After two quarters the Canes turned the ball over twice, punted twice, found the end zone once and gave up more big plays than they made. The fact it was a three-point game was promising, but it didn’t mean Randy Shannon didn’t need to light a fire under his team. Especially on the heels of a 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech a week prior.
Shannon delivered what players referred to as a “passionate speech” – much to the chagrin of the anti-Shannon contingent who believes the head coach is too stoic. Before taking the field for the second half, Shannon vowed that Miami would get a big hit on the ensuing kickoff.
Nelms, the aspiring track standout from New Jersey, heard the message loud and clear and his bonejarring hit on Mossis Madu set the tone for the rest of the game.
After Nelms leveled Madu on the 15-yard line, the Canes defense pinned their ears back and came to play. Running back DeMarco Murray was stopped for a one-yard gain on 1st and 10 and on 2nd and 9, defensive coordinator John Lovett dialed up a game-changing play.
Brandon Harris sped in on a corner blitz, attacking Landry Jones from his blind side, swatting the ball loose and giving Miami possession on the 11-yard line. A play later Jacory Harris found Dedrick Epps for the go ahead score. The Canes never looked back.
Miami held strong defensively on the next possession and on the ensuing drive moved the ball 73 yards with Harris finding Travis Benjamin for a 38-yard touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
The Sooners chipped away at the stone, but only brought it to within one. The Canes weathered the storm and pulled the upset.
Did Nelms’ hit set the tone for the season? Can one play really mean so much?
Back in 2006, Miami took a 1-1 record into Louisville and looked to right the season with a win over the No. 12 Cardinals. After taking an early 7-0 lead, the Canes looked to punch it in again, until Charlie Jones fumbled on the 8-yard line. Louisville put together an 87-yard drive, ending in a field goal. 7-3 instead of 14-0, Miami withered from that moment on.
A 51-yard strike from Kyle Wright to Darnell Jenkins set the Canes up at the 29-yard line. After a conservative run, run, pass progression, Jon Peattle pushed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide and Miami never regained its footing. All of this after the Canes started the game with some false bravado and a pre-game logo stomp.
Louisville rolled to a 31-7 victory and Miami struggled against any formidable competition the remainder of the season.
Did the logo stomp cause a four-game skid late in the season? Maybe. Maybe not. (A mid-game brawl with FIU and the murder of Bryan Pata certainly didn’t help Miami’s cause.) Still, it’s plausible to believe that the Canes wheels started falling off during the loss to Louisville; a game where everything seemed to unravel.
Regarding Nelms’ hit, time will tell if it proves to be a season-changing play. Without the big hit at the 15-yard line, does Miami get aggressive and blitz Oklahoma two plays later? Maybe. Maybe not. Still, Shannon’s halftime rant combined with the first four plays of the second half put the Canes up for good, leading to an unexpected win over the Sooners.
Next up, FAMU and some much-needed special teams play with the Rattlers and LeRoy Vann headed to town.