October 25, 2019

GEORGIA BULLDOGS’ $200M INVESTMENT; A NEW REALITY ‘THE U’ CAN’T IGNORE


“The Miami Hurricanes should be the gold standard of college football, not anyone else.”

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.

“That’s allowed us to basically pay for these facilities through our donations,” McGarity said of of the Magill Society. “We haven’t had to take on any long-term debt. Fortunately, we haven’t had to raise ticket prices or donation [requirements to buy tickets] to pay for these facilities. Right now the model we have is allowing us to keep ticket prices as low as we can. That’s been a key thing for these projects to move as quickly as they can. The donors have responded overwhelmingly to support what Kirby wants to do.”

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.

Canes fans turn out for the big games and good times, but when losses pile up—a mostly non-alum fan base checks out.

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.

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

October 22, 2019

MANNY DIAZ AND HIS MIAMI HURRICANES AT SEASON-ONE CROSSROADS

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 […]


Despite knowing the result will usually be a train-wreck, I still find myself perusing Canes-themed message boards during football season—which is always dangerous when Miami is going through another rebuild and the losses are piling up.

Outside of August through December, beyond easy to disconnect—but in-season, a somewhat normal  way to keep up with everything U-related. A handful of logic-driven fans helping the cause and bringing some sanity to what is otherwise has become a college football insane asylum full of the most-disgruntled 1% of every fan base.

Recently, a lot of chatter about Manny Diaz being in over his head; hardly a shocking take after a 3-3 start, complete with a few heartbreaking losses.

The Miami Hurricanes first-year head coach was beloved as a defensive coordinator for three years—some excited when he returned from an 18-day stint as Temple’s head coach, replacing Mark Richt after an out-of-nowhere, late December retirement—others frustrated that the University of Miami didn’t so a full-blown head coaching search; a blind belief that the head coaching gig at UM is more-desirable than it really is.  We’ll see how it all play out..

Regardless, the digs seem to pile up every week—some surprised that a rookie head coach is making some newbie mistakes. Even worse, the revisionist history and short memories that seem to cloud peoples’ vision as to what currently is and what was, back in the day.

Miami safety Jamal Carter was ejected for targeting against Virginia last Friday night; a bullshit play as Carter led with his shoulder, pulled up and hit helmets with Cavaliers’ receiver Hasise Dubois in the end zone late in the third quarter. Carter’s looming presence helped save a touchdown, as Dubois started losing control of the ball before he and Carter collided—but it was a game-defining play as Dubois was the Hoos’ leading receiver (seven receptions for 93 yards) on the night and he never caught another pass after that stick with :58 remaining in the period.

The purpose for bringing this up; Carter not leaving the field and Miami getting hit with a substitution infraction that moved Virginia to a 1st-and-Goal from the four-yard line—which they immediately gave back on a false start; the Canes ultimately forcing a field goal. For some reason, this play was taken to task on the message boards—the egregiousness of it so much, that a few in the thread are “done” with Diaz and “can’t even” anymore.

Whether is was the noise and confusion that led to Carter not leaving the field—HardRock losing its collective shit, reigning down boos and warm half-full beers after the call—or something else; all the shots are fired in Diaz’ s direction by the disgruntled, entitled portion of this fan base; the group that expected to be “back” by now and is blaming the new guy for the 15 years of incompetence that happened before he took over.

DIAZ MAKING ROOKIE MISTAKES; JUST LIKE PAST ROOKIES BEFORE HIM

Below is a clip from 1996; a mid-November home game at where No. 18 Miami took on No. 21 Virginia Tech. It was year two for Butch Davis; who too over a 10-2 squad from 1994 that finished No. 3 after falling to No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. UM had officially been slapped with probation, but the effects weren’t fully being felt yet year two, nor in this 21st game of Davis’ career as a head coach.

The Canes had already fallen at home to No. 3 Florida State, 34-16 back in October—and followed it up with an embarrassing 31-6 home loss to East Carolina the following week; taking a 6-0 lead before the Purple Pirates with on a 31-0 run.

This match-up with Virginia Tech had a BIG EAST title on the line; something the Hokies ultimately locked down after beating Miami, 21-7 in a very winnable football game that got away —due to a second-year head coach looking all the part of an amateur, a few short seasons before he became a Hurricanes legend.

The clip below is shows the entire game, but for the sake of the portion of the story we’re telling, push ahead to late in the second quarter with about two minutes remaining in the half; a 7-7 ballgame. Miami was driving before the half—Ryan Clement under center, still feeling the effects of the same separated shoulder on display two weeks prior for a heroic win at West Virginia, punctuated by a blocked punt by Tremain Mack returned by Nate Brooks for the Canes’ lone touchdown of the night in a 10-7 comeback victory.

A quick synopsis of what took place with :16 remaining in the half (skip ahead in the above video to the 1:07:00 mark; :21 remaining in second quarter):

— 1st-and-10 from the UM 34-yard line, Clement completes a pass to tight end Mondriel Fulcher, taken own at the nine-yard line.

— :08 remaining, no timeouts left, Clement spikes the ball into the ground—looks to the sidelines (where Davis and staff were prepping to send in the field goal unit) and proceeds to lose his shit in front of a national CBS television audience, unhappy with his coach’s decision—commentators calling out Davis for letting his quarterback effectively push him around.

— Once reaching the sideline, Davis sends Clement back out onto the field to go for it—yielding to his quarterback. Virginia Tech called a timeout to get their defense in order; cameras panning back to Davis and Clement on the sidelines in a stare down before Clement converges with Rob Chudzinski and some offensive players for the play call.

— Clement gets off a quick pass to Yatil Green, who falls out at the one-yard line with :03 remaining—Davis deciding to send the field goal unit back on the field, despite field position and a chance to punch it in.

— Another Hokies’ timeout results in another change of heart for Davis, who then sends the offense back out onto the field; Miami lethargic in getting to the line of scrimmage (despite no time outs)—play clock running down to zero, resulting in a delay of game and a five-yard penalty.

— Davis again sends his field goal unit back onto the field for the 22-yard attempt, which Andy Crosland missed wide right by a mile.

— Second half, CBS commentators are still discussing the incompetence just before the half and Davis not having control of the situation.

— Fast-forward to the second half (literally, skip to the 2:16:15 point in video—late fourth quarter); Scott Covington had replaced the injured Clement, who left in the third with an ankle injury. Covington lofted a game-tying, 15-yard touchdown that went through the hands of Magic Benton on the left side of the end zone with just over two minutes remaining in the game.

— One play later, Covington went right to a wide-open Tony Gaiter on second down; the ball hitting him in the hands right at the goal line, which he inexplicably dropped.

Hokies’ head coach Frank Beamer also subbed out freshman cornerback Anthony Midget (who was getting torched by Green, who had nine catches for 152 yards) for safety Torrian Gray (who was assigned Green and locked him down on third down), while subbing back-up safety Keion Carpenter in as well; one of many strategic moves Beamer would make against Miami over an era where Virginia Tech would rattled off five wins in a row.

— Facing a 3rd-and-10, Covington tried to run for it when nobody as open, setting up a 4th-and-5 from the nine-yard line—Covington looking right for Gatier, when Carpenter jumped the inside route at the goal line and returned the interception 100 yards for the score. 21-7, ballgame—Miami driving with 1:54 remaining, getting back in the redzone, before Gray picked Clement off to put this one out to pasture.

DAVIS CLOSED STRONG AT MIAMI, BUT NEED TIME & TWEAKING TO DO SO

For those around in this long gone era; they remember that Davis took over at a time when Miami’s three previous coaches—Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson—all left over the previous dozen years for greener financials pastures; each winning championships and passing the program off to the next guy.

Davis was absolutely under fire from his start in 1995 in Pasadena, until he took down No. 1 Florida State in 2000—a few weeks after losing at Washington with the No. 4 Hurricanes.

From that opening 31-8 loss at UCLA year one, to Miami’s first-ever loss to Virginia Tech a few weeks later in Blacksburg, to the start of a five-game losing streak to Florida State; the Noles rolling in Tallahassee, 41-17—a year after the Canes looked to have taken the power back with a thrilling 34-20 victory at home—Davis was Public Enemy #1; his game day coaching and first-year mistakes lambasted in local newspapers and articles that can barely be found online all these years later, due to where online technology was during his tenure.

Miami won out after that 21-7 loss to the Hokies in 1996; Davis earning back some favor with a respectable 9-3 season and his first bowl victory, taking out Virginia in the now-defunct Carquest Bowl, 31-21.

All that was lost a month into the  1997 campaign after the Canes dropped four in a row to Arizona State, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Florida State; fans flying the infamous champs-to-chumps banner high above the Orange Bowl on September 27th, 1997 for the home loss to the Mountaineers—probably wishing they’d saved their efforts for the following weekend at Doak Campbell, where No. 4 Florida State rolled a then 1-3 Miami squad, 47-0.

Butch Davis is a fan-favorite as the architect of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, but his early years at UM were rocky.

The Canes would drop two of their last three—Virginia Tech and Syracuse—en route to a 5-6 season; Miami’s worst since 1979. Understandable due to the program being ravaged by probation, but the way some of those games played out; just plain embarrassing—especially considering Davis saying at the pre-Arizona State game team breakfast, that he expected this squad to compete for a national championship, 1-0 at the time with a lone win over Baylor.

Come 1998, Davis’ Miami squad was 2-3 out the gate—dropping an overtime game to the unranked Hokies, as well as a fourth straight to the Noles, before a hard-fought win at No. 13 West Virginia; the Canes finally showing some signs of life and semblance of becoming a decent football team. Miami rattled off three more to get to 7-2 for a defacto BIG EAST title game at Syracuse, where the Orangemen rolled 66-13. A week later, the program-changing upset of No. 2 UCLA at the Orange Bowl in a make-up game, where the Canes held on for a 49-45 win.

The true step forward came in 1999, where a 9-4 Miami squad upset No. 9 Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic, but dropped close games to No. 2 Penn State, No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Virginia Tech. The improvement was there and the talent was returning—though Davis did suffer another blunderous outing between the Nittany Lions and Seminoles showdowns when the 13-ranked Hurricanes blew a 23-3 third quarter lead on the road against East Carolina, falling 27-23.

Davis’ fingerprints were all over University of Miami football after year six was in the books; ending with an 11-1 season and Sugar Bowl rout of No. 7 Florida that was good enough for a No. 2 ranking in 2000—though subbed for a shot to play No. 1 Oklahoma for a national championship; the Hurricanes most-likely dismantling those Sooners with a bevy of offensive talent and a stout-as-hell defense.

Lost in the Davis narrative and all that “The U Part 2” 30-For-30 glory; just how much Davis struggled out the gate as a first-time head coach—one of many moments show in the Virginia Tech clips above.

Davis suffered through four seasons with Bill Miller as his defensive coordinator; fans ready to run the veteran former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator out of Coral Gables by year two—but Davis stuck with him until the end of 1998, after Miller’s defense surrounded 134 points over the final three games of the season (Syracuse, UCLA and a bowl game against NC State).

Greg Schiano got on board in 1999, bringing an attacking defense more in line with vintage Miami teams and over the next two years the Canes morphed back into a more familiar version of themselves; so good, Schiano parlayed it into a head coaching gig at Rutgers.

Still, it took time and Davis had to suffer through his first three years before the ship began to get righted—probation definitely to blame in 1997—but nothing more than rookie mistakes and uncharted waters his first two seasons trying to learn on the job.

Year one for Diaz is nothing more than a dress rehearsal; learning on the job like so many before him. Next season, a step forward—where things start to take hole and the Canes take a slight step forward.

By year three, almost fully his team and another step forward is expected, while year four the excuses end and Miami has to start looking like a much better version of itself; similar to what Davis did to help his Canes take that step forward in 1999—recruiting having taken hold, coordinator changes made and ‘The U’ making the much-anticipated leap from pretender to contender.

Until then, rookie mistakes will continue—just as they did early on  for one of the greatest this program has ever seen.

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

October 15, 2019

REVISTING SOME ‘ROOKIE MISTAKES’ FROM MIAMI’S BUTCH DAVIS ERA

Despite knowing the result will usually be a train-wreck, I still find myself perusing Canes-themed message boards during football season—which is always dangerous when Miami is going through another rebuild and the losses are piling up. Outside of August through December, beyond easy to disconnect—but in-season, a somewhat normal  way to keep up with everything […]

October 14, 2019

N’KOSI PERRY BUILDS CASE AS MIAMI GRINDS OUT WIN OVER VIRGINIA


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.

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.

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

October 6, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES FALL TO VIRGINIA TECH AFTER LATE RALLY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUT FIRST FOUR GAME IN REARVIEW; SEASON STARTS NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEASON CAN TURN AROUND QUICKLY OVER NEXT FEW WEEKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miami 30, Virginia Tech 19

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

October 5, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES PREPARE FOR VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES


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

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

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

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

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

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

A few standouts from this piece:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 3, 2019

MANNY DIAZ SHOW : BYE WEEK PRE-VIRGINIA TECH BREAKDOWN

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