October 6, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES FALL TO VIRGINIA TECH AFTER LATE RALLY

Despite racking up it’s third loss of the season by early October, you can say this about the Miami Hurricanes under first-year head coach Manny Diaz—there are some fighters on this team and this bunch doesn’t quit. Backs-to-the-wall, these Canes go down swinging and are in it until the clock hits zero; a refreshing change after so many years of wilting in the face of adversity.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only positive to dwell on after falling behind to Virginia Tech, 28-0 early in the second quarter; the Canes tying the game late, only to watch the Hokies march down the field for a game-winning score—similar to how things played out against the Gators and Tar Heels in other soul-crushing losses.

What can’t be said about this poorly-coached bunch; that it plays smart, shows up prepared, hits the ground running or is learning to eliminate crucial-moment mistakes as the season nears the halfway point; all this setbacks the difference between sitting pretty at 5-0, or a retched 2-3 start to this new era of UM football.

Diaz and staff had another bye week to prepare and get this team focused, yet Miami suffered another painfully slow start and disastrous first quarter—much like an early September showdown in Chapel Hill; on the heels of the Canes’ first bye, where the road favorite was in a 17-3 hole in a matter of minutes, again waking up late and ultimately falling short.

For those paying attention, Miami was outscored 45-3 in the first quarter of both post-bye games thus far in 2019—yet scrapped back to take fourth quarter leads, only to see the defense fail in game-defining moments.

At North Carolina, blown coverage on 4th-and-17 led to a game winning touchdown by a freshman quarterback making his second career start. Against Virginia Tech, a back-up quarterback making his first career start, led a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive—burning the Hurricanes’ defense on a play that worked twice before, with Miami unable to adjust and shut it down.

TURNOVERS CHANGED; ON WRONG SIDE OF MARGIN WITH FIVE GIVEAWAYS

Insult to injury again came in the form of untimely mental mistakes, boneheaded penalties or game-defining special teams gaffes—all at the least opportune times. Just like the loss at North Carolina, Miami’s showboaty bling stayed locked away in its case all evening against Virginia Tech—but unlike the Canes protecting the football in Chapel Hill, they gifted the Hokies five turnovers; four in the first quarter, alone.

Jarren Williams—praised pre-game by ESPN commentators for not turning the football over once in his first four outings—threw an interception on his first attempt from scrimmage. Then another. And another. Seven attempts on the day, three picks later and the r-freshman’s day was over by the 3:55 mark in the first quarter.

In Williams’ defense, not everything was his fault. That initial third down attempt to Mike Harley was a little behind the receiver, but a clear-cut pass interference call was flat-out ignored as the ball ricocheted into the air for Jermaine Waller to haul-in.

On the ensuing drive, Williams didn’t step into his throw and hung it up there for Dee Wiggins in the end zone; the sophomore receiver doing little to fight for the ball as the defacto defender, allowing Caleb Farley to pick off the pass with relative ease. The following possession saw Williams targeting Brian Hightower; another floater that Waller nabbed for his second takeaway on the day—Hightower somewhat lackadaisical in his pursuit of the ball, as well as any effort to chase down the defender; Waller picking up 23 yards on his return.

Williams and the receiving corps hardly deserve all the blame for the early hole, as the Hurricanes defense looked nothing like the we’ll-get-that-shit-back unit it was the past few years when the offense struggled.

The mobile and fearless Hendon Hooker—again in his first career start, replacing the statuesque Ryan Willis—led an eight-play, 48-yard scoring drive after Williams’ first cough-up.

Hooker passed once on the drive, handed off to Deshawn Clease three times and kept it as many times for himself—scampering in from 12 yards out on 3rd-and-6 for the score. Credit to head coach Justin Fuente for easing the newbie into the game; establishing a run and letting the quarterback get conformable with his feet before calling on him to get it done through the air.

The Canes defense forced a three-and-out after Williams’ end zone pick, but couldn’t hold after the errant pass to Hightower in Miami territory; starting field position—the UM 23-yard line. After a run by Keshawn King netted three yards, a brilliant call where tight end Dalton Keene lined up right, appeared to be a blocker, only to peel left as the majority of the Miami defense bit right, thinking run—leaving Keene to rumble 20 yards for the score.

Even worse, this same play would burn Miami with 1:25 remaining in a 35-35 ball game where a crucial third down stop was imperative. Instead, the Canes defense bit again and Keene caught the exact same pass, around the same exact spot—getting stopped at the three-yard line this time, before Deshawn McClease punched in what proved to be the game-winner.

In between Keene’s two pivotal moments, N’Kosi Perry did his best to rally the offense, in spite of the hole Williams put the Hurricanes in—turning in a valiant 422-yard, four-touchdown performance.

PERRY GETS HIS SHOT WHEN WILLIAMS’ CLEAN STREAK GOT DIRTY

Entering the game, Miami having already spotted Virginia Tech a cool 14 points—Perry hit Harley in space, only to see the receiver fumble; the Hokies recovering on the UM 20-yard line—Hooker again shaking-and-baking on 3rd-and-6, running for 15 yards and setting James Mitchell up to pound it in from a yard out. Down 21-0, just like that.

Three consecutive passing attempts with Perry—and zero effort to run the football—resulted in a three-and-out and another defensive letdown as the Hurricanes let the Hokies march down the field 80 yards on 12 plays.

Miami surrendered a 26-yard run to McClease on a 3rd-and-10 from the Virginia Tech 20-yard line—a gut-punch with an opportunity to stop the bleeding. Hooker picked up another third down with his legs and found Keane for a first down touchdown from the UM 17-yard line, pushing the lead to, 28-0 with 9:30 remaining in the first half.

A nine-play, 71-yard drive—highlighted by a 51-yard snag by Brevin Jordan—came up four yards shy of a score; offensive coordinator Dan Enos again abandoning the run and calling four consecutive passing plays (two to a well-covered Jordan) before Perry rolled right and stuck it in Farley’s bread basket on fourth down, unable to find an open receiver.

Miami did get their lucky bounce before halftime when a fourth down, 38-yard Hail Mary attempt fell into the hands of Mark Pope, off the Will Mallory deflection—a sign of life for the snakebitten Hurricanes, cutting the deficit to, 28-7.

The third quarter couldn’t have been scripted much better as the defense forced a three-and-out, followed by an eight-play, 88-yard drive where Perry found Jordan a 28-yard pick-up on 3rd-and-10, while working Jeff Thomas into the mix with a 18-yard connection. A rare pass interference call on the Hokies set the Canes up at the six-yard like, where Perry and Jordan hooked up again, cutting the deficit to 14.

Both offenses cooled for back-to-back possessions, before Miami’s defense flinched first. Facing a 3rd-and-2 from the VT 28-yard line, the Hurricanes thought run—safety Bubba Bolden caught in no man’s land—allowed Hooker to drop one over the shoulder of a sprinting Mitchell, who galloped 67 yards to the five-yard line before Hooker hit Keene—inexplicably open, yet again—extending the lead back to 14.

It was a kick in the teeth similar to the season opening, late fourth quarter, 65-yard pass from Feleipe Franks to receiver Josh Hammond, setting Florida up for the eventual game-winning score. Only this time there was ample time for Miami to keep chipping away—12:14, to be exact—and by the 3:16 mark, the Canes finished their own improbable 21-0 run to tie the ballgame, 35-35.

Perry kept finding Jordan and Thomas, while also working Harley, KJ Osborn and Dee Wiggins into the fold—Wiggins with a 22-yard pick-up on 3rd-and-12 and Osborn with an 11-yard grab on 4th-and-5 before capping the drive with a 13-yard strike to Thomas.

After a quick three-and-out by the defense, a 26-yard completion to Thomas got the action going, an 11-yard reception by Jordan had Perry and the Canes just outside the red zone and on 3rd-and-11, a 25-yard shot to Thomas for his second touchdown on the day. Another three-and-out and after a seven-yard run by Perry—the play of the game as Dallas broke two tackles and absolutely willed himself to pay dirt—bolting 62 yards for a touchdown, minutes after laying out and stretching for a two-point conversion after the Thomas score.

In a moment where everything was going right—true to form for the Hurricanes, something had to go wrong.

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN; FOURTH QUARTER MISCUES DOOM THE CANES

It happened against Florida in a few big moments; Thomas muffing a punt. A first down on a fake field goal called back for offensive holding, leading to a 27-yard, game-tying whiff by the cursed Bubba Baxa. The Franks-to-Hammond game-breaker; not to mention the Hurricanes pissing away 30 yards of field possession—trailing the Gators by four—thanks to Al Blades Jr. tossing up double middle fingers, followed by an illegal block; from the UF 25-yard line and field goal range to the UM 45-yard line in one tick of the clock.

Chapel Hill, was defined by 4th-and-17—as well as special teams disasters; a missed PAT that forced a failed two-point attempt and a forced game-tying field goal from 49 yards out, instead of a tied ball game and overtime.

In the wake of Dallas’ brilliant run, another immature moment from a team that’s been penalized 50 times for 403 yards, with five games in the books—and celebration penalty that added 15 yards to the kickoff; but before that would happen, another momentum swing as Baxa’s PAT hit the goal post, Miami whiffing with a chance to take it’s first lead of the game.

Baxa’s 71-yard kickoff was touchback-bound without the penalty, but with it—Virginia Tech ran it back to their own 37-yard line, Hooker hitting Damon Hazelton for a 29-yard pick-up immediately; able to play aggressive with a tied ballgame, opposed to trailing by one, where a field goal wins it; the Hokies bleeding the clock to keep the Canes’ offense at bay. Three plays later; back to the well with Keene and the same misdirection Miami fell for earlier—McClease rolling in from three yards out with 1:30 on the clock.

Perry pushed the Canes down field with more fire than he did last fall in a similar situation against Duke; hitting Wiggins for gains of 20 and 12 yards, as well as a 16-yard connection with Osborn that got Miami to the 10-yard line with :05 left on the clock. A 1st-and-Goal attempt to Jordan went off his hands—which looked to the the ballgame, before a review gave the Hurricanes :01 and new life.

This time Perry looked down Thomas from the get-go, trying to squeeze the ball into double coverage—not putting enough on it; the pass batted down by the defender covering Dallas on a delayed release.

Had Perry not rushed the the throw—he had time in the pocket—Dallas could’ve caught the ball around the nine-yard line, with a full head of steam and one man to beat. To the left, Perry also had Osborn peeling off around the five yard line and one-on-one coverage. Thomas was literally the worst option on the play, but Perry was hellbent on forcing it to his go-to. It never got there. Ballgame.

All that’s left now is the aftermath; a third loss racked up by the first week of October, an 0-2 start in the ACC and some drama and division come Sunday in regards to a quarterback competition or controversy, depending on the vantage point.

QUARTERBACK COMPETITION OR CONTOVERSY? DEPENDS WHO YOU ASK

ESPN commentator Dusty Dvoracek took umbrage with Diaz and Enos yanking Williams late in the first quarter; a nation that if Williams was “their guy”—they needed to let the quarterback work through the adversity, giving him a chance to make a comeback.

Devil’s advocate to Dvoracek’s take; Miami’s quarterback battle in fall almost had #15  getting the nod by default. Neither Williams, Perry or Ohio State transfer Tate Martell were head and shoulders above the rest. According to Diaz, the Hurricanes felt they could win with all three guys, but Williams won out every so slightly due to, “the greatest upside due to his passing ability, his instincts and his determination”.

There was no right or wrong in regards to making the switch at the time. With a neck-and-neck quarterback battle dating back to spring—with Martell converting to receiver in fall—the Hurricanes are in a 1a and 1b situations in regards to starter. Should the Williams experiment tank, Perry is in need of some valuable minutes and this was a logical way to get him some.

It was also a situation the r-sophomore has been in before; trailing Florida State, 27-7 last October and rallying Miami to a 28-27 victory. Low-risk to ask Perry to mount a comeback against Virginia Tech—yet that’s almost exactly what he did.

There’s a deeper dive regarding this current quarterback competition—or controversy, depending the vantage point—but that’s for another time.

For now, it’s a 2-3 start to a new season—three losses in heartbreaking fashion, had Miami simply gotten out of its own way and played smarter football at the beginning, middle and end of each game. Little time to lick wounds here as Virginia treks south on Friday night for arguably the Coastal Division game-of-the-year.

Until then, back to work and hopefully learning from a slew of mistakes.

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.


Another year, another Miami and Virginia Tech showdown—albeit one of those once-rare, now all-too-common seasons where both squads are down and this long-running rivalry lacks the luster and shine it’s had in years passed.

All that to say, don’t let the matching 2-2 records fool you as both the Hurricanes and Hokies need a win as badly as if they were leading the division and in the hunt for a conference title.

Survive on Saturday and there’s something to build off of with seven regular season games remaining. Lose and it’s wheels off for both.

Miami was on the right end of this type of showdown; another one of those close-at-the-half games where the Canes pulled away late. Bowl eligibility was on the line in Blacksburg last November; the Hokies taking an early 7-0 lead and going back up 14-10 early second quarter before the Canes ended the scoring—going up 17-14 at the half and rattling off 21 third quarter points en route to a convincing 38-14 victory.

Two years back, a signature Saturday night prime time game in South Florida that proved to be a springboard for then-undefeated, No. 9 Miami taking on No. 13 Virginia Tech. Again, another 14-10 ball game early third quarter, before the Canes’ defense shut the Hokies down and the offense tacked on two more touchdowns for a 28-10 win, which led to ESPN’s College GameDay heading south the following weekend for a throw down with Notre Dame and HardRock coming alive in vintage Orange Bowl fashion as the Canes rolled up the third-ranked Irish, 41-8.

Mark Richt was at the helm for the last three go-arounds of this rivalry; two consecutive wins, as well as a 37-16 road thumping in 2016—year one of the Justin Fuente era; the first year coach stringing together a 10-4 run with what long-time leader Frank Beamer left behind. 9-4  in 2017 was followed up by 6-7 last season and a 2-2 start here in 2019—the rumbling already starting in Blacksburg about a two-year extension after year two that makes it harder with the Hokies to part ways with Fuente if the losing ways continue.

CANES CURRENTLY ON TOP IN THIS RIVALRY; NEED TO KEEP IT THAT WAY

A rivalry that goes in waves, Miami has managed to win five of the last seven against Virginia Tech—despite the Canes’ woes over the past decade-plus. Prior to that, the Hokies had taken seven over the past 10.

On paper, Miami is the team to beat—simply on being in “better” overall shape that Virginia Tech over the past few years; proving it on the field back-t0-back seasons, as well.

True, both teams are 2-2, but the Canes’ two losses were hard-fought battles against No 8 Florida and a spirited North Carolina squad in their house, in primetime. Meanwhile, the Hokies fell to an average Boston College squad in the opener and were trounced at home by Duke last weekend, 45-10. Wins for both teams came against a couple of doormats; Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan for Miami—Old Dominion and Furman for Virginia Tech.

The pundits have weighed in on who should win and why; citing Miami’s lack of turnovers on the year—two over the course of four games—but also knocking the Canes’ offensive line woes and stating that the hit-or-miss Hokies’ front seven could show up to disrupt.

Virginia Tech’s defense is horrible in regards to stopping opponents on third down—while Miami’s offense has been hot garbage regarding converting on third down (6-of-34 on the year), making for a suck-fest battle for both sides—one simply not playing as bad as the other.

Despite coming off a bye week, Miami still —on some level—still has to have Central Michigan in the back of their collective brain, while reading the clipping and hearing the rumblings of the fan base. A 17-12 win that actually felt more like a loss, it’s put the Hurricanes in a unique make-or-break position as October approaches.

The opener against a Top 10 squad moved up a week, resulting in an early bye. A nighttime road game against a conference rival that’s had their number on the road since joining the ACC. A beat down of an inferior foe—which somehow led to sluggish practice and some level of big-headedness, which left the Canes tested against a MAC team they should’ve out talented by four touchdowns—and then a second bye week to let that simmer?

Not the most orthodox start to a season for Manny Diaz, a new offensive staff, a first-year quarterback, a young offensive line and a green secondary. Mistakes and inexperience are truly the difference between 4-0 and 2-2—as well as a much different narrative regarding the first-year head coach and an ornery fan base that wanted to / expected to hit the ground running; overhyped by some off-season marketing hype (re: The New Miami) intended for the long run, not the short.

PUT FIRST FOUR GAME IN REARVIEW; SEASON STARTS NOW

Despite the fact the first third of the 2019 season is in the books, this most-recent bye week can almost serve as a hard reset for the Hurricanes. ACC play is “officially” underway as the meat of the schedule is finally here; six conference games in a row—the first three within the friendly confines of HardRock. Aside from that, Miami will also face the squad many pegged to take the Coastal Division; Virginia—next Friday night at home.

Everything that’s happened up to this point; can be long forgotten if Miami can start playing up to what it’s capable of. The rest of the schedule is hardly Murder’s Row—the No. 23 Cavaliers currently the only ranked team the Canes will face between now and the post-season. It’s simply a matter of which Miami shows up; the one that slept through their last showing against Central Michigan—or the squad that took Florida to the wire, but had a few too many mental mistakes and breakdowns to pull it off; both of which should be fixed by mid-season.

Aside from true freshmen no longer looking like the first-year players they are as the year goes on—Miami is also the healthiest it’s been on season. Nesta Silvera will be back on the field after missing the Hurricanes’ first four games, where he’s attempting to fill in for the disruptive Gerald Willis, who was lost to graduation. Southern California transfer Bubba Bolden will also take the field at the safety position; the former 5-star helping out a secondary that is reeling due to Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and Michael Jackson moving on.

Another 5-star is ready to go—running back Lorenzo Lingard; looking to crack the depth chart as both DeeJay Dallas and Cam Harris have been taking care of business. Some rumblings regarding Lingard not getting playing time has coaches and players working to keep the true sophomore’s head up, but fact remains the guys in front of him have been playing well and No. 1 is going to have keep working to earn his shot.

Equally as important, the growth and development of quarterback Jarren Williams. The r-freshman has shone bright at times early this season and has a done a good job protecting the ball—no turnovers— but it’s time for No. 15 to take a step forward and this showdown against Virginia Tech is as good a time as any for some type of a breakout game. The Hokies rank tenth in the ACC in regards to pressuring quarterbacks, are 46th nationally in sacks and 47th regarding tackles-for loss—all of which should bode well for an offensive line that’s struggled and a quarterback that’s been sacked 18 times on the season.

Williams should be seeing the field better at this point of the season, as well as getting more comfortable with the speed of the game and his overall timing. Also, lots of chatter these past few weeks about “working on the deep ball”; time to set Jeff Thomas or Mike Harley loose and go deep.

Where Diaz stopped a sluggish practice the day after the narrow win over Central Michigan, it was reported days back that Miami had its best practice of the year thus far—offering a sliver of hope that these kids are starting to come around that aforementioned hard reset with six big weeks ahead can serve as a much-needed turning point for the year.

SEASON CAN TURN AROUND QUICKLY OVER NEXT FEW WEEKS

Last fall Miami fell to LSU out the gate, but rattled off five consecutive victories—including a comeback against Florida State—pushing the Canes to 5-1 and giving them some momentum going into mid-October. Instead, the wheels immediately came off when facing some adversity in Charlottesville. Miami lost at  Virginia 16-13 thanks to a stagnant offense and again no-showed after a bye week, falling to Boston College. A week later—still in a fog—the Canes limp-dicked their way through a home loss to Duke and dropped another one the following weekend at Georgia Tech, despite showing signs of improvement.

5-1 became 5-4, leaving the Canes to scrap for bowl eligibility—opposed to closing strong and winning the Coastal Division; something that would’ve happened had they simply managed to take out the Blue Devils and Yellow Jackets, en route to a 9-3 regular season.

Twice in three seasons under Richt, Miami suffered a four-game losing streak—unable to bounce back from any level of disappointment; carrying each recent loss into the next game and quickly finding themselves backed into a corner. If there’s anything that Diaz must do that his predecessor couldn’t—it’s finding a way to truly motivate and get through to his team. The Canes lost their way in regards to sense-of-urgency over the past several years and fixing that is a key step into again becoming a contender.

No, this isn’t the Virginia Tech of old—but there’s no doubt this team will play at a more elevated level than it did last weekend at home when getting rolled by Duke. Knowing this, Miami has to come out with the same vigor and passion it brought to Florida in the opener—opposed to the slow starts that have plagued this program for over a decade.

“Usually when a team has a game like they had the week before—that is a program that has a lot of pride—and they are going to fix those things,” Diaz said on Hurricane Hotline this week. “They have outstanding coaches and players that have pride where that type fo stuff isn’t tolerated. We are not going to see that team that showed up last Friday night. The issue is that in team meetings, you are watching that game and you have to make sure the players understand that this is different than what you are going to get. You would expect to get their best shot.”

Where it’s been dueling quarterbacks for the Hokies this season, Ryan Willis is official out and the more mobile Hendon Hooker will get the start. On paper, the premise of facing a back-up quarterback might sound good—but for those who follow Miami religiously; you’re well-aware that the Canes have a habit of making superstars out of number two guys or first-year starters.

Whether it was Sam Howell weeks back in the Tar Heels’ home opener, or David Moore for Central Michigan—the Canes’ defense didn’t put heat on either. Few designed blitzes or attempts to rattle relatively green quarterbacks, with all the time in the world to pick apart Miami’s secondary, while gaining confidence as the game rolled on. Blake Baker must find ways to rattle Hooker early—the same way so many teams have gone after Williams all year, knowing his youth an inexperience.

Offensively Dan Enos would be well-suited to attack the Hokies’ defense much like Duke did last Friday night; short, quick passes underneath—getting that ball in the hands of playmakers, moving the chains and giving Williams confidence by avoiding those three-and-outs and third down disasters that have hindered Miami’s offense all fall.

The blueprint for success is there; the Canes simply need to show up, play with purpose, execute and put a struggling squad out of its misery.

As much as Virginia Tech will show up prepared, there’s no running from the fact that Duke ate their lunch at home last weekend. That demoralizing loss should have a hangover effect, barring Miami gets after it early, avoids the slow start and takes control.

If not, Hooker will find his footing, the Hokies will gain some momentum and the Canes could find themselves in another unnecessary dogfight.

All that to say, expect a healthy Miami to show up prepared and for Williams to take a step forward in game five, setting the stage for the conference game-of-the-season against Virginia next Friday night at The Rock.

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Miami 30, Virginia Tech 19

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Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

October 5, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES PREPARE FOR VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

Another year, another Miami and Virginia Tech showdown—albeit one of those once-rare, now all-too-common seasons where both squads are down and this long-running rivalry lacks the luster and shine it’s had in years passed. All that to say, don’t let the matching 2-2 records fool you as both the Hurricanes and Hokies need a win […]


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

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

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

Understandably this fan base remains frustrated by two early losses, as well as a close call against the likes of Central Michigan that shouldn’t have happened.  All that to say, fans that continue with a micro view of this program and where Diaz is working to take things (especially based on what he inherited)—whereas the first-year head coach continues to operate and lead at a macro level; trying to build a broken Miami program into an eventual contender again.

This video won’t suddenly make 2-2 feel any better—but Diaz’s assessment of what is, what should be and where he wants to take this—as well as his week-in, week-out approach of dealing with the 2019 version of the Hurricanes—it should at least bring some comfort that Miami appears to be in the best hands its been in coaching-wise since the Butch Davis era.

With the Canes coming off another bye week, there was no game to break down from last weekend—so this fifth episode of the Manny Diaz Show is more of an overview piece—what’s been and what’s on deck.

A few standouts from this piece:

When asked about the insertion of players who have been injured or ineligible—Nesta Silvera and Bubba Bolden, as well as others—Diaz explains how both can be immediate-impact, while having an overall positive effect on the defense, all together.

“As we continue to develop our depth and get more guys in the game, everyone can play with more intensity. Why? Because they’re playing fewer snaps,” Diaz explained.

“And that’s really what the best teams have—where you can really turn that knob up to 11, because you know that if you empty your tank—you should come out and there should not be a drop-off, where we can get another guy in.”

On paper, many will say “of course”—but in reality how many fans bitch incessantly about Miami’s “talent” without comprehending the lack of a contender-level two-deep—as well as what that means for starters who are understandable winded late game because a lack of quality, capable back-ups?

Look back at last year’s bowl game against Wisconsin and how sorely the defensive line missed the presence of Gerald Willis in that game? Despite some solid players on that line, Miami was a completely different front seven due to one key guy being sidelined? Silvera is Willis’ replacement and four games into the 2019 season, the sophomore hasn’t played one snap.

Same to be said about Bolden in the secondary—the weakest link in Miami’s defense due to the graduation of Sheldrick Redwine, Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson after last season.

If the Canes are that reliant on transfers like Bolden—or even Willis and Jackson were the past few years and Trevon Hill this year—radars should go off in regards to how far UM is off depth-wise—yet some refuse to look at a bigger picture, rattling off names of starters as the reason Miami should be better.

The first 15 minutes is Diaz’s breakdown of all things going into Virginia Tech after the bye week, while the final eight features Diaz and Bailey Jr. going over specific plays over the past four games, with a focus on Miami’s run defense.

Honestly, if you don’t have time for the whole thing, at least make time to watch from the 15:00 mark on. Fans love harping on social media about losses being unacceptable and what not, without a fair assessment of what played out, as well as a slowed down look at every aspect of the play—the good, the bad and the ugly.

October 3, 2019

MANNY DIAZ SHOW : BYE WEEK PRE-VIRGINIA TECH BREAKDOWN

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

September 27, 2019

EARLY DEEP-DIVE INTO THE MANNY DIAZ ERA & MEANING OF ‘THE NEW MIAMI’


The Miami Hurricanes survived a home showdown against the Central Michigan Chippewas last weekend—the entire premise of that sentence so deflating, this piece was pushed off until the climate cooled and a bye week could serve as a welcomed distraction.

In the wake of a win that had the feel and energy of a loss, there was no rush to deep-dive or breakdown the where, how or why of the lethargic debacle. Central Michigan brought the fight, Miami played down to the level of the competition and a sloppy, poorly-executed dogfight ensued. End of story.

Despite holding on for a 17-12 victory, game four of the Manny Diaz error was a stumble—both on the field, as well as the court of public opinion.

Close road setbacks against Florida and North Carolina were somewhat sellable; Miami showed fight in both, rallied late for the lead and played tough—a few mental team mistakes or breakdowns in a young secondary proving to be difference-makers in two losses by a combined seven points. From there, a 63-0 home rout of Bethune-Cookman felt like a perfect tune-up with ACC play a few weeks out—leaving no reason to believe Miami would struggle with Central Michigan, yet that’s precisely what happened.

There are two approaches one can take when digesting and processing this current State of Miami.

The more common method is to continue flying off the handle, bitching about 15 years of irrelevance, ranting that fans “deserve better”, that the “standard of excellence” isn’t being met and to fantasize about Miami hiring top-flight athletic directors and coaching staffs—bailing out on this new regime a third of the way through season one—while living in complete denial regarding to the desirability of these admin-related gigs at The U and blindly ignoring the state of the program Diaz and crew inherited.

Those who stand in that overreactive camp may as well bail out of this piece now and take their show to the nearest message board to scream into the ether. No time here to cater to the over-emotional, knee-jerk crowd that is going to bitch-moan-and-complain game-by-game, or even drive-by-drive. Been doing this too long to try and sell the unsellable.

These pieces are written for those who at least attempt to rise above the bullshit and are working to take a logical, realistic approach to what is, versus what one personally thinks a rebuild should look like—mostly-rooted in simply being tired of the Canes’ irrelevance and nostalgic for a better era of UM football.

CAN’T AUTHENTICALLY DISCUSS PRESENT WITHOUT OWNING RECENT PAST

Back to beating a dead horse—as so many still refuse to look at Miami’s overall body of work the past 15 years; screaming about some mythical ‘standard’ that hasn’t been the case since Butch Davis built a contender from the ground-on-up in the late nineties and Larry Coker pissed it away, unable to recruit and run a program at the high-level of his predecessor; Coker 35-3 with Davis’ talent his first three seasons and 25-12 his final three.

A few low-lights regarding the past decade-and-a-half of Miami Hurricanes football worth re-mentioning:

— 1-of-15 in Coastal Division titles and zero ACC Championships since leaving the BIG EAST after the 2003 season.

— An impossible-to-fathom 99-71 record dating back to Coker’s final season at UM in 2006.

— A three-year NCAA investigation that crushed the overall brand, crippled recruiting and made the head coaching gig a less-than-desirable option—in the midst of a five-year drought where UM was already a watered-down version of what it had been at the turn of the century. 

— Five different head coaches in 14 seasons and massive turnover regarding assistants during that span—resulting in zero growth or consistency.

Most-recently, a 7-6 run that saw Mark Richt stepping down after three years–the worst offensive production Miami football has seen since probation in the mid-nineties and a 35-3 post-season loss to Wisconsin that demoralized a program that felt it’d finally taken a step forward after a 10-3 run in 2017.

Knowing all of this to be true, how and why did so many supporters misconstrue any The New Miami talk as if it were some instant-fix—opposed to the long term-attitude adjustment, aggressive mindset, culture change and long-term end-goal product Diaz and staff intended it as?

Diaz got the job because Richt wasn’t getting it done and chose early retirement over the difficult task of rebuilding the Canes; the gig tougher than originally anticipated for the burned-out, long-time Georgia head coach.

Richt only landed the gig late 2015 because Al Golden was still a hot, off-brand mess year five—on the wrong end of a 58-0 mid-season, home ass kicking courtesy of Clemson and hitting his ceiling.

Golden was only hired because Randy Shannon stumbled to 7-6 year four and showed no signs of improvement—the former linebacker-turned-defensive-coordinator getting hand the keys only after Coker’s eventual skid, unable to maintain what Davis had painfully created—and in an era where former defensive coordinator and then-Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano turned down a return to Coral Gables.

Back in the day, coaching turnover was the exact opposite—four Miami top guys consecutively poached by the NFL (or USFL). The getting was so good in Coral Gables, big pro money was thrown at Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and eventually Davis—to make the leap; three of four leaving The U in pristine shape for the next-man-up.

All that to say, “the day” is long gone and Miami is consistently dealing with more common coaching changes—constantly hitting reset like so many other programs because things have gone awry with the current guy, the plug is pulled, a new regime begins and things either eventually turn, or it’s rinse, wash, repeat over and over again.

The Canes have been stuck in this negative loop hire after hire; hitting ‘reset’ every couple of years—a move that kills all and any consistency, forces culture rebirths and clean slates on the reg.

The Chippewas played the Canes tough and with :39 remaining, actually had the ball with a chance to pull off an upset.

IT’S ALL ABOUT … A LACK OF CONSISTENCY; FIVE HEAD COACHES SINCE 2006

It’s become an all-too-familiar place; that three-year window where patience is tested waiting on the newest head coaching hire to put his fingerprints on the program; breaking bad habits with current players and attempting to implement an attitude change with the new recruits—while expecting everyone to jell as soon as possible to quiet the outside noise, distractions and critique.

Diaz is the latest to get the keys to the king down—expressing a #TNM approach as end-goal from the get-go.

“We didn’t build this for August 24th—the idea here is to build monsters that last,” Diaz shared days after the season-opening loss to Florida.

Translation; we’re going to get after things as best we can with what we have—but we can’t clean up a 15-year mess over spring and summer, so be patient, buckle in and and set realistic expectations for 2019—a season that will be full of ups and downs.

“But come on, bro—is it asking too much to think this team has the talent to handle Central Michigan, bro???”

No, but it also shouldn’t be some next-level surprise when these “lesser” teams find a way to show up week-in and week-out, creating chaos for bigger programs—yet it’s been Doomsday for too many “supporters” based on the Canes not blowing out the Chippewas.

A dozen years ago when Appalachian State upended Michigan at home, it was an anomaly—but it’s since become more commonplace.

One month into this season Georgia State upset Tennessee in Knoxville, The Citadel took out Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Missouri was upended at Wyoming, while Florida State and Michigan needed overtime to survive Louisiana-Monroe and Army, respectively—while Iowa State needed three overtimes to avoid home humiliation against Northern Iowa.

Pitt upset Central Florida last Saturday and needed an early fourth quarter touchdown to avoid being upset by Delaware a week later. TCU crushed Kansas this weekend—the Jayhawks still riding high from a road dismantling of Boston College weeks back—yet the Horned Frogs dropped a recent home game to SMU; a Mustangs program that went 5-7 last year and is still best known for barely surviving the Death Penalty decades back.

The era of good programs sleepwalking through showdowns against feisty, upset-minded smaller schools—long gone. Power 5 schools best at least bring their C-game, lest them find themselves in trouble. Miami brought it’s D-game against Central Michigan and almost paid a steep price; something Diaz acknowledged post-game when calling out the season’s most-lethargic practice three days before the Chippewas rolled into HardRock Stadium and almost did the unthinkable.

Incredibly enough, even in the wake of almost losing, the Hurricanes limp-dicked their way through last Sunday’s practice session—which again put the first-year head coach in a position to go foot-up-the-ass with his players; proof of a broken culture and a fragility that has plagued this Hurricanes program for years on end.

When things have gotten bad during this down cycle, Miami has self-imploded—the wheels quickly falling off. Take any sub-par season over the past 15 years; decent starts to a season that fast turn dismal, multiple-game losing streaks that are a ripple effect of dropping a winnable game the Hurricanes can’t bounce back from. Coker, Shannon, Golden and Richt all have their fair share of those moments during their respective runs.

Even in 2017, when Miami eked out some close calls and puffed out chests at 10-0—the wheels were off after falling on the road to a four-win Pittsburgh team; the Canes lethargic in the ACC Championship against Clemson and showing zero resiliency in the Orange Bowl against Wisconsin, blowing an early 14-3 lead and falling 34-24.

The Miami Hurricanes are 8-11 since a regular season-ending road loss at Pittsburgh in late 2017.

NEW “STANDARD” HAS BEEN UNRAVELING, OPPOSED TO PAST ERAS OF DOMINANCE

Last September the Canes were tagged by LSU in the opener and smacked up a few scrubs to get to 5-1—before a four-game losing streak that began at Virginia days after a thrilling comeback to beat Florida State. Richt had another four-game losing streak his first season at Miami; the Canes unable to emotionally get over a late 20-19 home loss to the Seminoles, with a chance to take down the arch-rival for the first time in seven tries.

Golden had his 7-0 start in 2013 before finishing 9-4; including a post-season no-show against Louisville. Shannon had his 9-4 run in 2009—3-1 out the gate with wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma, with a 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech worked in as undying proof the Canes were definitely not “back”. Toss in an overtime loss to unranked Clemson at home and another epic fail in Chapel Hill, Miami rolled into bowl season 9-3 and looked one-dimensional in a Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

Fans want to scream about some dated “standard” at Miami; welcome to the new-new—an era where the Canes show no resiliency or an ability to respond to any level of adversity; proving their nothing more than a mid-tier ACC bunch that only occasionally shows any sign of life.

Knowing this to be true, is it really a shock Central Michigan gave Miami fits for games into the Diaz era—a team that’s lost 11 of its past 19 games going into last Saturday? Is anyone truly surprised that practice was lethargic a few days after rolling Bethune-Cookman; heads and egos a bit inflated and feeling like things were back on track for beating up a nobody Wildcats squad?

Instead of being alarmed by things that are a direct result of what’s been the new norm that the past four head coaches have been unable to solve—shift the focus to how the fifth head coaching option since the Davis era is meeting the challenge head-on, while addressing and breaking down what is, the why and how it will get fixed, one painful moment at a time.

“We started non-competitive—which means we still choose to be competitive and when not to be competitive. And when I say ‘we’, it’s not every player. It’s not every player on one side of the ball, or the other—but there’s too many guys that run it for everybody,” Diaz explained hours after last Sunday’s effort-less practice—channeling an eighties-era, Johnson-like psychology-related, macro-approach to the problem, as well.

“When you talk about changing a culture, you don’t just put posters on the wall and it just happens. This is something that is years in the making and it’s never easy. Human inertia is to be average and mediocre. That current and that gravitational pull sucks you down every day—and so it just doesn’t happen where all of a sudden everyone is like, ‘I’m going to come in here and bring my best every day.’ That is quite literally why they call us ‘Coach’—to make sure that it happens.”

As to how and why this has happened at Miami; a program rich in culture and history over the past half century—the first-year head coach had more to say.

“New guys come in and they absorb the culture from the older guys in the locker room. That’s all the stories we heard here, the names that are hanging on the ceiling here—they all passed it down. At some point there’s a disconnect and when there’s a disconnect, it has to be rebuilt. It just doesn’t happen.”

Again, not “tweaked” or “finely-tuned”—but rebuilt; as in from scratch. Little pockets of talent at certain positions doesn’t make a championship team—years of building and buying in to a culture; those first wave of guys getting close, but not getting there—paving the way for the next wave of greats who learned and will benefit from those who were that initial class to kick off that rebuild.

Butch Davis felt the heat from 1995 through his year six, after an early 2000 road loss where No. 4 Miami fell at No. 15 Washington. 

WHERE ARE THOSE FOUNDATION-BUILDING, BORN LEADER-TYPE PLAYERS?

This isn’t foreign ground for Miami as the Hurricanes went through a similar process two decades back, albeit under different circumstances—post-probation and gutted scholarship-wise when Davis laid his foundation with those hard-nosed recruiting classes in 1996 and 1997 that set the stage for the dominance that would occur between 2000 and 2003.

A long-gone nineties era where the best local talent wanted to stay home to be a part of something special and took pride in being “the class” that turned things around; guys like Ed Reed eating shit as a r-freshman in Tallahassee in 1997, on the wrong end of that 47-0 ass kicking—saying years later that he didn’t come to Miami to be a part of that.

Four years down the road; #20 standing in that same locker room at Doak Campbell, screaming at his teammates about being hurt, not winning by enough and hell-bent on a mission to bring home a national title as a senior; returning for that one final go-around because he wanted to get the University of Miami it’s fifth ring.

Fast-forward to present day and a front-runner era of college football, where the best of South Florida’s best are worried about the now and personal gain; taking their talents to Tuscaloosa or Athens, knowing that over three to four years they’ll play for a few national championship and maybe win one, or two.

This is precisely why such a big part of Diaz’s culture change involves a different approach to recruiting and a more brass-tacks approach when it comes to recurring Miami-style guys who want to be Hurricanes and know what it means to not only play for The U—but to be part of that special first wave of greats that puts UM back on the trajectory it belongs.

If one can truly wrap their head around things from this vantage point, what was really expected out of of the 2019 season—and why were so many screaming, “12-0!”, predicting a rout of Florida, offended that Virginia was picked to win the Coastal Division and missing the entire point regarding The New Miami as a long-term goal, versus some off-season makeover? 7-6 last season and a history of wilting over the past decade-plus at any signs of adversity—as well as not knowing how to handle any prosperity?

The muscle memory in regards to mediocrity and setbacks; it runs deep and will take time to flush out with this current group—which will inevitably lead to some level of discord as the next wave of Diaz-recruited players rolls in with the attitude this new coaching staff it working to implement.

Miami’s loss to Boston College in 1984 was part of a three-game skid that left Jimmy Johnson 8-5 his first year as head coach.

LONE 2019 GOAL WAS TO FIELD A COMPETITIVE SQUAD LIKE ‘THE U’ OF OLD

Those who’ve accepted what is—the current state of the program, a decade-and-a-half of mediocrity and an understanding that each new regime change is two steps forward, one step back—are equally as disgusted with a 2-2 start and close call against the likes of Central Michigan; but simply don’t have the visceral reaction as their expectations for this season were rooted in logic and the laying of a new foundation.

Seeing a more competitive team that looked like the Miami Hurricanes of old, while competing for a Coastal Division crown and getting better as the year went on—that was the ultimate goal. Yes, it sucked royally to have Florida backed into a corner, only to make a handful more mistakes than “the Gator”— allowing them to escape, 24-20.

No, there are no moral victories, but there was enough good to take from that road loss in Diaz’s first showing—especially when considering the alternative would’ve probably looked more like Miami’s last showing on a football field; that lifeless, lethargic shellacking Wisconsin laid on the Canes in Brooklyn.

Two weeks later in Chapel Hill, the Canes were tagged early—shell-shocked by the packed house and rowdy crowd, despite knowing what was coming—but dug in and fought back; something that hasn’t been the case over the years. Miami took the lead late, appeared to have pulled off the comeback—only to see a secondary (missing last year’s veteran leadership) get burned again, as it was by the Gators, en route to another fourth quarter heartbreak.

It was an 0-2 start; but not the types of lifeless losses the Canes have been racking up since things went to shit a dozen years ago.

Miami took care of Bethune-Cookman and things seemed to be turning, despite the 1-2 record—until heads got big, effort got small and a coaching staff had to take things back to square one, yet again, working to teach kids how to deal with adversity, prosperity and everything in between—things that are second nature to contenders and championship-level programs full of players who can self-police.

As this season rolls on over the next two months, may common sense and logic kick into high gear for what will be an up and down ride. For those who struggle to get to that sensible place and need a little push—lean on some recent history lessons and situations some other first-year guys have been in, before getting things on a better path.

Everyone knows Miami’s head coaching family tree by now and some early struggles of first-year guys; Johnson’s run in 1984 with the defending national champs—dropping his final three in epic-fail fashion; a blown 31-0 halftime lead to Maryland, ‘Hail Flutie’ against Boston College the following game and a Fiesta Bowl loss to UCLA to finish 8-5—as well as fans still wanting to run Davis every season through year six, after an early-season road loss to Washington—only to clamor for his return consistently over the next two decades.

Step outside Canes’ culture for a moment and look up some stats and history on some of the best coaches the game currently has to offer.

Alabama was upset by Louisiana-Monroe year one for Nick Saban—ULM erecting this I-20 billboard for Tide fans en route to the Independence Bowl.

FIRST-YEAR COACHES OFT STRUGGLE TO CHANGE CULTURES & REBUILD

Nick Saban went 7-6 out the gate at Alabama, as the Crimson Tide were nowhere near the program he’s since built them into–dealing with the type of issues plaguing Miami over the past 15 years. Alabama was a dismal 46-40 between 2000 and 2006, under three different head coaches before Saban showed up—successful at LSU years earlier, but having failed in his short stint with the Miami Dolphins.

For all those sweating a close call against Central Michigan; Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe at home in 2007 under St. Nick.

Dabo Swinney is another current top guy that needed upwards of a decade to turn Clemson into a contender. After years of being barely-above-average under Tommy Bowden, Swinney took over for Bowden mid-season 2oo8 and managed to win the Atlantic his first full season, but backslid to 6-7 in 2010—including a home blowout against rival South Carolina.

Two years later—year three-and-a-half—an ACC Championship lost some luster after West Virginia throttled Swinney’s Tigers in the Orange Bowl, 70-33.

Should one really want do dive down the rabbit hole, dig up some old fan-driven sites and message boards from early in the careers of the two most-recent, multi-national championship winners and see how badly some wanted to drive both Saban and Swinney out of town—one written off as a has-been, the other as a never-was—yet in due time, both ultimately got the job done and are currently revered by their respective programs and fan bases.

Time—as much as Miami fans are sick of waiting, it remains the operative word as the aforementioned fifth coaching change since 2006 is the equivalent of hitting ‘reset’ on a video game, or wiping the whiteboard clean.

All one can ask for in this journey; a head coach that’s attacking the issues they come up in real time, while doing everything he can to speed up the process with what he has—and working tirelessly to get this thing to where he wants.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 12, 2019

MANNY DIAZ SHOW : BREAKDOWN OF MIAMI VERSUS NORTH CAROLINA


Chapel Hill is a living hell for the Miami Hurricanes.

Has been since joining the ACC in 2004 and getting upset by a 3-4 squad when ‘The U’ was the No. 3 team in the nation —and by the looks of this latest installment, the curse lives on.

I hammered this point on social media all week, until I was Tar-Heel-blue-in-the-face—yet too many who follow this program refused to buy it.

This is The New Miami, bro. We’re the Canes; those Tar Heels ain’t shit. Past is the past; history means nothing. South Carolina gave that game away last week. Freshman quarterback is garbage—our defense will eat his lunch. We’re gonna hang 40+ on those scrubs.

Instead, it proved to be just the house of horrors type of game that Miami often deals with at North Carolina. Fall into an early hole, finally wake up, fight to scrap out of it, give up a late score and ultimately come up short—this time in strange 28-25 fashion as a blocked point after try brought on a pair of two-point conversion attempts. The Tar Heels made theirs; the Canes didn’t.

Days back, I laundry-listed out the ways the Canes have lost to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill—where Miami is now 3-5 since joining the ACC; literally reinventing ways to fail at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Another chapter was added this weekend by way of a failed kicking game, where seven points were left on the field in a three-point loss.

Manny Diaz and staff had two weeks to get Miami prepared for this early-season, in-conference road match-up—and while the Canes again showed some resiliency and fight, it was a second consecutive outing where a handful of boneheaded plays all played their part in being the difference-maker.

Miami unraveled early, down 17-3 by late in the first quarter—reminiscent of a 23-7 hole in 2009 and 27-0 halftime deficit in 2007. The Canes knew they were walking into a sold out stadium and that the Tar Heels were still flying high in the new Mack Brown era after last weekend’s upset of South Carolina—yet for whatever reason, UM still looked unprepared for the moment.

The usually-sound defense made freshman quarterback Sam Howell look all the part of a superstar, opposed to the newbie he is. The Canes’ defense couldn’t get to him much all night, never forced a turnover and allowed him to go down in Tar Heels’ folklore by way of a nine play, 75-yard drive—with a 4th-and-17 completion, no less—retaking the lead with just over one minute left on the clock. 

Another game where Miami won the stats battle, but ultimately couldn’t get it done—488 total yards; 309 through the air and 179 on the ground, while dominating the time of possession—and losing the stat that mattered most; scoreboard.

Buried in the frustrating loss; the fact that quarterback Jarren Williams put together another impressive outing at a position where the Canes have struggled for years. The r-freshman was 30-for-39 for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers—but just like his first go-around against Florida weeks back, couldn’t complete a comeback, despite the ball in his hands for a final drive.

Miami also got nice production out of running backs DeeJay Dallas and Cam’Ron Harris, but struggled in the red zone—settling for field goal attempts; two of which sailed wide.

The thin line between winning and losing has proven excruciating two games into this new season; Miami literally one play away in each game from 2-0 and ranked, instead 0-2 for the first time since 1978.

Despite being mistake-plagued and trailing early, the Canes fought back all night took their first lead with just under five minutes remaining in the game—but quickly let it slip away; also reminiscent to a fourth quarter score against Florida and a lead that fast evaporated.

Where the loss to Florida was out of conference and not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things (outside of simply losing to the hated Gators, which is always pure hell to deal with)—going down 0-1 in the ACC is a rough spot for Miami; especially falling to a North Carolina squad that was picked near the bottom of the Coastal Division.

The premise of winning the division when not yet facing the best competition the Coastal has to offer; it doesn’t exactly exude confidence moving forward.

OVERBLOWN EXPECTATIONS VERSUS CURRENT REALITY; STILL OFF

The fact that any in Miami’s fan base were screaming “run the table” in the preseason shows just how obtuse some are in regards to what it takes to build a contender, as well as not fully understanding that 15 years of hovering as a mid-tier ACC program doesn’t get fixed through eight months of marketing hype and rebranding.

The New Miami is just a fancy way of explaining that the Hurricanes’ program has been doing it wrong for way too long and it’s time to raze this thing down to the foundation and rebuild in the mold of great Miami teams from yesteryear that Diaz grew up idolizing.

Nothing about any of that that will be easy—especially after 7-6 last season, a fifth coaching change in 14 years and a brand new quarterback—yet many still expected to knock off No. 8 Florida in the opener, followed by a dominant win over North Carolina in their house week two.

Again, where is this entitlement coming from—and why?

For those who confused Diaz’s explanation of the team he plans to build, with some just-add-water approach regarding what Miami currently has on board personnel-wise—that’s on them and an inability to assess a situation for what it is, versus what they want it to be.

You can’t fast-track yourself from average to contender overnight. If you could, it wouldn’t have taken Dabo Swinney an up and down eight years to start consistently winning the ACC and bringing home Clemson’s first national title since 1980; the same Swinney that Tigers fans wanted to run out of town the first six years the “unqualified” head coach was building a contender.

Gurvan Hall (26) looks on as Dazz Newsome (5) reels in the game-winning touchdown with 1:01 remaining.

Yes, the Canes could just as easily be 2-0 as they are 0-2, but the mistakes made are precisely what happens with a new head coach and brand new offensive staff on the heels of a six-loss season. You can see what you’re trying to emulate and can articulate who you want to see this program grow into—but to actual do, on the road in real time—it shouldn’t come as a shock when years of bad muscle memory kick back in and the team flinches under the lights.

Miami has shown commendable fight against both Florida and North Carolina; scrapping back in both games in a way that never would’ve been the case in 2018. When the Gators went ahead 17-13 late third quarter, last year’s Canes would’ve folded—instead of bouncing back with a quick touchdown. Against the Tar Heels, that 17-3 deficit would’ve been a back-breaker and Miami would’ve gotten rolled up. 

Instead, it rattled off 10 points before the half and finally got the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter—holding North Carolina to a field goal from the four-minute mark in the first quarter, until the final minute in the fourth.

Pressure ramps up late when you’re short on time. Miami has learned to catch its breath early in the game when things start to get away, but hasn”t figured out how to bear down in those final minutes when everything is on the line; especially not with the youth it has on the defense everywhere, sans linebacker—or with a freshman-heavy offensive line trying to buy time for a r-freshman quarterback with two career starts under his belt.

What was the strongest link over the past few seasons, fact remains the Canes’ defense failed one a few occasions and its cost them two football games.

No sooner did Miami fail to create points out of a fourth quarter interception of Feleipe Franks, the maligned quarterback came back on the next play from scrimmage and torched the Canes for a 65-yard pick-up, which set up the game-winning punch-in. Miami needed the type of stop it had gotten several times up to that point, but in the game’s most-crucial moment, it folded.

The same happened in Chapel Hill two weeks later; Miami gets the go-ahead score late, only to let North Carolina march down field to answer—with a monster fourth down conversion, no less.

EVEN GREATEST TO DO IT DEAL WITH GROWING PAINS EARLY ON

Some will confuse explanations for excuses, but as hard as the pill is to swallow—these Canes are learning the hard way what it takes to win, just like past teams before them that eventually became great.

Everyone remembers the legendary plays Ed Reed made throughout the 2001 season, yet forgets his sophomore year when he and Mike Rumph got burned on an 79-yard hook-up from Kevin Thompson to Chafie Fields that saw Penn State come back against a Miami team that had just scrapped to and retaken the lead—down 17-3 in the third quarter and ultimately falling, 27-23.

Later in that 1999 season, Ken Dorsey was tossed all over Lane Stadium when thrust into action when Kenny Kelly got hurt against Virginia Tech—the wide-eyed Dorsey swallowed whole in his first real game action.

There are countless other examples of eventually great players yet to hit their prime, but we’ll leave it here for now. Growing pains are real and even future greats have moments of struggle on the way up.

Miami has some guys right now that could very well be good down the road, but they’re just not there yet. Brian Hightower had his shot at pulling in a game changing grab last night, but couldn’t—while Mallory rebounded from a bad showing against Florida to catch the go-ahead score, but couldn’t hang on to the two-point conversion.

Meanwhile, the secondary is struggling tremendously and missing Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and Michael Jackson a lot more than anticipated.

Bandy got burned badly by the Tar Heels, but looked next-level the past two seasons when he had more help out there. Al Blades Jr. picked up a crucial unsportsmanlike penalty late against the Gators and hasn’t tackled well, to date. DJ Ivey got himself suspended for the opener and looked out of sorts against the Tar Heels; including an early pass interference call that led to a score.

Gurvan Hall has also struggled; out of position on the aforementioned big late hook-up for Florida that led to the game-winning touchdown—not to mention, Carter, who hauled in a Gators’ interception, but got himself booted against North Carolina in a game where the Canes’ secondary couldn’t afford a depth hit.

The defensive line also doesn’t have the muscle it had last season.
Gerald Willis missed the bowl game against Wisconsin and as a result, the entire line took a step back in that game without his presence. 

Willis has since moved on, Joe Jackson blew off his senior year to be a fifth-round NFL pick and the Canes lost some depth when transfer Tito Odenigbo and Demetrius Jackson graduated. Nesta Silvera remains sidelined with an injury, while Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill is still working his way back into playing shape, due to shoulder surgery last winter.

Miami’s secondary is sorely missing the experience and confidence of Jaquan Johnson (4) and Sheldrick Redwine (22).

A true contender can overcome those setbacks with a next-man-up attitude; Miami can’t—as it’s nowhere near contention yet. Just the fact that the Canes are still so reliant on transfers for depth sake; it should tell you how far this program is from being championship-caliber.

When one is a contender, you reload instead of having to rebuild—and you don’t suffer the growing pains these Hurricanes are dealing with.

Fact remains, the breaks just haven’t gone Miami’s way early this season—many self-inflicted, but not all. The Canes did more good than bad the past two showdowns; enough that both games could’ve easily have resulted in victories. The bad just happened to come late at the worse possible time, ultimately costing them—twice.

All that to say, no, there are no moral victories. 0-2 is pure hell any way you slice or dice it. The only thing worse would’ve been Miami getting blown out in either or both games, as there would be nothing to build on, whereas there are some teachable moments here that if corrected, can still make for a good, step-forward season.

Still, this start is absolutely a setback that is going to bring with it a wave of negativity—something that a native Miamian like Diaz is aware of, and expects. As quickly as fans ate up The New Miami, a renewed attitude and an assault on the Transfer Portal—anyone who knows anything about supporters of ‘The U’ is well-aware just how quickly things will turn shitty if wins aren’t racked up.

JIMMY, BUTCH & DENNIS LACKED EARLY SUPPORT; BECAME GREAT

Of course, those who are turning fast and refuse to give a new coach time to find his footing—these are the same ones who flew banners trying to get rid of Butch Davis year three as he cleaned up somebody else’s miss—and still wanted him gone year six after an early-season loss at Washington—yet clamored for his return every time there’s been a coaching change at ‘The U’ over the past decade.

Folks with this short-sighted approach also wanted Jimmy Johnson out after going 8-5 year one with the defending national champions—while others didn’t even want him in the first place; feeling defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti should’ve been promoted when Howard Schnellenberger left for the USFL.

Johnson hit the ground running in 1984 with road wins against Auburn and Florida, but losses to Michigan and Florida State quickly had the Canes at 3-2. Cue the rumblings.

One can only imagine the late-season shellacking Johnson would’ve taken on social media back in the day after blowing a 31-0 home lead to Maryland, a post-Thanksgiving, ‘Hail Flutie’ loss to Boston College and a Fiesta Bowl setback to UCLA to end the season with a three-game losing streak in ugly fashion.

Dennis Erickson was praised year one; picking up where Johnson left off—the cupboard full after the 1988 season; installing his one-back offense and not tinkering with the defense.

The former Washington State head coach got a pass for losing in Tallahassee with a back-up quarterback—and ending the season with a home rout of top-ranked Notre Dame, before knocking off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl for the program’s third national title—but the tide fast turned when dropping the 1990 season opener at BYU, as the top-ranked, two-touchdown favorite, defending national champs simply didn’t lose those types of games.

Yes, Larry Coker couldn’t maintain what Davis created, Randy Shannon didn’t have what it took, Al Golden was an empty suit and Richt was on the wrong side of his career arc—too spent to dig in and do a young man’s job. No one is calling Diaz the next Schnelly, JJ, Erickson or Butch, either—but writing him off two games in when realizing what knee-jerk reactions would’ve meant reading what Johnson and Davis went on to build; people need to get a grip.

No, none of that U-related history excuses the sloppy play or coming up short that’s started this new season with a thud; it’s simply a reminder to have some perspective regarding where this program’s been the past 15 years, what Diaz inherited and where he hopes to take it.

These glaring problems didn’t appear overnight and sure-as-shit won’t get fixed that way, either. As tired as fans are of the Canes being irrelevant; the fan-turned-coach who actually signed up for the rebuild is tired of it, too—hence his signing up as Miami’s 25th head coach in program history, working tirelessly to right the ship.

The disgruntled fans who tried to run off Butch Davis are the same ones who begged for his return the last few times UM hired a new coach.

There’s a reason Miami went 7-6 last fall. There’s a reason Mark Richt stepped down—after another season with a multiple-game losing streak. There’s a reason why the Canes have only taken the Coastal Division once in 15 tries, have never won the ACC and haven’t had a perfect regular season since 2002.

Athletics weren’t a priority to former university president Donna Shalala; who opted for a handful of low-rent hires for over a decade, while putting all her energy and resources towards UM’s medical school. Shalala stepped down in 2015 and within months, Miami’s Board of Trustees green-lit the hiring of Richt; a proven name instead of another up-and-comer—as well as a reported salary around $4M-per-year—which was new, big money territory for the University of Miami.

Richt immediately pushed for a bigger budget, allowing him to hire better assistants than Hurricanes football had seen in the past—instrumental in Diaz’s return to South Florida; resulting in the immediate revamping of the defense—as well as helping get a much-talked-about indoor practice facility pushed over the hump, by way of a $1M personal donation.

Translation; Miami has only been rebuilding since 2015—as everything that took place the decade before that was nothing more than Shalala going through the motions; this program backsliding a little more each and every year. Throw that decade out the window because nothing resembling a rebuild took place in that lost era.

Even with the Hurricanes documented struggles over the years, some still spent the off-season calling for an undefeated, run-the-table regular season—despite Miami dropping five of its past seven games, dating back to a home comeback over Florida State last October—and are beside themselves that this new-look team came up short in two tough road games.

Fans sitting around this summer talking about UM being a dark horse Playoffs contender—meanwhile this new coaching staff is busting their asses to to break bad habits that have persisted for years;  teaching kids how to close out games against mid-level conference teams that have found outplay the Canes for years.

POSITIVES ARE THERE SHOULD ONE CHOOSE TO SEE THEM

Fact remains, even in two losses—marred with mistakes—Miami looks better top to bottom than it did last season. There’s an energy and passion that was lost last year, but seems to have returned. Youth and inexperience at a few key positions; these are the issues and unfortunately there is no quick fix. These kids will have to learn on the fly and hopefully grow up quick.

“It is very similar to a week ago,” Diaz said postgame Saturday night. “They are competing, they are playing with toughness, they are doing a lot of the things we’re asking them to do. There is not a guy in that locker room right now, coaches included, that can’t do more and can’t play or coach better than they are right now.”

In hindsight, this (obviously) wasn’t a good year to open with a road trip to Orlando to play the Gators, or for a night game in the always-tough Chapel Hill week two of the season. There’s a reason coaches like to schedule the likes of a Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan—Miami’s next two opponents—in effort to kick off the rust, after spring, summer and fall with no real contact.

The Canes dropped two games by a combined seven points—and can easily pinpoint where things went off the rails.

Williams has been a surprise at quarterback, in regards to how quickly he’s easing in to the role. Yes, he’s missed some throws or has held on to the ball too long, but he’s protected the football much better than the turnover machines who were under center last season.

That said, his offensive line remains young, green and makeshift—and will continue learning as the go, which will make for an up and down year.

Just the fact that the Canes are still so reliant on transfers for depth—it should tell you how far this program is from being championship caliber. When one is truly a contender, you can “reload” instead of having to “rebuild”. Miami is nowhere near that place yet and is still suffering from growing pains.

0-2 isn’t where anyone wanted to be at this point—especially Diaz and this new staff—but it’s where the Canes have landed, so you deal with it and move on. The season is far from over and Miami will get back-to-back weeks at home to work out the kinks against some lesser teams.

Come October, it’s back to ACC play and home games against Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia Tech that will go a long way in shaping the Coastal race. Miami isn’t back on the road again until a late October road trip to Pittsburgh, followed by an early November showdown in Tallahassee—five in a row at HardRock and hopefully a hard reset after a brutal start to this new era of football.

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.

September 9, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES COME UP SHORT IN CHAPEL HILL … AGAIN


The Miami Hurricanes are back in action this Saturday after an early bye; created when the season opener against the Florida Gators was moved up a week as the marquee game to kick off the 150th season of college football.

After hanging tough but falling late in an upset bid to take down then-No. 8 Florida—the extra week to reset could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Miami, who heads north to Chapel Hill to take on a division rival in North Carolina, before returning home for a couple of warm-up games against the likes of Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan.

Quirky scheduling, to say the least—especially on the heels of an off-season that saw a head coaching change, the entire offensive side of the ball fired and a dark horse redshirt freshman locking down the quarterback position days before the showdown with the Gators.

North Carolina survived their season opener in Charlotte; rallying late to take down South Carolina—Tar Heels’ new-yet-old head coach Mack Brown besting his former assistant Will Muschamp—whose Gamecocks blew a 20-9 early fourth quarter lead and gave up 15 unanswered in the 24-20 loss.

First-year Miami head coach Manny Diaz is also another Brown pupil facing off against his former boss, while looking to have his team avoid the mistakes that broke Muschamp’s squad down the stretch; namely two interceptions with less than three minutes remaining in the ball game—as well as a missed opportunity to haul in one of their own that would’ve shut the door on a North Carolina rally.

Miami is the favorite in this weekend’s primetime showdown; though any who have followed this series since the Canes jumped to the ACC, are all-too-well aware of the struggles that have taken place Chapel Hill over the years.

ROAD GAMES AGAINST TAR HEELS; LIVING HELL FOR HURRICANES

Hard as it is to comprehend, Miami is only 3-4 at Kenan Memorial Stadium since 2004—painful and frustrating losses where the Canes literally reinvented new ways to blow games to the Tar Heels, while the wins were all extremely hard-fought efforts.

Regarding those three victories, Miami won by a combined 15 points, never won by more than six points and never scored more than 30. A quick deep dive into this division rivalry:

— In 2004, the undefeated, third-ranked Canes wound up in a battle with a 3-4 Tar Heels team that showed up ready to play. Miami would trail 21-14 at the half, would tie the game going into the fourth quarter, would again fall behind 28-21—only to once-more tie things up with just over two minutes remaining—before the defense surrendered a nine-play, 55-yard drive capped off by a game-winning field goal with four ticks left on the clock.

— 2007 and 2009 losses had similar blueprints; starting with another mentor (Butch Davis) sticking it to his pupil (Randy Shannon) and ending with Miami getting off to slow starts in both affairs—down 27-0 the first meeting and 23-7 in the latter—before mounting comebacks that ultimately came up short by way of turnovers, mistakes or the defense simply unable to hold on. The Canes lost 33-27 in 2007 and 33-24 in 2009.

— 2015 proved ugly all around as Miami limped into Kenan Memorial three weeks after Al Golden had been fired—a 58-0 home loss to Clemson year five being the final straw. Tight ends coach Larry Scott took over in an interim role. Scott’s Canes survived a lateral-fueled miracle at Duke before beating Virginia at home, but the eventual Coastal champs destroyed the Canes, 59-21 in mid-November.

— Prior to his dismissal, Golden actually picked up two wins against the Tar Heels—2011 and 2013—both close calls and in completely different fashion. His first go-around, Miami almost blew a 27-3 third quarter lead, before hanging on to survive, 30-24—adrenaline flowing as the Heels recovered a late onside kick, ball in hand in the final minute loading for the go-ahead score.

Two years later, Miami won on a Thursday night in comeback fashion; Dallas Crawford playing the role of hero when replacing an injured Duke Johnson and scoring two late touchdowns, erasing a 23-13 early fourth quarter deficit—the Canes advancing to 6-0 while the Tar Heels dropped to 1-5.

— 2017 saw another one-win North Carolina squad giving an undefeated Miami team hell; the Canes strutting in 7-0 with recent comeback wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, while the Heels were reeling at 1-7, having been trounced by Virginia Tech the week prior, 59-7.

Miami found themselves in an unexpected dog fight; turning it over twice to North Carolina’s four mishaps—but still surrendering 428 yards to the Heels, on a day the Canes only picked up 59 rushing yards. UNC’s final turnover was the dagger; coughing up a fumble in the final minutes, allowing UM to preserve a 24-19, en route to a 10-0 season start and the program’s first Coastal Division title.

STRONG HOME SHOWING LAST FALL AGAINST REELING HEELS

Fast-forwarding to present day; both the Tar Heels and Hurricanes are in the midst of a rebirth.

Mark Richt hung it up at the end of a three-year run in Coral Gables where he couldn’t get Miami over the necessary hump, while Larry Fedora was sent packing after seven seasons where he reached the pinnacle in 2015, but went 13-23 over the next three years.

Richt’s Canes put the biggest hurting on Fedora’s Heels during a nine-loss campaign in 2018; a one-sided, defensive-driven, 47-10 blowout on a Thursday night at HardRock. Miami’s forced six turnovers and returned three for touchdowns—though team stats outside of the mishaps was fairly even; UNC with 329 total yards to UM’s 354, with both teams each rushing for 200+ yards apiece on the night.

Gone are Richt and Fedora, with Diaz and Brown representing the respective programs this season. Miami rolls in having suffered a tough loss to Florida, while North Carolina unexpectedly took down South Carolina—both sides share one commonality early on in both new coaches’ tenures; a passionate attitude and style of play instantly noticeable game one.

The conference doormat that was the Tar Heels last fall appears in overachieve-mode attitude-wise, while last year’s lackluster, underachieving Hurricanes seem ready to play up to potential; opposed to the offensively-shackled bunch they were last fall under Richt.

PRIMETIME OPP TO BACK UP SOME BIG TALK ABOUT ‘THE NEW MIAMI’

There’s been a lot of talk out of South Florida the past nine months regarding The New Miami; guys talking the talk again, while Diaz robbed the Transfer Portal and brought some immediate-impact kids in to hopefully make a difference this fall.

The former defensive coordinator knows the time is now—as well as the fact he needs to find a way to win with what he has, if the Canes are ever going to keep top talent from escaping to the likes of Tuscaloosa or Athens; wanting to play for SEC teams and automatic Playoffs contenders.

A win against Florida would’ve been a nice splash and way to kick off the era, but it didn’t come to fruition—so now it’s on to the next challenge; will Diaz have these Hurricanes ready or Chapel Hill and a place with some bad juju over the years?

Having suffered through the past decade-and-a-half of Miami football, there’s arguably been no more disappointing a character trait of those teams than the Canes not showing up prepared in the wake of a loss.

Last fall Miami rattled off five consecutive wins after falling to LSU in the opener; including 21 straight points against Florida State for a 28-27 comeback. Things were back on track, until they weren’t—an offense-less Miami falling 16-13 in a defensive struggle at Virginia the following week; but that was just the beginning of the shit-show.

The Canes had a bye week and a chance for a hard reset after that loss, but it never came. Instead, a musical chairs-like quarterback controversy ensued and Miami showed up flat to Chestnut Hill for a game Boston College owned from the get-go; methodic drives of 88 and 77 yards on their first two possessions—sitting on a 17-14 lead before shutting the Canes out in the second half in a 27-14 ball game—another outing with sub-par quarterback play for UM.

Miami returned home and fell to Duke the following weekend and came up short at Georgia Tech the week after that; four losses in a row and three failed opportunities to show up and stop the bleeding.

The sin hasn’t been in losing; it’s the way these Canes have been going down, as well as a completely inability to show up prepared and to seize a moment—which has as legit a shot to turnaround today, as any time in recent history.

OVERCONFIDENT TAR HEELS RIPE FOR A U-SIZED SMACKDOWN

All of the rough outings in Chapel Hill over the years; that isn’t baggage the 2019 Hurricanes have to carry. It’s ancient history—just as much as last year’s home rout of the Tar Heels is in the rear view. North Carolina has eked out seven wins on a football field over their past 28 games, dating back to November 2016. This is a program that has been in complete disarray, as proven by the off-season dismissal of Fedora.

Yes, those kids are buying into Brown’s return—and there was definitely a feel-good moment against South Carolina last weekend, for a program that’s worked out to purge itself of its losing ways—but don’t mistake that win as overly impressive. The average Gamecocks served that loss up on a silver platter and the Tar Heels found a way to win ugly; which gets a pass when playing such a horrible brand of football these past few seasons.

The win injected some life into UNC’s program—as well as a fan base that will pack Kenan Memorial for a sold out, primetime kickoff Saturday night—which Diaz should love in regards to The New Miami narrative. This game now has the look and feel of something bigger than it is and can be a good building block moving forward, assuming these Canes show up and take care of business.

Roll in with the same passion and energy that Miami brought to the Florida game—but eliminate the mistakes and show that work was put in these past two weeks to clean things up.

This is also a do-over for quarterback Jarren Williams and the Hurricanes’ offensive line, which gave up 10 sacks to the Gators. A safe bet the Tar Heels will dial it up and try to rattle the r-freshman, as well as exposing a young line—but North Carolina is a Top 10 team with Florida-caliber horses on their defense.

Miami’s quarterback and offensive line simply need to settle in this week, not flinch and do what they’re capable of doing, against an inferior opponent—while running DeeJay Dallas backs up his social media inspiration call-out, due to some elitist Tar Heels fan trash talk and liberal use of the “thug” moniker.

A MUST-WIN GAME EARLY SEPTEMBER? ABSOLUTELY.

All of that, “never scored more than 30 in Chapel Hill” and “never won by more than six” noise; Miami has every ability to end both of those stigmas if it proves this new attitude hype is real. North Carolina is ripe for the picking and is a perfect mark; even more ideal than originally planned, thanks to the fact they actually beat and SEC team last week and are feeling overconfident about their abilities; fans and players alike.

Conversely, a loss that drops Miami to 0-2—with one conference loss—would be an utterly disastrous start for Diaz, which he and his staff are obviously aware of. One hates to use the phrase “must-win” the first Saturday of September, but based on the issues these Hurricanes have had in-conference over the years and an inability to bounce back after losses, Diaz and crew will be in a world of hurt if the fall to a program that’s gone 5-18 over the past two years.

The Miami / Florida showdown could’ve gone either way. The Canes simply made a few more mistakes than the Gators—a few of which couldn’t have come at worse times—but they happened, an opportunity was squandered and you move on.

In reality, this 2019 season is about Miami’s new-look Hurricanes playing with the purpose and passion great teams have expressed in the past. That whole “national championship, or bust” attitude is no longer prevalent for UM in this modern era of the game—but the first step towards greatness certainly has to be a, “Coastal Division title, or bust” mentality.

The old schooler will rant about “lowered expectations” and what not, but Miami has no business uttering the phrase “national championship” until it can actually win the ACC; something that hasn’t been done in 15 tries—getting no closer than one division title (2017) since joining the conference.

The Canes also need to get back to winning the winnable games, opposed to giving them away in epic-fail fashion. Saturday’s trek to North Carolina needs to be a statement game that sets the stage for the rest of this season—while sending a message to everyone in the ACC that’s not Clemson.

Get that offense rolling, jump on the Tar Heels early, create a ruckus on defense and by the time those “four fingers” go up late in the game, put an inferior opponent away.

Chapel Hill has been hell for Miami over the years. Time to change that storyline and raise some hell in the Tar Heel State on Saturday night.

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Miami 30, North Carolina 19

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Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

September 6, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES WITH (ANOTHER) STATEMENT OPP AT NORTH CAROLINA

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