucial 4th-and-1 with 2:52 left in the game. Four plays later, Gore scampered for the 12-yard score on 3rd-and-5—thought the Canes didn’t hit the two-point conversion and only led by five with 1:44 on the clock.
Leak found Baker for 21 yards and went back to him for 19 more five plays later—but a second-straight look at the 6-foot-3 receiver set up the knockout punch; Al Marshall reading what was coming, pulling down Leak’s first career interception and putting Berlin and the Canes in kneel-down mode with four ticks remaining.
Down goes The Gator … for the sixth-straight time at the hands of the Hurricanes.
#2 — Miami versus Notre Dame — (11/25/89) — When JJ left Miami for Dallas after the 1988 season, he had one three-word message for his Hurricanes; “Beat Notre Dame”.
The year prior, #1 Miami was on the wrong end of a 31-30 showdown between the “Catholics” and the “Convicts” in South Bend; with some home-cooking and controversy as a bogus Cleveland Gary fumble on the goal line, somehow resulted in a Fighting Irish first down on the 20.
A two-point conversion attempt would fall short—putting Miami in that uncomfortable spot Nebraska dealt with in the 1984 Orange Bowl, as well as Florida State in Tallahassee in 1987.
Notre Dame went on to win the national championship, beating #3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, while #2 Miami waxed #6 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, 23-3—putting all eyes on South Florida almost a full year before the 1989 match-up.
Dennis Erickson was Miami’s first-year head coach, immediately understanding the importance of beating the Irish—and rolling into this regular-season finale 10-2 and #7 in the nation; the lone blemish—a 24-10 mid-season loss at Florida State with starting quarterback Craig Erickson injured and true freshman Gino Torretta starting.
Ready as the Hurricanes were as a team, Miami fans were equally as ready to go—making this the loudest game at the Orange Bowl since the Dolphins took down the undefeated Bears on Monday Night Football in 1985; the 81,634 in attendance even eclipsing that of the hometown NFL squad’s biggest night.
Hurricanes’ color-man Don Bailey Jr. said on one of those post-season UM DVDs that had you lit a match in the stadium that night—the whole thing would’ve blown up; that’s how intense the building was as Miami was out for revenge.
The Hurricanes not only dethroned the defending champs that final November weekend—they also ended the Irish’s 23-game win-streak; something Miami had a penchant for in that era.
It also completely shut down the Notre Dame option attack that helped build that streak; rendering Tony Rice useless and ending his Heisman campaign—as well as the Irish’s dreams of repeating as the national champion.
Rice picked up 12 yards on the game’s opening play and it would be his biggest play of the night.
After an early field goal, Craig Erickson hit Dale Dawkins on a 55-yard touchdown strike near the end of the first quarter—avoiding a heavy Irish blitz—pushing Miami’s lead to 10-0.
Notre Dame got inside Miami’s 10-yard line twice; coming away with three measly points—while their lone touchdown was a 49-yard interception return by linebacker Ned Bolcar, tying things up 10-10.
Not to be outdone, Miami linebacker Bernard “Tiger” Clark felt he could jump the tight end—got the green light from assistant defensive coach Tommy Tuberville to do so—and picked off Rice’s late second quarter pass, returning it to the 10-yard line.
The turnover led to a Stephen McGuire punching it in three plays later, giving the Hurricanes momentum and a 17-10 lead heading into the locker room.
Miami received the second half kickoff and held on to the ball a whopping 11 minutes, it what simply was known as “The Drive”; which lasted 22 plays, but realistically should’ve stalled after eight.
Following a penalty the Canes faced a 1st-and-25 from their own 26-yard line when Irish defensive end Eric Jones got to Erickson and tagged him with a 12-yard loss.
The ball knocked loose, Notre Dame end Devon McDonald tried to pick up the loose ball, instead of just falling on it—forgetting it couldn’t be advanced—giving Miami center Bobby Garcia the ability to recover and prevent a disastrous moment.
A McGuire run on 2nd-and-48 put Miami in a 3rd-and-43—leaving commentators to joke about nothing in the playbook for that down-and-distance—when Erickson dropped back and found a streaking Randal Hill down the right sideline for a 44-yard backbreaking pickup.
The Canes kept chipping away, Lou Holtz continued losing his shit—picking every blade of grass on the Notre Dame sideline—as Miami faced a 1st-and-Goal from the six-yard line, before two Leonard Conley runs set up a third-down strike to Dawkins in the back of the end zone for his second score on the night.
Culminating “The Drive” with that touchdowns; the Orange Bowl exploded—the Irish were done; 24-10 with 4:13 remaining in the third and punting back to Miami three minutes later, trotting a worn-out defense back onto the field.
Meanwhile, Miami’s front four—led by Cortez Kennedy and Russell Maryland—continued their domination of Notre Dame.
Rice and the Irish got inside the red zone midway through the fourth quarter, but a fourth down incompletion (short of the sticks) ended the threat—giving Miami the ball back; the Canes marching down the field, setting up a Carlos Huerta 32-yard attempt and officially making it a three-score ball game—27-10—with 1:44 remaining; the remaining moments a formality before the celebration began.
“Miami has done it …. the longest win streak in Notre Dame history is over.”
The last time the Irish were held without a touchdown; two years prior in Miami, when the Canes shut them out, 24-0—making for some stellar post-game comments from a dejected Notre Dame bunch of usual big-mouths.
“This one is going to haunt us the rest of our lives,” said team captain Bolcar. “I hate this damn place.”
Channeling his inner Holtz, linebacker Chris Zorich delivered the following quip: “The only thing I can say is they outplayed us. Outplayed us in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter.”
Meanwhile, first-year Miami head coach Dennis Erickson—who lost his first shot at a rival when falling to Florida State—knew what beating Notre Dame mean for him and this program.
“The greatest win I’ve ever been associated with.”
Six weeks later, #2 Miami would topple #7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while #4 Notre Dame upset #1 Colorado—the Irish ultimately helping the Canes win the program’s third national championship.
#1 — Miami versus Florida State — (10/7/00) — It was a toss-up between this epic win over the Seminoles, or that 1989 revenge-fueled take-down of the Irish, which ranked second—but in the end, this 2000 game against FSU earned top billing.
Witnessed both games in person–and the deciding factor was the fact that this 27-24 thriller showed the world Miami was officially back; on the heels of five years in purgatory while the Hurricanes were on probation and reeling.
Beating the Irish a year after getting robbed in South Bend; absolutely huge—but so was almost everything for the Hurricanes in eighties; Erickson the third head coach in seven seasons to win a national title—doing so in his first year—while UM was winning big game after big game every season.
Between 1986 and 1992, the Hurricanes went 78-6—winning three national championships and playing for five. From 1993 through 1999, a 59-24 record with that mid-nineties probation-era bottom-out.
It was easy for Miami fans to take things for granted when the getting was good; a earned national-title-or-bust mentality every year and a NCAA record 58-home game win-streak (while breaking double-digit win-streaks of foes)—the Canes not losing at home for a decade.
When probation finally hit, no one knew how bad things would get—bottoming out in 1997 with a 5-6 season and 47-0 road loss at Florida State; which planted seeds for what would take place in 2000 and the next five showdowns.
Entering 2000, the Hurricanes and fifth-year head coach Butch Davis were 40-19 during that probation run—and 0-10 combined against Florida State and Virginia Tech. (For context; UM only lost a staggering 17 games between 1983 and 1993—along with those four national championships.)
Similar to 1994, Florida State rolled south to the Orange Bowl as defending champions in 2000—with Miami the underdog, in need of an upset. The Hurricanes were in danger of falling off the map for that 34-20 win all those years ago—but by the turn of the century, Miami had truly become an afterthought. Even the Florida Gators won their first championship in 1996 while the Canes were down and out.
The Hurricanes were finally where they needed to be talent-wise when 2000 rolled around. The 1999 campaign was a sneaky 9-4—Miami taking a step forward after closing the 1998 season with the upset of #2 UCLA.
UM opened the 1999 season with an upset of Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic—but lost a heartbreaker to #2 Penn State two weeks later at home, 27-23—falling on an 80-yard touchdown pass on the heels of a bad fourth down spot when leading 23-20 and looking for a dagger.
The hangover continued a week later for a relocated game against East Carolina; also a 27-23 loss—after leading 23-3 early in the third quarter.
Miami hung tough against #1 Florida State the following week; tied 21-21 at the half in Tallahassee, before ultimately falling, 31-21 to the eventual champ. The final season los came at Blacksburg when Kenny Kelly was injured and true freshman Ken Dorsey was tossed into the fire; a 43-10 setback against #2 Virginia Tech—the Hokies and Michael Vick falling to the Seminoles in the national championship.
Dorsey won the quarterback battle in the 2000 Gator Bowl; outplaying Kelly to the point where the elder statesman chose to pursue baseball, than to battle it out with a sophomore the following spring.
Miami entered the 2000 season #4 in the nation, but got tripped up early-on in a cross-country trek to Seattle—a slow start doing the Hurricanes in against #15 Washington, 34-29—the Huskies going on to finish #3 in the polls that year.
All that to say, everything was on the line when #7 Miami (3-1) welcomed #1 Florida State (5-0) into a sweltering Orange Bowl for that high-noon showdown.
After fumbling the opening kickoff, the Hurricanes defense stepped up—stuffing a fourth down run to get the ball back. The Noles returned the favor a possession later, fumbling a punt return around mid-field—stripped by always-everywhere linebacker Dan Morgan and recovered by Phillip Buchanon.
Dorsey would eventually find a streaking Najeh Davenport down the middle for a 22-yard touchdown, putting the Canes up, 7-0 middle of the first quarter.
Late first quarter, another fourth down stop—Chris Weinke thinking he had tight end Carver Donaldson open on the goal line, but junior safety Ed Reed made up some lost ground, getting a hand on the ball and batting it away for a turnover on downs.
Dorsey went right back to work on second down, finding a streaking Santana Moss for a massive field-flipping game—followed by a dump to tight end Ivan Mercer, followed by an early second quarter punch-in from then-fullback / future-linebacker D.J. Williams. , pushing the lead to 14-0.
Reed single-handed ended another productive drive—picking off Weinke on the goal line. Dorsey immediately went back to Moss for two big gains, putting the Canes in the red zone again—but left settling for a 31-yard Todd Sievers field goal, pushing the lead to an unexpected 17-0.
Weinke again got the Noles in scoring position, but on 3rd-and-Goal from the two-yard line, was baited by a lurking Morgan, who returned the pass 23 yards before getting bumped out with :06 remaining—but protecting the Canes’ lead.
Florida State got back to business in the second half, pulling to within 17-10 by midway through the third quarter—but Dorsey found Reggie Wayne and D.J. Williams and Robert Williams for a few big gains, eventually setting Sievers up to push the lead back to 10.
Matt Munyon whiffed on an early fourth quarter field goal attempt—while Davenport returned the gaffe with a third down fumble—2:14 remaining, after picking up the would-be first down. Florida State had already pulled to within three by this point, pushing momentum back on the side of the defending champs.
Weinke to Atrews Bell for a 29-strike with 1:37 remaining—the Noles with their first lead, 24-20, leaving the sophomore Dorsey to engineer one of those magical Quarterback U-type drives he’d yet to pull off early in his career.
From there, the clouds parted and magic happened.
Dorsey to Moss; out of bounds near midfield. Dorsey to Wayne; a 17-yard pick-up that move the chains and got Miami to the 33-yard line.
Dorsey back to Moss for another clutch pick-up, between two confused and frustrated Noles—followed by a touchdown strike to a then-unknown Jeremy Shockey, who hauled-in the eventual game-winner.
Dorsey, a magical 6-of-7 on the drive—going 68 yards in :51—but leaving enough time on the clock for the Seminoles to get a crack at a tie, instead setting up the iconic Wide Right III, as Munyon pushed the 49-yarder in true Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowery fashion.
The Canes would win out, but get snubbed by the BCS committee—who sent the one-loss Noles to the title game, over the one-loss Canes—which prompted a head-to-head change in the numbers the following year. #3 Miami would go on to beat #7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, while #2 Florida State fell to #1 Oklahoma, 13-2—giving the Sooners a national championship that had the Canes’ name written all over it.
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.
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.