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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIAZ MAKING ROOKIE MISTAKES; JUST LIKE PAST ROOKIES BEFORE HIM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Miami Hurricanes broke a two-game conference losing streak and notched their first ACC victory of the year, knocking off Coastal Division favorite Virginia in a defense-minded, primetime home showdown. Brutal to be in must-win territory by mid-October, but such was the case—Miami never starting worse than 0-2 in conference play; a loss to the Cavaliers leaving the Hurricanes in full-blown meltdown-move. Crisis averted.

The Hoos were a slight underdog, according to Vegas (-2.5) but in real life, predicted by most to take out the Hurricanes. Virginia was also the pre-season favorite to win the ACC’s Coastal Division; having jumped out to a 2-0 conference start before heading south to Miami. The lone loss on the season; a 35-20 setback in South Bend—a four-point ball game late in the third quarter before Notre Dame returned a fumble for a score and started to put the game out of reach.

Bronco Mendenhall led his squad to an 8-5 run last year and appeared to have taken a step forward this season, fielding a stout, mature defense and getting solid play out of senior quarterback Bryce Perkins, who matured after his first year in the program. For Miami to hold their own against a fundamentally-sound squad like Virginia after the way the past few weeks have gone for the Hurricanes; this was an impressive victory, all things considered.

This was another game of momentum; something the Hurricanes snatched early, after pissing it away on a few occasions earlier this season—down 17-3 in Chapel Hill in a flash, as well as last weekend’s quick 28-0 deficit against visiting Virginia Tech. This time around, it was Miami that got out to a 7-0 start, scoring on the opening drive—which seeming gave the defense a refreshed attitude and some bounce in their step; playing with a rare lead, opposed to digging out of an early hole.

In the end, it was a perfect blend of solid red zone defense for Miami, as well as Virginia self-imploding in almost every scoring opportunity, that proved to be the difference in a 17-9 battle.

The Hurricanes forced a three-and-out on the Cavaliers’ first possession, came up with a crucial 4th-and-1 stop from the UM 24-yard line—Greg Rousseau sniffing out and blowing up the play for a loss—as well as a blocked 38-yard field goal on the ensuing drive.

QUICK START REPLACES SLOW-TO-GO; SETS TONE FOR CANES

Any who have watched this program over the past year and a half—or even the past week—painfully aware that the Canes could’ve fallen into a fast 21-0 hole over that same span.

Instead, a confidence that came from going up early, as well as Diaz reinserting himself into Miami’s defensive, after the 2-3 start—the week’s practice, overall strategy and in-game calls; oft seen huddled with defensive coordinator Blake Baker and the rest of the staff Friday night—which ultimately paid off.

Still, one would be remised to not point out the biggest change for Miami; the offense picking up from where it left off last week when N’Kosi Perry entered for Jarren Williams, on the heels of a three-interception first quarter against Virginia Tech. Perry would throw for 442 yards and four touchdowns, in relief—rallying the Canes from a 28-0 deficit to an eventual 35-35 tie, before the Hokies scored late and Miami came up a red zone possession from forcing overtime.

In the following days, a mention that Williams was suffering from a throwing-shoulder injury, sustained against Central Michigan and re-aggravated early against Virginia Tech—keeping him out of Monday practice and paving the way for Perry to get the Friday night nod against Virginia. Whether the Williams’ injury was played up to avoid drama, or was simply convenient timing—Diaz has landed in a quarterback quandary, whether he wants to admit it, or not.

Generally speaking, Canes supporters—and maybe football fans, in general—have a way of judging a game’s entire body of work based on a win, or a loss, with no other discernment. Fight valiantly in a loss and do some good things along the way; most can’t be objective in regards to the game’s positives—venomous over the loss and treating any open-mindedness as lowering standard or celebrating moral victories. Conversely, in the wake of a win, any mistakes or glaring weaknesses are generally swept under the rug, with all the focus on what went right.

Whether Miami hung in there against Virginia, or couldn’t hang in all those red zone situations, falling 27-17—it doesn’t change the fact that Perry is currently the Hurricanes’ best option at quarterback for the duration of 2019.

Yes, after a score on the opening drive, Miami punted on it’s next six possessions and didn’t score again until a 19-yard Turner Davidson field goal with 10:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Lots of three-and-outs, as well as some overthrown deep balls that could’ve easily been long touchdowns and game-changing plays. Perry’s timing with receivers and lack of touch; coming in too hot on some slants and short routes, while sailing some deep passes well out of reach—all problematic and in need of repair.

All that to say, Perry’s athleticism and elusiveness behind a porous Miami offensive line; the only qualification that means anything at this point of the season. Seven quarters in and there’s no debating the fact that the only counter to the sub-par offensive line play is a quarterback with the moves and awareness to slip away from defenders in the back field.

PERRY’S MOBILITY BEHIND SHODDY LINE; A GAME CHANGER

4th-and-7 at the 10:25 mark in the first quarter and the third down no-gain just before; the plays that defined the game—and possibly the season, so far. Eighth and ninth plays of the drive, with Perry and Miami moving the ball relatively well, after starting the Canes’ own 22-yard line—an early 13-yard hook-up with Brevin Jordan, as well as a nice 27-yard deep ball to K.J. Osborn; Perry standing in the pocket, getting the pass off and absorbing a big hit.

Perry picked up another first down with a 10-yard pass to Jeff Thomas, immediately going back to the receiver in the end-zone on a play-fake; Thomas beating defender Nick Grant, who made up some quick ground late, giving him time to get hands on the ball, throwing Thomas off from hauling in the score.

After a designed run where Perry picked up three yards, a 3rd-and-7 where the Cavaliers’ defense came in hot; Noah Taylor blowing by freshman left tackle Zion Nelson, untouched. Perry stood in, aware and dumping it off to Mike Harley last second, for no gain—on what would’ve been at least a seven-yard sack setting up a 4th-and-14.

Kicking game woes aside, Diaz and Miami were probably going for it on fourth down no matter who was under center, but the offense had an extra gear with Perry’s mobility; the r-sophomore immediately seeing a running lane to the left and scampering for the first down.

A quick run with Dallas lost two yards on first down, but a delayed screen allowed the running back to slip right as the Cavaliers’ defense got after Perry on second-and-long; the dump-off to Dallas the perfect call as Miami blocked downfield and sprung the running back to a 17-yard score.

Fast forward to midway through the fourth quarter; the Cavaliers held to three field goals, despite moving the ball well against Miami—it was the Hurricanes’ offense that finally broke through; riding the momentum from the previous drive where it settled for three, despite a 35-yard gain by Jordan that got Miami to the UVA seven-yard line.

Leading 10-9 and in position to put the game further out of reach, Perry and the Canes embarked on a 10-play, 75-yard drive—highlighted by a 24-yard hook-up with Mark Pope that put Miami in long field goal range. The running game stifled most of the night, Dallas tore of back-to-back runs of eight and 17 yards, setting the Canes up with a 1st-and-Goal opportunity at the UVA four-yard line.

Perry took a sack on first down, but only lost a yard—but rushed for two on second down and on 3rd-and-Goal from the three-yard line, kept again and scampered in for a punctuating score, pushing the lead to 17-9 with 2:31 remaining.

COMMON SENSE & LOGIC WILL HELP DIAZ AVOID ANY “CONTROVERSY”

Diaz took to the South Florida airwaves on Monday morning, doing his usual Joe Rose Show fly-by—where Rose was quick to point out Perry’s success in Williams’ absence, asking UM’s first-year head coach if the more successful offense “teased” him in regards to staying with the hot hand.

“It’s doesn’t tease us.” Diaz responded. “It lets us know what we’ve been saying all along, that we can win games with N’Kosi. N’Kosi just beat the 20th-ranked team in the country and the week before led a 28-point comeback. And last year he led a comeback against Florida State from down 20.

“I mean, N’Kosi has done some things now on his resume that are impressive. It’s what I’ve been saying all along: Jarren Williams is our starter but it’s still up to Jarren to come back from the issues he’s been dealing with and also to come back [from] the adversity of what he faced in the Virginia Tech game and to prove to everybody that he’s ready to go … and if for whatever reason he is not, we’ve got all the faith in the world in N’Kosi to get it done.”

WQAM co-host Zach Krantz pressed the point a little further, asking point blank if a healthy Williams will get the start over the more comfortable looking Perry, to which Diaz held a long pause before responding.

“If he’s healthy and if he’s ready,’’ Diaz said. “Again, it’s two parts to it. If he’s healthy and he’s ready to bounce back in essence from… You know, look, when you’re the quarterback everybody is watching everything you do. So the idea of getting back there and getting back on the horse and saying, ‘Hey, let’s ride.’ Once he’s ready for that, then we’ll be ready to go.”

One has to hope this is nothing more than coach speak from Diaz and a delicate balance to not imply that he’s lost faith in Williams, while keeping Perry in check, as UM’s most-experienced quarterback hasn’t handled property well in the past.

As the head of this Miami program year one, Diaz has to be delicate with his dealings—as the unspoken is as important as what’s being said; namely in regards to an offensive line that has performed well below anyone’s worst expectations this season.

Reading between the lines, or imagining oneself to be a fly on the wall on any conversations between offensive coordinator and Dan Enos, let’s say what both are thinking—but what neither can verbalize.

OFFENSE LINE ISSUES GIVE CLEAR ANSWER RE: QUARTERBACK CHOICE

In a perfect world, with the offensive line playing up to par—both seem to think that Williams is Miami’s future; the 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt sophomore looking all the part of your prototypical drop back quarterback, signal caller and leader of the offense.

Williams has a solid football IQ and is progressing … as much as he can behind an offensive line that is literally worst in the country in regards to sacks given up; some of that obviously on Williams and Miami’s coaches for starting a quarterback with limited mobility behind an underperforming, green line.

A safe bet that coaches also feel, but would never verbalize, what they have in Perry—a strong-armed, gifted quarterback who seems more prone to rely on his athleticism and improvisation, opposed to being more of your student-of-the-game type quarterback, who is going to learn the playbook in and out; pliable in a way that coaches can mold him into what they think he should be.

There’s a reason last year’s staff chose a “reliable” r-senior over Perry, while this new crew gave a r-freshman the nod; Perry obviously lacking something that should make a clear-cut talent like him the obvious go-to.

I’m often critical of the segment of this fan base that can’t accept the state of the Miami program and this ongoing rebuild; often projecting where they think things should be, rooted in 15 years worth of irrelevance and their being tired of the Hurricanes as an average ACC team. I implore them to start leaning on logic, over emotion and to take macro view of where things are, opposed to this micro, quarter-by-quarter assessment of The U.

Halfway through 2019, Diaz and Enos must go through the same exercise; acknowledging what they have personnel-wise, versus what they hoped this group would look like six games in—as well as the importance of finding ways to win now, versus force-feeding the line-up of tomorrow, today—and dealing with the setbacks that could result in that approach.

Fact remains, Miami’s offensive line is not getting the job done and as far as 2019 goes, there is no Plan B. Knowing that to be the case, which Hurricanes’ quarterback can be most-successful with that glaring limitation? Perry, or even third-string Tate Martell—but not Williams, the least mobile of the bunch.

Rewatching the past seven quarters of Miami football, Perry simply brings another dimension to the Hurricanes’ offense—if nowhere else, simply his ability to move in the pocket, avoid sacks and to buy more time for playmakers to get open; all of which have a ripple effect that impacts field position, how much time the defense is on the field, as well as the overall momentum and flow of the game.

Perry had his issues against Virginia, as proven by the low-scoring game and long droughts where the Canes were forced to punt drive after drive. Without the Cavaliers stalling in the red zone—partly due to good defense, but also due to incompetence on their part—there’s no way 17 points wins that football game and this week’s debate shifts to a rock bottom 2-4 start; quarterback play the least of anyone’s concerns (again, wins tend mask more-important subjects, while losses negate any good to come from a game.)

PLAY FOR NOW, WHILE ALSO BUILDING FOR THE LONG TERM

Paraphrasing something Diaz touched on weeks into taking the Miami job; the Catch-22 coaching staffs deal with on the recruiting front—mid-tier programs who need to win to attract better players, but struggle to get those victories as they lack the next-level playmakers across the board to have them contending week in and week out.

If building for next year, it makes sense to go with the quarterback coaches feel is the long-term guy—which appears to be Williams—but there will also be some lumps to take if sticking with a first-year starting quarterback behind a disastrous offensive line. But if the goal is to continue competing in the Coastal Division, while trying to win out and pull a 9-3, or even 8-4 season out of a 2-3 start—there has to be a shift in thinking; a focus on the micro, as well as the macro.

Williams played the role of game manager the first four games of this season; games that had Miami not shot itself in the foot with penalties, mistakes or breakdowns in the secondary, would’ve legitimately had the Hurricanes 4-0 going into Virginia Tech week, setting a less desperate tone for the Hokies’ visit.

Instead, with three losses in the books by the first week in October, Miami learned that a game manager learning on the job is probably going to have more limitations than an athletic, improvisational, less-pliable quarterback—one that might get you into some hot water, but also has the magic and moxie to bail you out.


I was critical of Perry last season, starting with the loss at Virginia—up through a second social media misstep before the bowl game. The immaturity and laissez faire approach to how he worked to earn the role as starting quarterback at Miami; something was off and the kid didn’t appear ready to lead a program that’s been looking for the guy for almost two decades now.

Mid-way through 2019, I’m yet to jump the Perry bandwagon, but I’ve seen enough—4.1 games with No. 15 and 1.3 with No. 5— to keep the keys in Perry’s hands, until he gives reason not to.

Practice is practice and even if Williams shows the grit and growth in practice coaches want to see in the wake of a poor performance against Virginia Tech, Greentree can’t be the only factor in deciding on a starter for Georgia Tech this weekend.

Perry gave this team a spark the past two weeks that it’s lacked since the opener against Florida—so riding the hot hand makes sense, right now. The Yellow Jackets are a hot mess this fall; off to a 1-5 start year one under Geoff Collins, who abandoned the triple-option for a more traditional offense and is off to a slow start.

One final home game for Miami, until a home season finale November 9th against Louisville. Lean on the home “crowd” and inferior opponent to get things settled once and for all.

Perry has proven to be the better fit with the current line limitations—and with an almost-comeback starting 28 down, as well as a quick start and late dagger against Virginia—any other move feels like a forced agenda, while ignoring feel, flow and the gut-instinct Diaz has shown to date.

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

MIAMI HURRICANES PREP FOR VIRGINIA UNDER ESPN’S FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS


The Miami Hurricanes are gearing up for what was tabbed the ACC’s Coastal Division game of the season as the No. 20 Virginia Cavaliers head south for a Friday night showdown at HardRock.

On paper the game has obviously lost some luster as the Canes are 0-2 in the conference, while the Cavaliers are 2-0 and 4-1 overall; a road loss at Notre Dame the lone blemish of the season. Miami’s five-game journey, a little rockier path en route to 2-3. A season opening loss against Florida was followed up by a conference road stumble at North Carolina.

The Canes rebounded with an expected home route of Bethune-Cookman before winding up in a slug-fest with Central Michigan, only to show up lethargic and ill-prepared for last weekend’s showdown with Virginia Tech—despite a bye week—Miami in an early 28-0 hole after things quickly unraveled for quarterback Jarren Williams.

Turnover-free for four games, the redshirt freshman was responsible for three interceptions just over 11 minutes into the game. N’Kosi Perry entered late in the first quarter and wound up throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns; Miami tying things up 35-35 in the final minutes, before the defense broke (again), the Hokies took the lead and Perry was unable to re-tie things back up, forcing overtime.

CONTROVERSY AVERTED, DUE TO (UN)TIMELY INJURY

Where it appeared momentarily that Manny Diaz might have a quarterback controversy on his hands—the first-year head coach got bailed out when it was reported that Williams’ was nursing a sore shoulder that kept him out of practice early this week, paving the way for Perry to get the nod—where Sunday’s presser gave the indication both would get reps this week, competing for the gig.

While a mid-season game of quarterback musical chairs is never optimum, the move could prove to be a blessing in disguise for this struggling Miami bunch that could ill afford more of the same.

Williams got the nod in fall camp, Diaz and offensive coordinator Dan Enos feeling that No. 15 gave Miami “the greatest upside due to his passing ability, his instincts and his determination”. All that to say, five games in it felt like Williams was still learning on the job; “instincts” not yet where they needed to be. Miami had final drive opportunities against both Florida and North Carolina, with Williams unable to close out in either—understandable in his first two starts, with a dumpster fire of an offensive line—but still, he didn’t get the job done.

Against Central Michigan, a pedestrian outing where it felt as if Enos was using Williams in more of a game manager-type role, instead of aggressively trying to get the ball in the hands of playmakers—whereas a 28-0 deficit put Miami in a position where it needed to let Perry open things up. Down four scores; it certainly limited the Hurricanes’ efforts to run the football—DeeJay Dallas with four yards on five carries, before tearing off a 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which made up for 2/3 of UM’s total ground output on the afternoon. Cam Harris only got two touches for a combined 19 yards—while Perry had 47 pass attempts in just over three quarters.

Lack of balance aside, Perry’s presence resulted in big-time days for Brevin Jordan—seven receptions for 136 yards and a score—as well as Jeff Thomas; seemingly underused or buried with Williams under center. Thomas had six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns; finally making some moves that reminiscent of the playmaker he was for the Hurricanes from 2017 through 2018. Dee Wiggins was also a crunch-time go-to target with four receptions for 64 yards on the day, with a few clutch first down pick-ups.

With Virginia on the horizon, Miami sitting at 2-3 and Perry unexpectedly winding up in the starting role—the redshirt sophomore is getting a rare shot at a do-over and a small window that could yield huge results, should he properly take advantage of it.

PERRY GETTING RARE SECOND CHANCE AT A FIRST IMPRESSION

Perry’s history has been on display for the past year. After not overtaking senior Malik Rosier for the starting job in 2018, Perry took over for a sluggish Rosier in the first quarter against Florida International and had a solid enough outing—224 yards, three touchdowns and an interception—for Mark Richt to toss him the keys the following week against North Carolina; where little was needed in a game Miami’s defense forced six turnovers and returned three for touchdowns.

The Canes got in a 27-7 hole against Florida State the following weekend at home, but Perry overcame a slow start and helped rally the Hurricanes to a 28-27 win; throwing for 204 yards and four touchdowns. The following weekend in Charlottesville, the wheels fell off.

Much like Williams’ meltdown by way of three interceptions against Virginia Tech, Perry coughed up two even uglier, head-scratching picks on the road against Virginia last October—Richt reinserting Rosier much like Diaz and Enos quickly yielded to Perry last weekend against the Hokies—starting the downslide for Miami’s 2018 season. The other factor; Perry’s social media gaffe days later—flashing wads of cash on a on off-week road trip home to Ocala.

In the grand scheme of things, hardly egregious, but on the heels of getting benched for poor play—as well as a Miami program that recently spent time in the NCAA’s crosshairs—it was an immature and boneheaded look, for a kid that finally got the shot he’d been vying for. From that point on, it was wheels-off-mode for the Canes; Rosier starting and looking beyond average in a road loss at Boston College—Perry never getting a shot to compete.

In a home loss against Duke the following weekend, Rosier got the first three unproductive quarters, with Perry inserted early in the fourth with Miami trailing—in too little, too late fashion. Two three-and-outs followed before Perry drove Miami 59 yards, looking for a touchdown and two-point conversion for overtime—but much like the stalled comeback against Virginia Tech, Perry and the Canes’ offense couldn’t punch it in.

Perry got the start the following week, throwing for a respectable 171 yards and two touchdowns at Virginia Tech—the Hokies turning it over three times, while the Canes protected the football and got a 51-yard punt return from Thomas to close the door mid-third quarter. Against Pittsburgh the following week, Perry was 6-of-24 for 52 yards, while Travis Homer carried the load with  168-yard, one touchdown performance—a little redemption game for the Panthers spoiling the Canes’ perfect regular season in 2017.

Social media stupidity reared its ugly head again as an old video from September resurfaced; a sexually-explicit Snapchat video from Perry’s account making the rounds—losing him a chance to start the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin, and while not suspended—much like the Boston College loss, Richt hung in there with Rosier before the Badgers piled-on late and rolled the Canes.

CONSISTENCY-STARVED CANES BEST SUITED FOR PERRY TO TAKE REIGNS

The point of the Perry-fueled history lesson; a reminder that No. 5 had his shot last year, after failing to win the starting job—only to piss it away—yet is now in a similar position to the one he faced last year, begging the question, will the talented-yet-erratic quarterback prove his maturity and make the most of this second chance?

Every supporter of The U better hope so—as there is no worse case scenario than an average Perry outing against the Cavaliers, putting he and Williams back in competition next week leading up to a home showdown with Georgia Tech.

Six games in after Friday night, Miami needs to lock into their guy. It was the ultimately goal during fall ball; that either Williams, Perry or transfer Tate Martell would look head-and-shoulders above the competition; winning the starting job convincingly—opposed to the manner it was won in; Williams potentially having more “upside” when named QB1. Not to mention the shit-show that last season turned into when Perry couldn’t fully supplant Rosier and No. 12 couldn’t even game-manage enough to justify his presence.

There is no better scenario for Miami—seven regular seasons remaining, starting with Virginia—that Perry finding his groove and locking down the starting job for the rest of 2019. The Hurricanes need consistency at quarterback, as well as the shot in the arm Perry’s experience can bring, in comparison to learn-on-the-job Williams. No. 15 was serviceable four games in, but wasn’t clutch—nor did he deliver the type of big plays that seem to have a way of waking Miami up, or changing the game.

The defense played that role the past two seasons; finding ways to create turnovers or to get big stops when needed—but without the leadership of guys like Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and Gerald Willis, that side of the ball is too green to take games over the way it used to in recent years.

Dallas has delivered; willing himself to some big runs early this season—but a running back can only do so much when the passing game isn’t consistent and Miami is rolling a depleted defense back on the field after yet another three-and-out. Perry needs to prove he’s the missing link on this offense.

The flip side to Perry’s eccentric play and being the opposite of a game manager; preparing for the mistakes that are due to follow. Against Virginia Tech last weekend, an end zone interception on fourth down, after Miami failed to get in on four passing plays from the four-yard line.

Even more egregious, a would-be pick-six midway through the third quarter when facing a 3rd-and 20 after the Canes just pulled to within 14 points; Perry saved by a late hit and personal foul that without would’ve pushed the Hokies lead to, 35-14—courtesy of  an interception even more damaging than the early ones thrown by Williams.

Perry will be good for some thrilling connections with the likes of Jordan, Thomas and Wiggins—but any struggles to read the Cavaliers’ defense and what Bronco Mendenhall throws at him Friday night; could result in the type of outing No. 5 had at Scott Stadium a year ago.

ENOS CAN SHOW VALUE BY HELPING PERRY MATURE ON FIELD

Of course last year Miami’s quarterbacks were coached up by Jon Richt, opposed to Enos, praised for being a “quarterback whisperer” for his efforts with Tua Tagovailoa—as well as the rebirth of Jalen Hurts—with the Crimson Tide last season.

A big reason Diaz chose Enos as his offensive coordinator; half because of play calling, half due to his ability to coach-up quarterbacks. Perry didn’t have an Enos-figure last fall and it showed. Now nine months into working with the former Alabama co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, how much better can Perry be in the moment? The effects of that maturation process will be on display Friday night.

With three losses in early October, it’s must-win territory for a Miami team that for all intents and purposes, been a sloppy, undisciplined, struggling mess. The porous offensive line has given up 25 sacks over five games, while the Hurricanes have been penalized 50 times for an ungodly 453 yards; many of which have come at the most-inopportune times, ultimately changing the outcome of the ballgame.

Emotionally, it’s hard not to believe the overall vibe and output of this team would be much different had the Canes survived that opener against the Gators, opposed to making a few more mistakes than the equally-as-sloppy Florida. A road game at North Carolina might not have started out as flat, while a 4-0 squad rolling into Virginia Tech week would’ve had a different energy than a 2-2 bunch. Just as success breeds success, failure breeds failure and Miami is knee-deep in a negative loop it badly needs to break out of.

A quarterback change and a more-experienced gunslinger who can deliver the ball to playmakers; it’s not as night and day a difference as 5-0 versus 2-3—but it’s something these Hurricanes can build off of; showing up prepared for the first night home game of the season.

Virginia knocked off Pittsburgh in the opener, rallied late to beat Florida State in Tallahassee and faded down the stretch at Notre Dame—while rolling William & Mary and needing a strong second half against Old Dominion to stave off an upset. In short; the Cavaliers haven’t proven much five games in—winning the games they should’ve, while losing by double-digits in one where they were underdogs.

Both the Hurricanes and Cavaliers were picked atop the ACC Coastal Division, depending on the publication—and despite Miami failing to live up to the hype, the three-loss home team is still slightly favored going into this evening.

Based on Virginia giving Miami fits over the years in situations just like this, the Hoos are a safe pick—and a double-digit victory wouldn’t be a surprise; especially if the Hurricanes get off to yet another slow start, which has happened often in this rivalry—both home and away.

Still, Miami earned some preseason hype for a reason. No, these Hurricanes aren’t a contender in the national sense, nor are they in regards to conference, as Clemson remains head and shoulders above the rest—but there’s enough meat on the bone for The U to hang with anybody in the lesser Coastal Division; even Virginia.

Night game at HardRock, shot in the arm from Perry getting the nod, bad taste all around from last year’s season-derailing loss—as well as law of averages; Miami due to have something finally go their way—picking the Canes to eke one out here, somehow, playing a little bit better as a whole due to the mid-season shake-up—with the defense getting a boost from a turnover, or two.

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Miami 24, Virginia 19

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

MIAMI HURRICANES FALL TO VIRGINIA TECH AFTER LATE RALLY

Despite racking up it’s third loss of the season by early October, you can say this about the Miami Hurricanes under first-year head coach Manny Diaz—there are some fighters on this team and this bunch doesn’t quit. Backs-to-the-wall, these Canes go down swinging and are in it until the clock hits zero; a refreshing change after so many years of wilting in the face of adversity.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only positive to dwell on after falling behind to Virginia Tech, 28-0 early in the second quarter; the Canes tying the game late, only to watch the Hokies march down the field for a game-winning score—similar to how things played out against the Gators and Tar Heels in other soul-crushing losses.

What can’t be said about this poorly-coached bunch; that it plays smart, shows up prepared, hits the ground running or is learning to eliminate crucial-moment mistakes as the season nears the halfway point; all this setbacks the difference between sitting pretty at 5-0, or a retched 2-3 start to this new era of UM football.

Diaz and staff had another bye week to prepare and get this team focused, yet Miami suffered another painfully slow start and disastrous first quarter—much like an early September showdown in Chapel Hill; on the heels of the Canes’ first bye, where the road favorite was in a 17-3 hole in a matter of minutes, again waking up late and ultimately falling short.

For those paying attention, Miami was outscored 45-3 in the first quarter of both post-bye games thus far in 2019—yet scrapped back to take fourth quarter leads, only to see the defense fail in game-defining moments.

At North Carolina, blown coverage on 4th-and-17 led to a game winning touchdown by a freshman quarterback making his second career start. Against Virginia Tech, a back-up quarterback making his first career start, led a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive—burning the Hurricanes’ defense on a play that worked twice before, with Miami unable to adjust and shut it down.

TURNOVERS CHANGED; ON WRONG SIDE OF MARGIN WITH FIVE GIVEAWAYS

Insult to injury again came in the form of untimely mental mistakes, boneheaded penalties or game-defining special teams gaffes—all at the least opportune times. Just like the loss at North Carolina, Miami’s showboaty bling stayed locked away in its case all evening against Virginia Tech—but unlike the Canes protecting the football in Chapel Hill, they gifted the Hokies five turnovers; four in the first quarter, alone.

Jarren Williams—praised pre-game by ESPN commentators for not turning the football over once in his first four outings—threw an interception on his first attempt from scrimmage. Then another. And another. Seven attempts on the day, three picks later and the r-freshman’s day was over by the 3:55 mark in the first quarter.

In Williams’ defense, not everything was his fault. That initial third down attempt to Mike Harley was a little behind the receiver, but a clear-cut pass interference call was flat-out ignored as the ball ricocheted into the air for Jermaine Waller to haul-in.

On the ensuing drive, Williams didn’t step into his throw and hung it up there for Dee Wiggins in the end zone; the sophomore receiver doing little to fight for the ball as the defacto defender, allowing Caleb Farley to pick off the pass with relative ease. The following possession saw Williams targeting Brian Hightower; another floater that Waller nabbed for his second takeaway on the day—Hightower somewhat lackadaisical in his pursuit of the ball, as well as any effort to chase down the defender; Waller picking up 23 yards on his return.

Williams and the receiving corps hardly deserve all the blame for the early hole, as the Hurricanes defense looked nothing like the we’ll-get-that-shit-back unit it was the past few years when the offense struggled.

The mobile and fearless Hendon Hooker—again in his first career start, replacing the statuesque Ryan Willis—led an eight-play, 48-yard scoring drive after Williams’ first cough-up.

Hooker passed once on the drive, handed off to Deshawn Clease three times and kept it as many times for himself—scampering in from 12 yards out on 3rd-and-6 for the score. Credit to head coach Justin Fuente for easing the newbie into the game; establishing a run and letting the quarterback get conformable with his feet before calling on him to get it done through the air.

The Canes defense forced a three-and-out after Williams’ end zone pick, but couldn’t hold after the errant pass to Hightower in Miami territory; starting field position—the UM 23-yard line. After a run by Keshawn King netted three yards, a brilliant call where tight end Dalton Keene lined up right, appeared to be a blocker, only to peel left as the majority of the Miami defense bit right, thinking run—leaving Keene to rumble 20 yards for the score.

Even worse, this same play would burn Miami with 1:25 remaining in a 35-35 ball game where a crucial third down stop was imperative. Instead, the Canes defense bit again and Keene caught the exact same pass, around the same exact spot—getting stopped at the three-yard line this time, before Deshawn McClease punched in what proved to be the game-winner.

In between Keene’s two pivotal moments, N’Kosi Perry did his best to rally the offense, in spite of the hole Williams put the Hurricanes in—turning in a valiant 422-yard, four-touchdown performance.

PERRY GETS HIS SHOT WHEN WILLIAMS’ CLEAN STREAK GOT DIRTY

Entering the game, Miami having already spotted Virginia Tech a cool 14 points—Perry hit Harley in space, only to see the receiver fumble; the Hokies recovering on the UM 20-yard line—Hooker again shaking-and-baking on 3rd-and-6, running for 15 yards and setting James Mitchell up to pound it in from a yard out. Down 21-0, just like that.

Three consecutive passing attempts with Perry—and zero effort to run the football—resulted in a three-and-out and another defensive letdown as the Hurricanes let the Hokies march down the field 80 yards on 12 plays.

Miami surrendered a 26-yard run to McClease on a 3rd-and-10 from the Virginia Tech 20-yard line—a gut-punch with an opportunity to stop the bleeding. Hooker picked up another third down with his legs and found Keane for a first down touchdown from the UM 17-yard line, pushing the lead to, 28-0 with 9:30 remaining in the first half.

A nine-play, 71-yard drive—highlighted by a 51-yard snag by Brevin Jordan—came up four yards shy of a score; offensive coordinator Dan Enos again abandoning the run and calling four consecutive passing plays (two to a well-covered Jordan) before Perry rolled right and stuck it in Farley’s bread basket on fourth down, unable to find an open receiver.

Miami did get their lucky bounce before halftime when a fourth down, 38-yard Hail Mary attempt fell into the hands of Mark Pope, off the Will Mallory deflection—a sign of life for the snakebitten Hurricanes, cutting the deficit to, 28-7.

The third quarter couldn’t have been scripted much better as the defense forced a three-and-out, followed by an eight-play, 88-yard drive where Perry found Jordan a 28-yard pick-up on 3rd-and-10, while working Jeff Thomas into the mix with a 18-yard connection. A rare pass interference call on the Hokies set the Canes up at the six-yard like, where Perry and Jordan hooked up again, cutting the deficit to 14.

Both offenses cooled for back-to-back possessions, before Miami’s defense flinched first. Facing a 3rd-and-2 from the VT 28-yard line, the Hurricanes thought run—safety Bubba Bolden caught in no man’s land—allowed Hooker to drop one over the shoulder of a sprinting Mitchell, who galloped 67 yards to the five-yard line before Hooker hit Keene—inexplicably open, yet again—extending the lead back to 14.

It was a kick in the teeth similar to the season opening, late fourth quarter, 65-yard pass from Feleipe Franks to receiver Josh Hammond, setting Florida up for the eventual game-winning score. Only this time there was ample time for Miami to keep chipping away—12:14, to be exact—and by the 3:16 mark, the Canes finished their own improbable 21-0 run to tie the ballgame, 35-35.

Perry kept finding Jordan and Thomas, while also working Harley, KJ Osborn and Dee Wiggins into the fold—Wiggins with a 22-yard pick-up on 3rd-and-12 and Osborn with an 11-yard grab on 4th-and-5 before capping the drive with a 13-yard strike to Thomas.

After a quick three-and-out by the defense, a 26-yard completion to Thomas got the action going, an 11-yard reception by Jordan had Perry and the Canes just outside the red zone and on 3rd-and-11, a 25-yard shot to Thomas for his second touchdown on the day. Another three-and-out and after a seven-yard run by Perry—the play of the game as Dallas broke two tackles and absolutely willed himself to pay dirt—bolting 62 yards for a touchdown, minutes after laying out and stretching for a two-point conversion after the Thomas score.

In a moment where everything was going right—true to form for the Hurricanes, something had to go wrong.

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN; FOURTH QUARTER MISCUES DOOM THE CANES

It happened against Florida in a few big moments; Thomas muffing a punt. A first down on a fake field goal called back for offensive holding, leading to a 27-yard, game-tying whiff by the cursed Bubba Baxa. The Franks-to-Hammond game-breaker; not to mention the Hurricanes pissing away 30 yards of field possession—trailing the Gators by four—thanks to Al Blades Jr. tossing up double middle fingers, followed by an illegal block; from the UF 25-yard line and field goal range to the UM 45-yard line in one tick of the clock.

Chapel Hill, was defined by 4th-and-17—as well as special teams disasters; a missed PAT that forced a failed two-point attempt and a forced game-tying field goal from 49 yards out, instead of a tied ball game and overtime.

In the wake of Dallas’ brilliant run, another immature moment from a team that’s been penalized 50 times for 403 yards, with five games in the books—and celebration penalty that added 15 yards to the kickoff; but before that would happen, another momentum swing as Baxa’s PAT hit the goal post, Miami whiffing with a chance to take it’s first lead of the game.

Baxa’s 71-yard kickoff was touchback-bound without the penalty, but with it—Virginia Tech ran it back to their own 37-yard line, Hooker hitting Damon Hazelton for a 29-yard pick-up immediately; able to play aggressive with a tied ballgame, opposed to trailing by one, where a field goal wins it; the Hokies bleeding the clock to keep the Canes’ offense at bay. Three plays later; back to the well with Keene and the same misdirection Miami fell for earlier—McClease rolling in from three yards out with 1:30 on the clock.

Perry pushed the Canes down field with more fire than he did last fall in a similar situation against Duke; hitting Wiggins for gains of 20 and 12 yards, as well as a 16-yard connection with Osborn that got Miami to the 10-yard line with :05 left on the clock. A 1st-and-Goal attempt to Jordan went off his hands—which looked to the the ballgame, before a review gave the Hurricanes :01 and new life.

This time Perry looked down Thomas from the get-go, trying to squeeze the ball into double coverage—not putting enough on it; the pass batted down by the defender covering Dallas on a delayed release.

Had Perry not rushed the the throw—he had time in the pocket—Dallas could’ve caught the ball around the nine-yard line, with a full head of steam and one man to beat. To the left, Perry also had Osborn peeling off around the five yard line and one-on-one coverage. Thomas was literally the worst option on the play, but Perry was hellbent on forcing it to his go-to. It never got there. Ballgame.

All that’s left now is the aftermath; a third loss racked up by the first week of October, an 0-2 start in the ACC and some drama and division come Sunday in regards to a quarterback competition or controversy, depending on the vantage point.

QUARTERBACK COMPETITION OR CONTOVERSY? DEPENDS WHO YOU ASK

ESPN commentator Dusty Dvoracek took umbrage with Diaz and Enos yanking Williams late in the first quarter; a nation that if Williams was “their guy”—they needed to let the quarterback work through the adversity, giving him a chance to make a comeback.

Devil’s advocate to Dvoracek’s take; Miami’s quarterback battle in fall almost had #15  getting the nod by default. Neither Williams, Perry or Ohio State transfer Tate Martell were head and shoulders above the rest. According to Diaz, the Hurricanes felt they could win with all three guys, but Williams won out every so slightly due to, “the greatest upside due to his passing ability, his instincts and his determination”.

There was no right or wrong in regards to making the switch at the time. With a neck-and-neck quarterback battle dating back to spring—with Martell converting to receiver in fall—the Hurricanes are in a 1a and 1b situations in regards to starter. Should the Williams experiment tank, Perry is in need of some valuable minutes and this was a logical way to get him some.

It was also a situation the r-sophomore has been in before; trailing Florida State, 27-7 last October and rallying Miami to a 28-27 victory. Low-risk to ask Perry to mount a comeback against Virginia Tech—yet that’s almost exactly what he did.

There’s a deeper dive regarding this current quarterback competition—or controversy, depending the vantage point—but that’s for another time.

For now, it’s a 2-3 start to a new season—three losses in heartbreaking fashion, had Miami simply gotten out of its own way and played smarter football at the beginning, middle and end of each game. Little time to lick wounds here as Virginia treks south on Friday night for arguably the Coastal Division game-of-the-year.

Until then, back to work and hopefully learning from a slew of mistakes.

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

MIAMI HURRICANES PREPARE FOR VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUT FIRST FOUR GAME IN REARVIEW; SEASON STARTS NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEASON CAN TURN AROUND QUICKLY OVER NEXT FEW WEEKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miami 30, Virginia Tech 19

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