Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before. The Miami Hurricanes lost another late-game heartbreaker to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Despite dealing with this reality and reading a similar headline countless times since the University of Miami joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004—a whopping five head coaches ago—a disgruntled fan base remains unable to wrap their collective heads around two decades of irrelevance and incompetence that have defined “The U”.
In defense of long-time supporters of this one great program—yes, a 2-3 record five games into the Mario Cristobal era absolutely stings.
No, Miami shouldn’t have lost to a glorified high school from Murfreesboro, Tennessee a few weeks back.
Yes, a home win over the Tar Heels was absolutely within reach and squandered away via a handful of boneheaded plays.
No, these coaches didn’t singularly piss away this football game—and yes, lambasting the staff weekly in knee-jerk fashion year one of their tenure is rather ridiculous considering this program has been a dumpster fire for almost two decades.
While these treks down a not-so-memorable Hurricanes Lane feel repetitive and burn like gasoline on an open wound, too many are still spitting nails while not letting the numbers, or hard-to-digest facts penetrate their thick and stubborn skulls.
For those of you still stuck in the 80’s, early 90’s or even the rebuilt early 00’s—knee-deep in what was, instead of what-is—a few greatest misses regarding the past two decades of Hurricanes football for the delinquents in the back.
Miami entered this football season 118-85 since getting crushed 40-3 by LSU in the 2005 Peach Bowl. When that number is divided by 16 seasons, the Hurricanes have averaged 7-5 every year since—while only reaching double-digit wins once since the 2003 season.
Cristobal is now UM third head coach in five seasons and sixth since Larry Coker was sent packing after going 7-6 in 2006—Miami’s worst season since 1997—Coker slowly bleeding out the powerhouse Butch Davis handed over to him in 2001.
Regarding the lack of balance and inconsistency moving the football, the Hurricanes are also on their third different offensive coordinator and system in four seasons.
Add it all up and it’s hardly a model of stability or consistency in Coral Gables since that last national championship season.
WHAT IS AND WHAT NEVER SHOULD BE
Equally as bad, a series of low-rent, poorly-vetted, cheap hires—including Randy Shannon and Al Golden back to back—pissing away nine rebuilding years at Miami. An on-fumes, big name alum was handed the keys in 2016—a clean resume with 15 close-but-no-cigar seasons at an SEC power that chewed him up and spit him out.
Mark Richt dazzled with his 10-0 start and upset of third-ranked Notre Dame in 2017, while his behind-the-scenes efforts regarding UM’s football infrastructure definitely put things in motion. But his miracle little “Cardiac Canes” run in year two was a house of cards, built on a few last-second, miracle wins that would’ve had Miami at .500 if everything that needed go right, didn’t.
The Canes were fast-exposed after a regular season-ending loss to a four-win Pittsburgh squad, a no-show in Miami’s first ACC title game appearance—a five-touchdown ass-beating handed out by Clemson—followed by a double-digit, fade-late showing against Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
Given a mulligan and No. 8 ranking to start the 2018 season, Richt’s Canes were wrecked by No. 25 LSU in the opener, smacked around a few nobodies over the next month and then lost four in a row—barely eking out bowl eligibility and getting a low-rent rematch against the five-loss Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, with an even uglier result than the NY6 showdown a year prior.
Exit Richt, enter Manny Diaz—after a rushed, lazy “search” process—which ended 21-15 and the second straight do-over after a three-year run. Diaz managed to lose to a commuter school year one, face-planting against a former UM head coach (Davis) and a rag-tag Florida International commuter college, followed by a double-digit loss at Duke and a bowl shutout at the hands of Louisiana Tech.
For those quick to dismiss the notion of “culture” issues inside UM’s walls—a reminder of a recent report from former players, that teammates would hype up minor injuries to skip practice with no fear of losing their jobs.
Story continued that Diaz was quick to let things slide—everything from minor team rules violations, to in-game penalties and missed tackles. Unless it was drug-related where the university got involved, the head coach was content sweeping the rest under the rug, in effort to be a a liked and accepted, friend-of-the-players’ coach—opposed to a feared and respected, alpha-male leader of men.
These weak and limp beta-style character traits defined the program and fueled the broken culture narrative, as the rookie head coach was under immense pressure to win and feared losing his most-talented players to the transfer portal, or NFL Draft.
Then-starting quarterback Jarren Williams even broke curfew the night before the FIU debacle, yet was still allowed to start, as Diaz had created a consequence-free environment—one where players feared nothing and scoffed at rules, regulations or repercussions for their individual actions.
For lack of a better saying, the inmates were running the asylum as recently as this time last year—yet Miami fan’s still can’t wrap the their heads around a lethargic effort, or inability to close out football games?
All of these aforementioned events happened less than three years ago—with Diaz at the helm the next two seasons, which included last fall’s 2-4 start and an embarrassing November loss that ultimately ran him out of a job after the 2021 season—yet so many remain bewildered that five games into the Cristobal era, years of a cancerous ways are yet to be flushed from the system?
In the wake of an ugly loss to Middle Tennessee State, left guard Jalen Rivers talked about Miami overlooking their lesser opponent and admittedly coming in “unmotivated, kinda slow” before trying and failing to respond after getting “punched in the mouth”—while center Jakai Clark talked about the Canes not being “locked in” during pregame and called his team’s attitude “lethargic”.
Tyrique Stevenson—who muffed a crucial punt in a loss at Texas A&M weeks back—shared in a recent blog posting that when pressed by Cristobal about what took place against the Blue Raiders, the cornerback had no answer.
“I don’t know, coach, we just have to get back to work”—players now with their own say-nothing version of coach-speak.
CONTENDERS DELIVER, PRETENDERS QUIVER
There’s zero attempt to compare modern era Miami football to all that Nick Saban is accomplishing at Alabama; the iconic head coach racking up five national titles over the past 16 seasons in Tuscaloosa. Though there is a discussion to be had regarding player awareness, attitude, confidence and football IQ for a moment—especially in light of comments from Rivers, Clark and Stevenson.
This recent article by Michael Casagrande—beat writer for the Crimson Tide, who used to cover the Canes for the Sun-Sentinel—is built around a game-changing, heads-up moment by cornerback Terrion Arnold in Bama’s close-call against Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon.
Arnold was a 5-Star prospect out of Tallahassee—the second-best safety in the state of Florida arguably staying home had one of The Big Three been more impressive recently.
Instead, Saban reeled him in and the defensive back stepped up big in a gave-saving moment—Alabama’s back to the wall, up four with three seconds remaining and Texas A&M—ball at the two-yard line and one play from a colossal take down of No. 1 for a second straight season.
Not on Arnold’s watch. The redshirt freshman not only catching Aggies’ head coach Jimbo Fisher tipping off where the plays was headed, the safety was also in position to keep A&M receiver Evan Stewart out of the end zone, even if he had caught the well-guarded pass from Haynes King with that final attempt as time expired.
Alabama, 24, Texas A&M 20—disaster averted.
Winning has a way of curing all in sports. Alabama survived and is now 6-0 halfway through their 2022 season. Had they fallen to the Aggies, the fact they were without starting quarterback Bryce Young would’ve been the first attempt at reasoning—but the oddsmakers still saw the Crimson Tide as a 24-point favorite, to an underachieving Texas A&M team that was upset by Appalachian State in early September, and an 18-point loser at Mississippi State last weekend.
Translation, Alabama had no business being in a position where Texas A&M had the ball on the two-yard line, down four, with a shot to cap off a 69-yard game-winning drive—yet that’s precisely where they were when championship-caliber DNA kicked in and the Crimson Tide made another season-defining play.
Disaster was also averted weeks back when No. 1 Alabama trailed unranked Texas, 19-17—the Longhorns playing most of the game with a back-up up quarterback—before Young kept the drive alive with his wing and wheels, setting up a 33-yard field goal attempt with :10 remaining, escaping Austin with a one-point victory.
It’s a tried and true, age-old formula. Winners and winning programs win, while losers with losing muscle memory lose—until something eventually gives and a tide is turned.
This adage is also why Cristobal and this first-year Miami staff work tirelessly to break these Hurricanes of deep-rooted bad habits, with an emphasis on process—because once the correct process is in place and a team learns how to win, the victories follow.
TAR HEELS HAVE OWNED THE CANES FOR YEARS
Going into this latest annual match-up, North Carolina had beaten Miami three in a row—and if delving deep into the heads and subconscious of every player on that field, it was the visitors riding the win streak, with the history of winning the close ones, who believed to their core they would emerge victorious—as losing to “The U” wasn’t part of their muscle memory; most of these Tar Heels nowhere near the program the last time the Canes notched a win in this series, back in 2018.
Recent history tells the entire story and the record books will show that Miami has reinvented ways to piss games away against North Carolina.
After digging themselves a 17-3 hole in 2019, Miami went ahead late third quarter via a Will Mallory touchdown, but failed on a two-point attempt—trying to make up for a missed PAT earlier in the game.
Clinging to a five-point lead with 2:55 remaining, the Canes followed up a clutch third-down sack by allowing the Tar Heels to convert on a 4th-and-17 attempt that could’ve ended the game. Five plays later North Carolina was in the end zone and after converting their two-point attempt, took a 28-25 lead—which proved to be the final score after a Miami game-tying field goal attempt sailed wide.
A year later, with Coastal Division title hanging in the balance on Senior Day in Miami—North Carolina scored 34 unanswered in the first half, taking a 34-10 lead into intermission, before falling 62-26 and surrendering 554 rushing yards—the Tar Heels proving that at home, or on the road, they had Diaz’s and UM’s number.
Last fall, another slow start for Miami on the road—North Carolina up, 31-17 at the half—while the Canes finally pulled within four going into the fourth. UNC pushed their lead to 11 points, UM scored and converted and it was now a three-point game with just over three minute remaining.
Miami’s defense forced a three-and-out, giving the Canes’ offense and Van Dyke their moment to shine—one week after a potential game-winning field goal attempt doinked off the goal post in a home loss to Virginia.
Van Dyke—who threw for 264 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions up to that point—saw his third-down attempt from the UNC 16-yard line batted into the air and into the arms of a Tar Heels linebacker, ending UM’s final attempt to win it, which also blew a fourth down attempt at a game-tying field goal and push for overtime.
All of which bring us to the misery surrounding this latest missed opportunity and chapter in the rivalry’s history—the Heels now with an 11-8 record against the Canes since 2004, the win-streak now pushed to four in a row.
True to form, Miami scrapped back late, but it wasn’t enough. Down seven early in the fourth quarter, the Canes saw a 65-yard, game-tying drive come to a screeching halt when running back Jaylan Knighton converted a 4th-and-1 with a nine-yard run, only to get half-heartedly stripped as he didn’t secure the football.
What should’ve been 1st-and-10 from the UNC 17-yard line, with momentum—it was Tar Heels’ ball, followed by an 81-yard, clock-chewing drive and conservative field goal attempt, pushing their lead to 10 points with just over four minutes remaining.
Van Dyke responded with a clutch 63-yard drive and 16-yard touchdown to Colbie Young, which set up an improbable miraculous and acrobatic onside kick recovery—negated as Al Blades Jr. stepped out of bounds, without reestablishing himself before touching the ball. Still, the Miami defense forced the three-and out, took possession with 1:08 remaining and again needed a field goal to force overtime, just like their last-ditch effort in Chapel Hill last year.
The Canes made it as far as midfield, before another amateur-hour mistake—Jaleel Skinner not getting out of bounds after a six-yard reception—which set up a clock-running, frazzled 3rd-and-4 attempt. Van Dyke rushed his throw, which in a deja vu moment was again tipped and intercepted to end a football game and another three-point loss.
While Knighton’s fumble was an inopportune brain-fart at a momentum-killing time, it didn’t lose the game anymore than Van Dyke’s interception sealed Miami’s fate. Same for an early 53-yard field goal attempt from Andres Borregales sailing wide—which could’ve had a different outcome and the Canes not giving up a five-yard sack on third down.
The mistakes were occasional and spread out, starting with blown coverage on the first score of the game—Kam Kitchens not providing safety support to Stevenson, allowing J.J. Jones to break free—hit in stride by freshman quarterback Jake Mayes for the 74-yard touchdown.
No, this was another death-by-a-thousand-cuts, collective loss by a football program cloaked in failure for almost two decades; the type of game Miami has lost a variety of ways for too many years—and when that negative muscle memory kicks in, the struggle indeed becomes real.
Alabama had its back to the wall at Texas and again this weekend against Texas A&M and what happened with their championship-caliber players and plug-and-play coaching staff—as well as a fan base used to winning big? All of Bryant-Denny Stadium had their, “Chill, we’ve got this” moment and the Crimson Tide prevailed. Conversely, the Aggies again showed their true choke-job colors—snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, slipping to 3-3 in a season that started with them ranked No. 6 in the pre-season.
Winners win. Losers lose.
COMEBACKS ALWAYS BEGIN WTH SIGNATURE VICTORIES
Miami used to be Bama-like in their ways during championship-caliber ways of the 1980’s, early 1990’s and even the 2000-era rebirth—breaking back through with that late comeback against No. 1 Florida State in 2000, after five consecutive losses to the top-ranked Noles. Miami’s 17-0 halftime lead slowly evaporated, and with a minute and change remaining, the Canes—down 24-20—mounted a game-winning drive, capped off by a “wide right” field goal attempt, for the 27-24 victory.
Weeks later the Canes ended another five-game losing streak, taking out No. 2 Virginia Tech for the first time since 1994—and then closing strong with a Sugar Bowl rout of No. 7 Florida, proving Miami was the best team in the nation and should’ve had their crack at No. 1 Oklahoma for the national championship—not the Seminoles squad they beat head-to-head months prior.
A year later, the eventual national champions hit the ground running—before everything almost derailed after a four-interception outing at Boston College and late game fumble put the Eagles in position to end a 17-game win-streak, while also derailing the Canes’ title-game plans.
Ed Reed wasn’t having it. Not after suffering though 5-6 as a freshman in 1997, including that 47-0 massacre at Florida State. The senior safety had his own, “Chill, we’ve got this” moment as he tore an intercepted ball from the hands of teammate Matt Walters and scampered furiously towards game-sealing pay dirt.
Well-built, mentally-tough, physically-superior Miami football teams were hard-wired to step-up—while the brand of football on display the past almost-two decades leaves players, coaches and fans physically feeling the failure in the air and disaster on the bring the moment things start going south. The battle is literally lost before it’s even begun.
Had every Hurricanes fan been miked-up the moment Knighton coughed up that ill-timed fumble, it’d have been some version of, “Here we go again… this one’s over.”
We’ve all watched this movie on repeat for the last couple hundred games and we know how it ends.
North Carolina and their spirited little four-game win-streak aside, stepping up and sealing the game late—the theme is all too common; this loser-driven, lactic acid needing to get pushed out and worked out of Miami’s aching muscles by a first-year staff. Another new crew of well-intended coaches—with zero ties to the losing ways over the past 16 seasons, or the type of failure that’s hovered over this program since the waning years of the Coker era.
Fact remains, Miami hasn’t been right since joining the ACC—the third-ranked, undefeated Canes inexplicably gifting the Tar Heels (3-4 at the time) their first-ever win over a Top 5 program back on October 30th, 2004.
North Carolina racked up 545 yards against a slipping Miami defense—279 yards on the ground, mostly from a third-string tailback—before one final defensive collapse set up a game-winning 42-yard field goal.
A week later Miami blew a 17-3 halftime lead against Clemson, shutout in the second half and falling 24-17 in overtime. By early December, a conference title was left on the table when falling to Virginia Tech, 16-10—the first ACC season for both Big East defectors.
To date, Miami is 0-for-18 regarding ACC championships—winning the Coastal one measly time (2017) and getting whooped by five touchdowns in the title game. Conversely, the Hokies won the ACC four times between 2004 and 2013 and took the division six times, before their backslide began.
Miami has been a broken, beat and scarred program since joining this “basketball conference”—unable to even get through the weaker division for a shot at glory—when originally invited to the ACC to improve it’s football pedigree; visions of the Canes and Noles teeing it up in December with big implications on the line.
All for naught.
Miami has seven more one-game seasons on deck and fans have a choice to make; either accepting what-is and buckling in for a rebuild, or living in the past—expecting Hurricanes’ ghosts to win football games, with some foolish belief that the “U” on the side of the helmets and a glorious past win football games, instead of these current players who just did three years under Diaz and staff.
The Miami Hurricanes many of you root for, talk about and believe in—that program is dead and buried, while this new version is experiencing it’s fifth rebuild in 15 years.
Tired as some of you are of “rebuilding”, time to face the hard fact that the last handful of do-overs were nothing more than homes built on bad foundations—which results in a disaster. Cracked walls, uneven floors and moisture damage causing wood rot and mold, which results in a complete tear down and rebuilding on a new foundation—which is where Cristobal and staff sit halfway through the 2022 season, whether you can accept that or not.
Winning has a way of masking inefficiencies—Alabama cheating death against Texas and Texas A&M could expose weaknesses at year’s end—while losing tends to expose all warts, while killing any ability to extract any positives or steps forward by young teams working towards getting better.
Cue the “there are no moral victories” crowd and those old schoolers talking about “lowered expectations”—as if the product on the field hasn’t hit rock bottom several times since the glory days—but there were signs of life against North Carolina last week and things for Miami to build on as the head to Virginia Tech this weekend.
There are mistakes to clean up and players must continue growing up fast and weekly, while learning on the fly—but them’s the breaks in year one of yet another coaching regime change.
Deal with it.
Christian 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 is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his Miami-bred band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.