March 28, 2020

TOP 15 MIAMI HURRICANES GAMES TO REVISIT WHILE QUARANTINED (PART III)

The final installment of our Top 15 Miami Hurricanes Games To Revisit While Quarantined—down to the Top Five.

The last two segments mentioned that we’re living in a world without live sports—and while deep diving some old games won’t soon replace that—these unique times give us more free time than we’re used to, so going all-in on some three-hour rewatches of some epic Miami Hurricanes games might not be the worst thing you do while twiddling those thumbs.

Quick disclaimer; we stuck to past history under the assumption that the newer stuff is still too fresh in the brain. Any classic game over the past five or ten years; a safe assumption it stayed on your DVR for a hot minute—as good moments need to be celebrated more than once when going 97-71 between the 2005 Peach Bowl and 2018 Pinstripe ass-kicking.

For this exercise, we wanted to delve back into games that most haven’t watched in their entirety in almost two decades—so on that note, let’s dive into some vintage Canes.

(Click on the date in each entry to be taken to YouTube for the full version of each Canes’ game.)

#5 — Miami versus Oklahoma — (9/27/86) — Our favorite game of the Miami / Oklahoma 1980’s rivalry. The 1988 Orange Bowl already made the list; the #2 Hurricanes capping the undefeated 1987 season with a take-down of the top-ranked Sooners for a third-consecutive year—with a national title on the line, no less.

Still, even when playing for all the marbles, the game of the series came in 1986 when Oklahoma trekked to South Florida in late September as defending national champs. The Canes took the head-to-head battle in Norman that year, 27-14—but with #2 Miami smoked in the Sugar Bowl by #8 Tennessee, 35-7, while #3 Oklahoma took down #1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl, 25-10—the Sooners were champs.

Watching Oklahoma win a title—after beating them soundly in their house; this game was circled on the calendar for the Hurricanes the minute the 1985 season ended.

1986 would end in misery for Miami with that Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State—leaving the beatdown of Oklahoma as the high point of an incredible season for one of UM’s best team’s in history.

Vinny Testaverde would win the Heisman Trophy, Michael Irvin would become ‘The Playmaker’, Brian Blades would break-out, Melvin Bratton would dominate and Alonzo Highsmith would close out a stellar collegiate career. On defense, Jerome Brown, Daniel Stubbs, Winston Moss, George Mira Jr. and Bennie Blades were a bonafide, tone-setting force.

Pregame was the name of this showdown; from Highsmith and Bratton prank-calling great-white-hope linebacker Brian Bosworth at his hotel in the middle of the night—talking about kicking Oklahoma’s up and down the field—to Miami team captains refusing to shake hands with the Sooners at the coin toss.

Highsmith: “I ain’t scared of you, bitch. Alright now, baby.” 
Moss: “Don’t be scared now, baby.”
Brown: “We’re the boss. We’re the boss.”

Early in the game, a Heisman-reel moment for Testaverde—who scrambled out of a sure loss, shedding four defenders and turning it into a 10-yard gain—and the game’s first score; a pass in traffic to back-up tight end Alfredo Roberts.

Miami led 7-3 at the half—Oklahoma almost tying things up with a dump off to halfback Patrick Collins with :57 remaining in the half, but an ineligible receiver downfield nullified the score and the Sooners had to settle for a 31-yard field goal.

Testaverde would go on to throw for 261 yards and four touchdowns on the day; including two scores in under a minute in the third quarter, the second the result of Miami’s J.C. Penny recovering a fumbled kickoff at the OU 15-yard line.

The back-to-back scored pushed Miami’s lead to, 21-3—the second touchdown, setting up the now-iconic Irvin run into the West End Zone, where he was swallowed up by the first two rows of screaming fans.

Defensively the Canes clamped down on the wishbone offense, as expected—making the Sooners’ one-dimensional. Jamelle Holieway tried to carry the rushing load, as his running backs were snuffed out all day—OU limited to 186 total yards on the ground, forcing Holieway to try and pass—which he wasn’t built to do.

Holieway did hook up with tight end Keith Jackson for a 54-yard score, cutting the Miami lead to 21-10 late in the third—but Testaverde responded with his fourth touchdown pass of the game; a 30-yard strike down the middle to Irvin, pushing the Canes’ lead to, 28-10 entering the final period.

Oklahoma got on the board one final time—Stafford atoning for his earlier fumble, punching it in from two yards out—but after a failed two-point conversion, the score was 28-16, where it remained.

“I said all week I thought we were the best team,” UM head coach Jimmy Johnson stated afterwards. “I just wanted to play and see which team was the best.”

It was Miami. Just like the year before—and the year after, with a title on the line—though neither 1985 or 1987 had the theater and build-up like this 1986 showdown.


#4 — Miami at Florida State — (10/3/87) — What’s better than beating the Seminoles? Doing so in comeback fashion and breaking their hearts when they were already tasting victory. This road showdown had all the drama and was an “instant classic” before ESPN even coined the term.

Year four of the Johnson era, the Hurricanes fell in the national title game the year before and we’re on a mission to win it all in 1987, behind first-year quarterback Steve Walsh, who replaced Testaverde, the Heisman-winner last seen throwing five interceptions in that embarrassing 14-10 loss to the Nittany Lions.

Irvin. Bratton. The Blades Brothers. JB. Personality galore and the face of the Canes—while Florida State was star-studded, as well; Deion Sanders, Sammy Smith and LeRoy Butler, to name a few. When all was said and done, over 60 future NFL player were on the field and sidelines that day.

A then-record 63,000-plus packed Doak Campbell for another one of those Game of the Century-type showdowns—most of which involved these two programs.

Smith set the tone for the Noles, rushing for 187 yards on the day against a stingy Canes’ defense—Florida State sitting on a 19-3 lead with just over 16 minutes remaining.

“I thought we had won,” Bobby Bowden shared in disbelief, after the Canes pulled off the comeback, 26-25.

Walsh found Bratton for a 49-yard touchdown and Blades for the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 19-11 in the waning moments of the third quarter. Florida State looked to add to its lead, but wouldn’t you know it—Derek Schmidt sent his 31-yard attempt wide with 6:17 remaining.

Miami responded—Walsh and Irvin finally connecting for a 26-yard touchdown and after another two-point conversion was good, the Canes tied things up, 19-19.

The play of the game soon followed—Walsh to Irvin again, this time for a 73-yard touchdown. With just over three minutes remaining, the Canes were up 26-19 after the PAT.

To the Noles’ credit, quarterback Danny McManus led an 83-yard scoring drive—hitting Ronald Lewis in the back of the end zone with :42 remaining.

Bowden, who conservatively called Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors, commending him for playing for a tie against #3 Auburn at Neyland Stadium the week prior—was set to kick the PAT, despite Schimidt’s struggles on a windy day in Tallahassee—but was swayed by McManus and kept the offense on the field.

Florida State went for two; McManus missing an opportunity to hit tight end Pat Carter in the flat, in what could’ve been a success conversion—instead throwing late and short into double coverage, where the ball was batted down by Bubba McDowell.

As fun as the game itself was, equally as enjoyable—listening to CBS’s Brent Musburger trying to hide his disdain for the Canes, while double-talking his way through the final moments and praising Bowden and the Noles as they attempted a failed onside kick, recovered by the elder Blades and allowing Walsh to kneel it out.

“I don’t really know how we lost this one. I didn’t think we deserved to lose it,” Bowden said. “We had decided before the game, and I had decided after 1980 when we lost (to Miami) by one (10-9), that I would go for the tie in the same situation, We had the extra-point team in, but I changed my mind. We had missed so many (kicks) today and the wind was really affecting our kicker … If I had to do it over, I’d kick it.”

Oh, if 1987-era Bowden only knew what was coming in 1991, 1992, 2000 and the 2004 Orange Bowl—you’d never have kicked again.

BONUS RANT: Despite Miami winning the 1987 national championship, the Seminoles were the preseason #1 team entering 1988 and the Hurricanes rolled in #6.

Thankfully the football gods had these two foes facing off at the Orange Bowl for the season-opener—with some added inspiration as Florida State rolled out the worst rap video in the history of the genre during summer.

Miami—with two reasons to put little brother in check—did just that, rolling the Noles, 31-0 on national television on September 3rd.


#3 — Miami versus Florida — (9/6/03) — Miami and Florida played annually between 1938 and through 1987—sans 1943, due to World War II—until the Gators took their ball and ran back to Gainesville, cancelling the series due to their SEC schedule.

The teams didn’t meet again until the 2001 Sugar Bowl—which realistically was a better game than this 2003 edition—as so much more was on the line; the #2 Hurricanes inexplicably left out of the national title game due to a BCS number crunch—so egregious, a tweak was made in the off-season regarding head-to-head competition, as Florida State got the 2000 nod to play Oklahoma, despite Miami beating them months prior.

The two-loss, #7 Gators rolled in as SEC Champs—expecting their conference prowess to be the difference-maker against the Canes, who hailed from the Big East. Instead, Miami punched Florida in the mouth and gave it all it could handle in a 37-20 beat-down—not to mention waxing the Gator ass on Bourbon Street the week-of, when players came to blows while out one night.

After Florida State fell to Oklahoma, 13-2—giving the Sooners their first national championship since 1985, even Bowden lamented that the Canes were more-deserving of the bid; Miami fans left to wonder what an offense with Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Jeremy Shockey, James Jackson and Clinton Portis would’ve done to OU’s defense.

The 2002 version of the series was a one-sided blowout; Miami dominating 41-16 at The Swamp—a game that was blown out of the water when the Gators we’re in the red zone, looking to cut into the Canes’ 27-16 lead when Maurice Sikes hauled in a Rex Grossman pass and returned it 99 yards for the score, while Willis McGahee had a breakout day with 204-yard performance.

The win helping springboard Miami to an eventual undefeated regular season, in what should’ve been back-to-back titles, and a win-streak reaching 35 games—if not for a bullshit call and late flag in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.

Stakes weren’t as high in this 2003 showdown; Florida rolling in #18 against #3 Miami—but it was the first time these foes had met in the Orange Bowl since 1984; a 31-4 Canes rout—and the freaks truly came out at night for this epic showdown.

Toss in former Gator quarterback Brock Berlin under center (at least for a half before going shotgun) for the Canes—as well as a monstrous comeback—and there’s a reason this instant classic made the Top 3.

Another game we recommend a full rewatch as this is the quintessential type of showdown where people rely on the highlights—especially with Miami only putting 10 points on the board until the final 19 minutes and Florida turning an early 7-0 deficit into a 33-10 lead.

Devin Hester exploded out the gate with a 97-yard touchdown return—the helmet immediately off as the Orange Bowl went beserk; Canes fans falling into the dangerous trap of being the better team and expecting a rivalry game to be a cinch.

Both sides traded field goals before Ingle Martin hit Carlos Perez last in the first quarter for a 50-yard score—outrunning the Canes’ defense and giving the Gators that, we-can-hang-with-these-guys, underdog-upset belief.

An early-second quarter Berlin fumble was returned for a 34-yard score, by a taunting Keiwan Ratliff and after a 31-yard Matt Leach field goal with :15 remaining—the Gators strutted into the locker room with a 19-10 lead.

Two scores down didn’t leave Miami panicked—though only three points on offense was concerning, as was Berlin being noticeably off in his second career start for the Canes.

One play into the third quarter, one step closer to sounding the alarm as DeShawn Wynn tore off a 65-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, putting Miami into a 26-10 hole. The ensuing drive, Berlin was picked off mid-field by Daryl Dixon—flipping the field before the Canes’ defense forced a punt.

Five plays later, Berlin coughed it up for the second time on the night—Johnny Lamar hauling in at the UM 28-yard line. Chris Leak was in for Martin and hit go-to target Ben Troupe twice for double-digit gains—both on second-and-long—before Ran Carthon punched it in from four yards out, officially pushing the lead to 33-10 with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter.

Florida never scored again—while Miami rattled off 28 unanswered, for as improbable comeback against a most-hated rival.

Berlin went shotgun and drove Miami 76 yards in just over two minutes—capping it off with a 26-yard strike to Kevin Beard, who played out of his mind the rest of the game—followed by a two-point conversion pick-up, Berlin with a shot to Ryan Moore, pulling to 33-18.

Defense returned with some extra spark, forcing a quick, much-needed three-and-out—the late, great Sean Taylor with an acrobatic pull-down from behind on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-1 that Maurice Sikes snuffed out; destroying O.J. Small for a four-yard loss.

Frank Gore ran for a quick six, before Berlin went back to Beard for a 62-yard gain—popped out of bounds at the one-yard line, setting Gore up to punch it in—the drive taking less than a minute off the clock—much to the chagrin of ABC’s Bob Griese; a Canes-hater and stiff since his Dolphins days, audibly drained while having to hype a Miami comeback.

Trailing by eight, the Hurricanes defense again clamped down—Florida coaches sticking with Leak and never going back to Martin—the freshman sacked for a loss of five on 3rd-and-8, giving the hot-handed Miami offense another crack.

Antrel Rolle broke up a second down pass at the sticks and Randy Shannon brought that third down heat; D.J. Williams blitzing and converging with Vince Wilfork, before Jon Vilma sacked Leak—lots of eventual first-round defensive talent on that 3-yard drive.

Berlin again marched the Canes down the field; 70 yards on nine plays—capped by a six-yard trick to Moore—but Miami settled for the PAT after the freshman receiver’s pointless celebratory bow; the Canes trailing, 33-32 with 11:08 remaining.

Florida chewed four minutes off the clock, but were forced to punt after a huge sack on 3rd-and-6—Gavin Dickey hit with an eight-yard loss and Miami taking our on their own 11-yard line after the punt.

From there, the storybook ending Canes will talk about for decades, while the Gators look to forget.

Berlin hooked up with Beard for 25 yards early, found Sinorice Moss for 26 yards the next play and rushed for six yards on a crucial 4th-and-1 with 2:52 left in the game. Four plays later, Gore scampered for the 12-yard score on 3rd-and-5—thought the Canes didn’t hit the two-point conversion and only led by five with 1:44 on the clock.

Leak found Baker for 21 yards and went back to him for 19 more five plays later—but a second-straight look at the 6-foot-3 receiver set up the knockout punch; Al Marshall reading what was coming, pulling down Leak’s first career interception and putting Berlin and the Canes in kneel-down mode with four ticks remaining.

Down goes The Gator … for the sixth-straight time at the hands of the Hurricanes.


#2 — Miami versus Notre Dame — (11/25/89) — When JJ left Miami for Dallas after the 1988 season, he had one three-word message for his Hurricanes; “Beat Notre Dame”.

The year prior, #1 Miami was on the wrong end of a 31-30 showdown between the “Catholics” and the “Convicts” in South Bend; with some home-cooking and controversy as a bogus Cleveland Gary fumble on the goal line, somehow resulted in a Fighting Irish first down on the 20.

A two-point conversion attempt would fall short—putting Miami in that uncomfortable spot Nebraska dealt with in the 1984 Orange Bowl, as well as Florida State in Tallahassee in 1987.

Notre Dame went on to win the national championship, beating #3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, while #2 Miami waxed #6 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, 23-3—putting all eyes on South Florida almost a full year before the 1989 match-up.

Dennis Erickson was Miami’s first-year head coach, immediately understanding the importance of beating the Irish—and rolling into this regular-season finale 10-2 and #7 in the nation; the lone blemish—a 24-10 mid-season loss at Florida State with starting quarterback Craig Erickson injured and true freshman Gino Torretta starting.

Ready as the Hurricanes were as a team, Miami fans were equally as ready to go—making this the loudest game at the Orange Bowl since the Dolphins took down the undefeated Bears on Monday Night Football in 1985; the 81,634 in attendance even eclipsing that of the hometown NFL squad’s biggest night.

Hurricanes’ color-man Don Bailey Jr. said on one of those post-season UM DVDs that had you lit a match in the stadium that night—the whole thing would’ve blown up; that’s how intense the building was as Miami was out for revenge.

The Hurricanes not only dethroned the defending champs that final November weekend—they also ended the Irish’s 23-game win-streak; something Miami had a penchant for in that era.

It also completely shut down the Notre Dame option attack that helped build that streak; rendering Tony Rice useless and ending his Heisman campaign—as well as the Irish’s dreams of repeating as the national champion.

Rice picked up 12 yards on the game’s opening play and it would be his biggest play of the night.

After an early field goal, Craig Erickson hit Dale Dawkins on a 55-yard touchdown strike near the end of the first quarter—avoiding a heavy Irish blitz—pushing Miami’s lead to 10-0.

Notre Dame got inside Miami’s 10-yard line twice; coming away with three measly points—while their lone touchdown was a 49-yard interception return by linebacker Ned Bolcar, tying things up 10-10.

Not to be outdone, Miami linebacker Bernard “Tiger” Clark felt he could jump the tight end—got the green light from assistant defensive coach Tommy Tuberville to do so—and picked off Rice’s late second quarter pass, returning it to the 10-yard line.

The turnover led to a Stephen McGuire punching it in three plays later, giving the Hurricanes momentum and a 17-10 lead heading into the locker room.

Miami received the second half kickoff and held on to the ball a whopping 11 minutes, it what simply was known as “The Drive”; which lasted 22 plays, but realistically should’ve stalled after eight.

Following a penalty the Canes faced a 1st-and-25 from their own 26-yard line when Irish defensive end Eric Jones got to Erickson and tagged him with a 12-yard loss.

The ball knocked loose, Notre Dame end Devon McDonald tried to pick up the loose ball, instead of just falling on it—forgetting it couldn’t be advanced—giving Miami center Bobby Garcia the ability to recover and prevent a disastrous moment.

A McGuire run on 2nd-and-48 put Miami in a 3rd-and-43—leaving commentators to joke about nothing in the playbook for that down-and-distance—when Erickson dropped back and found a streaking Randal Hill down the right sideline for a 44-yard backbreaking pickup.

The Canes kept chipping away, Lou Holtz continued losing his shit—picking every blade of grass on the Notre Dame sideline—as Miami faced a 1st-and-Goal from the six-yard line, before two Leonard Conley runs set up a third-down strike to Dawkins in the back of the end zone for his second score on the night.

Culminating “The Drive” with that touchdowns; the Orange Bowl exploded—the Irish were done; 24-10 with 4:13 remaining in the third and punting back to Miami three minutes later, trotting a worn-out defense back onto the field.

Meanwhile, Miami’s front four—led by Cortez Kennedy and Russell Maryland—continued their domination of Notre Dame.

Rice and the Irish got inside the red zone midway through the fourth quarter, but a fourth down incompletion (short of the sticks) ended the threat—giving Miami the ball back; the Canes marching down the field, setting up a Carlos Huerta 32-yard attempt and officially making it a three-score ball game—27-10—with 1:44 remaining; the remaining moments a formality before the celebration began.

“Miami has done it …. the longest win streak in Notre Dame history is over.”

The last time the Irish were held without a touchdown; two years prior in Miami, when the Canes shut them out, 24-0—making for some stellar post-game comments from a dejected Notre Dame bunch of usual big-mouths.

“This one is going to haunt us the rest of our lives,” said team captain Bolcar. “I hate this damn place.”

Channeling his inner Holtz, linebacker Chris Zorich delivered the following quip: “The only thing I can say is they outplayed us. Outplayed us in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter.”

Meanwhile, first-year Miami head coach Dennis Erickson—who lost his first shot at a rival when falling to Florida State—knew what beating Notre Dame mean for him and this program.

“The greatest win I’ve ever been associated with.”

Six weeks later, #2 Miami would topple #7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while #4 Notre Dame upset #1 Colorado—the Irish ultimately helping the Canes win the program’s third national championship.

#1 — Miami versus Florida State — (10/7/00) — It was a toss-up between this epic win over the Seminoles, or that 1989 revenge-fueled take-down of the Irish, which ranked second—but in the end, this 2000 game against FSU earned top billing.

Witnessed both games in person–and the deciding factor was the fact that this 27-24 thriller showed the world Miami was officially back; on the heels of five years in purgatory while the Hurricanes were on probation and reeling.

Beating the Irish a year after getting robbed in South Bend; absolutely huge—but so was almost everything for the Hurricanes in eighties; Erickson the third head coach in seven seasons to win a national title—doing so in his first year—while UM was winning big game after big game every season.

Between 1986 and 1992, the Hurricanes went 78-6—winning three national championships and playing for five. From 1993 through 1999, a 59-24 record with that mid-nineties probation-era bottom-out.

It was easy for Miami fans to take things for granted when the getting was good; a earned national-title-or-bust mentality every year and a NCAA record 58-home game win-streak (while breaking double-digit win-streaks of foes)—the Canes not losing at home for a decade.

When probation finally hit, no one knew how bad things would get—bottoming out in 1997 with a 5-6 season and 47-0 road loss at Florida State; which planted seeds for what would take place in 2000 and the next five showdowns.

Entering 2000, the Hurricanes and fifth-year head coach Butch Davis were 40-19 during that probation run—and 0-10 combined against Florida State and Virginia Tech. (For context; UM only lost a staggering 17 games between 1983 and 1993—along with those four national championships.)

Similar to 1994, Florida State rolled south to the Orange Bowl as defending champions in 2000—with Miami the underdog, in need of an upset. The Hurricanes were in danger of falling off the map for that 34-20 win all those years ago—but by the turn of the century, Miami had truly become an afterthought. Even the Florida Gators won their first championship in 1996 while the Canes were down and out.

The Hurricanes were finally where they needed to be talent-wise when 2000 rolled around. The 1999 campaign was a sneaky 9-4—Miami taking a step forward after closing the 1998 season with the upset of #2 UCLA.

UM opened the 1999 season with an upset of Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic—but lost a heartbreaker to #2 Penn State two weeks later at home, 27-23—falling on an 80-yard touchdown pass on the heels of a bad fourth down spot when leading 23-20 and looking for a dagger.

The hangover continued a week later for a relocated game against East Carolina; also a 27-23 loss—after leading 23-3 early in the third quarter.

Miami hung tough against #1 Florida State the following week; tied 21-21 at the half in Tallahassee, before ultimately falling, 31-21 to the eventual champ. The final season los came at Blacksburg when Kenny Kelly was injured and true freshman Ken Dorsey was tossed into the fire; a 43-10 setback against #2 Virginia Tech—the Hokies and Michael Vick falling to the Seminoles in the national championship.

Dorsey won the quarterback battle in the 2000 Gator Bowl; outplaying Kelly to the point where the elder statesman chose to pursue baseball, than to battle it out with a sophomore the following spring.

Miami entered the 2000 season #4 in the nation, but got tripped up early-on in a cross-country trek to Seattle—a slow start doing the Hurricanes in against #15 Washington, 34-29—the Huskies going on to finish #3 in the polls that year.

All that to say, everything was on the line when #7 Miami (3-1) welcomed #1 Florida State (5-0) into a sweltering Orange Bowl for that high-noon showdown.

After fumbling the opening kickoff, the Hurricanes defense stepped up—stuffing a fourth down run to get the ball back. The Noles returned the favor a possession later, fumbling a punt return around mid-field—stripped by always-everywhere linebacker Dan Morgan and recovered by Phillip Buchanon.

Dorsey would eventually find a streaking Najeh Davenport down the middle for a 22-yard touchdown, putting the Canes up, 7-0 middle of the first quarter.

Late first quarter, another fourth down stop—Chris Weinke thinking he had tight end Carver Donaldson open on the goal line, but junior safety Ed Reed made up some lost ground, getting a hand on the ball and batting it away for a turnover on downs.

Dorsey went right back to work on second down, finding a streaking Santana Moss for a massive field-flipping game—followed by a dump to tight end Ivan Mercer, followed by an early second quarter punch-in from then-fullback / future-linebacker D.J. Williams. , pushing the lead to 14-0.

Reed single-handed ended another productive drive—picking off Weinke on the goal line. Dorsey immediately went back to Moss for two big gains, putting the Canes in the red zone again—but left settling for a 31-yard Todd Sievers field goal, pushing the lead to an unexpected 17-0.

Weinke again got the Noles in scoring position, but on 3rd-and-Goal from the two-yard line, was baited by a lurking Morgan, who returned the pass 23 yards before getting bumped out with :06 remaining—but protecting the Canes’ lead.

Florida State got back to business in the second half, pulling to within 17-10 by midway through the third quarter—but Dorsey found Reggie Wayne and D.J. Williams and Robert Williams for a few big gains, eventually setting Sievers up to push the lead back to 10.

Matt Munyon whiffed on an early fourth quarter field goal attempt—while Davenport returned the gaffe with a third down fumble—2:14 remaining, after picking up the would-be first down. Florida State had already pulled to within three by this point, pushing momentum back on the side of the defending champs.

Weinke to Atrews Bell for a 29-strike with 1:37 remaining—the Noles with their first lead, 24-20, leaving the sophomore Dorsey to engineer one of those magical Quarterback U-type drives he’d yet to pull off early in his career.

From there, the clouds parted and magic happened.

Dorsey to Moss; out of bounds near midfield. Dorsey to Wayne; a 17-yard pick-up that move the chains and got Miami to the 33-yard line.

Dorsey back to Moss for another clutch pick-up, between two confused and frustrated Noles—followed by a touchdown strike to a then-unknown Jeremy Shockey, who hauled-in the eventual game-winner.

Dorsey, a magical 6-of-7 on the drive—going 68 yards in :51—but leaving enough time on the clock for the Seminoles to get a crack at a tie, instead setting up the iconic Wide Right III, as Munyon pushed the 49-yarder in true Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowery fashion.

The Canes would win out, but get snubbed by the BCS committee—who sent the one-loss Noles to the title game, over the one-loss Canes—which prompted a head-to-head change in the numbers the following year. #3 Miami would go on to beat #7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, while #2 Florida State fell to #1 Oklahoma, 13-2—giving the Sooners a national championship that had the Canes’ name written all over it.

If you missed #15 through #11 or #10 through #6, check them out.


Yesterday we ran the first part of a three-part series; Top 15 Miami Hurricanes Games To Revisit While Quarantined.

Short version regarding the blah-blah-blah that preceded the actual list. We should be knee-deep in NCAA Tournament action high while Hurricanes baseball preps for a weekend series at Duke. Instead, we’re self-quarantining shut-ins, without live sports—understandably—to distract us during the town time.

All that to say, this current bizarro world gives us more free time than most know what to do with—so instead of binge-watching The Office or Breaking Bad series for a tenth time, why not take some three-hour deep dives into some old Miami Hurricanes football classics?

Once live sports returns and we are able to leave our homes again, we’ll be back to an existence where four-minute highlight packages from classic games is all we have time for. Until then, appreciate the experience of reliving yesteryear and some iconic moments all about “The U”.

Disclaimer; we stuck to past history under the assumption that the newer stuff is still too fresh in the brain.

Yes, watching Miami kick the ass off of Notre Dame back in 2017 was a epic night at Hard Rock—but less than three years old. Same to be said for three wins in a row against Florida State—20172018 and 2019—after a seven-game losing streak to those pukes.

For this exercise, we wanted to delve back into games that most haven’t watched in their entirety in almost two decades—so on that note, let’s dive into some vintage Canes.

(Click on the date in each entry to be taken to YouTube for the full version of each Canes’ game.)

 


#10 — Miami versus Florida State — (10/8/94) — For those at the Orange Bowl in early October of 1994, you recall the chatter surrounding Hurricanes football being dead in the water—with the Seminoles the new in-state power. Not only did Florida State win the 1993 national championship and smoke the Canes in Tallahassee, 28-10—Miami went on to also lost three of its previous six games (dating back to the previous November) entering the annual showdown against FSU.

A 58-home game win-streak ended against Washington to weeks prior, while the Canes were skunked 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl and dropped a late season road game at West Virginia, costing then 9-2 UM the Big East title—the Mountaineers heading to the Sugar Bowl for a crack at Florida.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Charlie Ward was gone, but Danny Kanell was the heir apparent, Warrick Dunn was running the ball and No. 3 Florida State was expected to beat No. 3 Miami at home for the first time since 1982. Instead, the Orange Bowl had some of that vintage night game magic—where you could feel that some shit was about to go down.

This was a different era where players had some next-level pride when counted out (while also mailing it in when a title was no longer on the line; like the aforementioned bowl game shutout against Arizona).

Defense was the name of the game for the Hurricanes, behind the likes of Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis, Patrick Riley, Kenard Lang, CJ Richardson and Rohan Marley—who set the tone early. Malcolm X. Pearson picked off Kanell in the end zone on the opening drive, while Frank Costa marched the Canes down the field for a score; a pitch to James Stewart, who scampered in untouched.

Richardson jumped a route a few possessions later, snuffing out Kanell again— Costa to A.C. Tellison setting up ai first down before Stewart pounded in another one on the ground, tying things back up, 14-14.

From there, an 89-yard drive gave the Canes a lead they’d never relinquish—Ryan Collins in for some trickery, dumping it off to Dexter Harris for the score.

Miami’s offense didn’t do much in the second half, settling for two field goals—but Carlos Jones came up with the game’s most-iconic moment in a 24-17 ball game, late in the third quarter—picking off Kanell and returning it 16 yards for a score that had the Orange Bowl rattling like the glorious bucket of bolts it was, breaking Florida State’s spirit. (This game is also the reason Kanell showed such vitriol towards the Hurricanes during his short stint with ESPN; taking pot-shots at Miami any chance he got.)

31-14, the Canes would tack on another field goal, while the Noles never got closer than 14—falling 34-20.

Both teams turned it over five times apiece, but the Canes made the Noles pay in a must-win game that restored order—for a year, at least. No. 3 Miami went on to fall to No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, Dennis Erickson bailed for Seattle, third-choice Butch Davis took over and within nine months of this epic win, the NCAA hammered UM with sanctions and Sports Illustrated called for Miami to shut down the football program.


#9 — Miami versus Oklahoma — (1/1/88 — Orange Bowl) — The third and final meeting between these two powerhouse programs in the 1980’s—each meeting always billed as Game of the Year. Unranked Miami went to Norman in 1985 and toppled No. 1 Oklahoma, 27-14—but lost a crack at a national championship falling to No. 8 Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, 35-7 as the No. 2 team in the land—while the third-ranked Sooners won it all, taking out No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl, 25-10.

The 1986 showdown took place in South Florida; OU the defending champs—undefeated and ranked No. 1—though No. 2 Miami was ready to roll.

Billy Corben and the Rakontur crew did a great job in their 30-For-3o on “The U”, highlighting pre-game antics for this epic showdown; Melvin Bratton prank-calling Sooners’ linebacker Brian Bosworth, while Jerome Brown, Winston Moss and Alonzo Highsmith refused to shake hands at the coin toss—dropping an audible, “I ain’t scared of you, bitch” on national television.

The Canes took care of business, 28-16—handing the Sooners a loss for the second straight year.

Epic as the first two showdowns of the eighties were—nothing could top these two going head-to-head on New Year’s Day 1988 with a national title on the line. Especially for a Miami team that pissed away a shot at the program’s second-ever championship the previous year with a disastrous Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State—taking the luster off a stellar regular season.

This one was billed as the Game of the Century—and lived up to the hype.

Miami’s defense set the tone, forcing Oklahoma to punt on their first five possessions—while the Hurricanes got on the board first; Walsh finding Bratton on a 30-yard hook-up.

The Sooners got on the board in the second quarter, tying things up—but the Canes responded with 10 unanswered, pushing the lead to 17-7 in the third quarter—a 48-yard field goal by Greg Cox and a Walsh to Michael Irvin connection for a 23-yard score. Cox tacked on a 56-yarder in the fourth quarter, pushing the Canes’ lead to 20-7.

Oklahoma pulled a Nebraska with a fumblerooski for a fourth quarter touchdown, pulling to within six with 2:05 remaining—the onside kick recovered by Leonard Conley, but a three-and-out by the Canes gave the Sooners one last shot.

With :56 remaining, starting from their own 23-yard line—back-to-back penalties on Oklahoma pinned them back, before quarterback Charles Thompson was harassed and fumbled away their final shot at a comeback; Miami recovering with :33 remaining—kneeling out the clock en route to a second national title in five years.

Bernard “Tiger” Clark
earned MVP honors; the back-up linebacker registering 14 tackles while calling all the defensive plays and setting the tone for the suspended George Mira Jr..

Oklahoma went an impressive 33-3 between 1985 and 1987. Even more impressive, the fact Miami responsible for all three losses.


#8 — Miami at Michigan — (9/17/88) — The only downfall here is that all versions of this game in existence look like they are underwater. I think I have a better VHS copy that I will attempt to upload to YouTube just so this incredible comeback gets its due.

Miami was the defending national champion going into the 1988 season—this epic road game the Canes’ second showdown of the season, after a bye week and season-opening ass-whipping of “No. 1” Florida State at the Orange Bowl—31-0.

The Noles made their embarrassing rap video, while Miami somehow started the season ranked No. 6—despite a dominant 1987 campaign where it knocked off top-ranked Oklahoma for a title, as well as No. 20 Florida, No. 10 Arkansas (51-7!), No. 4 Florida State, No. 10 Notre Dame (24-0!) and No. 8 South Carolina.

Michigan opened the season with a 19-17 loss to Notre Dame and had top-ranked Miami on the ropes—the Canes a consensus No. 1 after the Florida State pasting—down 30-14 after Michigan went on a 24-0 run from the middle of the second quarter, into the fourth.

The Hurricanes went on to rattle off 17 points in the game’s final 5:23—starting with a seven-yard hook-up between Walsh and Rob Chudzinski. The r-junior quarterback then hit Dale Dawkins for the two-point conversion, cutting the lead to 30-22.

Miami’s defense shut down Michigan on the ensuing possession, with Walsh coming alive and finding Cleveland Gary for a 48-yard rumble towards pay dirt. Johnson went for two, but the Canes came up short and trailed, 30-28 with 2:58 left on the clock.

In classic Hurricanes’ folklore, freshman walk-on kicker Carlos Huerta perfect executed an onside kick—the Wolverines not attacking a ball that was ultimately batted into the hands of safety Bobby Harden.

Gary’s legs got the Canes to the 17-yard line—Johnson electing to play it safe, taking time off the clock and forcing Michigan to burn timeouts—Huerta trotting on to drill a 29 yarder that put Miami up, 31-30 with :43 remaining.


#7 — Miami versus UCLA — (12/5/98) — Timing is everything and so much came together for the Hurricanes in this program-changing showdown that official announced to the world that Miami was back; rising from the ashes of mid-nineties probation.

Originally slated to played September 26th, UCLA found out the game would be cancelled when en-route to LAX to travel to Miami; a precaution as Hurricane Georges took aim at South Florida. Within days, it was determined both teams could play on December 5th; a shared open date after the Canes and Bruins both wrapped their regular seasons (wrapping up a home-and-home from 1995, where Davis lost his first game as UM’s head coach—a 31-8 beatdown by UCLA at the Rose Bowl.)

Miami lost to a home, overtime showdown against Virginia Tech the week prior, fell to Florida State at home in early October and in the regular season finale—with a Big East title on the line—got shellacked by Donovan McNabb and Syracuse, 66-13 in the Carrier Dome.

Meanwhile, UCLA quietly put together an undefeated season up to that point—beating No. 23 Texas, No. 10 Arizona, No. 11 Oregon and taking care of rival Southern California two weeks prior, going into a bye before making the long trek to South Florida.

Sitting at 10-0, UCLA would’ve been title game-bound had they not taken on a 7-3 Miami squad—especially considering how the rest of that fateful December weekend played out; undefeated Kansas State falling to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship—which would’ve set up a UCLA versus Tennessee national championship in the Fiesta Bowl.

Instead, Florida State backdoor their way in with the once-undefeated Bruins and Wildcats out of the mix—the Volunteers going on to win it all.

Miami was as low as low got after that Syracuse loss; but the setback was so one-sided and not heartbreaking—to the point where Davis and his Hurricanes were able to hit reset and start fresh with nothing to lose in this rescheduled showdown.

Knowing Miami wasn’t going to outscore a UCLA team that was averaging 40 points-per-game on offense, Davis just wanted his Hurricanes to hang in there and fight—especially knowing their defense was giving up an average of 407 yards and 25 points-per-game.

“We’re not going to shut down UCLA, they’re too good for that. But we can limit them by staying on the field and wearing them down. You don’t have to get beat just because of their big stats.”

And hang in there Miami did; the Canes unexpectedly leading 21-17 at the intermission—two scores coming behind a huge afternoon by Edgerrin James; tearing off first half touchdown runs of 45 and 10 yards.

UCLA came alive with 21 points unanswered, up 38-21 in the waning moments of the third quarter—before Miami went next-level; Najeh Davenport scampering for a 23-yard score with :10 remaining in the third.

Down 38-28, the “four fingers” tradition went up—in a barely packed Orange Bowl, as few expected a upset on the heels of getting pounded at Syracuse—and the comeback was on.

Early in the fourth, a 71-yard hook-up between Scott Covington and Santana Moss pulled the Canes to within three—but Cade McNown punched it in from a yard out, pushing UCLA’s lead back to 10 with 6:54 remaining.

Covington hit Mondriel Fulcher on a 29-yard touchdown strike in under a minute, narrowing the gap again—while Delvin Brown recovered a questionable fumble by Brad Melsby after a 30-yard gain (hey, what do you know—a bullshit call actually went Miami’s way)—the cough-up the Bruins’ second of the quarter after an earlier punch-out by the late, great Al Blades, that he also recovered.

Convington immediately got back to work—a 14-yard shot to Andre King, followed by a 14-yard dump-off to fullback Nick Williams, ending at the UCLA 1-yard line—setting James up to punch in the eventual game-winner, the Canes taking a 49-45 lead.

McNown and the Bruins got as close as mid-field, before launching a Flutie-esque “Hail Mary” towards the open end zone; the ball tipped and hitting the ground as time expired.

The un-tackleable James finished with 299 yards and three touchdowns on the day, while the Miami offense put up a program-best 689 yards—while surrounding 670; McNown throwing for 513 yards in the loss.

UCLA’s guts ripped out, the Bruins wound up “settling” for the Rose Bowl as Pac-1o Champs—denying the Arizona their first trip to Pasadena; ESPN cameras cutting to some Wildcats players all game, expecting the Bruins to roll and earn a Fiesta berth.

Where this game broke UCLA’s collective back, it put Miami back on the map—the Hurricanes going 9-4 the following season, taking down No. 12 Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic, but losing close ones to No. 2 Penn State and No. 1 Florida State, before a late season wheels-off outing at No. 2 Virginia Tech (the Noles ultimately beating the Hokies for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.)

By 2000, the Canes went 11-1, topping Florida in the Sugar Bowl and in 2001, went undefeated, won the Rose Bowl and claimed the program’s fifth national title—the comeback starting that fateful make-up Saturday in December, three years prior.


#6 — Miami versus Nebraska — (1/2/84 — Orange Bowl)The Miracle In Miami and the night a dynasty was born.

Based on that alone, this game could’ve ranked #1—but knowing how many times its aired over the years on Classic Sports Network, as well as most Hurricanes’ fans having a copy of this one on VHS, dating back to 1984—it gets knocked down a few rungs, due to over saturation.

The 50th edition of this classic bowl game—and No. 4 Miami brought everything it had at No. 1 Nebraska—at the time, said to be the best team in college football history.

As most remember, the Hurricanes started the 1983 season with a 28-3 loss in Gainesville—and prior to that, lost three of its past six games in 1982, en route to a setback 7-4 season. Somehow Miami shook all that off and Howard Schnellenberger delivered an unthinkable national championship his fifth season at UM, as promised.

Miami shutout No. 13 Notre Dame late-September—that 20-0 win enough to push the unranked Canes to No. 15 in the polls—UM continuing their climb by winning as other contenders fell. By a late-October showdown against No. 12 West Virginia, Miami was No. 7 and after the 20-3 victory, up to No. 5.

The Canes eked out a 17-16 win in Tallahassee to end the regular season and six weeks later was pitted against the Cornhuskers—a David versus Goliath-type match-up feeling even more lopsided as Miami trotted out true freshman Bernie Kosar at quarterback.

Meanwhile Nebraska had been a power for years; falling to Clemson in the 1982 Orange Bowl with a national championship on the line and following up with an 11-1 campaign in the 1982 season, taking down No 13 LSU in the 1983 Orange Bowl—making the legendary South Florida stadium a home away from home for Lincoln-based fans.

Between October 1981 and December 1983, Nebraska went 32-2—opening the 1983 season with a 44-6 pounding of No. 4 Penn State in the Kickoff Classic—while averaging 52 points-per-game going into the showdown with the Hurricanes.

The football gods also played their part in this showdown, upsets paving the way for Miami to make history if it could take down a giant. No. 2 Texas fell to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, 10-9—while No. 4 Illinois got whipped 45-9 by unranked UCLA.

No. 3 Auburn looked unimpressive in a 9-7 win over Michigan in the Sugar Bowl—the final announced just as Miami took a 24-17 lead over Nebraska in the third quarter.

The Huskers moved the ball early against the Canes, but Miami snatched back momentum by blocking a field goal attempts. Kosar found Glenn Dennison for two scores and coupled with a 45-yard Jeff Davis field goal, had an unexpected 17-0 lead.

The Canes looked to push that lead to 24-0 after linebacker Jack Fernandez intercepted Turner Gill at the UM 35-yard line; Kosar hooking up with Eddie Brown for  would-be score—but Stanley Shakespeare was hit with an illegal block, taking points off the board.

In vintage fashion, Tom Osborne had two defensive backs switch jerseys to confuse Kosar—Mike McCashland picking the freshman off at the NU 26-yard line. From there, a 12-play, 74-yard drive—capped with some trickery in the form of the fumblerooski on 3rd-and-5—the 19-yard touchdown getting the Huskers on the board. Gill tacked on a 64-yard touchdown run late in the second, cutting Miami’s lead to 17-14.

An early third-quarter Hurricanes’ fumble turned into a Huskers’ field goal, tying the game—but Miami didn’t flinch, putting together touchdown drives of 75 and 73 yards, pushing the lead to 31-17.

Nebraska attempted to cut the lead late in the third quarter, but but Jeff Smith—in for the injured Mike Rozier—fumbled at the 1-yard line after a 40-yard gain and the Hurricanes recovered. Fate stayed on Miami’s side early in the fourth, as well—Rodney Bellinger breaking up a would-be touchdown, followed by Kevin Fagan sacking Gill at the UM 31-yard line. Nebraska settled for a field goal attempt, and missed,

Smith atoned for his earlier mistake, punching it in from a yard out—capping a 74-yard drive with 6:55 remaining—making it a 31-24 ball game.

Davis missed a 42-yard attempt that would’ve given Miami a 10-point cushion—Gill finding Irving Fryar for a big pick-up, leaving the Huskers in business at the Miami 35 with just under two minutes left in the game. Gill went back to Fryar two plays later, but the wide open receiver dropped a sure touchdown—a play so egregious, many wondered if the

Facing a 3rd-and-8 and a quirky incomplete pass call (that looked like a fumble), Gill ran the option on 4th-and-8, pitching last-second to Smith, who ran it in from 24 yards out—Nebraska stealing all momentum.

Also an era where there was no overtime and games could end in a tie, Osborne, to his credit, decided to go for two and the win—opposed to guaranteeing himself a national title with a 12-0-1 record. Instead, Hurricanes history was made.

“What are they doing? I have not see the kicker come onto the field—and I don’t think he’s comin’ on the field. I think they’ve got things going their way and Tom Osborne made this decision a long time ago. I don’t think this situation caught him by surprise. He’s decided to go for two and to take his shot at winning and I commend him for it.”

With a flick of the wrist, Kenny Calhoun got two fingers on Gill’s passing attempt—deflecting it and starting a dynasty.

The Canes recovered the Huskers’ onside kick with :47 remaining, Kosar kneeled twice and this one was in the books—Miami 31, Nebraska 30.

Schellenberger would leave for the USFL in the offseason and Johnson would take the reigns for the next five seasons—but not before a perfect parting shot by UM’s first national champion head coach as NBC’s cameras rolled:

“This has been a love affair that’s been developing for five years. Tonight was the fulfillment of a dream that … I say fulfillment, it might just be the beginning of a dream.”

The beginning of a dream, it was.

Check back tomorrow for games #5 through #1—and double back for #15 through #11 if you missed them.

March 25, 2020

TOP 15 MIAMI HURRICANES GAMES TO REVISIT WHILE QUARANTINED (PART II)

Yesterday we ran the first part of a three-part series; Top 15 Miami Hurricanes Games To Revisit While Quarantined. Short version regarding the blah-blah-blah that preceded the actual list. We should be knee-deep in NCAA Tournament action high while Hurricanes baseball preps for a weekend series at Duke. Instead, we’re self-quarantining shut-ins, without live sports—understandably—to […]


In a world where everyone was expecting to be knee-deep in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, another type of “March Madness” has become all the rage—self-quarantining in effort to flatten the ol’ curve, while hoping to get the Coronavirus under control.

Making this new bizarro world existence even creepier; the fact we’re all forced to take on this down time without the welcomed distraction of live sports. Everything has been cancelled, or postponed indefinitely—making an already strange situation, even stranger.

While nothing can replace the unknown outcome and theatre-like aspect of live competition—it’d be foolish to ignore the treasure trove of old content in existence, as well as the fact we all have more than enough time on our hands to dive back into some classic moments.

Where we’re all prone to pulling up YouTube for a condensed highlight clip and endorphin rush that comes from reliving a classic moment—when was the last time most of us dove into some classic sports footage and watched events in their entirety?

While our normal day-to-day arguably prevents us from spending four hours taking in a full game from a few decades back—this temporary down time is ripe for the experience.

While the Miami Hurricanes haven’t given fans much to boast about over the past decade, or so—no one had a better run in the 80’s, early 90’s or early 00’s. Thanks to some heroes out there who’ve taken the time to convert old footage, while uploading to the Intrawebs—we all can experience and relive some classic Canes moments.

Because live sports and new seasons are the usual, we don’t generally take the time to relive past moments in full—unlike iconic movies, classic books or beloved albums.

While most things related to COVID-19 are a nightmare and inconvenience, the lack of any live sports might not be the worst thing ever—if using the hiatus to deep dive some feel-good history. Below, a list of our Top 15 Miami Hurricanes (football) games to relive during the shut-in.

Disclaimer; we stuck to past history under the assumption that the newer stuff is still too fresh in the brain. Yes, watching Miami kick the ass off of Notre Dame back in 2017 was a epic night at Hard Rock—but less than three years old, we wanted to delve back into games that most haven’t watched in their entirety in almost two decades—so on that note, let’s dive into some vintage Canes.

(Click on the date in each entry to be taken to YouTube for the full version of each Canes’ game.)


#15 — Miami at Boston College (11/10/01)
— The Canes rolled into Chestnut Hill undefeated (7-0) and looking for the program’s first national championship in a decade; and history didn’t disappoint as Boston College again proved to be a tough out at home, despite Miami being the best program in the nation.

Everyone remembers the ending; the Eagles driving late as the Canes clung to a 12-10 lead—off of four field goals due to a brutal, four-interception outing by Ken Dorsey. A late fumble by freshman Frank Gore—subbing in for workhorse Clinton Portis—on a 4th-and-4 was just the spark Boston College needed to come alive; 70 yards standing in the way of dethroning the best team in the nation; less if settling for a game-winning field goal.

When Eagles’ quarterback Brian St. Pierre hit Dedrick Dewalt for a stretched-out 21-yard pick-up on 4th-and-10—Canes fans felt the gut punch and legitimately saw a Rose Bowl-intended season slipping away.

The moment was short-lived as the football gods had their say and St. Pierre’s next slant went off the knee of safety Mike Rumph (who jumped the route), into the hands of defensive end Matt Walters, who was stripped by his own man—Ed Reed—who scampered 80 yards for a score, before Alumni Stadium knew what hit it. Final score, 18-7 and a relived Hurricanes bunch.

Were there better games in 2001? Absolutely. One could easily jump into the Canes first win in Tallahassee since 1991, or a home pasting of Washington as payback for wrecking a perfect season in 2000 and a most-likely a national championship—but there’s something about watching this Boston College scare in its entirety all these years later, knowing the outcome.

It was the Canes biggest scare of the season and the only time Miami really looked mortal—Dorsey struggling on a windy, dreary day in the northeast—and almost pissing away a title shot.

#14 — Miami versus Louisville (10/14/04) — A Thursday night game in an eventual 9-3 season where the Canes had lost some luster from their dominant ways a few years earlier. (Translation; Larry Coker wasn’t recruiting and developing talent like this predecessor Butch Davis, and it showed.)

No. 4 Miami survived and overtime season-opener against Florida State and took care of Louisiana Tech, Houston and Georgia Tech the next three weeks before offensive-minded, No. 20 Louisville and head coach Bobby Petrino headed south.

The Canes’ defense took a step back by this point; greats like Jon Vilma, D.J. Williams, Sean Taylor and Vince Wilfork all departing for the NFL months prior—putting Miami in a position where it’d have to score points and win some shootouts to prevail; something that started on this ESPN Thursday night broadcast.

Brock Berlin hit tight end Greg Olsen in the back of the end zone to strike first midway through the first quarter—but went ice cold after that, falling into a 24-7 halftime hole—while Louisville danced, whooped it up and gave Miami a dose of its own excessive celebration-type medicine.

The Canes opened the second half with a touchdown, while the Cards answered and put Miami back in a 17-point hole. Another score and two field goals pulled the Canes within four with 8:27 remaining—the entire Orange Bowl on pins and needles as Devin Hester was set to field a punt … which he sliced and diced his way through traffic 78 yards for the score, giving Miami it’s first lead of the night.

Par for the course, the Canes’ defense gave up a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive—Brian Brohm in for starter Stefan LeFors—going ahead, 38-34 with 4:17 remaining.

As he was prone to do in his two-year career as starter, Berlin led Miami on a game-winning drive—picking up 26 yards with a 3rd-and-10 strike to Lance Leggett and converting a 4th-and-4 with a five-yard strike to Darnell Jenkins inside the ten-yard line. Gore would punch it in from a yard out—like he did in the earlier comeback against Florida State, as well as a 2003 thriller when hosting Florida.

Brohm got Louisville mid-field before Antrel Rolle hauled in an interception on 3rd-and-10 to seal it, 41-38.

The following week Miami would give up 31 points and 440 yards in a win at North Carolina State—but the defensive struggles would do the Canes a week after that, falling to a a 3-4 North Carolina squad as the No. 3 team in the nation.

The hangover continued as Miami fell to Clemson at home in overtime a week later and ended the regular season with a home stumble to Virginia Tech, with an ACC title and Sugar Bowl berth on the line. The Canes wound up with a crack at Florida in the Peach Bowl and routed the Gators, 27-10—but the true highlight of the 2004 season was that thrilling comeback against Louisville—a hell of a game to watch start to finish.

(Bonus footage; shaky, pre-iPhone camera footage that I shot of Hester’s return against the Cards, which incredibly has over 100K views on YouTube.) 

#13 — Miami versus Penn State (10/31/81 -or- 10/12/91 -or- 10/10/92) — All three showdowns against Penn State were epic in their own right; speedy Miami facing off against a bruising Big Ten powerhouse.

In between the early 80’s meeting and two early 90’s showdown—heartbreak as the top-ranked Hurricanes pissed away a shot at the 1986 national championship; Heisman-winning quarterback Vinny Testaverde coughing up five interceptions in the Fiesta Bowl, en route to a 14-10 upset.

The 1981 victory was special in that it was year three of the Howard Schnellenberger era—the take down of the No. 1 Nittany Lions a building-block moment for a head coach who promised a year five national title and ultimately delivered.

Jim Kelly was under center for the Canes; a junior that had upset No. 19 Penn State in 1979 as a freshman—and ready to lead Miami to victory two years later with more on the line. Miami jumped out to a 17-0 lead, let it slip away in the fourth quarter, but held on to win 17-14 when Fred Marion intercepted an overthrown Todd Blackledge pass with just over a minute remaining.

The 1991 home showdown was a key early-season win, with No.2 Miami hanging in for a 26-20 win over No. 9 Penn State. The Nittany Lions were driving late, before Darryl Spencer intercepted Tony Sacca on fourth down—much like Marion a decade prior— with just over a minute remaining.

Lots of on-brand, big-play Canes action in this one—an 80-yard touchdown from Horace Copeland and a 91-yard punt return from Kevin Williams—both of which helped Miami survive an 11-penalty, 124-yard setback.

As for the 1992 match-up; amplified even more as it was a road game against the No. 7 team in the nation one week after surviving No. 3 Florida State at home (“Wide Right II”). ABC commentator Keith Jackson said, at the time, that the back-to-back test for Miami the toughest two-game stretch he’d seen in all his years of calling games—the Canes hanging on in both.

A low-scoring affair with Miami ahead 10-7 in the third quarter; Sacca, under pressure from Jessie Armstead, attempted a screen pass that was picked off by Darren Krein and returned for a score.

Sacca pulled the Nittany Lions to three, but Miami held on for the 17-14 win—Penn State with a dead ball personal foul on a punt return in the final minutes—a potential game-winning drive starting from the shadows of their goal post with no timeouts.

Another desperation pass by a Penn State was pulled out of the sky by a Miami defender—this time, Paul White—as the Canes held on for the win.

#12 — Miami versus Texas (1/1/91 — Cotton Bowl) — This wouldn’t be considered a great football game by any on the planet, outside of a University of Miami fan.

Again, another one of those contests that has been talked about over the years because of how it played out—but probably not one that most have sat down and viewed in its entirety in a long while.

Miami felt like it was the best team in the nation by the end of 1990, but had no one to blame but itself for two regular season losses that kept the Hurricanes out of any title game chatter.

In the end, Colorado won the AP and Georgia Tech was tops in the Coaches Poll—the Buffaloes hanging in there for a 10-9 Orange Bowl win over No. 5 Notre Dame, capping off an 11-1-1 season, while the Yellow Jackets finished 11-0-1 with a Citrus Bowl win over No. 19 Nebraska.

Meanwhile, No. 4 Miami took on a one-loss No. 3 Texas team (who fell to Colorado, 29-22 early in the year); the Canes taking a 9-2 record into bowl season, having lost a season opener at BYU, behind eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer—as well as a late-October loss at No. 6 Notre Dame, 29-20.

The Canes closed with five regular season wins–as well as and early season win over No. 2 Florida State—that kept Miami in the Top 5, but on the outside looking in any way the bowl games played out. Knowing that, the Canes took all their frustration out on the Longhorns and a very bias, pro-Texas crowd and bowl week experience—starting with the opening kickoff where Robert Bailey said he was going to knock out the returner, and did.

Miami took a 19-3 lead into halftime, but blew things open in the third quarter—linebacker Darrin Smith with a 34-yard interception return for score, followed by a 48-yard strike from Craig Erickson to Randal Hill, which led to an infamous end zone tunnel, six-shooter dance as the Canes went up 33-3.

Leonard Conley tore off a late 26-yard run early in the fourth, putting the Canes up, 46-3—in a game where Miami set both a Cotton Bowl and school record with 15 penalties (for 202 yards), most of which were for unsportsmanlike conduct. As a result, the NCAA cracked down on excessive celebration—“The Miami Rule”—that off-season, resulting in the now-common 15-yard penalty, should a player even think about having fun after a big play.

#11 — Miami versus Alabama (1/1/90 — Sugar Bowl) — One of two national championships Miami captured on the road, instead of the home confines of the Orange Bowl—the other being the 2002 Rose Bowl and the Hurricanes’ last title.

Also a cool throwback to an era where a national title wasn’t usually a No. 1 versus No. 2 match-up.

No. 2 Miami took on No. 7 Alabama in New Orleans, while No. 4 Notre Dame played No. 1 Colorado in Miami—the Hurricanes learning during their game with the Crimson Tide that the Fighting Irish had knocked off the undefeated Buffaloes, 21-6 in the Orange Bowl—meaning that UM would claim it’s third national title in seven seasons with a Sugar Bowl victory.  (No. 3 Michigan, also in the conversation—was promptly removed after a 17-10 loss to No. 12 Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.)

Stephen McGuire got Miami on the board late in the first quarter, giving the Canes a 7-0 lead—but Alabama quickly responded and tied things up. Erickson found Wesley Carroll for an 18-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive, followed by a Crimson Tide field goal. Alex Johnson punched in a late second quarter touchdown, pushing the Canes’ lead to 20-10, but a Bama score just before the half pulled them to within three.

The third quarter was quiet, outside of an 11-yard Rob Chudzinski touchdown—and Miami looked to put things out of reach with a Randy Bethel 12-yard haul in early fourth—the Canes lead extended to, 33-17.

Alabama went down swinging, finally getting on the board in the second half with a late touchdown and two-point conversion with 2:53 remaining—but Johnson hauled in a well-placed onside kick—allowing the Hurricanes to run out the clock for a 33-25 win.

Notre Dame was a one-loss squad that knocked off No. 1 Colorado—but that loss was a 27-10 beat down at the hands of No. 7 Miami at the Orange Bowl, ending the regular season; the Canes’ lone loss, late October in Tallahassee with Erickson sidelined due to injury and true freshman Gino Torretta under center for the 24-10 upset.

In the end, Miami was the unanimous No. 1—followed by Notre Dame, Florida State, Colorado and Tennessee.

Check back tomorrow for games #10 through #6 and later this week for #5 through #1.

March 23, 2020

TOP 15 MIAMI HURRICANES GAMES TO REVISIT WHILE QUARANTINED (PART I)

In a world where everyone was expecting to be knee-deep in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, another type of “March Madness” has become all the rage—self-quarantining in effort to flatten the ol’ curve, while hoping to get the Coronavirus under control. Making this new bizarro world existence even creepier; the fact we’re all forced to […]

February 13, 2020

HURRICANES ARE AGAIN OFF-SEASON KINGS; NOW WHAT?


After a three-game skid and 6-7 finish to last season, there has been little good to say about the Miami Hurricanes and a once-proud football program wallowing in mediocrity for a decade and a half.

No mincing words; year one was a complete and utter disaster for Manny Diaz at the University of Miami—on every level. It’s impossible to sugarcoat anything about a losing season; especially the fashion and manner in which the Hurricanes reinvented ways to the shit the bed.

Thrice losing as a two-touchdown favorite; the first time this embarrassing feat had been accomplished in a season in almost four decades—as well as the who, why and how regarding a three-game skid to end the season; Miami shown-up by a cross-town commuter college, a basketball school and the third-best football team in the Bayou State.

It was a worst-case scenario that quickly became a reality—on the heels of the Canes seemingly turning the corner with a late comeback at Pittsburgh, a convincing win in Tallahassee and a Senior Day rout of Louisville.

Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”—and unfortunately for Diaz, he’d been spittin’ chiclets since his catching that 0-2 uppercut that launched his inaugural season. The result; rock bottom. Deja vu all over again, yet different as this program has been punch-drunk for way too long.

None of this what anyone prepared for year one after last year’s Transfer Portal heist, an Alabama assistant taking over an anemic offense, Diaz’s swag-a-licious social media game—as well as that whole yacht-to-a-booster-event thing—but let’s be honest; that’s on the buyer’s naivete, not the salesman’s pitch.

WHO’S THE FOOL WHEN FOOLISHLY BUYING FOOL’S GOLD?

Anyone delusional enough to call for 12-0 last fall—as well as expecting to roll Florida in the opener, while begging for a crack at Clemson and treating the Coastal like it was a gimme—those rubes deserve everything they got last fall, and then some.

Diaz was Miami’s fifth hire in 14 seasons; taking over a program 16 years into it’s move to the ACC, with nothing more than one lowly divisional title, after being poached from the Big East to bring more football cred to the basketball conference.

Those stuck in yesteryear can bitch-moan-and-complain about the expectation level; it doesn’t change the fact these Hurricanes are 97-71 dating back to that Peach Bowl ass-kicking—40-3—courtesy of LSU back in 2005, and a 35-3 massacre in the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl. It was a Brooklyn-beatdown so bad, veteran head coach Mark Richt called it a career within 24 hours of Wisconsin owning Miami a second post-season in a row.

Richt survived a decade in the SEC, dealing with pent-up Georgia fans itching for their first championship since 1980; yet not one  title game appearance—yet three seasons in that Coral Gables meat-grinder; an instantaneous decision that retirement sounded more optimum than a fourth go-around at rebuilding The U.

Miami hasn’t had a next-level quarterback since the 2004 season; D’Eriq King’s addition can’t be understated.

ALL THESE RECENT MOVES, NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP

One year in Diaz just might’ve gotten the worst out of the way—courtesy of the type of humiliating debut that forces fast change. Even the most-stubborn leader couldn’t double-down on what he just witnessed out the gate; his hand immediately forced.

When one can officially get past the Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech debacles—it’s easier to fall into that blessing-in-disguise place, as the past six weeks Diaz has been aces with literally every move he’s made; all made possible by the horrific nature in how year one played out.

Going back to the final week of last December, the following has occurred for Miami, just after that post-season shutout in Shreveport was in the books:

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos was “relieved of his duties”; the news leaking before the the bowl game even kicked off. 9-4 and winning out arguably would’ve staved off that execution, but it’d have been a ruse of a season, as Enos was off-brand and not wired for the Miami job from the get-go. This had to be done and it was; the former Alabama assistant not even lasting a full calendar year at UM.

A byproduct of this move also sent offensive line coach Butch Barry packing, as well—Barry with ties to Enos from their Central Michigan days, and equally as useless, as the only thing worse than Miami’s quarterbacks room in 2019 was anything having to do with an offensive line looked as terrible in December as it did late August.

Any preconceived notions about what Diaz thought Miami’s offense could and should look like; shattered by Enos’ incompetence—to the point where the spread offense was finally welcomed at UM and a guy with a strong acumen for running it was hired in SMU’s Rhett Lashlee.

Losing seasons don’t often produce great hires, but Diaz appears to have landed a good one in Lashlee; whose stock went up even more the moment his presence helped Miami reel in Houston quarterback D’Eriq King as a one-year transfer—far and away the top Portal quarterback option this cycle.

In an off-season where it was reported the Hurricanes’ three gunslingers got lost in a THC-induced fog—the entire dynamic was flipped on its ear when UM landed King; to the point last year’s starter Jarren Williams bolted for the Portal, while N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell quietly became afterthoughts; No. 5 most-likely the back-up, while No. 18 will probably move to wide receiver for good.

While the mere mention of Martell will prompt chatter about Diaz’s off-season efforts in 2019 not yielding the intended efforts—if one is deluded to the point they see the move as nothing more than just “bringing on another quarterback”—opposed to the difference between an inexperienced kid with potential, versus a bonafide Heisman candidate; again, there’s no fixing stupid.

Hardly a stretch if one were to say Miami literally lost three games last season by way of the kicking game—Florida, North Carolina and Georgia Tech fast come to mind—leaving the name Bubba Baxa painfully carved into UM folklore; payback for all those years of trashing FSU kickers.

In a welcomed twist of fate, the same Jose Borregales who played a part in FIU upsetting Miami—he’s now a Hurricane and an immediate upgrade to one of UM’s most-troubled positions.Toss in the addition of Temple defensive end Quincy Roche as an immediate starter, as well as last year’s west coast transfers—Jaelan Phillips and Bubba Bolden—this Canes’ defense is primed to be a feisty bunch come fall.

Lots of early-year chatter about Alonzo Highsmith returning to his alma mater; a name that sounded ideal out the gate, but less feasible when picturing a 54-year old with eight years of NFL experience, working towards a GM-type role—taking a step back into an assistant athletic director-type position which has become en vogue in college football, as the head coaching position has become a bigger beast.

The knee-jerk go-to—present company included; a dig that neither Diaz or Miami’s admin wanted an alpha-type dog in the position. The notion was quickly dispelled when former safety Ed Reed was brought home in a Chief of Staff role.

The most-jaded were quick to call the Reed hire a PR move; funny, as this same contingent roasts UM for “not caring about football”. If the latter is true, why bother with making moves to appease the fan base—and when has Miami’s athletic department ever proven PR-savvy?

Fact remains, Reed is as much an alpha as Highsmith—and the the Hall of Fame safety wouldn’t have returned to his alma mater for a fluff role.

Yes, the 41-year old will answer to Diaz, per the org chart, but Reed already has a finger on the pulse—much like Highsmith did when discussing UM—especially in regards to the ongoing theme of a broken culture.

“It’s not a complicated thing,” Reed shared soon after his hiring. “These kids just have to humble themselves … The problem is the people they are surrounding themselves with are the people who are giving them the glory when they haven’t done anything … It’s about being with your teammates and having that accountability. I am not telling you not have fun, because we did have a lot if fun—but we did it together.”

Regarding the job itself, Reed will serve in an advisory role to Diaz—involved in strategic planning, quality control, operations, player evaluations and their development—as well as team building, student-athlete mentorship and recruiting, “as permissible under NCAA rules”.

It will take a few years to truly measure the effects of the Reed hire and the overall impact it has on the program, but in an era where lots of college football programs are adding a position like this—it’s hard to have anything negative to say about the return of an all-time Hurricanes great, as well as the de facto head coach of the 2001 national champs.

Wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield was poached by Penn State weeks back, which no one seemed to care about, as Miami’s wide receiving corps was a mixed bag in 2019 under the first-year position coach.The departure proved to be addition by subtraction for the Hurricanes when Diaz replaced him with veteran Rob Likens; last seen as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator—but with a strong resume across the board.

Likens pent seven years under Sonny Dykes; a proponent of the Air Raid offense, which fits the mold regarding the staff Diaz wanted to hire with this move to the spread.

Last, but hardly least—a National Signing Day surprise with the last-minute addition of 4-Star safety Avantae Williams to the 2020 class. Williams was a former Canes verbal commit a ways back and appeared to be a full-blown Gators lock, before a change of heart and arguably one of the biggest surprises that first Wednesday of February.

Williams was ultimately the highest-ranked player of the class; the top safety in the nation, according to some—and the move itself vaulted Miami from the 18th-ranked class, to 13th—as well as second-best in the ACC, only behind Clemson.The Canes also benefitted from a coaching change at Washington State, nabbing wide receiver Keyshawn Smith late in the process, after Mike Leach left the Cougars for Mississippi State—as well as picking up cornerback Isaiah Dunson days before NSD.

Combined with the addition of the top running backs in Dade and Broward County—Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton, respectively—as well as Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback, Jalen Rivers on the offensive line and a defensive line trio including Chantz Williams, Quentin Williams and Elijah Roberts—it was a hell of a haul, considering 6-7 and the way Miami faded down the stretch.

Anyone who thinks Ed Reed retuned to ‘The U’ in a lackey-type role—they simply don’t know Ed Reed.

SIX WEEKS OF CHANGE; THE REMEDY?

When taking full stock in the past month and a half, it’s impossible to not praise the efforts of Diaz and the moves that have been made. Things felt beyond dismal as 2019 came to a close—to the point where most already had an understandable stick-a-fork-in-2020 approach to year two and were counting the minutes until the newbie head coach would be fired.

Instead, a handful of moves that not only can breathe life into this stagnant program—but can serve as a true jumpstart that turns things around rather quickly.

The work still has to be done—and yes, there were some off-season moves made this time last year that didn’t translate to wins in fall—but again, even on-paper, the upgrades were nowhere near as impressive as this latest haul.

Also in Diaz’s and Miami’s favor; the softest schedule the Hurricanes have seen in a good while—unlike 2021, where the Hurricanes open the season against Alabama. This coming season, the opposite as Miami starts off against Temple, Wagner and University of Alabama-Birmingham—all at home.

WEAK 2020 SCHEDULE COMES AT IDEAL TIME

The first road trip takes place late September when Miami heads to East Lansing to take on a Michigan State program that’s been in a downward spiral for years—and just experienced head coaching change, which should play to the Hurricanes’ favor.

Pittsburgh at home, at Wake Forest a few days later and then North Carolina in Miami—a much easier out than facing the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The Canes head to Virginia on Halloween; Charlottesville always a tough spot—but without Bryce Perkins under center, the Cavaliers are also in rebuild-mode on some level.

Florida State treks south early November, Miami heads to Virginia Tech the following week and close the regular season with a road trip to Georgia Tech, before taking on Duke in the home finale.

Hardly a Murder’s Row schedule for the Hurricanes—and one that affords some early breathing room for King, Lashlee, Justice and a revamped offensive line to get their footing—opposed to opening with a Florida (2019) or LSU (2018), getting tagged in the nose and struggling to regain composure.

September is a lifetime away and the next measuring stick for the Hurricanes will be spring football, where the goal is for Greentree to continue morphing back into that place that breeds competition and brings out the best in Miami kids.

From there, summertime—when coaches are hands-off, but players must take on a leadership role and guys need to self-motivate out of nothing more than a desire to be the best—which is what championship programs do.

FIND IDENTITY; EMULATE OTHERS WHO GET IT DONE

A prime example; Clemson players adopted an in-season, team-wide social media hiatus years back—and it remains in place as the Tigers continue chasing titles. Meanwhile, Miami has literally had to discipline players for social media conduct and has to many me-first guys posting individual moments of glory to the platforms from games the Hurricanes lost as a team.

Clemson is now 101-12 since adopting this player-driven social media policy—”We don’t have time to be on social media, to be honest—so it’s no big deal,” senior defensive end Austin Bryant shared a week prior to the 2018 season, where the Tigers went 15-0 and won the national title—so safe to say, it has merit.

Champions don’t become champions overnight, nor are high-caliber coaches all winners out the gate; Dabo Swinney having his struggles early on in Clemson, before finding his footing, creating his team’s identity and becoming the top-tier guy today.

The road to success is always paved with failures; but it’s those setback moments where growth occurs. Diaz and his Canes certainly stumbled out the gate—but many of those potholes got smoothed over this off-season, giving reason for optimism in 2020 and a logical, legitimate step forward year two for Miami’s homegrown head coach.

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


This started out a recap on Miami’s recent face-plant at Duke, before quickly realizing no one needed a breakdown of a throwaway game that barely 15,000 spectators even witnessed in-person.

If the Hurricanes played the Blue Devils in late November, getting outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter and falling 27-17—and no one was there to see it—did it even really happen? (Unfortunately, yes—it did.) 

For any willing to waste their time seeking out the *why* or *how* of that disastrous outing—just re-read anything written about Miami’s disturbing loss to Florida International the week prior, as it’s all the same nonsense. The Canes again showed up flat, played down to the level of competition and fell to an inferior opponent that it should’ve run out of the stadium—followed by some coach speak about how this type of sub-par football needs correcting.

Rinse, wash, repeat—as the misery continues.

All of this failure obviously falls on first-year, first-time head coach Manny Diaz—who went through the ringer this fall, by way of an up and down season that couldn’t have ended with a bigger, uglier thud than what was on display these final two weeks—getting embarrassed by a commuter college and basketball school, no less.

Diaz seems to have somewhat diagnosed the Hurricanes’ problems—breaking down and identifying things in his sadder-by-the-week post-game pressers—but has made zero headway in correcting any of these glaring issues. Miami managed to show up flat in all three post-bye week games this fall, as well as Duke—despite Diaz inexplicably praising his team’s “effort” in shell-shocked fashion in the bowels of Wallace Wade Stadium last Saturday evening; after stating post-FIU that the Hurricanes were fortunate to have the game against the Blue Devils to right the ship.

Miami has also fallen thrice this season as double-digit favorites; something that hasn’t happened in college football in over four decades; UM’s 15-year decent into irrelevance reaching yet another low. Nice work, fellas.

INABILITY TO RESPOND TO ADVERSITY REACHES NEW LOW

This program felt like it was at least starting to turn a corner with earlier wins at Pittsburgh and Florida State—as well as that rout of Louisville and solid offensive performance in the home regular-season finale. The Hurricanes handled three average opponents, with a chance to close strong by way of a five-game win streak—something that could’ve at least taken a little bit of the sting off of early-season losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

Instead, by Diaz’s own admission, his players viewed that three-game win-streak as some back-on-track accomplishment—allowing the Canes to drop their guard and mailing it in for their two final showings.

Call it what it is; Miami thought a lackadaisical effort was more than enough against a Florida International squad it felt it could out-talent—and even in the wake of that loss, still didn’t roll into Duke pissed off; bringing that same low energy against a team ripe for a knockout blow, riding a five-game losing streak into their home finale.

“That effort was about pride,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said post game. “I watched our defensive front literally twist, scratch, claw, anything they could to rush that quarterback. I watched our offense never say die.”

The Blue Devils hadn’t won a football game since October 12th (when they beat lowly Georgia Tech by 18 points) yet were still able to muster up the balls and heart to close strong against the Hurricanes—even with a post-season berth off the table as a 5-7 team.

Meanwhile, the bad taste from FIU and what Diaz called one of the darkest night’s in UM’s history—on the hallowed grounds where the Orange Bowl once stood, no less—still wasn’t enough for Miami to show the college football world it could bounce back from sheer embarrassment.

If that ain’t a culture and entitlement problem, then what the hell is?

Unfortunately, Miami’s issues run deeper than most care to admit; a perception problem that should force Diaz, his staff and his players to take a long and hard look in the mirror this off-season—as should many in this fan base who refuse to admit the degree to which the college football landscape has changed; inexplicably feeling the Hurricanes should remain the consistently dominant force it was decades back, yet nothing tangible or logical to back that sentiment up.

QUIT COMPARING PRESENT TO PAST CANES’ GLORY

Weeks back, I deep-dove the $200M investment the University of Georgia made into it’s football program—the majority of it coming from alumni donations, that will never be a reality at a small, private school like the University of Miami—with a fan base made up of mostly non-alum that don’t write checks—but will donate towards flying angst-fueled banners or putting up disgruntled billboards, treating UM more like a pro sports franchise than one’s beloved alma mater.

Fact remains, the Canes gamed the system decades back—bringing a level of speed and athleticism to the sport, before others had caught up or college football became the big time, big money machine it is today; one where UM is still looking for consistency and a way to compete, built on some unique traits and those few benefits that come from it’s storied history and premium location.

Another ingredient that always made the University of Miami special during its Decade Of Dominance era was that combination of authenticity and full accountability—guys who took pride in building the foundation, up through those who would do everything in their power to maintain that level of excellence; not wanting to be the class that let streaks die, or ones who let down the legends who played before them.

After falling into a 28-0 hole, the Canes rallied against the Hokies—tying the game, 35-35, before ultimately losing, 42-35.

The iconic Alonzo Highsmith—an integral part of the Hurricanes becoming a national power in the first place, and one of the first local greats to stay home to play for Miami—defined swagger back in spring as the following:

“Swag is watching Michael Irvin running routes, wearing a 30-pound weight vest after practice, in like 100-percent humidity. Swag is running hills at Tropical Park are you’ve done all your work with the strength coaches. It’s the whole team showing up tor un in combat boots on the beach. That’s swag. It’s never missing a practice. It’s practicing like every day is your last day. You don’t get swag because of a haircut—or because you pound your chest because someone said you were a 5-Star. Swag is something that is earned. You don’t just give it to somebody.”

Diaz, a student of Hurricanes football—45 years old, growing up in The U‘s heyday and seeing this all the dominance and authentic swag first-hand—knows the difference between a facsimile and the real thing; and there’s little genuine about this present-day Miami program.

While there are a handful of players talking the talk and backing it up, there are still too many pretenders; guys more concerned with sharing personal highlight moments on social media, in games where the Hurricanes were flat-out embarrassed—the same type of guys dancing on the sidelines, like the attention whores they are, instead of doubling down their efforts and being disgusted with this level of mediocrity.

Practicing like every day like is your last day? How many reports were there this fall about bad sessions or guys being checked out after some early losses? Swag earned—when guys are rocking sideline hardware and posing for cameras, while their counterparts are going three-and-out, or letting an opposing offense answer with a score?

While UM was a truly dominant force for a full decade all those years ago—that condensed period between 1986 and 1992 saw this program go an unprecedented 78-6—winning three national championships (1987, 1989, 1991), leaving two on the field (1986, 1992) and having another opportunity stolen (1988). Even that rare two-loss season (1990)—no one doubted that the Canes were the nation’s best by year’s end; simply pissing away a title shot with a season-opening road loss—before rolling into bowl season ranked No. 4, demolishing the third-ranked team in the nation and racking up over 200+ yards in celebration penalties, putting their own personal “F**k you” stamp on what was considered a “disappointing” season.

TODAY’S CANES LACKING ESSENCE OF PAST GREATS

Anytime the Hurricanes did stumble back in that era; the response was to always bounce back in dominant fashion—the setback used as fuel, as the old adage held strong; the last team anyone in the country wanted to play was a pissed off Miami squad, on the heels of a loss.

Contrast that to what the Hurricanes have become over the past decade-plus; a mid-tier ACC program that was 97-71 from the embarrassing 2005 Peach Bowl loss, through that 35-3 curb-stomping Wisconsin dropped in the 2018 Pinstripe. Even that lucky-bounce 10-0 start in 2017 was followed by a 7-9 before Diaz was handed the keys after Mark Richt prematurely retired; Richt guilty of two four-game losing streaks over his three seasons in Coral Gables.

In a few bright moments in 2019, Miami showed it could bounce back; responding to the Virginia Tech loss with a takedown of Virginia (fueled as much by the Cavaliers’ red zone incompetence as the Canes’ improved defense)—as well as a hang-tough, grind-it-out win at Pittsburgh days after falling at home to a one-win Georgia Tech squad (the Panthers also with their own red zone woes, though the Canes’ defense certainly proved resilient.)

Still, the bad outweighed the good and any progress went to hell in a handbag when getting out-worked at Duke in pride-less fashion, days after being throughly embarrassed by FIU—both of which immediately put Diaz back at square one and reeling, while waiting to hear what third-tier bowl game Miami will have to try and muster up some excitement for. [Editors Note: As of Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes are officially headed to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA to take on Louisiana Tech on December 26th.]

The only “positive” about 6-6 and heading to a garbage bowl; it leaves Diaz nowhere to hide going into 2020—something already being expressed an unnamed, longtime Board of Trustees member and another “high ranking executive involved in UM’s administration”—as reported by the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson days back.

While no one is forcing Diaz out the door after 6-6, a line in the dirt was drawn regarding where things go from here—expected as UM remains desperate to stop the bleeding in regards to this long-running era of irrelevance.

“Manny better straighten out this mess,” shared the trustee. “He better figure it out, but they’re not getting rid of him after one year”—which in reality, is fair considering how long-running this UM football backslide has been.

DIAZ: ROCK BOTTOM WITH TWO-GAME LOSING STREAK

Had the Canes closed out with a very-doable, five-game win-streak—it would’ve allowed the first-year leader to shape a positive narrative and to sweep some glaring weaknesses under the rug; taking up an 8-4 finish after a 3-4 start, and some proverbial corner turned—one that could’ve led to an Orange Bowl berth.

Instead, those “everything is under review” or “under investigation” comments Diaz made in reference to his team getting embarrassed by FIU—he has no choice by to turn that same scrutiny toward himself and every decision he made since taking over 11 months back.

It’s impossible for Diaz to speak of a “culture problem” or “brokenness” within his program, without admitting what he’s personally done to feed into the underserved cockiness—based on what this program was decades back, or what he hopes it can someday be again—while conveniently ignoring 15 years of mediocrity and pushing an incomplete narrative that things can turn quickly; which seems to be a go-to motivator.

Diaz admits his team has an “inherent arrogance” around it—again, based on this program’s past success, as well a bar that’s been set as a result of the glory years—but quickly followed up with examples of other program’s bottom-out moments and their ascension back to the top, with no tangible explanation of the work, growth or execution that happened in-between to make the rise possible.

Back in spring, it was the example of Miami beating Notre Dame soundly in 2017—derailing their entire season—only to watch the Irish reach the College Football Playoffs the following fall, where they fell to eventual-defending champs, Clemson and finished their season 12-1.

Post-FIU, again, in the wake of an unthinkable loss by Miami standards—Diaz chose this moment to draw a comparison to a front-runner capable of winning it all this season.

“Two years ago, Troy went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU, who right now is the number one team in the country. Things can change, but it needs to change. It has to start with myself and the coaching. We have to do a lot better job of coaching our guys.”

Huh?

The mere mention of these Hurricanes in the same breath as 2019 LSU or 2018 Notre Dame is completely irresponsible and as amateurish as any early-season talk about a then four-loss Miami team being “a handful of plays away from being undefeated”—as some way to soften the blow of a brutal start to the Diaz era.

As the old saying goes, Manolo—if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle. Enough with the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve rhetoric.

Miami whiffed on 29 tackles and was caught napping on a fake punt in an OT loss to a one-win Georgia Tech team, 28-21.

For a head coach so caught up in the analytics, statistics and metrics of this sport—there seems to be a huge disconnect when it comes to language and understanding the important science and psychology of words. Concepts like “if” or “should” can be dangerous when used to justify or explain how close one was to achieving the ultimate goal—only to fall short—yet Diaz leaned on both months back, with a half-assed explanation of what should’ve been expected out of his Hurricanes this fall.

If we get our team competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set, we should be in the mix to go to Charlotte [home of the ACC Championship] every year, starting this year,” Diaz shared at the ACC Kickoff media event back in July.

That statement is as empty and pointless as saying that if Miami scored more points than everyone on their schedule this fall, the should win the national championship.

CANES A CONSTANT DISAPPOINTMENT SINCE JOINING ACC

As Miami’s fifth head coach over the past 14 seasons—not to mention, a Canes history buff well aware that UM has never won an ACC Championship and only has one Coastal Division title in 16 tries—Diaz should be painfully aware that this program hasn’t been “competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set” since the team Butch Davis left behind in the early 2000’s faded away under Larry Coker.

Sure, based on where things were 16 years ago, Miami theoretically should’ve been in the mix to go to Charlotte every year since the championship game was introduced in 2005—hence why the Hurricanes were invited into the ACC to begin with; to help bring more football prestige to a basketball conference—yet over a decade-and-a-half on board, that hasn’t happened.

Diaz called out his team’s “arrogance” after falling to FIU, explaining that, “Our blind spot is where there is an expectation to win.” The shell-shocked coach continued, putting his foot in his mouth, before quickly working to clarifying his official point regarding a standard:

“When things get good around here—and a three-game winning streak shouldn’t be ‘good’—but even that, when the sun does come out here, I think our team picks up on the natural arrogance that we have.”

Outside of it being Diaz’s job to counter that arrogant attitude and to have his team ready for “lesser” competition—he should be working daily and situationally to squash out this undeserved, unwarranted entitlement too many in this program possess.

Instead, the Miami-bred leader fuels it with his own actions—yet can’t understand why there’s a deep-rooted problem with his players. Hindsight is always 20/20, but after stumbling to 6-6 and losing so many games this fall in epic fail fashion—Diaz must now own every move up to this point and learn from them as they get dissected.

It’s easy to be brash when undefeated in spring; a fan base again rallying behind the hope a new coach brings—quickly over Richt after three short years, as the former Georgia head coach ran out of gas quickly after taking over his alma mater—fielding one of the blandest offenses in the history of Hurricanes football.

Diaz was brash out the gate and quintessential Miami; rolling into a booster event on an 88-foot yacht, while delivering a witty Twitter game. There was even that WWE-style, lights and smoke-filled practice event where the new coach was out there with his players, tackling dummies that had “7-6” scrawled across the front—some seemingly cathartic exorcizing of demons and shedding skin, while going into a new era—all of which now ring extremely hollow as the product on the field didn’t deliver and things looked as off as the did a year ago.

DIAZ’S OWN ARROGANCE FUELING UM’S BROKEN CULTURE

Diaz also set and a culture that feeds into players’ arrogance when, for lack of a better term, he allowed the inmates to run the asylum. Troubled wide receiver Jeff Thomas was given a second chance this year, after a late season suspension in 2018, followed by him ultimately leaving the program for Illinois—only to return after Diaz replaced Richt.

Had Thomas thrived upon his return, the move wouldn’t have been questions—the same way Diaz’s pre-season antics would’ve been seen as fresh and inspiring, had the Hurricanes put together a 10-2 type of season and won the Coastal.

Instead, Thomas underachieved, underperformed and found himself suspended for multiple games a second consecutive season—as well as reportedly getting called out in a heated team meeting months back, for being selfish, lazy and ultimately being a detriment to his team—relying on his natural talent and being good, instead of working his ass off to be great.

Transfer quarterback Tate Martell is another personnel-related position that is feeding into this soft-ass culture, where Diaz needs to be taking a harder stance against accountability. Aside from not finding a way to inject the talented prospected into a sluggish offense—there have been two, separate leaves-of-absence over the span of a month for the former Ohio State quarterback the Hurricanes pulled from the Transfer Portal.

While one must be delicate in regards to the realities and hardships of mental health these days, it’s impossible to ignore the narrative social media is painting—one showing Martell as a young guy who might’ve out-kicked his coverage a bit in the dating world, by way of an attention-starved Instagram model (one with 875K followers) and a fun-fueled South Beach-type existence—to a point where football appears secondary and the relationship has caused strife with his own family; by way of a mother taking to Twitter to trash the girlfriend in a public forum.

There are always three sides to every story—yours, mine and the truth—but it’s hard not to feel Diaz sold a little bit of his soul this fall in regards to preferential treatment given to both Thomas and Martell; hoping the receiver and special teams speedster could be a difference-maker, while seemingly hanging in there with the fan-favorite quarterback, as the premise of him transferring out and doing well elsewhere would never get lived down.

Instead, a worst-case scenario as Diaz missed a legitimate opportunity to put his foot down, taking steps towards breaking this culture of entitlement—again, identifying a problem, but unable to fix it—while neither Thomas or Martell had positive impact on a Hurricanes’ team that could’ve easily stumbled to 6-6 without either of them.

Where the ‘Turnover Chain’ sparked the defense in 2017—’Touchdown Rings’ were forced and embarrassing 2019’s 6-6 campaign.

While Miami was getting its teeth kicked in by Florida International and Duke, Martell wasn’t with the team—which didn’t sit well with a few vocal UM greats and past national champions—Brett Romberg and Joaquin Gonzalez—who had a little social media back-and-forth on the subject.

“How many ‘mental days’ do you remember anyone getting? Then appearing in photos smiling and enjoying Thanksgiving holidays with your girlfriend and buddies while you’re teammates are getting throttled on TV for the second week in a row,” Romberg shared with Gonzalez—which prompted the following response from his fellow big-ugly:

“6-6, que mierda—and we are still accommodating people like Tate Martell.’When he is ready, we will be here’ [a reaction to Diaz explanation of the situation]—you kidding me? That s**t would not have gone down back in the day, you are either here or you are not!!”

Even the phrase, The New Miami—which was obviously meant as a long-term goal for what Diaz wants this program to grow into; it was poorly explained and executed—while Diaz played up #TNM on social media with recruits.

Meanwhile, fans chose to ignore 15 years of deep-rooted issues at Miami; coaching turnover, average performances on the field and no tangible steps taken over that span to get UM back on a better trajectory—running with the newly-coined marketing term as some insta-fix; immediately expecting a new attitude and energy on display this fall—some going as far as to call for a 12-0 run, a season-opening victory over Florida, another Coastal Division title and belief (by the truly overzealous) that Miami would be ready for a crack at Clemson.

Cocaine is a hell of a drug, y’all.

Yes, the hope is to get Miami to a place where it’s a consistent divisional favorite—but some tough-guy expectation and talk of some forever-ago standard that hasn’t been upheld since the turn of the century? Especially when this fourth new head coach since 2007 was taking over a program 7-9 since that miracle 10-0 start in 2017, en route to that lone Coastal Division title, before getting rolled by Clemson in the ACC Championship?

CHANGES MUST BE MADE IN 2020; INNOVATE OR DIE

The Current Miami doesn’t need to be reminded of what it’s capable of when it plays at its highest level; it needs to be constantly brought back down to earth regarding how far removed this program has been from that type of success—housebroken like an unruly dog, with it’s nose rubbed in shit until it gets the message.

Each new generation of Hurricanes must create their own legacy and can’t ride the coattails of what other greats have done in years passed—creating said legacy getting harder each passing year Miami doesn’t find its footing and stays irrelevant.

To Diaz’s credit, he and his staff have spent this past week pounding the recruiting trail and looking to lock down the next great generation of Hurricanes—each next class providing hope that they will eventually be the group who started the turnaround.

The early signing period is days out, with National Signing Day under two months away—and while nothing matters until the ink is dry—the getting has been good and UM has picked up some solid commitments from kids who look like future ballers, even the wake of this late-season stumble.

With a new wave Hurricanes set to get on board in 2020, no better time for Diaz to do a hard reset—rethinking the rookie mistakes he made in 2019—while also revisiting his 2017 brainchild, which obviously needs tweaking.

Where the Turnover Chain was a game-changer for Miami—and college football as a whole, two seasons ago—it’s become a distraction as the Hurricanes have stumbled to a troubling 13-15 record since that fast 2017 start.

The beloved Cuban link was a motivational tool it’s inaugural season—the Canes jumping from 67th nationally in turnovers forced in 2016, to 13th in the nation in 2017—but it’s literally become a participation trophy in 2019; players rushing to the sideline to don the hardware and mug for cameras, while an inconsistent offense retakes in the field in a game Miami is en route to losing.

Per the aforementioned Herald piece by Jackson, the jewelry isn’t sitting well with the way it is currently on display.

“The other thing they’re not happy with is the bling shit,” the executive shared, regarding UM’s Board of Trustees members. “The Turnover Chain, the rings, the dancing on the sidelines—you look like an idiot when doing that with a 6-6 team.”

Where the Miami of yesteryear could tell the BoT to shove their sentiments up their ass—as the product on the field backed everything up—the complete opposite is true now; as there’s simply no talking when playing .500 football. Just shut up and get back to work.

Shelving the jewelry long-term would be a bit aggressive; as the jewelry is vintage Magic City—but only when Miami is taking care of business. The fact it’s not; Diaz must take ownership and responsibility for this thing he created—rewriting the rules and fully realizing that fine line between ultimate motivation and a lethal cocktail of self-absorption and self-promotion.

These kids completely missed the point regarding the hardware these past two seasons—while Diaz couldn’t have whiffed more by introducing Touchdown Rings as a reward for 2019, on the heels of last season’s setback and with too many questions regarding how this offense was going to execute and perform.

Lastly, there also needs to be a long, hard look at this current staff when Diaz works towards an off-season epiphany and ways to right the ship. 7-6 wasn’t good enough to carry anyone over from Richt’s offense staff last year—and with that record Miami’s best-case scenario for this season, barring it actually shows up for a meaningless bowl game, how does Diaz deal with his one-year old staff are this disaster of a campaign? 

Dan Enos was poached from Alabama as some “quarterback whisperer”—one Miami paid a reported and unprecedented $1.2M for, no less. A dozen games in, no Hurricane quarterbacks look vastly improved—while the offense has regressed. Enos constantly trying to out-clever the competition, while sticking with a quarterback under center and long-developing run-pass-option plays that don’t get the ball out of guys’ hands quick enough—behind a garbage offensive line.

Similar cases can be made for offensive line coach Butch Barry—whose unit has struggled all fall, while getting knocked technique-wise by former UM lineman—as well as defensive coordinator Blake Baker; so green he needed Diaz’s help midseason when the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles in that overtime loss to a one-win Georgia Tech team.

When stumbling to 6-6 in the fashion Miami did; it’s cause for some serious alarm—and cranks up the heat on a first-year head coach much more than it would’ve had the Canes eked out 8-4 with wins over the Golden Panthers and Blue Devils. While one might struggle to call those two final losses “blessings in disguise”—failure at that level truly leaves Diaz exposed; forced to make some tough decisions this off-season, or to gamble by staying put—which could put him one step closer to pissing away this dream job opportunity.

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.

December 7, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES: STILL DIGESTING DISASTROUS TWO-GAME LOSING STREAK

If there was any belief the Miami Hurricanes had begun to turn a corner after a recent three-game win streak—it immediately went out the window after an unthinkable “road” loss to Florida International on Saturday night at Marlins Park.

After falling behind 16-0 by the third quarter and 23-3 in the fourth, the Hurricanes rallied for three late touchdowns against the Panthers, but ran out of time in a 30-24 loss as crushing for Manny Diaz as it was redeeming for Butch Davis, the one-time UM leader working to shake the “little brother” stigma for his FIU Panthers—which he did for the night, at least.

Despite all the talk of protecting the Canes’ old turf and UM’s over-the-top marketing efforts to play up a return to the hallowed ground where the beloved Orange Bowl once stood—the message and importance of this game was still somehow lost on Diaz’s squad. Miami dropped to 0-3 in games after a bye week this season, while going down in history as the only team over the past four decades to lose thrice in one season as a double-digit favorite; the Panthers a three-touchdown underdog in a game they controlled from the get-go. Congratulations, fellas.

A few miles west, Davis spent the week-of making it painfully important to his team the magnitude of this game—not just to FIU as a program, but to all of these players individually. He played the underdog card carefully—as few if any of these kids were recruited by any major programs—while giving his squad the belief that an upset was within reach.

Ballsy, considering the Golden Panthers had never knocked off a Power 5 school in their limited history—yet executed perfect for a litany of reasons.

Convincing his kids that Miami was beatable; not a tremendous feat when looking at the erratic nature of Diaz’s inconsistent Hurricanes in season one. Aside from the obvious post-bye week struggles, UM showed its hand thrice now regarding playing down to the level of competition—barely eking out a 17-12 win against Central Michigan in late September, rolling in flat weeks later against a one-win Georgia Tech team; lethargically whiffing on 29 tackles in an overtime loss—and now this latest debacle against a third-rate program Miami simply never should’ve lost to.

The Hurricanes bounced back in recent weeks with a come-from-behind win at Pittsburgh and convincing take downs of both Florida State and Louisville—though the latter two were a direct result of better offensive line play that left first-year quarterback Jarren Williams looking like a completely different player, with extra time to go through his reads.

Still, when pressured, Williams has a tendency to revert back to that rattled, inexperienced, redshirt freshman, first-year starter he is—which beyond having his team emotionally ready to go, was Davis’ second leg-up moment of the evening. Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos didn’t get his quarterback comfortable until too little, too late—yet another Hurricanes’ blind spot in 2019.

Down 17-3 in a flash at North Carolina, or in a 28-0 hole to Virginia Tech, aided by three Williams’ interceptions—slow starts have crippled these Hurricanes too often in Diaz’s rookie season, and in both cases, late furious rallies fell short.

Again, one would be remised to think that Davis didn’t also work this UM weakness into his overall game plan—hammering his team to bust out the gates with a quick start, pouncing early and keeping Miami stunned for as long as possible. The Tar Heels and Hokies did it unintentionally, while laying out an unintentional blueprint even more-destined to work for Davis—knowing how lightly the Hurricanes would inevitably take the Golden Panthers.

CULTURAL ISSUES AT MIAMI NOT ONLY REAL, BUT ONGOING

Diaz often brings up a culture issue that long-time, frustrate fans love to scoff at—but it doesn’t make the assessment any less true. Especially when seeing so many of the same problems persisting today that have plagued this program going back a decade-and-a-half, for all four previous head coaches post-Davis.

Miami players tossing snowballs during 33-17 ass-kicking by Irish in 2010 Sun Bowl; this culture has been off for a while.

Pre-game logo stomps at Louisville in 2006, en route to a 31-7 drubbing, a faux-swag brawl against this same FIU program that was a PR disaster for UM and 7-6 season that ended the Larry Coker era—to snowball fights on the sideline at the 2010 Sun Bowl while Notre Dame was kicking Miami’s teeth in 30-3 in the third quarter, barely a month after the four-year Randy Shannon era came to an end—Hurricanes teams have been grossly missing the mark for years now.

New head coach Al Golden watched in late 2010 from a suite in El Paso, unsure of what he was about to take over—something outgoing senior Ryan Hill was quick to sum up in an interview days later.

“The first thing he [Golden] probably has to do is weed out the guys he doesn’t feel will be beneficial to the program,” the departing cornerback shared with the Palm Beach Post. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have to do a lot of maturing in this program. We have a lot of guys that act like little boys, just not doing what they’re supposed to do”—which referred to players openly mocking Shannon, while blatantly ignoring his rules.

Lest not forget this was also the same class duped and caught in the crosshairs of the Nevin Shapiro scandal; guys who ignored Shannon’s warning to stay away from the eventually-shamed Ponzi schemer, with Golden inheriting many of those players while dealing with the fallout of a scandal that didn’t happen on his watch.

Mark Richt might’ve commanded a bit more respect as a long-time SEC head coach taking over the Hurricanes in 2016, but a laid back demeanor and unflappable approach certainly hindered Miami from having a team full of alphas and dogs who played with the kind of balls or bark Davis’ FIU squad brought on Saturday night.

“We wasn’t even calling them ‘University of Miami’ during the week,” linebacker Sage Lewis boasted post-game. “We were calling them ‘University of Coral Gables. We’re the true Miami school.”

Ouch.

It’s one thing to openly mock the five-time national champs privately in practice—but when that attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that one can boast about after delivering the goods and putting “big brother” in check; well that right there is the textbook definition of swag and a page out of vintage-era Miami’s playbook.

If it wasn’t the Hurricanes on the wrong end of this upset, every UM supporter would offer up a resounding, “Now that’s the shit I’m talking about, right there. Those kids looked like vintage Miami.”

Even harder to swallow, the fact that Diaz didn’t see Davis coming—the architect of UM’s last rebuild, who orchestrated a monumental upset on those same Orange Bowl grounds 21 years ago next month, which Diaz the super-fan was more than familiar with as a 24-year old fan playing the role of grad assistant at Florida State, weeks before the Seminoles began preparations for a national championship game they’d lose to Tennessee.

DAVIS PROVED UPSET-CAPABLE 21 YEARS AGO; DIAZ STILL UNPREPARED

While few on Miami’s current roster were even around in 1998, safe to assume all have watched The U Part 2 and it’s ten-minute segment on the Hurricanes’ upset of No. 2 UCLA, one week after getting throttled 66-13 by Syracuse in a Big East Championship game. This was year four of the Davis era and just over one year after the laughable-three-years-later “From Chumps To Champs—Thanks Butch!” banner that sailed over the Orange Bowl in a would-be 5-6 season when probation sent the program to rock bottom.

Per a post-game Sports Illustrated article recapping Miami’s improbable 49-45 upset of the Bruins, Davis broke down the week in-between complete disaster and utter redemption—as well as something he saw that gave him a belief that an upset was more than doable.

Miami toppled No. 2 UCLA behind Edgerrin James’ 299-yard effort and a belief Davis instilled in the Canes days after losing at Syracuse, 66-13.

“This is not just going to be a game of stats,” he told his Canes days after losing to the Orangemen, and prior to taking down the Bruins and their potent offense. “We’re not going to shut down UCLA, they’re too good for that. But we can limit them by staying on the field and wearing them down. You don’t have to get beat just because of their big stats.”

Davis identified a flaw in his opponent; one that reminded him of some legendary NFC showdowns between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers when he was on staff under former UM head coach Jimmy Johnson for a few Super Bowl runs. Davis studied the Bruins offense and saw “a carbon copy of the 49ers that I coached against when I was with the Cowboys”.

“The Niners were a machine against us, ran up all kinds of offensive yardage, punted once the entire game—but we hung in there and beat them,” Davis told Sports Illustrated in the December 14th issue.

Much like FIU did to Miami this past weekend, Davis’ bounce-back Hurricanes tagged the Bruins in the mouth early—eventually taking an unexpected 21-17 halftime lead over a UCLA team that underestimated a battered-and-bruised Miami—much like Diaz’s squad didn’t expect little ol’ FIU to bring the fight it did.

The Canes would fall behind 38-21 late in the third quarter, as the Bruins’ offense was explosive as advertised—but as Davis mentioned, Miami did stay on the field and eventually wore down the west coast visitors on a balmy South Florida afternoon. The Canes went on to outscore the Bruins 21-7 over the final fifteen minutes—while forcing two turnovers that got UM’s offense back on the field against an overmatched defense and by day’s end, the upset was in the books.

That same skills-set that allowed a two-decades younger Davis to identify how to hang in there to take down an unstoppable UCLA squad—those same traits, the on-point scheming and a salesman’s ability to convince a lesser team a monumental undertaking was doable; all on display Saturday night under the same Orange Bowl sky where that other unthinkable upset took place all those years ago.

While celebrating—or even merely tolerating—a loss to Florida International is a monster ask; fact remains this upset is in the books and it can’t be ignored—nor should it be dwelled on, either. Fact remains, Miami got tagged in the mouth and the only answer now is to find a lesson in this while working to move on and grow from it.

CAN’T ERASE OR IGNORE WHAT TOOK PLACE; MUST GROW FROM SETBACK

In reality, once the Hurricanes didn’t roll in with any passion or purpose, nor hellbent on smacking down a lippy cross-town rival—last Saturday night was already “lost”, in a sense. Even eking out a late win in the same sluggish fashion Miami displayed when hanging-on against Central Michigan months back; nothing was obviously learned as these Canes continued dancing with the devil on too many occasions since.

When dealing with yet another first-year head coach and fourth season under a new leader over the past 13 years—sometimes those tough lessons and moments in the valley are what spark growth and change. In this case, it’s up to Diaz to use this as fuel—opposed to his first step towards ultimate failure.

While Miami’s season finale at Duke is meaningless in the division race—just as 7-5 or 6-6 doesn’t make a shit-of-difference regarding bowl game quality—it presents a teachable moment for coaches and players, alike. This staff has all the ammo necessary for a we-told-you-so type moment in regards to preparation and this ongoing cancer of taking opponents lightly, after any modicum of success is achieved.

All that to say, this is more of a learning opportunity moving forward as the 2019 draws to a close and a 2020 campaign is put together—which is where Diaz will take the steps that either seal his fate, or he begins taking steps towards getting this thing turned around.

Lest not forget in the wake of this FIU train-wreck that Davis has a 24-year start on Diaz in the head coaching universe—one where fans wanted to run him off up through the middle of his sixth year, when he made up for a stumble at Washington with his first-ever take down of Florida State. Prior to that, the criticism was deafening and few believed Davis would ever get UM back towards contender status, let alone assembling a champion and the most-talented team in college football history.

They’re called “rookie mistakes” for a reason and one would be hard-pressed to find a quality head coach who didn’t have his early-career stumbles—but it’s how one rebounds from those that separates the contenders from the pretenders.

OFF-SEASON DECISIONS WILL ULTIMATELY SHAPE DIAZ ERA

Diaz showed some huevos when sacking Richt’s entire offensive staff upon taking over in the waning moments of 2018—as 7-6 and the lack of production on that side of the ball wasn’t cutting it. The newly-hired head coach stated last January that he wanted an “offense that creates situations the make defensive players uncomfortable”—yet the only thing uncomfortable this season has been watching Enos operate as if he’s the smartest guy on the field—trying to out-clever the competition, instead of taking what’s right under his nose.

Miami ponied up a reported $1.2M for Enos’ services—unprecedented for a Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator and step in the right direction by the admin—under the guise that Alabama’s “quarterback whisperer” could bring some of his magic south from Tuscaloosa to Coral Gables.

To some, 11 games might not be an optimum sample size—but to others, they feel they’ve seen enough to contend that Enos doesn’t seem to be a solid fit—which is hard to debate as a disappointing 2019 season draw to a close.

I mentioned the concept of  thin-slicing weeks back in regards to Enos; a term used in psychology to describe an ability to find patterns in events based on only “thin slices” or narrow windows of experience—allowing an observer to make quick inferences about something, someone or a situation with minimal amounts of information. Strange as it may seem, thin-slicing has proven to be as accurate, if not more, than judgments based on more information (hence terms like “gut feelings” versus “information overload”.)

With five losses already racked up before Thanksgiving—including this disastrous setback to FIU, after a three-game win-streak felt like a step in the right direction—the Miami-bred Diaz knows good-and-hell-well that the heat is on. That, coupled with the general frustration that comes with a 15-year rut for a once-proud program—there is little time for UM’s 25th head coach to dick around.

In other words, Diaz better thin-slice his way to some hard decisions with his current staff, because he can ill-afford to let guys hopefully grow into their positions—as a slowed-down time table will ultimately cost him his dream job.

Aside from what he must do staff-wise, it’s time for a hard look in the mirror regarding the brash talk on social media, properly defining with The New Miami really means, as well as celebratory hardware that started off as college football’s greatest motivational tool in 2017, yet has not only lost all meaning two years later—but might actually be having an averse effect on this broken culture he’s trying to fix.

DIAZ’S BRASH TALK & SHINY HARDWARE NEED TWEAKING FOR CULTURE-SAKE

Like many of us, Diaz is a parent—so he’s more-than-familiar with the concept of tough love when it comes to child-rearing. A lot of times parents are faced with doing things that hurt us more than our kids—knowing that act itself is part of an evolution and will promote much-needed growth.

What do many parents do when their kids are either taking advantage of something, or not appreciative of a gift or privilege? They take it away in a point-proving moment, use their words to explain why and then offer up the opportunity to earn it back through hard work and proof of a lesson learned—the entire process often proving a growth experience for a guardian, as well.

UM’s “Turnover Chain” had a positive impact in 2017 but the Canes’ hardware has fallen flat with a 13-14 run after a 10-0 start two years back.

Miami is now 37 games into the creation that is the Turnover Chain and 11 into this season’s seemingly-forced Touchdown Rings—which even the biggest supporter of swag and the third-generation Cuban link-holding pendant—felt was a big egregious. When the chain was first introduced in 2017, Miami jumped out to a 10-0 start—and was the story of college football that fall under Richt and Diaz’s blinged-out creation; one that had an immediate-impact on his defense.

The Hurricanes were 67th nationally in turnovers-forced in 2016, but made the leap to 13th in the nation after 2017 was in the books. The positive impact was undeniable then—but the current impact seems to be having averse effect, or at minimum is nothing more than a soulless prop that has become somewhat embarrassing to trot out when the Miami is creating turnovers in losing efforts; now an dismal 13-14 since that exciting start in two years back.

This current era has too many Miami players taking to social media and posting successful, individual moments from losing efforts—armed with some faux motivational quote or lyric about being humble, hungry or starting with nothing, but now getting “here”—as if just suiting up for the Hurricanes and playing sub-par football was ever a destination for anyone whose played for this program.

None of this is to say that Diaz even needs to permanently shelve the hardware, but at minimum—rewrite the rulebook he created and make the Miamiesque bling even more situational; creating a culture where a guy is prone to deny the chain and sacrifice an individual moment of mugging for crowd and sideline cameras—instead rallying his offense to go out there and turn a bonus possession into points.

Honestly, the only thing that would’ve been more embarrassing than actually losing to FIU would’ve been a defensive player posing with that chain after a late turnover when down 23-3, after Williams had already coughed it up three times—even having already seen Miami players dancing on the sideline like In Living Color fly-girls when down 16-0 early third quarter, after a three-and-out and on the heels of the Canes’ third interception.

Just like the art of comedy and being funny—timing is everything, and Miami’s lightheartedness in the face of adversity couldn’t have been more out of place. Aside from revamping the hardware rules, a message needs to be sent in regards to all and any look-at-me guys clowning on the sideline in losing efforts—hoping to trend on social media—while their teammates are getting their teeth kicked in by a commuter school with a roster full of kids UM didn’t even bother recruiting.

TRUE GROWTH COMES OUT OF FAILURE, NOT INITIAL SUCCESS

Saturday’s setback against Florida International was ugly any way it’s sliced or diced, but anyone who’s followed this Miami program diligently over the years is aware that sometimes out of the shit is where the flowers grow.

Davis’ late nineties rebuild; his players’ “enough if enough” moment came in Tallahassee on the wrong end of a 47-0 beating. The Canes survived a double overtime thriller at Boston College the next time the took the field and starting to find themselves from there—upsetting UCLA a short 14 months later.

Johnson stumbled to 8-5 his first season in such fashion that had social media and a 24/7 sports news cycle existed then—he might not have seen year two.

The now-legendary JJ blew a 31-0 halftime lead to Maryland, only to fall to Boston College on “Hail Flutie” in Miami’s next game. Toss in a bowl loss to UCLA in Tempe and an earlier season 38-3 waxing via Florida State at home—St. Jimmy had painted himself into a nasty little corner with the defending national champions; fueling disgruntled fans’ fire, as many wanted defensive coordinator Tom Oliviadottito get the gig over the middle-of-the-road Oklahoma State guy who never beat Nebraska or Oklahoma.

The future-Hall-Of-Famer also dropped the 1985 season-opener to Florida—Miami’s last home loss until falling to Washington in 1994—but finally got his first career win in Norman five weeks later when the unranked Hurricanes knocked off the third-ranked Sooners, 27-14 and ended the regular season with a 58-7 pasting of Notre Dame, before getting brought back down to earth with a 35-7 Sugar Bowl loss to Tennessee.

Undefeated the next regular season, before a fatigue-driven misstep at the Fiesta Bowl and choke against Penn State—Johnson’s Canes adopted an “Unfinished Business” approach for the 1987 season, which led to a year-four championship, against an absolutely brutal schedule—another huge step in Miami solidifying itself at the team of the decade.

While it’s impossible to undo what’s already been done—this setback is most-definitely a teachable moment for these players, while also a case-building opportunity for Diaz to part ways with any on this staff who aren’t aligned with his personal championship-related goals.

The only thing that would make a loss to Florida International worse—not finding a way to use it in a motivational sense, or a building block in Diaz’s attempt to resurrect this Miami program from decade-plus long coma.

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.

November 25, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES BACKSLIDE AGAINST FIU GOES ONE OF TWO WAYS


The Miami Hurricanes passed their final home test of the season, overwhelming the Louisville Cardinals, 52-27 on Senior Day and homecoming at HardRock Stadium.

This was the type of game that the Canes easily could’ve let slip away due to a slew of reasons—but none bigger than showing up unprepared and not bringing the fight; which thankfully hasn’t been the case the majority of this inaugural season for Manny Diaz and staff. Even in early losses to Florida, North Carolina and Virginia Tech—Miami played scrappy, overcame early error and was in position to win all three games late, before ultimately not getting it done.

To Louisville’s credit, it brought the fight, as well—496 yards on the day, while dominating time of possession—but three turnovers, sloppy-as-hell play (14 penalties for 121 yards) and an inability to stop Miami’s offense, ultimately led to the 31-point blowout.

MIAMI OFFENSE ROLLED ALL DAY; CANES’ D LIMITED CARDS

Early on, it appeared nobody was going to stop anybody; the Canes marching 92 yards on its opening drive—highlighted by a 41 yard hook-up from Jarren Williams to Mike Harley; low-lighted by back-to-back face-mask penalties on the Cardinals that set DeeJay Dallas up for any easy five-yard punch-in on 1st-and-Goal.

Louisville answered with an 80-yard strike to speedster Tutu Atwell; the former Miami Northwestern product shining early back home in front of the local crowd, tying things back up—despite some early self-implosion from the Cards.

If there was any oh-shit-type-feeling that Miami was in for a shootout and questions about the offense bringing it, they were quickly answered when Williams went back to Dee Wiggins on a 67-yard touchdown strike on first down—a play similar to last weekend’s dagger in Tallahassee; the 56-yard early fourth quarter strike that pushed the Canes’ lead over the Noles to, 24-10.

Special teams delivered for Miami, as well—K.J. Osborn helping flip the field in the return game, while Al Blades Jr. partially blocked a punt—both leading to short fields and quick scores—which was ultimately the theme of the day; the Hurricanes showing up in “all three phases of the game”, which coaches especially love to go on about in the wake of a lopsided win.

Diaz touched on this, as well as what finally sparked a turnaround after a slow start to the season.

“The best part is the players get it. They know it is all about their accountability and connections to one another. It is in the little things. We see it in practice. It is like parenting a child. At some point they have to learn and they have to mature,” Diaz explained post-game.

“We have a very young football team. We did not honor very many seniors. We have some young guys that are maturing and starting to get it and they recognize what wins. That has been the most encouraging part.”

CANES TURNED A CORNER AT PITT; HAVEN’T FLINCHED SINCE

After a loss to Virginia Tech, followed by a gritty win over Virginia, only to backslide with an inexplicable loss to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—this season was in disarray, leaving many to openly wonder when these aforementioned young guys were going to mature, get it or recognize what wins. Thankfully that flip soon switched.

The same DJ Ivey that was caught slipping on two plays against the Yellow Jackets that directly cost the Canes 14 points—strutted into Pittsburgh the following week and hauled in game-changing interceptions in a 16-12 slug-fest that Miami pulled out. That road game against the Panthers is also where the season changed at quarterback, with Williams re-entering for a ceiling-hitting N’Kosi Perry, tossing the game-winning touchdown to Osborn; a 32-yard strike with under a minute remaining—Williams coming in cold and delivering.

Where Miami looked like it might’ve turned a corner that Friday night against the Cavaliers, it took two more weeks for things to finally come together—setting the stage for that “perfect storm” moment in Tallahassee the first weekend of November. Florida State’s rough season aside, Miami finally put together what was its most-perfect performance to date; improved offensive line play, Williams hitting the deep ball and a spirited defensive performance—highlight by Greg Rousseau, the one-man wrecking crew.

The Canes took another step forward against the Seminoles, showing they could handle not just adversity, but prosperity—winning a key rivalry game and coming in hot off the comeback at Pittsburgh, opposed to flat, like it did against lowly Georgia Tech days after topping Virginia.

This win over Louisville—again, not a perfect outing—was another big moment for this rebuilding-type season under a first-year head coach. The Cardinals aren’t world-beaters, coming off a 2-10 run last fall that saw the second coming of the Bobby Petrino era coming to an end late in year five.

POTENTIAL TO GET ‘OUT-COACHED’, DIAZ & CREW CAME WITH A PLAN

Scott Satterfield was tossed the keys in the off-season—after a successful five-year stint at Appalachian State, where he won the Sun Belt Conference title three years in a row. A combined 29-9 record over that successful run and known as one of the more-successful, on-the-rise offensive minds in the game, Satterfield had an immediate impact at Louisville his inaugural season—bringing a 5-3 record to HardRock this past weekend; those three losses coming against Notre Dame, at Florida State and Clemson.

Based on recent history and Hurricanes’ muscle memory; it was hardly a stretch to think Miami might not roll in prepared against Louisville. Despite some solid defensive play by Diaz’s squad the past few weeks, the Cardinals’ offense was averaging just over 444 yards-per-game going into this showdown—meaning this wasn’t the week the Canes could afford to struggle moving the ball—and they didn’t.

Five of six offensive possessions in the first half, Miami scored touchdowns—only punting once, with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter, after an incompletion on 3rd-and-7. Leading 28-14 at the time, the defense forced a quick three-and-out and the offense stayed aggressive—Williams scrambling for 12 yards on a 3rd-and-9, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass to back-up tight end Will Mallory on a 3rd-and-8.

When the Cardinals got back after it, trying to trim the lead before halftime—a seven-play, 57-yard drive was thwarted by way of an end zone interception by the surging Ivey, on 1st-and-Goal from the UM 18-yard line; a ten-yard holding call the play prior, putting Louisville and quarterback Micale Cunningham in a lurch.

Up 35-14, the Hurricanes received the opening second half kickoff—driving 66 yards on six plays, for another score; a 36-yard strike from Williams to Harley—made possible by offensive coordinator Dan Enos finally committing to the run these past few weeks; Dallas scampering for 20 yards on the first play from scrimmage and Cam Harris picking up 12 more, two plays later.

The Cardinals answered on the ensuing drive and the Canes punted, only to be bailed out by more clutch special teams play; this time Jimmy Murphy diving on a ball muffed by Atwell—the fan-favorite, senior walk-on getting his first Turnover Chain moment in his final home game. Three plays later on a 3rd-and-15, Williams found Harley again—this time for a 28-yard score, that proved to be the dagger, putting Miami up 49-21 with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter.

Camden Price tacked on a field goal for good measure in the waning moments of the third quarter—getting the Hurricanes to a nice looking total of 52 in the box score—though a 58-yard touchdown run by Hassan Hall middle fourth quarter gave the Cardinals a meaningless score, making things look slightly less lopsided.

POTENTIAL TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT; CLOSE BOWL SEASON STRONG

With two games remaining—a bye this weekend before Florida International at Marlins Park and a road finale at Duke—Miami is in very good position to finish 8-4, which seemed almost unthinkable late day on October 19th after the Hurricanes slipped to 3-4 after falling in overtime to the Yellow Jackets.

There were a few different trains of thought coming into the 2019 and year one of the Diaz era—those who expected #TheNewMiami to be some instant-fix, screaming about an undefeated season and rolling Florida game one—and then the more-logical crowd; frustrated with 15 years of irrelevance, but realizing nothing was getting fixed overnight.

For the latter, the season goals weren’t as clear-cut definition-wise—win x-amount of games, win the Coastal and beat both in-state rivals, as anything less is unacceptable—or things of that nature the win-now crowd was demanding. Progress can get lost or ignored in a loss, just as a win can mask deficiencies few (outside the coaching staff and players) take time to dissect when basking in the glow of victory.

Realistically speaking, the goal for this year needed to be growth, progress and the Hurricanes taking steps towards looking like the Miami of old. Yes, there were still three conference losses in the books by late October; the Canes still carrying on the annual tradition of reinventing new ways to drop winnable ACC match-ups—but the recent habit of fading down the stretch after those disheartening Coastal Division setbacks has dissipated.

Miami won four of its past five conference games, against the meat of the schedule most expected to be the most-troubling—Virginia on a short week, at Pittsburgh, at Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of a rivalry game.

All that’s left to do now is close strong; putting in on Florida International—former head coach Butch Davis on the other sideline, in a monstrosity of a stadium built on the hallowed grounds of the beloved Orange Bowl—and taking care of a Duke team that’s lost four of its past five games going into this weekend; the Blue Devils most-likely 5-6 for the finale against the Canes, needing a win for bowl eligibility.

While the Coastal Division is still a mess, Miami’s three losses mean at least a half dozen things have to fall into place for the Canes to back into a match-up with Clemson—something that’s completely moot without a win at Duke, so no reason to put any pointless energies towards what is nothing more than a pipe dream right now.

Crazily, the Hurricanes might actually be in better shape by not winning the division—as an 8-4 record is prettier than 8-5, which most-likely is the result of a showdown with the defending national champions—leaving Miami an outside shot at reaching the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl; insane as that sounds.

If no ACC team is ranked in the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 25, sans Clemson—the Orange Bowl gets to choose its ACC team to face a foe from the Big Ten, the SEC, or Notre Dame—and the way things are playing out, Wake Forest doesn’t look like it will be ranked (barring an upset of Clemson this weekend); all of which would leave the hometown Hurricanes the most-attractive ACC match-up for the Orange Bowl, despite a four-loss season (should UM win out.)

Improve, get better and look more like Miami. It didn’t seem like that would be the case as recently as a month ago—but credit to Diaz, the staff and these Hurricanes players for a mid-season hard-reset that looks set to save year one, setting up for a strong recruiting haul and step forward in 2020—which is precisely what the University of Miami needs to (finally) get back to contending ways.

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.

November 12, 2019

MIAMI HURRICANES COME TOGETHER ON SENIOR DAY; SMOKE LOUISVILLE

Copyright © itsauthing.com 2020