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Streaks are made to be broken, though that’s never any consolation for those on the busted end. The Miami Hurricanes baseball program will miss the postseason for the first time in 44 tries—an NCAA record now set to be surpassed by rival Florida State as the Noles are at 40 years and are gearing up to host the Tallahassee Regional after winning the ACC Tournament this past weekend.

While this current crop of players was obviously crushed, the reaction outside of the program is mixed. Some choose to celebrate the streak and a start-a-new-one attitude, while others are full-conspiracy-theory-mode, blaming the committee for shunning Miami with a desire to end the streak.

Truth be told, there’s only one culprit here and it’s a team and staff that underachieved their way through the 2017 season—only showing a pulse when it was too little, too late.

In the forefront of most Canes-supporting minds right now—recent success as Miami hung tough this past week in Louisville and closed the regular season on a four-game win-streak.

Down 4-1 early to Georgia Tech as the ACC Tournament got underway, the Canes took a 5-4 lead before the Yellow Jackets tied it up in the fifth. Seven innings of scoreless baseball ensued before Miami got one in the bottom of the 13th and prevailed. Days later, a hard-fought effort again third-seeded Wake Forest—down 2-0 after three, playing solid defense against the Demon Deacons before taking a 3-2 lead in the eighth and tacking on two more in the ninth for a 5-2 upset.

Normalcy resumed over the weekend when North Carolina routed Miami, 12-4 in the semifinals—despite the Canes jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, going ice cold from there.


Prior to the recent conference tournament, Miami ended the regular season with three straight wins over Virginia Tech—the Canes lone ACC sweep of the year, over a Hokies squad not good enough to even crack the ACC final dozen in Louisville last week.

The six-game win-streak proved a reminder that Miami had more in the tank than it’d shown in months past, but the collective body of work certainly wasn’t NCAA Tournament-worthy. A quick review of all things Hurricanes baseball since January underscores the committee lumping Miami in that awful “first four out” bracket.

The first red-flag moment came on Sunday February 19th, when a sweep of perennial punching bag Rutgers appeared to be on deck. The Canes topped the Scarlet Knights, 9-2 in the opener and 3-0 on Saturday afternoon before a disastrous 17-6 loss on Sunday.

Miami oft opens the regular season with Rutgers and had won 15 in a row over their former Big East foe. The last loss; an extra innings one-run setback in 2011.

While this was only game three of a new season and easy to chalk up as an aberration at the time—despite Rutgers racking up 16 hits while the Canes notched six errors on the day and stranded 13 on base—it’s what soon followed that showed something was off in Coral Gables.

Florida swept Miami in Gainesville the following weekend—which sadly has become the new norm. Dating back to the 2009 post-season, the Canes dropped 14-of-15 to the Gators over the coming years and after this season’s sweep, fell to 6-26 against UF since.

In short, Florida beating Miami’s ass is nothing new—so a 1-0 loss on Friday and 2-0 setback on Saturday were almost comforting, in comparison to the 25-5 shellacking the Gators put in the Canes in the 2015 College World Series over two games.

Florida closed with a 6-2 win on Sunday for the sweep and Miami quietly slipped to 2-4 after starting the season ranked No. 17 in the nation.

The Canes picked up a mid-week win over Florida Atlantic before hosting Dartmouth days later and dropping the series courtesy of a 1-0 loss on Friday and 5-0 drubbing on Sunday. Sandwiched in-between, a 3-2 victory in Saturday made possible by second ninth inning balk by the Big Green’s closer.

Two days later, Florida International crushed Miami, 12-1 in a make-up game at Mark Light that was postponed between the Rutgers and Florida series. The next night, the Golden Panthers took out the Canes in their ‘hood, 3-2.

By the first week of March, Miami sat at 4-8 and unranked.

A series victory over Georgia Tech at The Light ensued—the Canes scoring 32 runs over three games. Miami follows up with two mid-week wins over Maine, but the celebration was short-lived as the Canes were humbled on a road trip to Raleigh days later. North Carolina State took the first two of the seasons, before Miami got one back on Sunday for pride-sake.

A mid-week win over Florida Atlantic followed, before deja vu all over again—another trek to the Tar Heel state. This time it was two losses to North Carolina before getting one on Sunday. The 7-5 run had Miami now sitting at 11-13 through late March.

Florida Gulf Coast shut Miami out at home on Wednesday March 29th, before Wake Forest came south and won a series. The Demon Deacons eked out a 2-1 win on Friday and while the Canes responded with a bounce-back, 5-1 win on Saturday—the series was decided by way of a 9-0 shutout courtesy of the road team.

Miami beat St. Thomas at home mid-week in early April before taking a home series from Duke, but fell to Florida Gulf Coast the following Wednesday and dropped a road opened at Pittsburgh, 10-3 before bouncing back to win the series.

A week later Florida State arrived and split with Miami as Sunday’s rubber match was cancelled due to inclement weather. Still, the theme remained the same—the Canes dropping winnable games in uncharacteristic fashion on a weekly basis.

Florida International. Boston College. Bethune-Cookman. Central Florida. Miami went 5-4 against those four when rumblings about missing the post-season were becoming a reality, while the midweek record over the course of the season was 9-6.

Virginia waxed Miami 13-6 and 7-4 in Charlottesville early May after the Canes won the opener, 5-1. From there, the six-game win-streak to close the season before Saturday’s loss to North Carolina, but the damage had already been done—week in and week out all season.


The Canes lost some big-name players and talent between last season’s College World Series speedy exit and this year’s opener against the Scarlet Knights. Miami simply wasn’t the same offensively without leaders and clutch veterans like Willie Abreu, Jason Heyward and Zach Collins on the roster. That said, this is “The U” and turnover of former greats should only lead to the uncovering of new talent waiting for their turn to shine. That never happened this season.

At no point this season when watching the Hurricanes, did they ever pass the eye test—which is all right barring a squad overachieves, prove clutch and gets it done.

To not look the part of a quality team and then to confirm it with average and inconsistent play—makes you wonder why and how Miami has fallen off as it has. Even two recent, consecutive treks to Omaha had the Canes looking mortal—crushed by Florida in embarrassing fashion in 2015, while getting worked by Arizona and UC Santa Barbara last June.

Three treks to the College World Series for Miami over the past decade and 2-6 record dating back to the opening loss to Georgia in 2008 with the Canes as the top seed. Prior to that, 17 appearances in Omaha and four rings dating back to the first title in 1982—and five CWS experiences before that, bringing the grand total to 22.

All of that chatter brings a general knee-jerk reaction that the Miami fan base is spoiled—and while yes, a part of that rings true—high standards have nothing to do with any frustration stemming from sub-par regular season play, coupled with post-season inefficiency as of late.

Miami lost it’s mojo somewhere over the past decade—that 2008 squad representing the last time the Canes were truly a power that looked and played the part. The wheels came off in the ninth inning against Georgia in the opener at the College World Series for the top-seeded Canes and from there, a six-year drought regarding Omaha—the program’s worst stretch since it’s inaugural invite back in 1974.

The Canes topped the 50-win mark each of the past two seasons—as it did in 2008, winning 53 games—but the attitude, style of player and post-season energy proved vastly different.


Long time head coach Jim Morris was at the helm for Miami’s past 24 post-season runs. Prior to that, Morris led Georgia Tech to nine consecutive post-seasons—meaning a 33-year streak has personally been broken for the long-time Canes coach at the tail end of his storied career. No. 3 will return in 2018 for one final go-around before Miami hands the keys to coach-in-waiting Gino DiMare—the DiMare hiring marking only the third head coach in Canes’ baseball history dating back to the 1963 season when Ron Fraser took over.

Uncharted waters for UM, but based on a 44-year old streak being broken today, some fresh blood at the top—even in the form of a familiar face—seems to be necessary. This current era of Miami baseball has run its course and even “better” years as of late, still haven’t yielded proper results.

Five years back Miami hosted the 2012 Coral Gables regional and dropped two straight as a top seed; falling to Stony Brook and Missouri State by a combined score of 22-4. At the time, it felt like rock bottom for this proud program in the modern era.

A season later, the Canes were run out of the Louisville Regional in three games. Come 2014, another face-plant as host—dropping two to second-seeded Texas Tech—yet weeks later, Morris was rewarded with the equivalent of a “lifetime achievement” contract extension taking him through 2018, instead of calling it a day after 2015, as originally planned.

Miami should be two years into the DiMare era and rebuilding under a new leader, yet is instead limping to the finish with Morris—a legacy now stained with the end of a one-time automatic post-season run.

Cheers to Miami baseball for an unprecedented run the past four-plus decades and a tip of the hat to every player and coach who participated in the most-impressive streak the game has ever seen.

That said, 2019 and a new start can’t get to Coral Gables fast enough. Whatever we just witnessed this season—couldn’t have felt any less like Hurricanes baseball as we’ve known it the past 44 years.



Look no further than a 24-hour mid-March snapshot to see the glaring differences between two in-repair teams; the title-rich (and mojo-less as-of-late) Miami Hurricanes baseball program and a men’s basketball squad hellbent on becoming a true contender.

As a rebuilding season rolls down the stretch for the Jim Larranaga-led men’s basketball program, Miami topped a feisty Syracuse squad in New York last Wednesday at the ACC Tournament.

The Canes would ultimately fall to top-seeded North Carolina the morning after—but a statement had already been made. Despite losing some key starters, this squad won enough quality games—in the sport’s toughest conference—to be deemed NCAA Tournament-worthy. Days later the Canes earned an eight-seed and will take on ninth-seeded Michigan State in Friday’s opening round; a date with top-seeded Kansas looming as a consolation prize on Sunday if surviving the Spartans.

A dozen hours prior to basketball’s conference tourney victory, the Jim Morris-led Miami baseball squad was on the wrong end of a 12-1 home shellacking courtesy of crosstown rival Florida International, who the Canes would also lose to Wednesday evening, 3-2, in a make-up game. This latest setback came on the heels of losing a home series to Dartmouth, getting swept at Florida the weekend prior and a head-scratching Sunday loss to Rutgers opening weekend, 17-6, after Miami took the first two games against the Scarlet Knights.

To the Canes’ credit, bats came alive at home against Georgia Tech last weekend; a 17-7 rubber-match victory after an extra innings loss on Saturday after holding on 10-8 on Friday night at The Light—and before over-praising any hardwood success, Larranaga’s kids did drop road games at Virginia Tech and Syracuse the final week of the regular season, hurting conference tourney seeding and a more favorable path match-up wise at the Barclays Center.

Still, one would be remised to not acknowledge the vastly different trajectories Miami baseball and basketball are on as one rebuilding season is ending successfully and another is just getting underway, albeit to a rocky start.

A year ago, a completely different story for both.


Morris’ squad rose to number one in the nation last April—29-5 at that point in the season after taking a road series against Duke. A week later, some backsliding to No. 4 following a mid-week loss to Florida Atlantic and dropping a home series to Virginia.

Still, Miami rolled to a regular season ACC title before losing to Florida State in the conference championship game late-May.

The third-ranked Canes then topped Stetson in the Coral Gables Regional opener and knocked off Long Beach State in back-to-back games—followed by a break in the Super Regionals when host Ole Miss lost in Oxford, sending Boston College south; a familiar conference rival Miami disposed of in three games.

While there’s little knocking the Canes regular season success—the ongoing narrative regarding a lack of next-level post-season play held true. Miami face planted on the main stage—again—getting rolled by Arizona in the opener, followed by a lifeless loser’s bracket showdown where UC Santa Barbara prevailed.

Over the years the Canes always had fun at Florida State’s expense—ball-busting long-time Seminoles’ head coach Mike Martin and his 0-and-2-and-a-BBQ track record—yet the Jekyll and Hyde regular season versus post-season personas have since become Miamiesque.

The Canes reached Omaha in 2015, as well—after a six-year drought—the result even more limp-dicked as Miami was trounced by Florida, 15-3 in the opener, barely survived Arkansas in the loser’s bracket and was the Gators’ bitch once again—falling 10-2 in a do-or-die match for both teams.

Unfortunately, the issue with Florida is proving to be the new norm, opposed to an aberration. Despite the fact that the Gators remain title-less, there’s no denying their ascension as the Sunshine State’s baseball power—even amassing an 8-1 record against Florida State the past two seasons; beating the Noles in back-to-back Super Regional appearances with Omaha on the line, as well.

Miami’s record against Florida is even uglier. Going all the way back to the 2009 post-season—where the Canes were outscored by the Gators 27-4 over two losses in the Gainesville Regional—UM went on to drop 14-0f-15 to UF over the coming years and are now 6-26 since against a hated arch-rival, including this season’s recent road sweep.

Losing to a talented Florida program is understandable, but seeing the Canes suffering from a Gators-fueled inferiority complex is a much deeper-rooted problem—one which starts at the top leadership-wise. Where did Miami baseball lose its grit—especially in the post-season where it was once clutch and tough as nails? Two years ago the Canes made their first trek back to Omaha six tries and was outscored by the Gators, 25-5 over two games sandwiched between a do-or-die win over Arkansas.

Last season, the regular-season ACC champs saw bats go ice cold in a 5-1 opening loss to Arizona and an all-too-familiar loser’s bracket match-up against UC Santa Barbara, 5-3—making for a 2-6 record at the College World Series in three tries for Miami, since dropping the 2008 opener to Georgia as the tourney’s top seed.



Compare and contrast all of that to what Larranaga has done with his magic touch since falling into the Canes’ lap back in 2011 in truly serendipitous fashion. Known then for a Cinderella-like NCAA Tourney run in 2005—11th-seeded George Mason rolling all the way to the Final Four, taking down Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and top-seeded Connecticut in the process.

While Larranaga spent 15 seasons in Fairfax, Virginia leading the Patriots—Miami lost an entire decade trying to rebuild in the post-Leonard Hamilton era; setting the bar with a Sweet 16 appearance his final season in Coral Gables. Hamilton’s stint with the Washington Wizards—featuring the return of Michael Jordan—only lasted two seasons before insult to injury; the former Canes coach winding up in Tallahassee while Hamilton’s former assistant Perry Clark took over at UM.

Clark amassed a 65-54 record before back-t0-back losing seasons earned him a pink slip. Next up; Frank Haith, who last seven seasons, reached the NCAA Tournament once, earned four NIT bids and never finished higher than T-5th in the Atlantic Coast Conference—as well as 12th and 9th his final two seasons with the Canes, before inexplicably being hired away by Missouri when all signs pointed to a Miami dismissal.

Haith was later disciplined as the Tigers’ head coach for Nevin Shapiro-related infractions that happened on his watch at “The U”. In 2016—two years after Haith agreed to leave Missouri for Tulsa—an internal investigation uncovered violations throughout the head coach’s tenure in Columbia; the Tigers self-imposing and vacating all wins from the 2013-14 season.

Where Morris replaced a legend in Ron Fraser—widely-know as The Wizard of College Baseball and a pioneer for the sport—Larranaga walked into a busted culture and program riding a decade-plus of mediocrity; the only thing perfect was the timing.

Three years prior, Larranaga turned down his dream job at Providence to stay at George Mason—a close friendship with then-university president Alan G. Merten a big reasons why. Merten’s decision to step down at the end of the 2012 school year set off a chain of events that inevitably turned the University of Miami into a budding basketball power.

Less than two weeks after Merten announced his retirement, Haith left Miami for Missouri. A coaching search was underway and the on-vacation, interested-in-The-U Larranaga didn’t have a resume ready to go—so at the advice of a friend in South Florida, copied his Wikipedia page and emailed it in. An hour later, he got a call for an interview.

Lost in that feel-good story about Larranaga the man—his behind-the-scenes efforts as a visionary and leader. On the flight home fresh after coming up short in the Final Four, Larranaga spoke with George Mason athletic director Tom O’Connor about the future—his contract, the contracts of assistants the program couldn’t afford to lose and upgrades to facilities.

That type of thinking, aggressiveness and approach—a reminder that the job never ends and that it’s takes a fire, passion and little something extra to go from good to great. Throw smarts and the embracing of technology in there, as well.

Despite being 63 years old in 2013 when the Canes made their first Sweet 16 run under their second-year leader, Larranaga was one of the sport’s earliest adopters of—a college basketball analytics program—as well as Synergy Sports’ video-scouting software that compiled detailed data on every team in just about every game-time situation.

“The thing with Coach is, as long as he’s been doing this, he’s never stopped learning,” Chris Caputo, a long time Larranaga assistant said regarding the obsession with stats and tech analytic tools. “You’re looking, searching for things that will give you a bit of an edge. I think it was just word of mouth—there’s no great story.”

While it’s unfair to hold everyone to the same standards, Larranaga and his success-by-way-of-process at Miami have inevitably raised the bar for his 67-year old counterpart, Morris—the basketball coach only a few months older than the baseball skipper.

There’s no ignoring or discrediting Morris’ out-the-gate and long-running success at Miami, two national championships or recently-strong regular season play over the past two years—but you can’t praise the good without hammering the bad and questions the long-time leader’s current passion for the game, a lack of connection with players and the inability to find another gear in the post-season.


Where Larranaga is a proven leader among men—both with his players and assistants—the past few years have shown that Morris is presently unable to run a top-notch program without his right-hand man, head-coach-in-waiting Gino DiMare.

DiMare is a Miami product out of Westminster Christian who played his college ball for the Canes and has spent 17 seasons on and off under Morris. A three-year break between 2008 and 2011 saw the program backsliding without DiMare—throttled by Florida in the 2009 post-season, dropped in the Gainesville Super Regional the following year and a repeat of that failure in the 2011 Gainesville Regional.

Upon DiMare’s return in July 2011, Miami responded with a 39-14 regular season but did little in the ACC Championship and was embarrassed as host of the Coral Gables Regional. The Canes fell to fourth-seed Stony Brook and third-seeded Missouri State by a combined score of 22-4, making it clear that DiMare’s efforts as recruiting coordinator and hitting coach were beyond necessary of this once-proud program was going to be a contender again.

Recruiting efforts were felt immediately as Miami reeled in the ninth-ranked class in 2012 and the sixth-ranked class a year later—the Canes’ best haul since 2006—welcoming immediate-impact players like Willie Abreu, Zach Collins and Jacob Heyward; opposed to overly-ranked players who were shoo-ins to shun college ball for a crack at the majors.

The measurable efforts of DiMare—coupled with his in-waiting status and a general aloofness from Morris—it’s had the Canes in a state of limbo since Miami re-upped with the long-time head coach back in 2014. The Canes’ batting average dipped to .275 in 2013; the program’s lowest since 1979—and the inability to get to Omaha (or past Florida) was was on full display without DiMare.

Conversely, Miami’s offense ranked among the Top 10 in school history eight of nine season with DiMare as hitting coach and the last great Canes squad (2008) held a .320 average and notched some strong internal records—tied for second in home runs (106), fourth in slugging percentage (.541), eighth in total bases (1,202) and RBI (517), ties for ninth in doubles (135) and tenth in hits (711).

“I’m not coming back to just get to an NCAA Tournament,” DiMare told the Miami Herald upon his return. “Coach Morris knows how I am. He and [pitching coach] JD [Arteaga] are used to winning and going to Omaha. The fans are used to that. I am as a former coach and player at Miami. I certainly wouldn’t be coming back if I didn’t feel the program could get back to Omaha. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation. I think we can get it turned around. I don’t think they’re that far off. But there’s no doubt we have to get it going in some areas, hitting is one big area where we have to get it turned around. And we will get it turned around.”



The coach-in-waiting dynamic may make sense in certain situations, but in this case reeks of seniority and rewarding a long-time coach for past success, while dangling a carrot and keeping the next-man-up at bay—a guy more than ready to create his own legacy.

In a sense, it could be argued that a two-time national champion has earned the ability to retire when ready and has every right to stick around—but doesn’t that in itself put the individual over team and go against everything coaches teach their players regarding what it takes to be successful?

Same to be said with a coach starting a good-not-great senior because he’s been around longer, despite having a phenom freshman hungry and ready to make an immediate impact. This isn’t about Morris’ legacy; it’s about the future of Miami baseball in a crowded and competitive landscape where rivals haven’t just caught up—they’ve pulled ahead.

The DiMare experiment remains just under two seasons away and upon his takeover, Miami will have a new leader at the helm for the first time in 24 years—which requires adjustment at some level. Best case scenario, the Canes hit the ground running under DiMare. Worst case; it’s a carry-over from the Morris era and Miami doesn’t re-find it’s post-season groove—the title drought since 2001 rolling on—and the program will have to look elsewhere for a leader (setting the rebuild back even further.)

Whatever the case, does it not make sense for the Canes to dive in and start the process, already? Was it really necessary for Miami to renegotiate the original Morris deal—one that would’ve wrapped after the 2015 season—extending it through 2018 as some form of a courtesy? Sure, a fair-enough send off for a successful coach—but at what expense?

Slow-start aside, or recent regular season success the past few years—doesn’t matter. At best, Miami baseball is in maintenance-mode, while Canes’ basketball is reaching new levels—both coached by men in the twilight of their careers; one still learning and fueled by fire and passion, while the other is sticking with his archaic ways and seems like he’s going through the motions; riding this thing out until the end, for his own personal needs—not the future of the program he helped build.


miami hurricanes football russell athletic bowl orlando kellen winslow west virginia mountaineers big east
Miami’s 16-3 lead in the rivalry has West Virginia continuously playing catch-up.

This year’s Russell Athletic Bowl might now have the dramatic flair and high stakes of the playoffs on New Years Eve, but the storylines and history surrounding the Miami and West Virginia showdown will make for one of the season’s more intriguing match-ups.

On paper, it’s the ACC and the Big 12 going at it. A four-loss team versus a two-loss squad—both with higher hopes back in September, but landing in a good-enough spot as 2016 draws to a close.

In reality, a lot of hate on both sides between one-time BIG EAST rivals who tangled over a dozen times from the early 1990’s through the early 2000’s.

The Mountaineers’ hate for the Canes is as elementary and pedestrian as expected; little brother envious of big brother and a backwoods program jealous of them flashy “big city” boys who racked up conference titles and national championships left and right.

Added animosity for those few occasions the underdog had swag-fueled program on the ropes, but couldn’t close—as well as the defection to the ACC after the 2003 season, where Virginia Tech, Boston College and Syracuse were eventually invited along, the BIG EAST imploded and the boys from Morgantown were left out in the cold.

For Miami, West Virginia was nothing more than a mid-tier rival who rose up on a few occasions, fell short many others and proved to be a shitty host whenever dem boys from the three-oh-five made that biannual trek to Mountaineer Field.

And what a throw-down some of those treks were. For those unfamiliar with the rivalry, a quick trek down memory lane for context-sake.


Prior to becoming conference foes in 1991, four match-ups between 1942 and 1974, with Miami going 3-1. The teams met again in 1983, with the Mountaineers a footnote in the Canes’ first national championship season—where the hometown boys rolled, 20-3 at the Orange Bowl.

The first conference game was a 35-23 home win for Miami in 1992. Those eight years in-between, the Canes racked up three more championships and left at least three more on the field. Meanwhile, long-time head coach Don Nehlen had the Mountaineers an at-best 9-3 squad before an 11-1 standout season in 1988, culminating with a Fiesta Bowl loss to Notre Dame.

Five seasons later West Virginia rose to No. 2 in the polls by way of an undefeated run, before getting trounced, 41-7 by eighth-ranked Florida in the Sugar Bowl—a season highlighted by a late November upset of fourth-ranked Miami in Morgantown, 17-14.

The Mountaineers got the Canes one more time in 1997; a 28-17 victory in the Orange Bowl with Miami on probation year three under Butch Davis and en route to its first losing season since 1979, bottoming out at 5-6.

Outside of that, it was a rivalry where Miami either rolled, as expected—or West Virginia choked-away would-be upsets or thrilling victories; 1996 being one of the more memorable dogfights.

Miami limped with losses to Florida State and East Carolina, while eleventh-ranked West Virginia was 7-0 and smelled blood. The Canes rolled out quarterback Ryan Clement and his separated non-throwing shoulder, as back-up Scott Covington was laid-up back home with a collapsed lung.

Scoreless at the half, the Canes notched a third quarter field goal, though a Clement interception by Mike Logan was returned to the three-yard line and quickly resulted in a go-ahead touchdown. With :26 remaining, the game looked in the bag as the Mountaineers lined up to punt in the shadow of their end zone when magic happened.

Tremain Mack came fast off the edge, blocked the punt, Jack Hallmon recovered and before going down, handed the ball off to Nate Brooks, who rumbled in for the score. Miami survived 10-7 in a game where the Mountain State’s finest rained down D-sized batteries, unopened beers and racial slurs—as well as 22-gallon-sized trash can from the second level that took out Shannon, the Canes’ linebackers coach at the time.

For added measure, the locals even tried to tip the ambulance geared up to take injured Miami running back Danyell Ferguson to the hospital with a dislocated hip.

Two years later, revenge was equally-as-sweet as the Canes were coming out of probation and Davis’ squad was finally on the mend. Again, an early loss to Florida State had Miami in bounce-back mode, while West Virginia rode a four-game win-streak and rose to No. 14 after a season-opening loss to top-ranked Ohio State.

The Mountaineers raced to an early 14-3 lead, but the Canes cut it to 24-17 by the half. Covington helped tied things up early third, before Miami took a 27-24 lead in the quarter’s final moments—but West Virginia scrapped back, going up 31-27 in the fourth.

Daryl Jones hauled in the eventual game-winner with 1:37 remaining and the Mountaineers missed a game-tying 53-yard field goal attempt as time expired in a 34-31 victory for Miami.


All that aside, the biggest dagger might’ve come in 2003 when the BIG EAST foes met one final time on a Thursday night in the Orange Bowl. The second-ranked Canes were four games removed from a national championship loss to the Buckeyes and a 34-game win-streak coming to an end. Weeks prior to West Virginia’s trek south, a thrilling comeback victory against the hated Florida Gators had Miami on a high.

Amidst that tremendous run, the Canes extended the win-streak over the Mountaineers to five and won the previous three meetings by a combined score of 132-26.

Limping in 1-3 in year three of the Rich Rodriguez era, the early-October showdown was nothing more than a formality as Miami prepped for its annual trek to Tallahassee nine days later. Instead, one of those quirky Thursday night ESPN games that threatened to derail the season.

Brock Berlin coughed up two interceptions. Frank Gore went down with an injury, while back-up Jarrett Payton was guilty of a late-game fumble. Red-zone struggles plagued the Canes all night, too—leaving freshman kicker Jon Peattie to keep Miami alive with his inexperienced right foot.

The Canes looked to be in control late; pushing the lead to 19-10 early third quarter, but an early Mountaineers’ field goal pulled the road dogs to within six with just over ten minutes remaining.

Payton’s mid-field fumble with 3:30 remaining was the momentum-shift West Virginia needed and five plays later Rasheed Marshall hit running back Quincy Wilson on the left sidelines; the running back trucking Canes’ defensive back Brandon Merriweather en route to pay dirt.

Upset alert in full force as Miami took over, trailing 20-19 with 1:54 remaining—made even worse by a penalty that set up 1st-and-20 from the Canes’ 18-yard line.

Moments later, history was made when Kellen Winslow II made a ballet-like grab on 4th-and-13. Berlin spread it around three more times before finally getting Peattie in position to drill a 23-yarder with :14 remaining, while new-level of dejection kicked in for a West Virginia program that has reinvented ways to shit the bed against Miami.

Even worse, the rivalry ended that day as it was all about the ACC for the Canes the following season. Wednesday’s showdown in Orlando marks the first time the teams have met since that Instant Classic in 2003.


Life for Miami since the dominant BIG EAST days have been a struggle—having less to do with the conference switch and everything to do with poor leadership, in-over-their-head coaches and an off-field scandal that brought the NCAA sniffing around, a lengthy, distracting investigation and three years of probation—all of which killed recruiting and turned the Canes into a middle-of-the-pack program.

Bowl-winless since topping Nevada on some blue turf in 2006, Miami is on it’s third head coach over that same span and dealt with a few seasons of self-imposed penalties that killed any chance at post-season success.

Mark Richt looks to succeed year one where both Randy Shannon and Al Golden failed the Canes on a handful of tires.

The Mountaineers ride in on their first 10-win season since 2011—their final run in the BIG EAST, where they won the conference and reached the Orange Bowl. The five years since have been sub-par for head coach Dana Holgersen as life in the Big 12 has proven more challenging; 26-25 the past four go-arounds before this year’s 10-2 regular season.

For West Virginia, a win over Miami this bowl season would be more nostalgic than ultimately meaningful. The Canes roll in unranked, while the Mountaineers’ successful season is somewhat paper-thin—playing only one ranked team and getting rolled by eight-ranked Oklahoma, 56-28 at home.

West Virginia beat BYU, Kansas State and Texas by a combined eight points, while other wins came against the likes of Missouri, Youngstown State, Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor, it what was an admittedly weak year for the Big 12.


For Miami, a win over West Virginia would prove meaningful—less by way of the opponent and more to do with ending a post-season victory drought, taking down a 1o-win squad, closing out a 9-4 season year one of the Richt era and riding that momentum into recruiting season.

Late December and early January optimism legitimately hasn’t been the case in Coral Gables since 2004 wrapped with a 9-3 season and Peach Bowl win over Florida. A win on December 28th, 2016 goes a long way in reversing a horrible curse.

Furthermore, it’s a chance for this current crop of Hurricanes to go out with a bang. Lots of chatter surrounding quarterback Brad Kaaya, tight end David Njoku and running back Joe Yearby, who are all expected to give up their remaining eligibility in favor of chasing NFL dreams.

Today’s players taking a me-first approach late in their careers is understandable. College football has become big business and so much is on the line for the modern-day athlete. Still, the lack of team success and all-encompassing success during the tenure of these aforementioned kids is impossible to ignore. Doesn’t matter if Kaaya broke the record books in his three years as a starter or Njoku had better numbers than all three Mackey Award finalists—these Canes all come up hollow regarding the ultimate stats. No other way to say it.

Winless against Florida State; playing their part in a seven-game losing streak. No Coastal Division title, either—let alone an ACC Championship, which Miami hasn’t sniffed in the 13 years since joining the conference. No one on this current Canes’ squad has won a bowl game, either—all of this unfathomable when comparing the present to Miami’s rich legacy as a one-time powerhouse.

While there’s no room for waxing nostalgic for a rah-rah era where players still believed in that “unfinished business” mantra and would put personal goals on hold for one more go-around with their brothers—chasing team goals, conference titles and making a run at a national title—it’s not asking too much for these soon-gone Miami greats to elevate their game to the next level and show up big at the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Four wins over patsies to start the season were followed by four losses against the best competition the Canes faced this fall (sans Notre Dame). Four wins against average conference talent followed, hence the 8-4 finish—yet not one signature win.

Embarrassingly, Miami has to go back to 2009 and a one-point victory over eight-ranked Oklahoma for the program’s last marquee victory (and even that one came with Sooners’ quarterback Sam Bradford sidelined with an injury.)

Beating a one-time BIG EAST foe who the Canes are 16-3 against lifetime doesn’t seem like a signature win—but coupled with a dozen down years, a decade-long bowl drought, head coaching turnover and a 10-win squad on the other sideline this Wednesday—a victory over the couch-burners and nine-win season for Miami is a fine way to close out a true rebuilding season.


miami hurricanes football catholics vs convicts espn notre dame fighting irish revenge rivalry
An image of Miami’s win over Notre Dame in ’89 seemed fitting after two hours of biased Irish fables on ESPN.

For those with a shared allegiance to the University of Miami, the entire premise of Catholics vs. Convicts had to be met with a mixed bag of skepticism, general curiosity and a longing for an impartial take on an era-defining football game with a controversial ending.

ESPN’s 30 For 30 series has become synonymous with the Miami Hurricanes, courtesy of a two revered documentaries spanning the rise, fall and comeback of the storied football program on- and off-the-field over the past three-plus decades. When teasers began dropping regarding the Canes and Irish and that iconic 1988 battle in South Bend, it begged the question—who was behind this?

Miami faithful were understandably hoping it was Billy Corben and the Rakontur crew tied to the project; makers of “The U” (2009) and “The U Part 2” (2014)—two of the most popular vignettes in the acclaimed series. Instead, the name Patrick Creadon surfaced, prefaced by three words that immediately evoked unshakable feelings of bias—”Notre Dame alum”.

For the Canes enthusiast, optimism and excitement immediately shifted to expectations of elitism, embellishment and the type of trumped-up, fairy tale-type mystique, a la Rudy, where legend replaced fact.

Corben and his team produced two films that showed the good, bad and ugly of the Miami football program over the years—as well as unapologetically showcasing the city’s dangerous culture and climate at the time of the Canes’ initial rise to the top. The result was some universally-appealing storytelling which is why the Canes-themed docs always top any “best of” series list.

For fans of the Canes, Corben and crew’s films got the juices flowing as the best of yesterday was back on display. The epic victories, stockpiled championships and colorful personalities that helped transform a small, private school in Coral Gables into a national sensation.

Regarding the anti-U crowd; enough footage of heartbreaking losses, titles left on the field, the NCAA gutting the program—twice—and distressing moments for an opposing viewer to gleefully celebrate a villain’s demise.

Catholics vs. Convicts proved to be the exact opposite. Like a kid with a face so ugly, only a mother could love—this Fighting Irish stroke-fest oozed with schmaltz and holier-than-thou sentiments at every turn.

For the contingent who deem South Bend sacred, a carefully-crafted love letter for a fanbase over two decades removed from championship glory. For literally everyone else, an all-too-familiar feeling regarding an Irish slant and beer-goggled storytelling.


First-person plural from the get-go, Creadon uses “we” when talking about Notre Dame football and history—immediately setting the tone that “fair and unbiased” are going right out the window.

This trip down memory lane is being told by a Golden Domer with Irish blood pumping through his veins. Casual viewer, be damned—Creadon’s revisionist history was aimed directly at those who experienced this era of Notre Dame football from a shared super-fan vantage point.

The Creadon family’s deep ties to South Bend were on display heavily in the film’s first act. Dad graduated from Notre Dame; his love for the program rooted in the Irish doing it “with class and dignity”, while Gramps was recruited by Knute Rockne. An impressive legacy, sure—albeit told with a smug and familiar we’re-better-than-you sub-plot that had nothing to do with the bigger story.

Early on, it’s explained that outside of revisiting the game, a portion of the film was dedicated to figuring out why the moniker “Catholics vs. Convicts” stuck. Why did some feel it was “funny and accurate”, while others—Creadon included—thought it was “mean-spirited and reckless”?

That question really never gets answered from the filmmaker’s perspective—though Miami-bred columnist Dan LeBatard spelled it out in a way that sums up precisely why the Canes got under that soft, Irish skin.

“They’d tell you there were gonna kick your ass. They’d kick your ass and then they’d celebrate the kicking of your ass.”

Damn straight. Spoken like a unique and authentic Miamian who survived the Magic City during that era.

For an upper crust program like Notre Dame that dominated in the leather helmet era—the brash inner city nature of the ultimate anti-establishment program taking you behind the woodshed—that was never going to sit well and proved to be the tipping point in this story.

miami hurricanes notre dame fighting irish catholics vs convicts south bend
Both the Canes & Irish entered from the same tunnel in 1988, resulting in “the shoves heard ’round the world”.

Barely two minutes in, Creadon is speaking with college buddy and one-time t-shirt mogul Pat Walsh about the design and the screen goes black, followed by the phrase, “Three Years Earlier” and the notorious date—November 26th, 1985. Everything officially clicked and Creadon was off the races, building his entire “convicts” argument on the historic 58-7 walloping the Canes dropped on the Irish that fateful South Florida evening.


All credibility was initially out the window when a biased Domer zeroed in one game in this storied rivalry—ending on a controversial call, no less—earning the Irish their lone championship dating back to 1977. Crying foul over the 1985 showdown—where Miami’s third string was creating turnovers and finding the end zone—laughable, considering Notre Dame’s reputation for beating the Sisters Of The Poor, 147-0 in their hey day.

False pride and bruised egos led to this manufactured subplot regarding any “disrespect” shown to dead-man-walking, Gerry Faust—who resigned a few days prior.

The beloved head coach was 5-5 headed into the season finale—leaving him a dismal 30-25-1 late in his fifth season. A revered high school coach for two decades, the inexperienced Faust was thrust onto a main stage that proved too big. Even after a spending nine seasons under the radar at Akron, Faust’s collegiate career ended with a 73-79-4 overall record—canned after a 1-10 season in 1994.

Quoting villainous gang-boss Marsellus Wallace, “Pride only hurts, it never helps”. Wallace’s words were intended as solace, as he encouraged “punchy” Butch Coolidge to throw a fight, in the 1994 neo-noir black comedy crime film Pulp Fiction.

On the evening of a 51-point beatdown, Notre Dame’s pride was certainly “f**king with” them—followed by a long plane ride home to stew regarding their then-level of insignificance, which ultimately sparked the sour grapes. Even in a documentary intended to highlight a perfect season and rare modern day national championship in South Bend—the Irish couldn’t let go of what happened three years prior, still visibly rattled by those four quarters in 1985.

WNDU anchor Jack Nolan ranted and raved that Faust’s last stand at Miami should’ve been “quiet and respectful” and “like a state funeral”—as if a Hurricanes team dominated by the Irish years prior somehow owed a sub-par rival coach some type of reverence? Nolan even goes as far as to compare the Fighting Irish to a baby deer that the Hurricanes ran over, stopped and backed up to hit again—an absolute joke of an analogy to anyone outside of South Bend who watched the University of Notre Dame play the role of bully for decades before more parity, diversity and speed entered the game, eventually leveling things out.

The displaced frustration pathetic, laughable and deserves to be called out.

Fast-forward thirty years and Miami was on the wrong end of a 58-0 ass-kicking, courtesy of Clemson in 2015. Up 42-0 at the half, the Tigers scored two fourth quarter touchdowns en route to delivering the worst beating in Canes’ football history. Similar leadership narrative, too—a maligned, decent-guy head coach in his fifth year who wasn’t getting the job done.

When those four quarters were over, did Miami bitch, moan and complain about Clemson piling on? Fat chance. Hell, most disgruntled fans were thankful to Dabo Swinney and the Tigers for putting the final nail in the coffin that was the Al Golden era. The guy with the tie was canned the next morning, having spent the previous couple of years cleaning up an NCAA mess he didn’t deserve to inherit.

Golden wasn’t much of a leader, but at least he wasn’t a quitter. Faust waiving the white flag for a program once known for the grit and toughness of The Four Horsemen—no way that sat well in South Bend, which seems to have led to the misappropriated anger.

The revisionist history and manufactured storyline surrounding Faust was nothing more than a way to take the focus off the fact the “Fighting” Irish had simply become plain ol’ Notre Dame—something former Miami defensive end Bill Hawkins touched on in a quick soundbite, boastfully explaining how the Domers were mere mortals who lost all their fight. “Unbeatable” author Jerry Barca took it a step further when he got some screen time.

“In the Faust era, players voted to have shorter practices. They had to take three votes to go to a bowl game, because twice it got voted down. College kids not wanting to play another football game. It was bad,” expressed Barca, still baffled as to the program’s soft ways under Faust.

That denial and deflection, coupled with expected elitism, a sentiment that NBC’s Chuck Todd—a Miami native and Canes’ supporter—summed up with one perfect sentence. “It was sort of like, ‘Wait a minute—how dare Miami throttle Notre Dame in the way that Notre Dame used to throttle other people,'” mocked the antagonistic political analyst.


The final missing piece—something Notre Dame faithful choose to eliminate from their version of history; complete disregard for Miami trying to work its way back into the national championship picture under second-year head coach Jimmy Johnson. The Canes opened the 1985 campaign with a loss to fifth-ranked Florida, before rattling off a nine-game win-streak, boosted by road upsets of No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 10 Florida State.

Also lost in the shuffle; the fact that Johnson replaced Howard Schnellenberger in 1984—a legend and pioneer who came off like a pipe-smoking prophet when he delivered the national title he predicted by 1983, in what proved to be his fifth and final season in Coral Gables. Months later, Johnson got off to a respectable start with the defending champs—taking down Auburn and Florida—but Miami was soon 3-2 after losses to Michigan and Florida State, inviting criticism from a newly-spoiled fan base.

Johnson’s Canes ratted off five wins in a row—including a 31-13 victory in South Bend—before a nightmarish three-game skid to end the season 8-5.

Incomprehensibly, Miami blew a 31-o halftime lead in a 42-40 loss to Maryland, followed by Thanksgiving weekend’s “Hail Flutie” miracle against Boston College and coming out on the wrong end of a Fiesta Bowl shootout against UCLA. Months later, the aforementioned season-opening loss at home to the hated Gators—the Canes’ last Orange Bowl defeat before tearing off 58-straight victories over the next ten years.

Putting it in the simplest of terms; Johnson and the Miami program had more-pressing concerns than Faust’s resignation or suggested “state funeral” show of respect. Johnson and his Canes looked to sway voters, en route to a title shot—and a convincing national stage win, over a one-time powerhouse—could go a long way when bowl games were selected.

Even with this logical, football-driven reasoning—emotionally-fueled bitterness remained—leading to Creadon’s focus on Notre Dame exacting revenge two months, later on the hardwood.

Former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps—in self-congratulatory fashion—blethered about the beat down they laid on a Miami program that had been dormant for 14 seasons and resurrected months earlier. Phelps was proud to have piled on, his boys winning by 53 points —“Two more points than football lost!”—waxing nostalgic regarding his squad’s return to South Bend; football players waiting at the airport to welcome and thank them.

The Phelps’ anecdote, nothing more than Creadon case-building to justify Notre Dame’s referring to Miami as “convicts” on a t-shirt—with zero awareness in regards to Irish hypocrisy. In the Golden Domers’ economy, an eye-for-an-eye tactic replaced turning-the-other-cheek—where gridiron embarrassment was paid back by way of shaming the equivalent of a upstart basketball program, a few games into their first action since 1971.

A vintage-era, Notre Dame approach to bullying the little guy—just like they did for decades—and being completely all right with it. Creadon should guest lecture a course called, Flawed Irish Logic: 101.

miami hurricanes football jimmy johnson orange bowl notre dame fighting irish
Irish faithful dubbed Johnson, “Pork-Faced Satan” during the heated Miami / Notre Dame rivalry in the 1980’s.

As Catholics vs. Convicts continues to unfold, the Miami hatred continues to unravel—jealousy tones, scowls and smugly delivered soundbites sprinkled throughout.

“If you don’t want people to be upset, show a little class,” whined local radio anchor Nolan—a fool to believe the Canes actually gave a shit what the critics thoughtwhile former offensive lineman Tim Ryan could barely keep a lid on his envy and programmed elitism.

“Those guys went down to Miami Beach and had access to all kinds of stuff. We had a little bit of a different approach. Notre Dame goes above and beyond in trying to do thing the right way and takes this very seriously.”

With more time, one could unpack how “access” to all the spoils of Ocean Drive counters doing things “the right way”. As for taking things very seriously, Miami played for seven championships between 1983 and 1992—winning four, while deprived of a title shot in 1988.

It’s strange to infer that mighty Notre Dame would have any inferiority complex in regards to then-upstart Miami—but for whatever reason, the Cane-envy is palpable throughout. Former UM offensive lineman Leon Searcy made what was probably a throwaway statement to the film’s editors regarding the 1985 game being that moment where the Irish finally saw things for what they had become.

“I think that’s when Notre Dame finally considered us a rival.”


A quick history lesson regarding these opponents ultimately became foes.

Miami and Notre Dame first went at it in 1955; the Irish winning, 14-0. The Canes bounced back with a 28-12 victory in 1960, when the two met again. In 1965, a 0-0 tie, leaving both sides were 1-1-1. From there, Notre Dame rose up and tore off an 11-game win-streak between 1967 and 1980—the most-lopsided victory coming in 1973; a 44-0 shellacking at the Orange Bowl.

The Canes finally broke that streak in 1981 with a 37-15 pasting—Schnellenberger going on to lead Miami to a 9-2 season that also included a homecoming win over top-ranked Penn State. Little brother was all grown up and the once-ridiculed Sun Tan U was morphing into a program that would soon dominate and instill fear.

The Canes went 6-2 against the Irish in the 1980’s—including a four-game win-streak going into the 1988 battle highlighted in this documentary—while wins in 1983, 1987 and 1989 helping spring Miami to national championships. If you’re self-anointed big, bad Notre Dame—that’s a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how you try and package it or prop up the “Catholics vs. Convicts” showdown and the role it played in the Irish’s most-historic season.

Sifting through all the mushiness and seeing things for what they are—outsiders will realize this is nothing more than a well-crafted propaganda piece.

The dewy-eyed segment on the stand-up Tony Rice that played out in fairy tale-fashion—solely due to his on-field success and place in Irish history—began with excerpts from the student newspaper where elitism was on full display; fans calling Rice, “intellectually inferior”, “ridiculously unqualified”, while verbalizing that he didn’t belong in South Bend and his acceptance to the university was seen as “lowering our standards” and would “jeopardize our reputation”.

The father of one young fan even told his son, upon meeting his hero, to not grow up to be a “dummy” like Rice—rattling the quarterback to the point he called his family and expressed a desire to leave the program.

Fittingly, none of that mattered once the wins started piling up and the Miami dragon was slayed. Rice instantly became a folk hero. Same to be said for the irony in Irish faithful referring to the Canes as hoodlums, while the documentary romanticizes Walsh’s bootleg t-shirt business and his entrepreneurial-type spirit.


The storytelling essentially justifies all copyright infringement with an explanation that collegiate licensing at the time wasn’t what it is now, while driving home shirt mogul Walsh’s present-day remorse—which seems to stem more from getting busted and dismissed from Notre Dame’s basketball program than any real regret for illegal activity.

The premise for “Catholics vs. Convicts” was birthed out of two Miami players arrested prior to the 1988 season—a reserve defensive tackle who sold drugs to an undercover cop and another who stole a car with a friend.

Both are crimes absolutely deserving of punishment—but much like sin itself, who is man to deem one transgression more erroneous than another? Is selling illegal drugs “worse” than selling bootleg t-shirts? Both were done by college kids seeking supplemental income. One just happened to be black and from Miami’s inner city, while the other was a white, from the Midwest and attended a university with a sterling reputation.

brent musberger cbs sports miami hurricanes notre dame fighting irish 30 for 30 catholics vs convicts
CBS Sports’ Brent Musberger still played up the Canes as the bad guys during ESPN’s “Catholics vs. Convicts”.

By the standards of Catholics vs. Convicts, one is led to believe that slanging Hanes Beefy T’s on campus is slap-on-the-wrist worthy—with Creadon’s film working to build sympathy for “Walshy”; constantly hammering home his life’s goal of playing basketball for the Irish and that dream taken away.

While there’s much to be critical of regarding Creadon’s sentimental set-ups, the game-related portion of the film came off unbiased—until the cartoon character that is Lou Holtz surfaced.

Everyone else involved—especially on the Irish side—dropped their schtick in favor of a reverence for what took place on the field that day. Notre Dame players came off less defensive and bitter, while Miami’s athletes—even in defeat—hold that contest in high regard. Everyone involved that day knew they were a part of something special.

Regarding the coaches, Johnson was transported right back to the moment, not wanting to watch footage of the phantom Cleveland Gary fumble and blown call that mistakenly gave the Irish possession in the shadow of their end zone—while the forever sanctimonious Holtz claimed that he’d never seen footage of the Andre Brown touchdown 28 years later.

For pure theater; a Holtzism about that referee not getting his way into heaven for calling that Hurricanes grab a touchdown. (For the record, both officials in the end zone signaled the score—which it was regarding the catch rule in that era, which has since changed.)

CBS Sports’ Brent Musberger, who called the game and in typical, stuffy commentator fashion—still snickered about the controversial tee, praised the educational rehabilitation of quarterback Rice and refused to give an inch on the position he’s held for years—be in the 1985 game, the Gary “fumble” or the villainous label slapped on Miami; never even once playing devil’s advocate.

In case all of that wasn’t enough for Canes Nation to boil over; Creadon saves his ultimate weak-sauce dig for last—an insinuation that Miami’s pounding of Notre Dame in November 1989 was the result of a tight and watered-down Irish bunch, afraid of Holtz’s supposed threat to yank scholarships if his players engaged in any pre- or post-game fisticuffs. Without said clamp-down, a pointless “what if” moment.

Miami tipped its hat to Notre Dame; Johnson admitting on camera they were the better team that day in 1988. When presented a comparable moment regarding the 27-10 takedown of the defending champs and nation’s top-ranked team sporting a 23-game win-streak—Creadon instead chose a caveat and self-imposed an asterisk on a game that didn’t need one; the Canes proving who they are, while the Irish showed their asses, yet again.

May the filmmaker remain tortured by that loss just as team captain and Irish linebacker Ned Bolcar were when interviewed on hallowed Orange Bowl grounds in the wake of defeat.

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

Agreed. Just as a viewing of Catholics vs. Convicts and that controversial afternoon in South Bend will forever haunt Canes enthusiasts, elitist Domers.

miami hurricanes notre dame fighting irish orange bowl november 1989
SI gave Miami the cover after dethroning the defending champs and ending a 23-game win-streak in 1989.


miami hurricanes football the u north carolina state wolfpack atlantic coast conference acc

The Miami Hurricanes knocked off the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the eleventh game of the season, a week after convincingly topping the Virginia Cavaliers. Prior to that, an offensive explosion and 51 points scored against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium.

A convincing home beat-down and two back-to-back road wins now set the stage for this Saturday’s season finale; a home showdown against the Duke Blue Devils.

It should all feel better, but for some reason, still hollow and disheartening—searching for November silver linings after an October face-plant decimated all season moral; the Canes dropping four in a row against the toughest competition faced this fall, while looking at its best when pounding on nobodies back in September.

Prior to getting on the comeback trail at home three weeks back, Miami fell to a sub-par Notre Dame squad in South Bend, courtesy of yet another slow start on offense—a late comeback thwarted when the defense couldn’t reel in a would-be fumble and the Irish knocked through a game-winning field goal.

The week-plus prior, a convincing loss at Virginia Tech—a showdown that even the bleeding hearts penciled in as a loss due to the four-day turnaround, as well as a typical raucous Thursday night in Blacksburg. That came on the heels of a home setback against North Carolina where Miami chose to sleepwalk through the first half, before waking up at intermission and still coming up short.

Of course those three losses were magnified after coming on the heels of a seventh consecutive loss to Florida State; Miami missing a game-tying extra point in the final minutes that could’ve led to overtime—that Seminoles’ hex bleeding over into the following week against the Tar Heels, for a half, at least.

While the last three wins ring a bit hollow after a four-game losing streak, Miami did check off some boxes in the process. 534 yards against the Panthers, no turnovers, a fast start and strong close—a convincing way to end a losing streak against a Pittsburgh squad that went on to upset Clemson in Death Valley the following week.

From there, another meeting at Scott Stadium, where the Canes are 2-4 since joining the ACC and winless in Charlottesville since 2008. Miami racked up 450 yards on offense while holding Virginia to 289. The Canes capitalized on four turnovers and cut down on penalties; seven for 45 yards compared to the Hoos’ 10 for 110 yards—while rushing for an uncharacteristic 222 yards as the ground attack has oft been stifled.

miami hurricanes football virginia cavaliers scott stadium charlottesville atlantic coast confernce football
The Canes’ defense clamped down on the helpless Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

Whatever the reason, Virginia is a tough road showdown for Miami—yet the Canes won this one convincingly, 34-14. Yes, the Cavaliers are garbage—a two-win squad at kickoff, but lest not forget a four-win UVA team riding a four-game losing streak upended Miami, 30-13 two years back; the Canes in free fall-mode after a fifth-straight loss to the Seminoles.


Small as it was beating lowly Virginia team, it was a step forward. Same to be said for the recent victory in Raleigh, though Miami more or less “survived” North Carolina State delivering a complete, sixty-minute performance.

Ugly play early led to a 3-3 halftime score—the Canes’ offense again coming out tepid, complete with suspect play calling. The ground game deplorable on the opening offensive possession, Miami went pass-happy it’s next go-around—freshman Ahmmon Richards with two big grabs earlier before Brad Kaaya found David Njoku on the ensuing first down.

Per the norm, a false start penalty turned a 2nd-and-4 into 2nd-and-9, head coach and offensive play caller Mark Richt again going to Mark Walton, who picked up two yards, still leaving the Canes in a third-and-long. Back to Walton again, the sophomore tore off a nine-yarded and picked up the first down.

Richards reeled in an 18-yard grab that set up 1st-and-1o from the 20-yard line—which has oft proved to be the Canes’ kryptonite. Kaaya ran for five, Walton ran for two and on third-and-short, an incomplete pass thwarted a stellar drive and Miami settled for three; a way-too-common theme this season.

Feast-or-famine offensive play calling continued; big passes followed up by runs that went nowhere, errant throws or foolish penalties—the Canes punting three more times before a missed field goal to end the half; an 11-play, 74-yard drive resulting in nada.

Passes to Walton and Richards back-to-back—coupled with a roughing the passer call—resulted in 45 yards for the Canes, with Walton tearing off a 30-yard score after finding a crease in the line and turning on the jets.

Malek Young reeled in an end zone interception on 3rd-and-8, costing the Wolfpack all-but-guaranteed points on the ensuing drive. Next possession, a one-yard Walton score—set up by a 51-yard reception by Stacy Coley.

17-3 early in the third had Miami breathing easier—but the path to a two-touchdown lead was as much a part of incompetence by the Wolfpack than next-level play by the Canes.

The Young interception was the result of a bad decision by quarterback Ryan Finley, while the late hit on Miami’s previous possession was just the spark the road team needed. Unfazed, the Wolfpack drove 70 yards on 14 plays the next possession—another almost-end zone interception overturned before running back Matthew Dayes punched it in on 4th-and-3, making it a seven-point game.

An ugly-as-hell one-minute possession followed for the Canes—Miami going ice cold after an initial 13-yard reception by Njoku. The run completely abandoned, Kaaya threw incomplete passes on second and third down before another Justin Vogel punt.

Returning to the Wolfpack-meltdown narrative, Bra’Lon Cherry muffed the punt, Jaquan Johnson recovered and the Canes’ offense had new life on the 16-yard line.

Seemingly concerned with Kaaya’s red zone abilities, Richt called three consecutive runs with Walton; who ran for eight on 3rd-and-2. Kaaya misconnected with Njoku on first down, Walton got nothing on second and a pass to Chris Herndon in the back of the end zone fell incomplete.

A gimme touchdown opportunity resulted in a 22-yard field goal attempt, which the inconsistent Michael Badgley sailed through.

Down 20-10, North Carolina State responded with a seven-minute drive that would’ve changed the tone of the game had they found the end zone—but a 14-play drive came to a crashing halt by way of a false start.

Clipping on 3rd-and-2 from the Miami 16-yard line called back a would-be score, yet on 3rd-and-18, Finley found Stephen Louis for 19 yards and a first down.

The Canes’ defense clamped down on Dayes on first and third down, but an eight-yard pick-up on second was enough for a 4th-and-1 situation from the four-yard line—North Carolina State already 3-of-3 on the day regarding fourth down conversions.

Movement. Self-implosion. Five-yard penalty. 4th-and-6. Field goal time. Seven-point game instead of three, resulting in less pressure on the Canes’ next possession—a shoddy one bailed out on 3rd-and-12 by a pass interference call.

A fresh set of downs from the Wolfpack 39-yard line, three doses of Walton in a situation where a field goal likely puts the game out of reach—the sophomore back ripped off a 24-yarder on 2nd-and-6, giving the Canes a two touchdown lead and thwarting out any chance of a comeback.

27-13 on the road against a team that took Clemson to overtime in Death Valley, while also giving Florida State a run for its money—leading the Seminoles all game until the go-ahead score with three minutes remaining—impressive on paper for Miami … on paper.

The Wolfpack certainly gave this one away—but being that the Canes have done the same on occasion this year, chalk it up to the football gods balancing things out. Shame that wasn’t the case against Florida State, North Carolina or Notre Dame—all three winnable, with “The U” unable to close.

Stuck in a slumber for weeks, Miami's offense came alive against Pittsburgh
Stuck in a slumber for weeks, Miami’s offense came alive against Pittsburgh.


A four-win Duke squad rolls south for Senior Day this weekend and that 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff certainly works in Miami’s favor—a much different atmosphere than the Canes dealt with last Halloween in prime time, surviving the Blue Devils on a miracle kick return in Durham.

Show up with an ounce of passion and spirit and Miami ends the regular season 8-4 and in line for a decent bowl game, yet missing out on a 13th consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title—the harshest reality in all this.

Virginia Tech—with first-year head coach Justin Fuente—will wrap up the Coastal with a home win over Virginia; the Hokies going 7-6 last year under long-time leader Frank Beamer in his finale. Beamer won four ACC titles since 2004—joining the conference the same year as Miami—as well as five Coastal crowns dating back to 2005; when the divisions went into place. Over that same span, four different Hurricanes’ coaches proved incapable of even pulling off the feat once.

Soon as one wants to give the veteran Richt a pass for year one, you’re reminded that the 40-year old Fuente and his five years head coaching experience returned a six-loss team in Blacksburg and is a win away from guiding the Hokies to their first Coastal crown since 2011.

Is that an indictment on the successful former Georgia coach? Is it a broken culture at Miami? Not enough talent across the board? Maybe all three and then some.

For all the knocks the Canes’ defense took this past half decade; a faulty 3-4 defense and suspect fundamentals, it looks infinitely better than the offense–Manny Diaz running his side of the ball better than the experienced Richt, whose play-calling has come off inconsistent, rusty and pedestrian way too often this season.


Another Canes’ site recently offered up a column about Richt sticking to his guns; running the type of system that proved successful at Georgia over the year. Power running back, pro-style offense with the standard, heady drop-back passer and what not.

The piece came off as somewhat defiant and defensive—as well as bleeding-heart; propping up Richt’s success with the Bulldogs over a decade-and-a-half, as if that prevents him from needing to evolve as others are in this modern era of college football.

Looking in the rearview or dealing with those ghosts of Hurricanes’ past; it’s the biggest drawback regarding decades of success at “The U”. Those ghosts and five championship rings loom heavy—as does the swagger, style and brand of football played, as well as the pipeline to the NFL. Present-day Miami will forever compete with teams of yesteryear and the bar will remain high.

This isn’t a time to plant one’s feet, cite past success—neither the Canes or their new coach—and follow an old blueprint in an ever-changing sport. Look across the board at what the top programs are doing; an Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State, et al. It’s 2016, not 1996–or even 2006, for that matter. Look at what’s working elsewhere and attempt to both emulate and improve-upon.

All that aside, Richt does have a secret formula worth bringing from Athens to Coral Gables; his abilities as a recruiter, a way with parents and a true heart for his players that other head coaches at today’s football factories might be lacking.

The stories over the years have been heartwarming, welcomed and are the reason Richt is respected as a man and father figure, as well as a head coach—but don’t for a minute consider him soft or see that as a weakness. Molding young men and is as important as teaching X’s and O’s. Former Canes’ wide receiver and 4-star recruit Sam Bruce learned that the hard way—dismissed by Richt months back for a minor infraction, on top of a few other setbacks that would’ve gone unmentioned elsewhere.

“I want him to handle his business, go to class, go to study hall, go to your tutors, be on time, be prepared, be respectful, do your best in every way you can,” Richt said prior to the final straw. “Go to your treatment, do your rehab, learn what to do when you’re in meetings with your coach, grow up like all of them.”

Bruce was late for rehab regarding a broken leg—which resulted in his time at Miami being over before it began.


The wait-til-next-year rallying cry is a tired one, but for the first time in almost two decades, there’s reason to believe that Miami will pull out of a rut. The Canes’ last two coaches failed miserably in their rebuilding efforts, while the guy before that was handed arguably the best team in the history of the game, before crashing and burning by year six.

Butch Davis was the last Miami head honcho to take a train-wreck situation, change the culture, build depth and coach-up football players, while turning the Canes into a championship-caliber program, again. The first three years were lean, due to probation and the wrong players—but a spark year four, highlighted by a late season upset of second-ranked UCLA.

A year later Miami went 9-4; dropping a heartbreaker to second-ranked Penn State, No. 1 Florida State and second-ranked Virginia Tech; the Noles and Hokies eventually battling it out for the national title. By 2000, the Canes were firmly back.

None of that is meant to compare where Miami was, is or what path Richt should follow to bring the Canes back. It’s simply a reminder that having a capable head coach and proven winner offers up some solace.

All that’s left for this season; the chance to close strong. Beat Duke. Follow up a four-game losing streak with a four-game win streak. Win a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Send the seniors off with a bang and let Richt show his worth in January, locking down any on-the-fence recruits, making from an impressive National Signing Day.

From there, do everything it takes to field a more compete, mature and capable team in 2017—all-around better and another step closer to being a contender.