The Miami Hurricanes knocked off the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday afternoon on a national ABC broadcast; a one-sided beatdown that could’ve been worse as the Canes struck early and the Noles never found their footing.
Pro tip; marinate on that statement for a little bit and find a way to enjoy the moment, as it hasn’t been the norm. Not this season and not in recent history. Aside from Miami already racking up four losses this fall, Florida State has dominated this rivalry over the past decade—blowing out the Canes on occasion, while stealing some close ones when they were the better team, or things were evenly matched.
For those saying, put this game in the rearview—on-to-Louisville; let the team take that approach. Fans should bask in the glow of beating a rival. Made this point last fall with the on-to-Virginia crowd, only to see Miami drop four in a row after the comeback against the Seminoles; which made savoring that home win against Florida State—the first since 2004—all the more important.
Miami has now taken three-in-a-row in the series; winning in Tallahassee in 2017 behind a gritty Malik Rosier—ending a seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles with a last-second touchdown—as well as overcoming the rivalry’s biggest deficit in 2018 when N’Kosi Perry helped the Canes overcome a 27-7 hole, en route to a 28-27 comeback win.
This time around, it was a confident Jarren Williams—another first-year starter in the series—throwing for 313 yards, two touchdowns and protecting the football in the 27-10 rout. Yanked weeks back after a three-interception first quarter against Virginia Tech, Williams yielded to Perry before entering late in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh last weekend, where he delivered the game-winning strike to K.J. Osborn.
Williams’ performance against Florida State wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to like as No. 15 finally connected on two big deep balls for touchdowns—an early 39-yard strike to Jeff Thomas that kicked off the scoring, followed by a 56-yard dagger to Dee Wiggins that pushed Miami’s lead back to 14 points early in the fourth quarter.
There was also an effective 34-yard strike to Mike Harley on a 3rd-and-4 late in the second quarter, setting up a six-yard DeeJay Dallas touchdown run, extending the lead to 14-3 at the half—Dallas deservedly cashing in after a huge block that afforded Williams the time to find Harley.
Better pocket awareness, coupled with an improved offensive line and better blocking schemes—Miami, to its credit, is showing signs of improvement going into the final third of the season, while Florida State is in full-blown disaster-mode.
While both teams have seen their share of offensive line struggles, the Hurricanes have finally reached a respectable level of play—unlike the Seminoles, whose line was reminiscent of Miami’s in the season-opener against Florida. The Gators smacked Williams around all night back in August, tallying up 10 sacks—while here in early November, the Noles let the Canes’ front seven in their backfield—where Miami notched a season-best nine sacks; four of which were credited to freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau, who was become virtually unstoppable.
Miami tossed quarterback Alex Hornibrook around like a rag doll all evening; a welcomed sight to see the Seminoles’ starting quarterback harassed from start to finish—but a bonus as the Wisconsin transfer played the game of his career against the Hurricanes in the 2017 Orange Bowl, where he earned MVP honors. This time around, sent home battered and bruised—and deservedly so.
As much as Miami rolled in with a stellar effort and solid overall game plan, the complete opposite can be said of Willie Taggart—who dropped to 9-12 overall since taking over Florida State last fall. Having seen what inexperienced mobile quarterbacks have done to the Hurricanes’ defense this fall—even a newbie like Virginia Tech’s Hendon Hooker—Taggart still opted for the immobile, average-armed Hornibrook, over the erratic-yet-athletic James Blackman.
Similar knocks apply to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles; a name that had some Miami fans overly-concerned as a threat when hired by Taggart in the off-season. Briles spent the first half forcing Hornibrook to throw too often, with Miami’s safeties dropped deep—instead of trying to establish something on first down with the electric Cam Akers—only to put it all on Akers’ shoulders early in the second half; overly-reliant upon their WildCam direct-snap package, too little too late.
Admittedly, not much offensive good was going to come behind Florida State’s porous offensive line play—especially with Miami’s all-out aggression on defense—but both Taggart and Briles deserve criticism for going with Hornibrook and not finding more creative ways to involved Akers.
In the midst of writing this piece, news broke that Taggart has been relieved of his duties; the Florida State brass having seen enough after a 9-12 run since last fall—to the point where they’ll eat his remaining $17M contract and hope to reel in a better fit next time around.
Tallahassee burning and another Seminoles restart aside, the Hurricanes have now won three of their last four overall; games circled on the pre-season schedule and considered the most-defining of the year—Virginia, at Pitt and at Florida State. Losses to lesser squads like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech definitely took some shine off of this mid-season run—but in looking at how things have played out, it appears both of those games served as cautionary tales and motivational tools that ultimately seems to be helping these Hurricanes turn a corner.
Having given up 42 points to the Hokies; a sloppy five-turnover, 11-penalty outing—head coach Manny Diaz reinserted himself into the defense’s preparation and days later Miami clamped down hard on Virginia— stuffing the Cavaliers in the red zone and holding them to nine points. After a lethargic outing against Georgia Tech the following week, where the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles and DJ Ivey fell asleep on two plays—costing the Canes 14 points—Ivey hauled in two interceptions at Pittsburgh, while the defense allowed another field goals-only performance, in a 16-12 victory.
A road victory against the Panthers is also where an unintended quarterback quandary ultimately played itself out, sans any controversy—Perry seemingly hitting his ceiling over the course a few starts, with Williams saving the day with a game-winning drive that obviously played into his getting the nod for Florida State week.
Diaz’s choice of Williams as QB1 was confirmed in the rolling of the Noles, as there were enough flashes of what coaches felt this Miami team was capable of months back with No. 15 at the helm. Improved offensive line play (finally), receivers growing up, a secondary coming together and a kicking game that isn’t a full-blown liability—the Canes have somewhat dispelled the myth that a team is what their record says it is; looking and feeling better than the 5-4 staring them back in the face.
Of course all that’s left to do now it continue winning and building off of what’s taken place over the past four weeks; the mostly-good (Virginia, Pittsburgh and Florida State) as well as the bad (Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech), that led to some hard resets and ultimately helped right the ship.
One big knock on Miami in 2019 has been a lack of an identity; who are the Hurricanes and how do they react and respond? Over the first half of the season, it was a question impossible to answer—but over the past few weeks, things are coming into clearer focus.
Defense is again proving to be the calling card as the line has found an ace in Rousseau and others like Nesta Silvera and Trevon Hill are finding their groove and playing with a nasty streak. At linebacker, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney quietly continue taking care of business and making plays—while a secondary that was tentative early, has seen player like Ivey, Gurvan Hall, Al Blades Jr. and Bubba Bolden finding their identity, which has helped a veteran like Trajan Bandy fall back into the type of player he was as a freshman in 2017 while playing along side guys like Sheldrick Redwine, Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson.
Offensively, the Canes were completely identity-less the past few years; right up through 2018 where Miami ranked 104th in total offense. As this year took off, a shoddy offensive line didn’t much help any inexperience at quarterback with Williams—which lent itself to Perry getting a few mid-season starts, as his mobility helped mask line deficiencies. As things have started to level out a bit there, Williams is looking more like the guy coaches expected when giving him the nod back in August—especially with the deep ball now added to his arsenal.
Days after the win, Hurricane Sports rolled out their post-game social media content—where a pre-game quip from Diaz set the tone for the highlights that would soon unfold.
“I don’t know if you can feel it, but there’s something different, man. I have not see this type of focused-aggression, to be honest, since Notre Dame . Guys, today is the day it all comes together. Offense goes down the field. Defense get the stop. Kicking game makes the game-winning play. All three phases start clicking today in Tallahassee,” Diaz shared, before his Canes aggressively took the field.
The win seemed to mark the first time this season the pre-game chatter matched the product on the field—coaches’ expectations and desires meshing with the belief of the players, as well as their overall effort and execution. The fact it happened at Florida State, sending the Seminoles to their version of rock-bottom; a third head coaching change since a three-game win streak for the Canes got underway—priceless.
With three-quarters of the season in the books, Miami has three remaining—Louisville at home for Senior Day and one final bye week to rest up, before a quick crosstown jaunt the Orange Bowl’s old, hallowed grounds to take on Florida International at Marlins Park—before a regular season-ending road trip to Duke. Mathematically, the Canes are still technically in the running for the Coastal Division—but it’s hardly worth touching on as a dozen things would have to fall into place; starting with winning out.
As Diaz continues building The New Miami—again, a long-term attitude and culture adjustment; not a quick-fix—a huge step forward is taken every time the Hurricanes can show up ready to play, coming off a win or a loss. Miami has struggled in times of prosperity, as well as despair—ill-prepared the week after a big win, as well as multiple-game losing streaks—unable to pump the failure breaks.
Winning at Florida State in that environment at Tallahassee was big for this Miami squad; equally as big, hitting the ground running against an upset-minded Louisville squad. The Cardinals are 5-3 on the season; losses against Notre Dame, Clemson … and at Florida State, while wins have come against Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Boston College, Wake forest and most-recently, Virginia.
Much like Florida State going between Hornibrook and Blackman, Louisville has played musical quarterbacks with Evan Conley and Micale Cunningham since starter Juwon Pass had season-ending surgery back in September. Conley mostly led the charge in a shootout win against the Demon Deacons, while both were used (rather ineffectively) when the Tigers routed the Cardinals. Cunningham got the majority of the snaps in the recent win over the Cavaliers; throwing an early touchdown to Tutu Atwell to tie the game in the first quarter and running for another in the fourth to take the lead for good.
Cunningham is precisely the type of shifty, athletic, mobile quarterback that has given the Hurricanes fits all season—moving the chains on third down, while doing enough with his feet to buy receivers time to get open—while Atwell is another of many Miami natives (Northwestern) over the years, who will return and look to break big playing in front of the hometown crowd this weekend. The Cardinals’ roster has roughly a dozen kids from what would be considered the State of Miami; all with a chip on their shoulders.
Louisville are hardly world-beaters, but lesser teams have given the Hurricanes fits a week after a gritty win or a shitty loss. Saturday represents another step-up moment where Miami has been prone to step-down. Take care of business against the Cardinals and handle the Panthers, which would put these Canes at 7-4 entering a finale at Duke, with a chance to accomplish a hell of 2019 rebound; especially based on how things looked at 3-4 a few weeks back.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
The Canes’ offense held the Panthers to four field goals and the Cavaliers to three, while scoring 16 and 17 points respectively—clamping down defensively in the red zone, while managing to eke out enough scoring to outlast the competition.
The biggest difference between these two victories over the Coastal Division’s best competition; the State of Miami … quarterbacks. N’Kosi Perry held it down against Virginia—leading an early drive and punching in another late, though stagnant-as-hell in-between.
Against Pitt, another early score—but Miami only had 10 points on the board at halftime, despite the defense forcing three turnovers. The Canes’ lone touchdown came with 12:00 remaining in the second quarter when Cam Harris punched it in from a yard out, capping a four-play, 17-yard scoring drive courtesy of a second DJ Ivey interception.
Perry also had a short field on 30-yard drive that ended with a Camden Price 22-yard field goal; unable to get anything going—which had Manny Diaz and Dan Enos going back to Jarren Williams for a mid-fourth quarter spark.
After a quick three-and-out, Miami’s defense immediately got the ball back and Willams took over at the Canes’ 38-yard line, driving 62 yards—including a quarterback run on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. The play was reminiscent of a fourth down scramble Perry had against Virginia; a play that fit the narrative that he deserved to start over the less mobile Williams.
A first down pass to tight end Brevin Jordan fell incomplete, but on 2nd-and-10 from the Pitt 32-yard line, Williams found KJ Osborn through a tight window; the receiver bouncing off of two Panthers’ defenders as he scampered for a 32-yard game-winning score; Pitt unable to get anything going in the final minute, especially after a few dropped passes—a Miami opponent finally un-clutch with the game on the line.
THE U : BETTER RESPONSE TO ADVERSITY THAN PROSPERITY
The win upped the mood a bit, though only slightly as 4-4 is nothing to celebrate and too many remain caught up in the ones that got away. Understandable, but in all reality—the early Florida and North Carolina losses aside—it’s hard to not picture the same record for the Canes after the last month of football.
Had Miami come back against Virginia Tech, hard not to believe there’d have been less intensity against Virginia—opposed to the next-level defensive focus in practice that led to a more spirited effort. Same to be said for last weekend. Missed tackles against Georgia Tech and an overall lackadaisical effort—cemented by Ivey taking two plays off that resulted in touchdowns—had the Hurricanes dialed in tackling-wise, while Ivey hauled in two interceptions.
Translation; it took Miami getting burned to wake up and react accordingly. These Hurricanes needed to learn the hard way this fall, for whatever reason—but the fact they’ve responded to the adversity is a big step forward for a program that’s been stepping-down for years when backs were to the wall.
Of course all this begs the question—with four games remaining—what happens next?
In the wake of those early two losses and Miami getting back to 2-2, the hope was that the Canes would shake off those stumbles and quickly autocorrect into the best-case scenario type team coaches hoped for in the preseason; quarterback play setting in, a green offensive line playing better, a young secondary tightening up and a kicking game finding its way.
Instead, Williams unraveled against the Hokies and none of those other areas of inexperience rose to the occasion—causing mid-season chaos that continued for a month, but legitimately might’ve subsided with the win at Pitt.
Each week has felt like it’s own one-game season in 2019, halting any turn-a-corner talk as Miami was picking and choosing when it would, or wouldn’t show up. Beat Virginia, mail-it-in against Georgia Tech.
That said, something felt different about Pitt and talk of a lay-it-all-on-the-line team meeting the Thursday prior-to; it explained the feel and energy Miami had at Heinz Field last Saturday—with manifested in a belief the Canes were finally going to get that late fourth quarter, game-winning drive that’s alluded them all season.
CANES’ CLOSED DOOR BREAK-DOWN; OWNERSHIP TAKEN
“Pretty much everybody you think of as a leader on this team said something,” said offensive lineman Jakai Clark, days after Miami returned home victorious. “And it all meant something to everybody, especially me.”
Osborn, who caught the game-winner, was vocal—as was fellow transfer Trevon Hill; another one-year Miami guy, while Shaq Quarterman was the lone four-year starter who also embraced a leadership role and spoke up. Beloved walk-on Jimmy Murphy was also called upon; a favorite of fans and teammates for his passionate play and love for the program—everyones words still resonating with Clark almost a week later.
“Obviously after a meeting like that, first day, everybody is gonna be locked in—trying to do their best,” Clark said. “But seeing it in practice today and seeing it carry over is a great thing. And seeing it in the locker room. After that meeting, guys started talking more. Before that, we talked, but it wasn’t like a family type thing. After that, everybody got their feelings out. I feel like we’re more of a family now.”
Wide receiver Mike Harley admitted he spoke directly to two talented, albeit selfish players and did what he could to try and help set them straight.
“Not calling anybody out, but I pointed out two talented guys on our team that play a major role. I told them you have to step up,” Harley shared. “You have to work harder than what you’re doing because you’re talented and we need you on this team.”
While no names were mentioned, hard not to imagine fellow receiver Jeff Thomas—suspended for Georgia Tech and Pitt, but back for Florida State—wasn’t one of those targets. In hot water last fall—to the point where he parted ways with the Canes, appeared Illinois-bound and retuned after having a sit-down with the recently-hired Diaz—it’s been a disappointing comeback for the junior; starting with a muffed punt against Florida that led to a touchdown, right up through this recent sit-down.
Whether Harley’s words resonated with two self-absorbed teammates, or not—Diaz appreciates that his team is starting to understand what it takes to be successful, but is quick to point out that all problems are far from solved.
“Any one’s individual success is tied to our collective success and if somebody is not pulling their weight, it is hurting their fellow teammates,” Diaz explained. “I think what we know now at least is we know the roadmap—and I think our guys understand what works and what doesn’t work … You’re either being a Cane, or you’re not being a Cane.”
Part of that heavy burden; knowing what Florida State represents and the importance of this game on deck.
UM & FSU; EACH NEED WIN AS BAD AS COUNTERPART
While nothing can erase the four losses already racked up by late October, Miami has the ability to close this season strong—which all starts with a third-consecutive takedown of a Florida State program that had won seven straight before the Canes’ comeback victory in 2017; that streak-ending game completely changing false invincibility narrative that kept Miami from closing late so often in the rivalry over recent years.
Emerge victorious on Saturday and games against Louisville, Florida International and Duke immediately feel conquerable—where a loss to the Seminoles allows doubt to creep back in; as well as the fear of a hangover for the home finale next weekend against the Cardinals.
Records-wise, Miami and Florida State are both sitting un-pretty at .500—but it’s hard not to feel like the Hurricanes are slightly more well-rounded and presently stable program; even with this year one of the Diaz era and a sophomore season for the maligned Willie Taggart up north.
Both programs have weak-sauce offensive lines, though Miami’s feels like it’s made some sight improvement over the past few weeks. Each also has been playing musical quarterbacks; the Canes settling on Williams for this week—riding the momentum from last Saturday’s comeback win.
Alex Hornibrook—the Wisconsin transfer who carved Miami up in the 2017 Orange Bowl—did the heavy-lifting last weekend as Florida State rolled a sub-par Syracuse squad; throwing for 196 yards on 26 attempts, while protecting the football. James Blackman showed up on the final drive—a 35-17 game already in the bag—after a 27-for-43, 280-yard, two-touchdown outing in a road loss at Wake Forest a week prior.
Where Miami welcomes back DeeJay Dallas and has a two-headed monster regarding #13 and his counterpart Cam’Ron Harris, Florida State has seen Cam Akers go next-level the past two weeks; going for 144 yards and four touchdowns against Syracuse and 157 yards with a score in the loss at Wake Forest.
Akers ran for a pedestrian 46 yards and was held in check during last year’s match-up at HardRock, but did put up 121 yards against the Canes in Tallahassee in 2017. The skills are there; it’s simply a matter of Miami keeping the talented back in check—which truly is the name of the game all together.
While Miami incredibly held the Cavaliers and Panthers to a combined seven field goal, while keeping both out of the end zone over eight quarters—it inexplicably surrendered 70 points to the Hokies and Yellow Jackets; turnovers the backbreaker in the former, poor tacking and shit overall defense effort the culprit in the latter.
The Canes dug themselves into a 27-7 hole last fall against the Seminoles, which resulted in an epic comeback for Miami—who hadn’t beaten their arch-rival at home since the 2004 season; four years before abandoning the Orange Bowl and moving north.
As thrilling as comebacks can be, trailing by 20 points early in the third quarter and only having seven points on the board—relying on stout defense, two forced turnovers and a couple of short fields—it isn’t something you can bank on; especially on the road in a rivalry game.
Going punt, punt, touchdown, punt, fumble, punt, turnover on downs, punt and punt—before a forced fumble turned things around; it was one of those games where winning saved everything, but certainly didn’t cure it—and in many ways masked the offensive deficiencies that would’ve been under a microscope without the comeback.
LEAST MISTAKES/BIG MOMENTS; KEYS TO VICTORY
Mid-game offensive lulls or falling into early holes; both have reared their ugly heads this season in all four losses—as well as the last two victories, where stalled drives mid-game were thankfully bailed out by solid red zone defense, as well as clutch scoring late.
The X’s and O’s of this one aren’t hard to figure out. Williams needs to protect the football for Miami, while looking more like the clutch performer he was last weekend in Pittsburgh, opposed to the game-manager he was earlier this year—not getting the Canes in trouble (prior to Virginia Tech), but not driving the offense, either.
Offensive line play needs to stay at the level it’s been, as the Hurricanes absolutely need to establish the running game with Dallas and Harris—something Enos has been quick to bail out on, impatient and relying on a one-dimensional, while completely ignoring the backs he has at his disposal.
All that aside, defense is again the key for Miami. Whereas the Hurricanes used to only go as far as their quarterback would take them, this program in present day is shackled to the success of its defense and the ability for that side of the ball to take over the game.
Turnovers were the difference in the road win against Pittsburgh last weekend, as were red zone stops that thwarted both the Panthers and the Cavaliers, weeks back—including a late third quarter fumble by Virginia on a drive that looked destined to result in points.
The little things; they obviously matter to great teams—but might even be more important for a program trying to rebuild (yeah, the r-word—deal with it) as the margin for error is less, as can be the resolve in moments of adversity. Miami and Florida State—once powerhouses in the truest sense of the word—are in that similar place on-the-mend spot, where both will bring fight Saturday afternoon, where the one who makes that big time play, or avoids that disastrous moment, will most-likely prevail.
On paper—as well as on the national level—it might lack the luster of years passed, but all that critiquing seems to go out the window once the pregame skirmish gets underway and that ball officially gets kicked off, as Canes versus Noles just brings out the dog in both these teams.
For both, a chance to *save* a season that’s had some bumps and bruises—but for Diaz and a Hurricanes’ squad that feels that some air-clearing and recently stepped-up play was a mini-milestone—a chance to prove Miami is closer to the team it thinks it is, than the hit-or-miss squad on display so often this season.
Turn that corner. Beat the Noles.
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.
That’s not a quote from the early 2000s when ‘The U’ in the midst of a 34-game win streak, four consecutive BCS appearances, two championship game berths and a national title. Nor was the statement uttered by some NFL general manager around the same era, when the University of Miami had 19 first round draft picks over a four-year span, taking over and dominating the league.
Nope, these were the ramblings of a random poster on a U-themed fan site on a Tuesday afternoon in early October this year, days after the Hurricanes slipped to 2-3 on the season after a loss to Virginia Tech; the heat getting turned up by a segment of the fan base that expected 15 years sub-par play, corrected five games in by Miami’s fifth head coach in 14 seasons.
The Canes got a home win a few days later over Coastal Division favorite Virginia; but the difference between 2-3 and .500 football isn’t going to quiet the frustrated critics.
The rest of this particular message board thread—40 pages deep, over a four-day span—hammers first-year head coach Manny Diaz for being in over his head, getting out-coached on a weekly basis, calling for assistants to be fired five games in, while fantasizing about a world where the keys were never turned over to the former defensive coordinator late last December when Mark Richtsuddenly called it a career—a wish-list of other big-named, fairy-tale options always rattled off as the disgruntled ones stew.
Logic and reason seemed to have checked out a while ago with these particular “supporters”—zero consideration given to the fact that Miami has been in a 15-year lull entering this season; evidenced by a 35-3 bowl game beat-down in Richt’s final appearance, a 97-70 record dating back to a 40-3 trouncing by LSU in the 2005 Peach Bowl and a 7-9 run since a loss at Pittsburgh in 2017 took all the wind out of a 10-0 start.
Will Diaz succeed or fail as the University of Miami’s 25th head coach? Way too soon to tell. Even the iconic Nick Saban went 7-6 out the gate at Alabama in 2007, with a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe—despite winning a national championship at LSU four years prior. Regardless of opinion, some truth.
Diaz seems as on-brand as anyone that’s ever coached this program—understanding what made Miami great in the past—while hard-wired to try and get to the root of the problem; changing, tweaking and fixing in real time, opposed to letting things play out and reevaluating down the road.
His first move last January; firing the entire offensive staff for underperforming—sparing no one—wanting that side of the ball to be as aggressive and game-dictating as the defense he was the architect of the past three seasons. As for that defense which has dropped off in 2019, while last year’s talent can’t be replaced this fall—now four losses in, Diaz has gotten more hands-on with the defensive coaching as he’s seen enough to know something has gone awry.
“There is a culture that was created here back in 2016 that for some reason we just have not been able to recreate,” Diaz shared the Monday morning after the loss to the Hokies. “It is not a coaching issue. It’s not a scheme issue. This has nothing to do with Blake Baker or anyone on our defensive staff. This is simply just there is a lack of connection between the players on our defensive side of the ball.
“We don’t look like we trust each other. We don’t play with the techniques that were coached during the week, and ultimately they need the utmost accountability. That comes from the head coach, which comes from me. That process began last night. We sat and we watched every snap of the game as an entire defense. We talked through all of our mistakes. We owned all of our mistakes collectively as a group and that will be what continues now going forward. We need to get our defense playing like the Miami Hurricanes again because it didn’t look like that on Saturday.
“I’m jumping right in the middle of it. I’m going to make sure we’re all accountable to just do what we’re supposed to be.”
Halfway through a new season—and regime—Diaz is doing all he can right now, which fans must let play out; saving their evaluation for year’s end—and then another a year from now, looking to see that year-one to year-two improvement and how the Hurricanes look this time next fall.
Instead, a group of “fans” attempted to fly a pregame banner prior-to the Virginia game—a low-rent, pro sports fan-type move, thankfully thwarted due to bad weather—calling for Miami to fire athletic director Blake James and his deputy director Jennifer Strawley, while others continue encourage supporters to stop going to games, in some that’ll-show-em-we-mean-business type of protest, which is the crux of this piece.
The small-mindedness, entitlement and delusion on display; it’s hit a point where a long overdue reality check is needed. This ongoing approach where so many continue sharing their take on what they think this program should look like—taking out 15 years of embarrassment due to irrelevance and a lack of consistency by way of coaching turnover; completely rooted in nostalgia and emotion, with zero attempt at any logic or reason.
A month ago ESPN’s Mark Schlabach penned a piece that should’ve been eye-opening and prompting more discussion amongst those who have the audacity to believe Hurricanes football should be the sport’s “gold standard”; “Inside Georgia’s $200 Million Quest To Take Down Alabama”.
Despite the fact the Bulldogs won 24 games over the past two years, played for two SEC Championships—winning one, gifting away another—as well as a national title game appearance; blowing a lead and falling in overtime, Georgia has taken on a “do more” attitude in regards to arming head coach Kirby Smart with everything he needs to gain a competitive against current king-of-the-hill, Nick Saban and his dominant Crimson Tide.
“As Kirby has mentioned a number of times, the difference in a lot of these games is a matter of inches,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity shared with Schlabach. “With his goal of doing more, we’re trying to make up whatever that little difference could be.”
(Cue the anti-James rhetoric and rants that Miami should have an athletic director of McGarity’s caliber—while missing the irony that he has a monster budget, big alumni donations and he too hired a forty-something former defensive coordinator with zero head coaching experience, but that’s neither here nor there.)
That “little difference” McGarity speaks of, has resulted in the following for a Bulldogs program that hasn’t won a national championship over the past 39 seasons—and one that just shit the bed to unranked South Carolina at home last weekend; the annual Smart regular season flop against a double-digit underdog:
— $174,000,000 in facility upgrades over the past three years; including a new 165,000 square-foot facility (Butts-Meher Heritage Hall) that made up $80,000,000 of that spend—resulting in a bigger weight room, locker room offices and an improved sports medicine facility. Another $30,000,000 went towards a new 102,000 square-foot multi-use indoor practice facility.
— $63,000,000 went towards a renovation of Stanford Stadium; a revamped recruiting lounge, an enlarged scoreboard and other bells and whistles to dazzle potential Bulldogs on game-day, as well as recruiting trips to Athens where the Georgia has been stockpiling and poaching South Florida talent since the Richt era.
— On the recruiting front, Georgia now spends a cool $1,500,000 more annually than any other FBS program; over $7,000,000 over the past three years. This number now surpasses Alabama—second with a $5,600,000 annual spend, while Tennessee is third, dropping $5,000,000-per-year, yet little to show for it. (For context, the annual recruiting budget under Richt was just under $600,000; a $2,630,000 increase in 2018 for the Dawgs.)
— As for Smart and his staff; a combined annual salary of $13,000,000.
As astronomical and hard-to-fathom as all those numbers might be, the most-important information and footnote is yet to be mentioned—the fact that Georgia has raised over $121,000,000 in barely four years through The Magill Society, which “Serves as the leadership fundraising entity under The Georgia Bulldog Club. This organization is philanthropic in nature with its members invested in the success of Georgia Athletics.”
This group was formed in 2015 and “recognizes those that make commitments of $25,000 and above” over a five-year period. Over 1,100 new donors have joined this elite club over the past year. A minimum of $25,000 times 1,100 new members in 2018 equals at least $27,500,000 towards Bulldogs “athletics”—the majority of which will obviously be steered towards football, as Athens is the heart of SEC Country.
Meanwhile, Miami fans just used GoFundMe to cover the cost of the aforementioned $495 banner intended to take a pre-game shit on the athletic department, believing that boycotting games in already a barely two-thirds full stadium will somehow “send a message”—while Georgia just signed up over a thousand new members ready and willing to pony up at least $25,000 towards their football program.
Stop the incessant bitching for a moment and let all that sink in—as well as questioning the overall sanity and entitlement of any Hurricanes football supporter believing Miami should be riding-high atop the sport, based on these financial facts.
All those years of getting into debates regarding support and fandom with alum of bigger state schools; “I’ll bet you didn’t even go to Miami, did you?’—this is where those arguments officially come to a head; the dollars and cents issue with the majority of a program’s fan base having not attended said university.
Alumni will break out that checkbook—not just for sports, but for the betterment of their beloved school. The affinity for their alma mater isn’t just relegated to on-the-field success—so when you’re talking about state schools with four- of five-times the undergraduates that Miami has and times that over a decade—it’s a huge numbers game, where UM is at a massive disadvantage.
The majority of Miami’s fans are individuals with nothing more than regional ties to a collegiate sports team who are along for the ride when the getting is good, but can easily pull back or bail out when things go south. Upon a crash and burn, or decade-long football program drought, interests and focus fast shift elsewhere, as a city like Miami—making it easy to check out during championship year droughts.
Take those larger state schools in smaller college towns, versus a private university in a suburb of a large, diverse metropolitan city—one with four professional sports franchises and an overflow of opportunities in regards to how one spends their entertainment dollar—and the the distance becomes even greater.
Athens, Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Baton Rouge, Columbus—full-fledged college sports towns. Miami is an events town; proven by the sparse crowds when mid-level conference teams come to town, opposed to the absolute raucous party environment—both on-campus and at Hard Rock—when No. 3 Notre Dame traveled south two years ago to take on an undefeated, seventh-ranked Hurricanes bunch.
Hell, even when Miami fielded its best team in program’s history in 2001—still at the beloved Orange Bowl—the Hurricanes only drew a reported 31,128 for a match-up against Temple—as a game like that isn’t an “event” and there are better things for non-alum football fans to do with their day.
The state school versus private university difference—as well as alumni versus location-based fans—is hardly new news. Nor is the fact that football factories and SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 powerhouses will throw hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support at the cause, in effort to try and build a champion—all of which should serve as a reminder just how incredible and improbably Miami’s success has been.
$200,000,000+ raised in Athens, yet the Hurricanes have won five national titles (and left a few on the field) since the Bulldogs last championship in back in 1980. How? By Miami again creating it’s own special sauce; somehow finding an advantage and figuring out how to do more with less.
It worked in the past and it’s the only answer moving forward—staying on-brand and playing to unique strengths—as the University of Miami will never have a big enough checkbook to play at the high-stakes table—especially without a strong alumni base that speaks with their wallet, not into the ether on message boards, or social media.
This is literally textbook definition of money talking and bullshit walking.
The head coaching position—same as the athletic director gig at the University of Miami—are niche gigs and not for everyone. These are college football and university-related positions, for people who want the small college town experience, of which Miami couldn’t be any further from.
The big city energy and a region full of transplants. A quaint school with an off-campus stadium, playing second-fiddle to pro sports franchises, eccentric nightlife, beach culture and other spirited events that make up South Florida living—as well as the lack of that large, supportive alumni base—these are all turnoffs to coaches and administrators who have chosen university-driven careers.
Decades back, yes, Miami football was able to reload at the head coaching position after Howard Schnellenberger built a winner, left for the USFL and Jimmy Johnson was able to carry the torch and bring home another championship; the original “NFL U” a moniker for coaches as Johnson wound up in Dallas, Dennis Erickson parlayed his success into the Seattle job and Butch Davis, though title-less, was the architect of the rebuild and was tabbed to do something similar in Cleveland.
Had Schnellenberger, Johnson or Davis planted their flag in Coral Gables and dug in for the long haul, Miami could’ve become a full-blown dynasty, in the traditional sense of the word—especially after Davis’ six-year rebuild and the state of college football at the turn of the century.
Of course none did, because long-term hasn’t ever been the logical plan at a program with UM’s set-up and resources. All used UM as a stepping-stone to bigger paydays and higher profile jobs—while all to a man have said that their time at the University of Miami was the most-special era of their respective careers and all each had their regrets about leaving; the point where they’d have loved a do-over.
Also a stepping-stone opportunity at Miami; the athletic director position—as proven twice over the past decade when Kirby Hocutt parlayed his four years into a better opportunity at Texas Tech and Shawn Eichorst used his even shorter stint to land the Nebraska gig. Neither was a “Miami guy” or on-brand, but both had the up-and-comer designation—which is also the reason UM was merely a pit-stop and both wound up at state schools with bigger budgets and alumni bases.
Prior to Hocutt and Eichorst, the Hurricanes’ longest-tenured athletic director was the late Paul Dee, who spent 13 years in a job he fell into by way of circumstance. Originally hired as Vice President and general counsel back in 1981—Dee was thrust into the AD role when Dave Maggard left the position after two years, finding a golden parachute in a Managing Director of Sports opportunity for the 1996 Summer Olympics, opposed to hanging around to see how a pending Pell Grant scandal was set to play out in Coral Gables.
It was a role Dee held until 2008, preceding Hocutt—making almost three decades since the Hurricanes had a gun-slinging type athletic director in Sam Jankovich—which was a completely different time and brand of college football. In the modern era, all Miami knows is that the past two guys bailed for greener pastures, while James retuned to Coral Gables after seven years at the University of Maine—six as Director of Athletics.
James started his career at Miami in ticket sales and has an affinity for South Florida, hence his return in 2010 and staying put ever since—which for better or worse is an important criteria for the Miami job, as again, it lacks the college town experience which many who work in collegiate athletics look for—limiting the field of candidates.
James was instrumental in bringing Richt back to his alma mater in 2015. Whatever one thinks of the hire in hindsight—Richt proving too tired for the rebuilding task after three years—it was a pivotal move for Miami; the first time UM went after an established head coach, opposed to an up-and-comer type.
UM broke out the checkbook and agreed to a reported $4M annual salary—the most it’d ever forked out for a head coach’s salary—only months after Donna Shalala stepped down; the former president the biggest roadblock to Hurricanes athletics since probation in the nineties.
The Richt era saw an increase in salaries for assistants, as well—which opened the door to bring on Diaz as defensive coordinator, after Dave Aranda chose LSU over Miami—while the respect for Richt and his 15 years running a top-notch SEC program helped get UM’s long-discussed indoor practice facility project over the hump; a $1M personal donation from Richt a huge perk that made up for limited alumni support.
In the wake of Richt’s abrupt retirement last December, James—and the Board of Trustees—made the move to bring Diaz back from ah 18-day stint as Temple’s head coach—which like the actual hire of the first-time head coach itself, is way too to judge as a win or a loss.
What the disgruntled are quick to call a “lazy” hire, was at worst a low-risk move—with huge consequences—based on some logical variables that too many either ignore or dismiss.
Sure, Miami could’ve conducted a full-blown search—starting January 6th, 2019—as Richt’s post-Christmas, pre-New Years bow-out came in the deadest week of the year. Four weeks prior to National Signing Day, the University of Miami would’ve been seeking for its 25th head coach—which would’ve decimated an already depleted 18-man class, setting the program even further back. With Diaz, there was continuity—as well as an ability to assemble his staff well before UM would’ve hired a new head coach.
Diaz’s hiring also guaranteed the return of would-be outgoing seniors like Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckey and Zach McCloud—which would’ve gutted a defense that already lost Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson. As bad as things are right now defensively—they’d have been infinitely worse.
Miami’s off-season robbing of the Transfer Portal also wouldn’t have been as effective; Diaz reeling in Tate Martell, KJ Osborn, Bubba Bolden, Trevon Hill and Jaelan Phillips—as well as bringing Jeff Thomas back when he was all but gone to Illinois.
However it plays out with Diaz—as there are no guarantees with just about any head coaching hire—the logic and reason both made sense. Diaz hit the ground running as Miami’s defensive coordinator in 2016, quickly revamping an utter mess left by Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio; immediately changing the broken scheme and getting guys to buy in day one.
Miami’s D took a huge step forward and by year two, went next-level—much of the success fueled by the on-brand, transcending Turnover Chain—that not only captivated all of college football, but give the Canes an old school, disruptive, aggressive vibe it had lacked since the heyday of the early 2000’s.
An anemic offense held both the 2017 and 2018 squads back—leaving James and the BoT with an understandable belief that half the the program was where it needed to be, so retaining the guy who built that out and trusting that he could find a counterpart to have a similar effect on the offense—was hardly far-fetched.
A reported $1.2M was allocated for Diaz to lure Dan Enos away from Alabama. How that hire ultimately plays out, time will tell—but for the Hurricanes, it was still a get—and the increased salary for assistants was again a good football move showing that Miami’s administration does care about football in this post-Shalala era.
In the end, the University of Miami is fighting this battle with one hand tied behind its back—but isn’t giving up. The way it was able to win and dominate in the past; those avenues are closed—so it’s time to take some less conventional detours in finding news ways to succeed.
Miami won’t soon become a state school with 40K undergrads, producing hundreds of thousands of new alum every decades—so it’s doing the next-best thing; trying to maintain and build off its brand—James with ties to UM’s last rebuild under Davis and Diaz having grown up in South Florida during the Decade of Dominance, with a true understanding of what the Hurricanes tick back-in-the-day.
Seeing what a Georgia is doing in regards to their investment into athletics; demeaning—but equally as liberating, as it frees Miami from feeling like it has to play the game in an orthodox manner in which it will never compete.
Just as it did four decades ago when Schnelly started an against-all-0dds dynasty in 1979, Miami is going to have to stay clever and unconventional in its process—praying for the stars to somehow align, while the football gods shine a little love—as college football is always a better place when the Hurricanes are relevant; playing in disruptive and polarizing fashion.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
The Miami Hurricanes have managed to go from bad to worse, recently suffering what can be considered rock-bottom loss—falling 28-21 to an 18-point underdog; a one-win Georgia Tech squad that already lost to The Citadel, as well as a sub-par Temple program the Yellow Jackets’ first-year head coach Geoff Collins knew and coached the past two seasons.
Manny Diaz and Miami are now 3-4 on the season; having lost heartbreakers to Florida and North Carolina, while following up with inexplicable losses to Virginia Tech and now Georgia Tech—both of which make the Canes’ recent take down of division-leader Virginia all the more improbable. The only given right now for Miami; each match-up is proving to be its own one-game season; zero carryover—good, or bad—from the previous week.
Recapping the Georgia Tech debacle is a pointless, painful exercise at this point—so let’s get in and out as quickly as possible, moving on to a macro view of this entire first-year situation.
Miami realistically should’ve led 28-7 at the half, had it merely showed up and seized the opportunities in front of it. Instead, the Hurricanes missed 29 tackles, as well as three chip-shot field goals—rolling through the afternoon in lackluster fashion.
Lack of effort a common theme; though none more egregious than cornerback DJ Ivey flat-out giving-up on two plays that resulted in 14 points—not staying with his man on a fake punt, while half-assing his coverage on a more conventional touchdown pass, believing Miami’s front seven had quarterback James Graham wrapped up. They didn’t and Graham flung it to a wide open Ahmarean Brown, who had Ivey beat by a mile and tied the game in the final minute of the first half.
A scoreless second half; partly due to Miami whiffing on two chip shot field goals—the other directly related to way-too-clever red zone play calling from offensive coordinator Dan Enos that fell flat. The Canes should’ve found the end zone more often—not just last Saturday, throughout this shit season; many of these games never coming down to these soft-ass kickers. As a result the Canes inexplicably wound up in overtime against a garbage 1-5 football team.
Georgia Tech quickly scored on four running plays, while Miami couldn’t convert a 4th-and-4—coming up a yard “short”, according to ACC officials who don’t understand forward progress. Regardless, UM should’ve put the game away ten times over by that point, so to hell with the bad spot.
NITPICKING COACH-SPEAK & TRUE DEFINITON OF A ‘REBUILD’
The aftermath proved even worse as Diaz used the phrase “rebuild” in his post-game presser; something he attempted to walk-back by saying it was in regards to his “players’ confidence”—but still resulting in a full-blown meltdown by detractors who will take any shot to bury the Canes’ fifth coach over the past 14 seasons.
Diaz did initially say in spring that he and his staff didn’t “look at this as a rebuild thing” and that they were “trying to get competitive for championships right away”—though painfully aware he was taking over a program 7-9 dating back to a 2017 road loss to Pittsburgh and wrecked 35-3 the last time it took the field under former head coach Mark Richt.
The 7-6 season brought heat on the third-year leader; who was pushed to make changes to his offensive staff, as a complete revamp was required for a group that ranked 104th overall in the nation for 2018.
The long-time Georgia coach bowed out after year-three at Miami; leaving a reported $20M buyout on the table—a parting gift to his alma mater—as he simply didn’t have the gusto for a “rebuild”. Defensively, the Hurricanes were undoubtedly going to take a step back, as well—having lost the leadership and experience of Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Gerald Willis, Michael Jackson and Joe Jackson, as modern day Hurricanes are nowhere near reload-mode in this present state.
Losing five key upperclassmen on a recently-stout defense that lacks a contender-level two-deep—as well as starting from scratch on offense—you rebuild; there’s no other applicable word for it.
Like many a rookie before him; Diaz got tangled up in some optimistic coach-speak—which due to the embarrassment and frustration so many feel about this program’s ongoing irrelevance—is being treated as some type of fireable, next-level deceit. In reality, it was simply an attempt invoke a belief in his players, while merely oping to avoid a worst-case scenario, which is what ultimately how things are playing out.
2019 is proving the be the polar opposite of 2017; another squad with an anemic offense and quarterback woes—but one that got out to a 10-0 start when it just as easily could’ve gone 6-4 if not for some fortuitous bounces; the type of breaks these Hurricanes aren’t seeing in 2019.
BROKEN CULTURE HAS BEEN ON DISPLAY FOR YEARS, YET DENIED
Incredibly (not really), many are harping on the use of “rebuild” while completely ignoring the constant use of the word “disease” that Diaz has used to discuss the broken culture he’s working to fix; that disease a huge reason a weak-willed Miami bunch has struggled to overcome adversity for years, pissing away winnable conference games to beatable teams every fall—to the point this program entered this fall with a 97-70 record dating back to the 2005 Peach Bowl against LSU; a 40-3 massacre that officially kicked off this downward spiral.
Even with those hard-to-swallow facts, the currently-disgruntled still expected an insta-fix; calling for a win over the eighth-ranked Gators in the opener, en route to taking the Coastal Division and being seasoned enough to give Clemson a game in December.
Where Diaz coined The New Miami as a long-term mindset, recruiting philosophy and final destination he’s building towards—too many misinterpreted it, turning the phrase into a misguided 2019 rallying cry with hit-the-ground-running expectations.
News flash; first-year head coaches and in-flux programs go through growing pains. Even the legendary Nick Saban stumbled to 7-6 year one in Tuscaloosa; his bottoming-out moment a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe in late 2007—to the point where Crimson Tide fans were ready to run his ass out of town by Thanksgiving; despite a dozen years head coaching experience and a national title four years prior at LSU.
WHERE HAVE THE TRUE LEADERS GONE?
A lack of leadership and accountability is as much a part of this disease as anything. Look back at past great Miami teams; the Hurricanes’ best with the ability to self-police and keep teammates culpable, while coming down hard on guys who weren’t holding up their end of things.
All those greats in the nineties who were part of the last rebuild; to a man would tell you they’d rather be in hot water with coaches, than with teammates who took on leadership roles. Compare that to present day and a lack of old-school upperclassmen that lead by example—having learned from the greats who came before them—seizing defining moments.
To think of those competitive and prideful teams of yesterday in comparison to a group today—one that seems more interested in building their personal brands, while flooding social media with post-game images (personal highlights in losses) and quotes about being humble, hungry or blessed—the whole thing has gone completely off the rails.
Shaq Quarterman returned for his senior season—but where is that next-level, cultural impact from a fourth-year guy on his way out?
Last Saturday, a fourth quarter fumble recovery against Georgia Tech—in the midst of a tied ball game and scoreless second half—#55 sprinted to the sidelines, seeking out his Turnover Chain moment; like so many others, playing to the crowd and swarmed by teammates that wanted in on the celebration.
As Quarterman sat on the bench with his oversized bling, Miami’s offense marched down the field, got to the eight-yard line and missed a field goal that would’ve retaken the lead. On Georgia Tech’s ensuing drive, Quarterman read Graham’s eyes and looked like he had a sure-fire interception—but dropped it after it hit him in he mitts; an 80-yard swing after the Yellow Jackets punted on fourth down.
The chain was a game-changer in 2017 when Quarterman was a sophomore; an on-brand motivation tool that had an immediate impact on Diaz’s second-year defense. Two years and 13 losses later—dating back to a Pitt road trip late November of a lucky-break 2017—the luster and magic has worn off; which Miami’s senior middle linebacker should understand better than any underclassmen getting their first crack at sporting it.
There was zero to celebrate at any point as Miami struggled both offensively and defensively against a shitty Georgia Tech team—as well as a moment where an outgoing senior could’ve helped shape the culture if he had the maturity to think big picture, instead of the now.
What if Quarterman made a statement and waved off the chain after the fumble recovery and instead summoned his offense and said, “Get out there, score and let’s win this mother**king football game.” Send a message to these underclassmen that haven’t proven they know how to win or close—making it clear that individual glory only comes when the team is taking care of business as a whole.
Sacrificing one micro-moment of personal stardom for something that can be built off of long after one is gone; that’s what the greats do. Start a new trend where the hardware-wear becomes situational—as there are times to celebrate, versus moments where you dig in and remind teammates to refocus as there’s something bigger at stake.
This goes for all veteran players, by the way—not just Quarterman. Everyone has their statement-making moment; go make one.
EASY TO GET LOST IN THE FOG WHEN TAKING ON FIRST-TIME CHALLENGES
It’s a tricky balancing act to build team optimism and culture—while also needing to acknowledge the realities of the task at hand; a sub-par 15-year run, constant coaching turnover, zero consistency and years worth of incompetence that left this program hitting ‘reset’ every few years; one step forward, ten steps back.
Fact remains, fans can’t handle the truth—they want to hear best-case-scenario, as that’s precisely how so many personally predict every new season. Honestly, what happens if Diaz jumped off that 88-foot yacht back in April and delivered the following message to 400-plus boosters, tired of writing checks while consistently losing:
“Heads up, y’all—2019 is gonna be a shit-show. Just letting you know. We have to revamp this entire loser offense that’s been a disaster for years; plugging in a brand new staff that might or might not work over in the long run. Also need to find a quarterback ready to put this thing on his back; both talent and leadership at the position a problem for over a decade. Oh yeah, and two-thirds of this offensive line was blocking high school defenders last year—so that should be a treat for whoever we have under center. Also lost all our heart and soul on defense; three in the secondary and the only two on the d-line with a mean streak— while still relying heavily on grad transfers for depth, as our two-deep is nowhere near where it should be. Also, our kicker is still a total head case. Go Canes. It’s all about The U.”
For the record, Diaz isn’t alone in these rookie stumbles. Even some of the greats have been tripped up in their early years, en route to greatness.
September 12th, 1997—a vintage-era, old-school pre-game breakfast on-campus before Saturday’s showdown against Arizona State. Third-year head coach Butch Davis got up in front of all of us in that room and boldly told everyone in attendance that the University of Miami would “compete for a national championship” in 1997; 1-0 at the time, having rolled at Baylor, 45-14 in the season opener.
Instead, Miami dropped four in a row and two weeks into the losing streak, that now-infamous banner flew over the Orange Bowl thanking Davis for turning the Canes from champs-to-chumps. Miami finished 5-6 on the season; the program’s worst run since 1997—while also getting clobbered 47-0 in Tallahassee, as the effects of probation were brutally felt.
Of course this all took place in a pre-social media era, so Davis’ bold prediction wasn’t dug back up a month later and shared by way of message board vitriol, lose-your-mind podcasts, know-it-all blogs, snarky tweets, or lay-up topics for beat writers to use as click-bait—nor was the drought anywhere near as long; Miami winning a national title six years prior and playing for another the following season.
Fans lambasted Davis that season, the next (1998) and the next (1999)—and even early in his sixth and final year (2000) after No. 4 Miami fell on the road at No. 15 Washington, in a year expectations were sky-high; eventually coming around early-October after his Canes broke a five-game losing streak to Florida State and took down the top-ranked defending champs in a thriller.
Prior to that, the anger was just as real—there simply weren’t as many vehicles and avenues to give everyone a real-time voice, nor was the overall concept of patience, logic and reason within our society at an all-time low.
Unfortunately for Diaz, his inaugural season is off the rails. The only save at this point, improbably winning five in a row—including a must-win victory at Florida State—and an 8-4 finish, going into bowl season; which seems as unrealistic as any “12-0!” cries from the delusional back in August.
Second to some miraculous, pipe-dream turnaround—at worst, Miami has to find a way to pull three wins out its ass as this squad needs a month of December practices like few other programs in the nation.
Outside of that, everything else lies on Diaz’s ability to realistically assess what he has staff-wise and determine if he believes this is the crew to ride-or-die with going into year two—as another dismal season spells impending doom and year three might be too late to make changes that will have time to stick.
To his credit, he proved able when firing the entire offensive staff back in January, retaining nobody from that regime—but how will Diaz handle critical assessments of guys he hired one year in?
DIAZ WON’T BE DEFINED BY YEAR-ONE RECORD, BUT BY HANDLING OF STAFF
Famed author Malcolm Gladwell is best-known for his “10,000 hours” concept in his third book Outliers; the amount of time one must invest to become a true master of their craft—but it was his deep dive into”thin-slicing” in his second read, Blink that applies here.
Thin-slicing is the ability to find patterns in events based on narrow windows of experience; taking a quick inference about the state, characteristics or details about an individual or situation—these judgments oft proving as accurate, if not more, than ones based on more information.
A few weeks into the season, Diaz realistically could’ve begun thin-slicing his way into figuring out who on this staff has a shared-mindset and is built for the long-haul, versus who should be replaced for someone to help with the movement.
Make no mistake—this exercise in itself and an ability to cut-bait with assistants who aren’t the right-fit, opposed to giving guys time to “figure it out”; precisely what will make or break Diaz’s time at Miami, even more this rocky first season. A new head coach will get his standard 3-4 years to get his fingerprints on a program, while wrong-fit assistants are immediately expendable as time is of the essence.
OFFENSE NOT IMPROVING, DESPITE “IMPROVED” ASSISTANTS
Based on the reported $1.2M annual payday, no bigger bullseye right now than on the back of offensive coordinator Dan Enos; hired for his short-stint at Alabama and supposed quarterback-whispering ways with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa in Tuscaloosa last fall.
The bar was set highest for Enos, as he came in fresh of a national championship-caliber season with the Crimson Tide—some of that magic expected to translate on some level year one—yet seven games in, it’s not a stretch to question if he is a fit, due to an inability to do more with what he currently has.
Offensive line is young and struggling? Rethink the play-calling and figure out more ways to get the ball out of quarterbacks’ hands, instead of long-developing, low-percentage plays that have Miami worst in the FBS regarding sacks. Drive down field to get inside the red zone? Find ways to punch the ball in at all costs, instead of putting the offense in the hands of garbage kickers.
Jarren Williams got the nod to start the season; seemingly based on the future and quarterback he could grow into, versus who he was two months back as a redshirt freshman who played a matter of minutes last fall—Enos’ choice, approved by Diaz.
Factor in Miami’s porous offensive line play; something coaches expected to jell at some point—yet hasn’t; Enos continues coaching based on what he wants these Hurricanes to become, instead of finding ways to move the ball better with what he has.
Thin-slicing away as a frustrated observer, it didn’t take long to come to a conclusion that Enos has air about him as if he’s the smartest guy on the field; preferring to out-clever the competition, opposed to accepting that the shortest between two points is a straight line—and simply zigging where they expect you to zag. Some lowlights from the past few weeks:
— Four consecutive passing plays from four-yard line when trailing Virginia Tech, 28-0 late second quarter—despite two quality running backs available. Low-percentage fade routes and running same drag route with covered tight end two plays in a row, while Perry had limited options on fourth down. Similar type of play calling on final red zone possession that could’ve forced overtime against the Hokies.
— Against Virginia, Canes reach seven-yard line—again with the low-percentage fade that rarely works, followed by a tight end sweep with Jordan on third down. Miami settled for three in moment where it needed seven; bailed out only by fact Virginia even more disastrous in red zone—nine points on five attempts.
— Most recently in loss to Georgia Tech, a slow-developing double-reverse on first down from the eight-yard line, losing a yard and back to the fade on third, instead of running to center the ball to bail out Miami’s garbage kicking game; Baxa missing a 26-yarder from the right hash. The Canes would get another crack after the fumble recovery; Enos calling back-to-back run plays from the 11- and 10-yard line (while rarely running when inside the five) a lack-of-feel for what to call, when.
After firing the entire offensive staff last January, Diaz was asked what type of offense he wanted to run at Miami—needing instant improvement for a group that ranked 104th in the nation in 2018.
“The word I want is to be cutting edge,” was the answer. Diaz avoided saying “spread” but did state that he wanted “an offense that creates problems for the defense”.
Unfortunately the only problem thus far—Miami consistently finding the end zone when in the red zone, while pissing away a handful of winnable football games.
Enos is also responsible for offensive line coach Butch Barry, who rolled south from a four-year NFL stint with Tampa Bay, but worked under Enos at Central Michigan prior-to. Like Enos struggling to get the most out of his offense, Barry’s line has been abysmal since week zero and has shown minimal improvement two months in.
Barry is also drawing heavy criticism from former UM greats Bryant McKinnie and Brett Romberg, who took the Canes’ offensive line woes to task in a recent podcast in regards to technique issues, as well as how things are being taught to the entire group—and the immaturity of some current players who weren’t even dialed in to a few former national champions trying to coach them up. McKinnie and Romberg also touched on being treated like spectators by Barry, opposed to valuable, proven football alum with a heart to help the cause—which is obviously a fine line, but worth noting.
Between Enos and Barry, a common thread as both had the most-impressive resumes of Diaz’s offensive staff—and both appear to be underachieving the most; doing little with what they have, while neither of their units is showing much measurable improvement as Miami passed the season’s halfway point last weekend.
Blake Baker hasn’t set the world on fire in his defensive coordinator role, but his willingness to welcome Diaz back into the fold to help on that side of the ball—coupled with Diaz’s successful three-year stint coaching the Hurricanes’ defense—makes change less imperative; especially with all the key losses in the off-season.
Offensively; that’s where Diaz officially has some hard questions to answer.
Gone is the era of coordinators getting year after year to find their footing. Head coaches are afforded the luxury, but with slow start to 2019 and Diaz already feeling the heat—no bigger off-season decision that determining if this current offensive staff will be the one that makes or breaks him.
Clock is ticking. Stakes are raised. Nothing can be done to change the past seven games—but decisions made after the next five are the most-important in Diaz’s football life. Innovate, or die.
The Miami Hurricanes broke a two-game conference losing streak and notched their first ACC victory of the year, knocking off Coastal Division favorite Virginia in a defense-minded, primetime home showdown. Brutal to be in must-win territory by mid-October, but such was the case—Miami never starting worse than 0-2 in conference play; a loss to the Cavaliers leaving the Hurricanes in full-blown meltdown-move. Crisis averted.
The Hoos were a slight underdog, according to Vegas (-2.5) but in real life, predicted by most to take out the Hurricanes. Virginia was also the pre-season favorite to win the ACC’s Coastal Division; having jumped out to a 2-0 conference start before heading south to Miami. The lone loss on the season; a 35-20 setback in South Bend—a four-point ball game late in the third quarter before Notre Dame returned a fumble for a score and started to put the game out of reach.
Bronco Mendenhall led his squad to an 8-5 run last year and appeared to have taken a step forward this season, fielding a stout, mature defense and getting solid play out of senior quarterback Bryce Perkins, who matured after his first year in the program. For Miami to hold their own against a fundamentally-sound squad like Virginia after the way the past few weeks have gone for the Hurricanes; this was an impressive victory, all things considered.
This was another game of momentum; something the Hurricanes snatched early, after pissing it away on a few occasions earlier this season—down 17-3 in Chapel Hill in a flash, as well as last weekend’s quick 28-0 deficit against visiting Virginia Tech. This time around, it was Miami that got out to a 7-0 start, scoring on the opening drive—which seeming gave the defense a refreshed attitude and some bounce in their step; playing with a rare lead, opposed to digging out of an early hole.
In the end, it was a perfect blend of solid red zone defense for Miami, as well as Virginia self-imploding in almost every scoring opportunity, that proved to be the difference in a 17-9 battle.
The Hurricanes forced a three-and-out on the Cavaliers’ first possession, came up with a crucial 4th-and-1 stop from the UM 24-yard line—Greg Rousseau sniffing out and blowing up the play for a loss—as well as a blocked 38-yard field goal on the ensuing drive.
QUICK START REPLACES SLOW-TO-GO; SETS TONE FOR CANES
Any who have watched this program over the past year and a half—or even the past week—painfully aware that the Canes could’ve fallen into a fast 21-0 hole over that same span.
Instead, a confidence that came from going up early, as well as Diaz reinserting himself into Miami’s defensive, after the 2-3 start—the week’s practice, overall strategy and in-game calls; oft seen huddled with defensive coordinator Blake Baker and the rest of the staff Friday night—which ultimately paid off.
Still, one would be remised to not point out the biggest change for Miami; the offense picking up from where it left off last week when N’Kosi Perry entered for Jarren Williams, on the heels of a three-interception first quarter against Virginia Tech. Perry would throw for 442 yards and four touchdowns, in relief—rallying the Canes from a 28-0 deficit to an eventual 35-35 tie, before the Hokies scored late and Miami came up a red zone possession from forcing overtime.
In the following days, a mention that Williams was suffering from a throwing-shoulder injury, sustained against Central Michigan and re-aggravated early against Virginia Tech—keeping him out of Monday practice and paving the way for Perry to get the Friday night nod against Virginia. Whether the Williams’ injury was played up to avoid drama, or was simply convenient timing—Diaz has landed in a quarterback quandary, whether he wants to admit it, or not.
Generally speaking, Canes supporters—and maybe football fans, in general—have a way of judging a game’s entire body of work based on a win, or a loss, with no other discernment. Fight valiantly in a loss and do some good things along the way; most can’t be objective in regards to the game’s positives—venomous over the loss and treating any open-mindedness as lowering standard or celebrating moral victories. Conversely, in the wake of a win, any mistakes or glaring weaknesses are generally swept under the rug, with all the focus on what went right.
Whether Miami hung in there against Virginia, or couldn’t hang in all those red zone situations, falling 27-17—it doesn’t change the fact that Perry is currently the Hurricanes’ best option at quarterback for the duration of 2019.
Yes, after a score on the opening drive, Miami punted on it’s next six possessions and didn’t score again until a 19-yard Turner Davidson field goal with 10:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Lots of three-and-outs, as well as some overthrown deep balls that could’ve easily been long touchdowns and game-changing plays. Perry’s timing with receivers and lack of touch; coming in too hot on some slants and short routes, while sailing some deep passes well out of reach—all problematic and in need of repair.
All that to say, Perry’s athleticism and elusiveness behind a porous Miami offensive line; the only qualification that means anything at this point of the season. Seven quarters in and there’s no debating the fact that the only counter to the sub-par offensive line play is a quarterback with the moves and awareness to slip away from defenders in the back field.
PERRY’S MOBILITY BEHIND SHODDY LINE; A GAME CHANGER
4th-and-7 at the 10:25 mark in the first quarter and the third down no-gain just before; the plays that defined the game—and possibly the season, so far. Eighth and ninth plays of the drive, with Perry and Miami moving the ball relatively well, after starting the Canes’ own 22-yard line—an early 13-yard hook-up with Brevin Jordan, as well as a nice 27-yard deep ball to K.J. Osborn; Perry standing in the pocket, getting the pass off and absorbing a big hit.
Perry picked up another first down with a 10-yard pass to Jeff Thomas, immediately going back to the receiver in the end-zone on a play-fake; Thomas beating defender Nick Grant, who made up some quick ground late, giving him time to get hands on the ball, throwing Thomas off from hauling in the score.
After a designed run where Perry picked up three yards, a 3rd-and-7 where the Cavaliers’ defense came in hot; Noah Taylor blowing by freshman left tackle Zion Nelson, untouched. Perry stood in, aware and dumping it off to Mike Harley last second, for no gain—on what would’ve been at least a seven-yard sack setting up a 4th-and-14.
Kicking game woes aside, Diaz and Miami were probably going for it on fourth down no matter who was under center, but the offense had an extra gear with Perry’s mobility; the r-sophomore immediately seeing a running lane to the left and scampering for the first down.
A quick run with Dallas lost two yards on first down, but a delayed screen allowed the running back to slip right as the Cavaliers’ defense got after Perry on second-and-long; the dump-off to Dallas the perfect call as Miami blocked downfield and sprung the running back to a 17-yard score.
Fast forward to midway through the fourth quarter; the Cavaliers held to three field goals, despite moving the ball well against Miami—it was the Hurricanes’ offense that finally broke through; riding the momentum from the previous drive where it settled for three, despite a 35-yard gain by Jordan that got Miami to the UVA seven-yard line.
Leading 10-9 and in position to put the game further out of reach, Perry and the Canes embarked on a 10-play, 75-yard drive—highlighted by a 24-yard hook-up with Mark Pope that put Miami in long field goal range. The running game stifled most of the night, Dallas tore of back-to-back runs of eight and 17 yards, setting the Canes up with a 1st-and-Goal opportunity at the UVA four-yard line.
Perry took a sack on first down, but only lost a yard—but rushed for two on second down and on 3rd-and-Goal from the three-yard line, kept again and scampered in for a punctuating score, pushing the lead to 17-9 with 2:31 remaining.
COMMON SENSE & LOGIC WILL HELP DIAZ AVOID ANY “CONTROVERSY”
Diaz took to the South Florida airwaves on Monday morning, doing his usual Joe Rose Show fly-by—where Rose was quick to point out Perry’s success in Williams’ absence, asking UM’s first-year head coach if the more successful offense “teased” him in regards to staying with the hot hand.
“It’s doesn’t tease us.” Diaz responded. “It lets us know what we’ve been saying all along, that we can win games with N’Kosi. N’Kosi just beat the 20th-ranked team in the country and the week before led a 28-point comeback. And last year he led a comeback against Florida State from down 20.
“I mean, N’Kosi has done some things now on his resume that are impressive. It’s what I’ve been saying all along: Jarren Williams is our starter but it’s still up to Jarren to come back from the issues he’s been dealing with and also to come back [from] the adversity of what he faced in the Virginia Tech game and to prove to everybody that he’s ready to go … and if for whatever reason he is not, we’ve got all the faith in the world in N’Kosi to get it done.”
WQAM co-host Zach Krantz pressed the point a little further, asking point blank if a healthy Williams will get the start over the more comfortable looking Perry, to which Diaz held a long pause before responding.
“If he’s healthy and if he’s ready,’’ Diaz said. “Again, it’s two parts to it. If he’s healthy and he’s ready to bounce back in essence from… You know, look, when you’re the quarterback everybody is watching everything you do. So the idea of getting back there and getting back on the horse and saying, ‘Hey, let’s ride.’ Once he’s ready for that, then we’ll be ready to go.”
One has to hope this is nothing more than coach speak from Diaz and a delicate balance to not imply that he’s lost faith in Williams, while keeping Perry in check, as UM’s most-experienced quarterback hasn’t handled property well in the past.
As the head of this Miami program year one, Diaz has to be delicate with his dealings—as the unspoken is as important as what’s being said; namely in regards to an offensive line that has performed well below anyone’s worst expectations this season.
Reading between the lines, or imagining oneself to be a fly on the wall on any conversations between offensive coordinator and Dan Enos, let’s say what both are thinking—but what neither can verbalize.
OFFENSE LINE ISSUES GIVE CLEAR ANSWER RE: QUARTERBACK CHOICE
In a perfect world, with the offensive line playing up to par—both seem to think that Williams is Miami’s future; the 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt sophomore looking all the part of your prototypical drop back quarterback, signal caller and leader of the offense.
Williams has a solid football IQ and is progressing … as much as he can behind an offensive line that is literally worst in the country in regards to sacks given up; some of that obviously on Williams and Miami’s coaches for starting a quarterback with limited mobility behind an underperforming, green line.
A safe bet that coaches also feel, but would never verbalize, what they have in Perry—a strong-armed, gifted quarterback who seems more prone to rely on his athleticism and improvisation, opposed to being more of your student-of-the-game type quarterback, who is going to learn the playbook in and out; pliable in a way that coaches can mold him into what they think he should be.
There’s a reason last year’s staff chose a “reliable” r-senior over Perry, while this new crew gave a r-freshman the nod; Perry obviously lacking something that should make a clear-cut talent like him the obvious go-to.
I’m often critical of the segment of this fan base that can’t accept the state of the Miami program and this ongoing rebuild; often projecting where they think things should be, rooted in 15 years worth of irrelevance and their being tired of the Hurricanes as an average ACC team. I implore them to start leaning on logic, over emotion and to take macro view of where things are, opposed to this micro, quarter-by-quarter assessment of The U.
Halfway through 2019, Diaz and Enos must go through the same exercise; acknowledging what they have personnel-wise, versus what they hoped this group would look like six games in—as well as the importance of finding ways to win now, versus force-feeding the line-up of tomorrow, today—and dealing with the setbacks that could result in that approach.
Fact remains, Miami’s offensive line is not getting the job done and as far as 2019 goes, there is no Plan B. Knowing that to be the case, which Hurricanes’ quarterback can be most-successful with that glaring limitation? Perry, or even third-string Tate Martell—but not Williams, the least mobile of the bunch.
Rewatching the past seven quarters of Miami football, Perry simply brings another dimension to the Hurricanes’ offense—if nowhere else, simply his ability to move in the pocket, avoid sacks and to buy more time for playmakers to get open; all of which have a ripple effect that impacts field position, how much time the defense is on the field, as well as the overall momentum and flow of the game.
Perry had his issues against Virginia, as proven by the low-scoring game and long droughts where the Canes were forced to punt drive after drive. Without the Cavaliers stalling in the red zone—partly due to good defense, but also due to incompetence on their part—there’s no way 17 points wins that football game and this week’s debate shifts to a rock bottom 2-4 start; quarterback play the least of anyone’s concerns (again, wins tend mask more-important subjects, while losses negate any good to come from a game.)
PLAY FOR NOW, WHILE ALSO BUILDING FOR THE LONG TERM
Paraphrasing something Diaz touched on weeks into taking the Miami job; the Catch-22 coaching staffs deal with on the recruiting front—mid-tier programs who need to win to attract better players, but struggle to get those victories as they lack the next-level playmakers across the board to have them contending week in and week out.
If building for next year, it makes sense to go with the quarterback coaches feel is the long-term guy—which appears to be Williams—but there will also be some lumps to take if sticking with a first-year starting quarterback behind a disastrous offensive line. But if the goal is to continue competing in the Coastal Division, while trying to win out and pull a 9-3, or even 8-4 season out of a 2-3 start—there has to be a shift in thinking; a focus on the micro, as well as the macro.
Williams played the role of game manager the first four games of this season; games that had Miami not shot itself in the foot with penalties, mistakes or breakdowns in the secondary, would’ve legitimately had the Hurricanes 4-0 going into Virginia Tech week, setting a less desperate tone for the Hokies’ visit.
Instead, with three losses in the books by the first week in October, Miami learned that a game manager learning on the job is probably going to have more limitations than an athletic, improvisational, less-pliable quarterback—one that might get you into some hot water, but also has the magic and moxie to bail you out.
I was critical of Perry last season, starting with the loss at Virginia—up through a second social media misstep before the bowl game. The immaturity and laissez faire approach to how he worked to earn the role as starting quarterback at Miami; something was off and the kid didn’t appear ready to lead a program that’s been looking for the guy for almost two decades now.
Mid-way through 2019, I’m yet to jump the Perry bandwagon, but I’ve seen enough—4.1 games with No. 15 and 1.3 with No. 5— to keep the keys in Perry’s hands, until he gives reason not to.
Practice is practice and even if Williams shows the grit and growth in practice coaches want to see in the wake of a poor performance against Virginia Tech, Greentree can’t be the only factor in deciding on a starter for Georgia Tech this weekend.
Perry gave this team a spark the past two weeks that it’s lacked since the opener against Florida—so riding the hot hand makes sense, right now. The Yellow Jackets are a hot mess this fall; off to a 1-5 start year one under Geoff Collins, who abandoned the triple-option for a more traditional offense and is off to a slow start.
One final home game for Miami, until a home season finale November 9th against Louisville. Lean on the home “crowd” and inferior opponent to get things settled once and for all.
Perry has proven to be the better fit with the current line limitations—and with an almost-comeback starting 28 down, as well as a quick start and late dagger against Virginia—any other move feels like a forced agenda, while ignoring feel, flow and the gut-instinct Diaz has shown to date.
On paper the game has obviously lost some luster as the Canes are 0-2 in the conference, while the Cavaliers are 2-0 and 4-1 overall; a road loss at Notre Dame the lone blemish of the season. Miami’s five-game journey, a little rockier path en route to 2-3. A season opening loss against Florida was followed up by a conference road stumble at North Carolina.
The Canes rebounded with an expected home route of Bethune-Cookman before winding up in a slug-fest with Central Michigan, only to show up lethargic and ill-prepared for last weekend’s showdown with Virginia Tech—despite a bye week—Miami in an early 28-0 hole after things quickly unraveled for quarterback Jarren Williams.
Turnover-free for four games, the redshirt freshman was responsible for three interceptions just over 11 minutes into the game. N’Kosi Perry entered late in the first quarter and wound up throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns; Miami tying things up 35-35 in the final minutes, before the defense broke (again), the Hokies took the lead and Perry was unable to re-tie things back up, forcing overtime.
CONTROVERSY AVERTED, DUE TO (UN)TIMELY INJURY
Where it appeared momentarily that Manny Diaz might have a quarterback controversy on his hands—the first-year head coach got bailed out when it was reported that Williams’ was nursing a sore shoulder that kept him out of practice early this week, paving the way for Perry to get the nod—where Sunday’s presser gave the indication both would get reps this week, competing for the gig.
While a mid-season game of quarterback musical chairs is never optimum, the move could prove to be a blessing in disguise for this struggling Miami bunch that could ill afford more of the same.
Williams got the nod in fall camp, Diaz and offensive coordinator Dan Enos feeling that No. 15 gave Miami “the greatest upside due to his passing ability, his instincts and his determination”. All that to say, five games in it felt like Williams was still learning on the job; “instincts” not yet where they needed to be. Miami had final drive opportunities against both Florida and North Carolina, with Williams unable to close out in either—understandable in his first two starts, with a dumpster fire of an offensive line—but still, he didn’t get the job done.
Against Central Michigan, a pedestrian outing where it felt as if Enos was using Williams in more of a game manager-type role, instead of aggressively trying to get the ball in the hands of playmakers—whereas a 28-0 deficit put Miami in a position where it needed to let Perry open things up. Down four scores; it certainly limited the Hurricanes’ efforts to run the football—DeeJay Dallas with four yards on five carries, before tearing off a 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which made up for 2/3 of UM’s total ground output on the afternoon. Cam Harris only got two touches for a combined 19 yards—while Perry had 47 pass attempts in just over three quarters.
Lack of balance aside, Perry’s presence resulted in big-time days for Brevin Jordan—seven receptions for 136 yards and a score—as well as Jeff Thomas; seemingly underused or buried with Williams under center. Thomas had six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns; finally making some moves that reminiscent of the playmaker he was for the Hurricanes from 2017 through 2018. Dee Wiggins was also a crunch-time go-to target with four receptions for 64 yards on the day, with a few clutch first down pick-ups.
With Virginia on the horizon, Miami sitting at 2-3 and Perry unexpectedly winding up in the starting role—the redshirt sophomore is getting a rare shot at a do-over and a small window that could yield huge results, should he properly take advantage of it.
PERRY GETTING RARE SECOND CHANCE AT A FIRST IMPRESSION
Perry’s history has been on display for the past year. After not overtaking senior Malik Rosier for the starting job in 2018, Perry took over for a sluggish Rosier in the first quarter against Florida International and had a solid enough outing—224 yards, three touchdowns and an interception—for Mark Richt to toss him the keys the following week against North Carolina; where little was needed in a game Miami’s defense forced six turnovers and returned three for touchdowns.
The Canes got in a 27-7 hole against Florida State the following weekend at home, but Perry overcame a slow start and helped rally the Hurricanes to a 28-27 win; throwing for 204 yards and four touchdowns. The following weekend in Charlottesville, the wheels fell off.
Much like Williams’ meltdown by way of three interceptions against Virginia Tech, Perry coughed up two even uglier, head-scratching picks on the road against Virginia last October—Richt reinserting Rosier much like Diaz and Enos quickly yielded to Perry last weekend against the Hokies—starting the downslide for Miami’s 2018 season. The other factor; Perry’s social media gaffe days later—flashing wads of cash on a on off-week road trip home to Ocala.
In the grand scheme of things, hardly egregious, but on the heels of getting benched for poor play—as well as a Miami program that recently spent time in the NCAA’s crosshairs—it was an immature and boneheaded look, for a kid that finally got the shot he’d been vying for. From that point on, it was wheels-off-mode for the Canes; Rosier starting and looking beyond average in a road loss at Boston College—Perry never getting a shot to compete.
In a home loss against Duke the following weekend, Rosier got the first three unproductive quarters, with Perry inserted early in the fourth with Miami trailing—in too little, too late fashion. Two three-and-outs followed before Perry drove Miami 59 yards, looking for a touchdown and two-point conversion for overtime—but much like the stalled comeback against Virginia Tech, Perry and the Canes’ offense couldn’t punch it in.
Perry got the start the following week, throwing for a respectable 171 yards and two touchdowns at Virginia Tech—the Hokies turning it over three times, while the Canes protected the football and got a 51-yard punt return from Thomas to close the door mid-third quarter. Against Pittsburgh the following week, Perry was 6-of-24 for 52 yards, while Travis Homer carried the load with 168-yard, one touchdown performance—a little redemption game for the Panthers spoiling the Canes’ perfect regular season in 2017.
Social media stupidity reared its ugly head again as an old video from September resurfaced; a sexually-explicit Snapchat video from Perry’s account making the rounds—losing him a chance to start the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin, and while not suspended—much like the Boston College loss, Richt hung in there with Rosier before the Badgers piled-on late and rolled the Canes.
CONSISTENCY-STARVED CANES BEST SUITED FOR PERRY TO TAKE REIGNS
The point of the Perry-fueled history lesson; a reminder that No. 5 had his shot last year, after failing to win the starting job—only to piss it away—yet is now in a similar position to the one he faced last year, begging the question, will the talented-yet-erratic quarterback prove his maturity and make the most of this second chance?
Every supporter of The U better hope so—as there is no worse case scenario than an average Perry outing against the Cavaliers, putting he and Williams back in competition next week leading up to a home showdown with Georgia Tech.
Six games in after Friday night, Miami needs to lock into their guy. It was the ultimately goal during fall ball; that either Williams, Perry or transfer Tate Martell would look head-and-shoulders above the competition; winning the starting job convincingly—opposed to the manner it was won in; Williams potentially having more “upside” when named QB1. Not to mention the shit-show that last season turned into when Perry couldn’t fully supplant Rosier and No. 12 couldn’t even game-manage enough to justify his presence.
There is no better scenario for Miami—seven regular seasons remaining, starting with Virginia—that Perry finding his groove and locking down the starting job for the rest of 2019. The Hurricanes need consistency at quarterback, as well as the shot in the arm Perry’s experience can bring, in comparison to learn-on-the-job Williams. No. 15 was serviceable four games in, but wasn’t clutch—nor did he deliver the type of big plays that seem to have a way of waking Miami up, or changing the game.
The defense played that role the past two seasons; finding ways to create turnovers or to get big stops when needed—but without the leadership of guys like Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and Gerald Willis, that side of the ball is too green to take games over the way it used to in recent years.
Dallas has delivered; willing himself to some big runs early this season—but a running back can only do so much when the passing game isn’t consistent and Miami is rolling a depleted defense back on the field after yet another three-and-out. Perry needs to prove he’s the missing link on this offense.
The flip side to Perry’s eccentric play and being the opposite of a game manager; preparing for the mistakes that are due to follow. Against Virginia Tech last weekend, an end zone interception on fourth down, after Miami failed to get in on four passing plays from the four-yard line.
Even more egregious, a would-be pick-six midway through the third quarter when facing a 3rd-and 20 after the Canes just pulled to within 14 points; Perry saved by a late hit and personal foul that without would’ve pushed the Hokies lead to, 35-14—courtesy of an interception even more damaging than the early ones thrown by Williams.
Perry will be good for some thrilling connections with the likes of Jordan, Thomas and Wiggins—but any struggles to read the Cavaliers’ defense and what Bronco Mendenhall throws at him Friday night; could result in the type of outing No. 5 had at Scott Stadium a year ago.
ENOS CAN SHOW VALUE BY HELPING PERRY MATURE ON FIELD
Of course last year Miami’s quarterbacks were coached up by Jon Richt, opposed to Enos, praised for being a “quarterback whisperer” for his efforts with Tua Tagovailoa—as well as the rebirth of Jalen Hurts—with the Crimson Tide last season.
A big reason Diaz chose Enos as his offensive coordinator; half because of play calling, half due to his ability to coach-up quarterbacks. Perry didn’t have an Enos-figure last fall and it showed. Now nine months into working with the former Alabama co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, how much better can Perry be in the moment? The effects of that maturation process will be on display Friday night.
With three losses in early October, it’s must-win territory for a Miami team that for all intents and purposes, been a sloppy, undisciplined, struggling mess. The porous offensive line has given up 25 sacks over five games, while the Hurricanes have been penalized 50 times for an ungodly 453 yards; many of which have come at the most-inopportune times, ultimately changing the outcome of the ballgame.
Emotionally, it’s hard not to believe the overall vibe and output of this team would be much different had the Canes survived that opener against the Gators, opposed to making a few more mistakes than the equally-as-sloppy Florida. A road game at North Carolina might not have started out as flat, while a 4-0 squad rolling into Virginia Tech week would’ve had a different energy than a 2-2 bunch. Just as success breeds success, failure breeds failure and Miami is knee-deep in a negative loop it badly needs to break out of.
A quarterback change and a more-experienced gunslinger who can deliver the ball to playmakers; it’s not as night and day a difference as 5-0 versus 2-3—but it’s something these Hurricanes can build off of; showing up prepared for the first night home game of the season.
Virginia knocked off Pittsburgh in the opener, rallied late to beat Florida State in Tallahassee and faded down the stretch at Notre Dame—while rolling William & Mary and needing a strong second half against Old Dominion to stave off an upset. In short; the Cavaliers haven’t proven much five games in—winning the games they should’ve, while losing by double-digits in one where they were underdogs.
Both the Hurricanes and Cavaliers were picked atop the ACC Coastal Division, depending on the publication—and despite Miami failing to live up to the hype, the three-loss home team is still slightly favored going into this evening.
Based on Virginia giving Miami fits over the years in situations just like this, the Hoos are a safe pick—and a double-digit victory wouldn’t be a surprise; especially if the Hurricanes get off to yet another slow start, which has happened often in this rivalry—both home and away.
Still, Miami earned some preseason hype for a reason. No, these Hurricanes aren’t a contender in the national sense, nor are they in regards to conference, as Clemson remains head and shoulders above the rest—but there’s enough meat on the bone for The U to hang with anybody in the lesser Coastal Division; even Virginia.
Night game at HardRock, shot in the arm from Perry getting the nod, bad taste all around from last year’s season-derailing loss—as well as law of averages; Miami due to have something finally go their way—picking the Canes to eke one out here, somehow, playing a little bit better as a whole due to the mid-season shake-up—with the defense getting a boost from a turnover, or two.
.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.
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.