Miami was down 14-0 halfway through the first quarter at Boston College this opening weekend of college football and for many, a deja vu moment as recent Hurricane teams had been in this position before, failing miserably.
Another fight-or-flight situation. Tagged in the nose and bloodied up, how would this year’s UM squad respond?
Three-and-a-half quarters later, a 41-32 Miami victory in Chestnut Hill; a venue that has hardly been kind to UM over the years.
This bunch buckled down, showed some grit and while it played far from mistake-free football, proved it won’t go quietly week in and week out; a welcomed attitude change after so many throw-in-the-towel moments this past half decade.
Al Golden has spent the past nineteen months trying to flush out bad habits and old ways that played into a losing culture. The second-year coach has since assembled a team of freshmen and sophomores he recruited, merging them with players from the old regime – guys who did time in the worst era of Miami football that’s been seen in decade, with many bad habits that need breaking.
On Saturday, it was the new-look Canes who showed how things will be at ‘The U’ for years to come. Kids who were playing high school football this time last year have literally exploded onto the scene. They put in the work this off-season, grew up quick and are taking on resilient personality of Golden.
The second-year Miami head coach has made it clear; age ain’t nothing but a number. There’s a ‘no excuses’ mantra this season. The time is now and place is here. Golden expects his Canes to perform. If you’re on the field you earned your way there and if so, it’s time to take care of business or someone else will. (Somewhere down in the Keys, Jimmy Johnson is smiling.)
Last year was last year; a season full of suspensions, distractions and first-year jitters. This is brand new experience and a huge step forward is expected in regards to conditioning, attitude, effort, heart and overall performance.
Right out the gate Saturday, Miami was smacked up, and good.
Boston College started on their own twenty-five after a touchback and quarterback Chase Rettig immediately dumped off to uncovered fullback Jake Sinkovec for a 36-yard pick-up. From there a four-yard strike to Alex Amidon on first and eight-yard run by Andre Williams gave the Eagles another first down.
Rettig went back to Amidon for eighteen and once at the Miami nine, back-to-back runs by Williams had Boston College up 7-0 in two-and-a-half minutes.
The Canes first offensive play of the season was a five-yard false start and facing a 1st-and-15, tried three straight passes before being forced to punt.
BC started on their own thirty and again, back to the slant with Amidon, which Miami couldn’t defense, and the ground game with Williams. This time it took nine plays and just over three minutes to go seventy yards, capped with another dump to Sinkovec – who had zero catches and two special teams tackles last season and who rumbled fifteen yards for the score, giving the Eagles a 14-0 advantage halfway through the first.
Minutes into a new season, this young team was tested in a worst-case-scenario type way. Road game. Hostile environment. In a two-touchdown hole and yet to find any spark offensively. Recent Miami teams have absolutely collapsed in moments like this.
Think back to Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl where the Irish picked the Canes defense apart and were up 27-0 at the half, en route to an embarrassing 33-17 loss. Month prior, the game that truly ended the Randy Shannon era, a home loss to Florida State.
The Canes rolled in ranked No. 13 and fell 45-17 to the No. 23 Seminoles and again, in a flash, down 21-0 midway through the second. Miami pulled to within seventeen, trailing 24-7 at halftime, but were outscored 21-10 in the second half, rolling over and never even threatening a comeback.
Even worse, UM seemingly quit – as evidenced by the 90-yard touchdown with five minutes remaining, already down 38-17. It was a play eerily reminiscent of the 48-0 loss to Virginia in the Orange Bowl finale, watching a Cavaliers’ cornerback run back a forty-four yard fumble, untouched, with just over two minutes remaining.
While these 2012 era, depth-challenged Canes will lose some games this season, quit they will not – which is a huge step forward in the rebuilding process.
A thirty-seven yard kickoff return from Philip Dorsett had Miami mid-field after going down by fourteen. Stephen Morris used his wheels on a 3rd-and-11, scrambling for eleven, though there was still no offensive continuity, with the Canes still feeling things out.
After two straight incomplete passes to Rashawn Scott and Allen Hurns, Morris went back to Scott, hitting him in the number twenty yards down-field but the sophomore wideout couldn’t haul in the past, which bounced into the arms of Spenser Rositano, who returned it eleven yards to the Boston College thirty-two.
Points were left on the field, but the Miami defense finally settled, forcing the first three-and-out on the day. Malcolm Lewis return the punt for a loss of one, and insult to injury came when the Canes were smacked up with a seventeen-yard illegal block, pushing UM back to its own seventeen.
From there, a methodical thirteen-play, eighty-three yard punctuated with a one-yard plunge in from short-down specialist, running back Eduardo Clements.
Mike James started the drive with an eleven-yard run and Duke Johnson went for nine the next play, pulling Miami out of danger and giving the offense some room to spread its wings. Morris then went to Lewis twice, followed by two quick strikes to Hurns, moving the Canes to the Eagles thirty.
James and Hurns picked up nine and facing a 3rd-and-1, Morris was stuffed. On 4th-and-1, Morris ran the option, pitched to Johnson and the true freshman made his first big statement when lowering his head and barreling for the first down.
Rettig and the Eagles started from their own thirty and after a quick seven-yard strike to Spiffy Evans, the Canes had that moment of clarity and changed the course and momentum of the game with one play.
Defensive leader and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, obviously tired of seeing the slant underneath, forced Rettig to bite and then dropped back to pick off another slant attempt, rumbling forty-one yards to the end zone on the final play of the first quarter.
And just like that, it was all even again, 14-14 with three to play.
Miami’s defense was porous at times on Saturday, making Rettig look all-world with his rag-tag group of second-string receivers. He threw for 441 yards, with thirty-two completions, two touchdowns and the game-changing pick-six.
The Canes gave up 542 total yards, but did hold the Eagles to a mere 101 on the ground.
The defensive line never got any pressure, linebackers were oft out of position and the green secondary played like the newbies they are. Still, when plays were necessary and UM seemingly needed a stop, this up-and-down bunch rose to the occasion.
Early in the game linebacker Eddie Johnson was seen going for a strip, but came up empty. Any long-time fan noticed this, welcomed it and wondered when it would finally pay off this season. That pivotal moment happened early in the fourth quarter, with Miami up, 34-23.
Mid-field, Rettig found a wide open Tahj Kimble for a would-be twenty-five yard strike, but Kimble was run down by Johnson, who hacked away and jarred the ball loose. Cornerback Ladarius Gunter scooped it up and rumbled twenty-eight yards, to the BC forty-seven and eight player later Morris found Lewis for his first collegiate touchdown, extending the lead to, 41-23.
Absent as heart has been from this Miami program the past several season, so has the game-changing big-time play. Perryman got it started on defense and the strip / fumble recovery gave the Canes a bigger cushion, but the biggest stop of the game arrived with two and a half minutes to play.
Boston College, down 41-30, drove eighty-one yards of eleven plays – aided by some Miami blunders. Safety Vaughn Telemaque was hit with a boneheaded pass interference play on a 4th-and-15, keeping a drive alive and two plays later the Canes had a roughing the passer penalty, giving the Eagles a 1st-and-Goal from the UM five.
Rettig tried three straight passes, all of which fell incomplete, before going no-huddle and attempting to punch it in from the Hurricanes one.
One yard. It killed Miami on a few occasions last year. Jacory Harris fell a yard short on fourth-down against Kansas State and weeks later, the Canes defense couldn’t stop Virginia Tech and Logan Thomas on a 4th-and-1, en route to a heartbreaking loss at Blacksburg.
With one yard the difference between closing out or hanging on, Miami’s defense closed. The Canes ran three straight up the middle and the Eagles, out of timeouts, could do nothing but watch.
On fourth down Botts ran out of the back of the end zone, taking the intentional safety and up nine, Jake Wieclaw kicked off with four seconds remaining. From there, one Rettig incompletion had this one in the books.
At one point on Saturday Miami had outscored Boston College, 41-9, holding the Eagles to three field goals after those two early touchdowns. BC didn’t re-find the end zone from the middle of the first until under seven minutes remaining in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Canes’ scoring barrage came from all angles – most notably, behind the legs of the freshman Johnson.
El Duque carried a mere seven times, but racked up 137 total yards and two touchdowns. His first touch as a Hurricane was a twenty-seven yard kickoff return. From there a one-yard reception and five-yard run before two touches on the Canes’ first scoring drive – a nine-yard pick-up and that two-yard hard gain on 4th-and-1.
Johhson had another kickoff return, this time for 23 yards, before exploding early in the second quarter and giving Miami its first lead of the day. Facing a 1st-and-10 from the UM forty-six, Johnson took a handoff, bounced right, lost balance, regained, juked a few defenders, turned on the burners, got past a few more and was in the end zone, having just broke off a 54-yard touchdown.
Sitting on a 24-23 Miami lead late in the third, Duke struck again, following his blockers and letting next-level speed kick in for a 56-yard touchdown, putting the Canes up, 31-23.
Impressive as Johnson’s runs were, even more impressive – the fact this coaching staff gave him the stage to do so.
Seniority has been such a negative word in Miami’s vocabulary this past decades. Coaches played favorites while others were stuck in the doghouse. Other times coaches favored experience and knowledge of the playbook over that intangible, trusting a young player’s instincts.
It would’ve been very easy for Golden and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch to lean on the veteran James, who carried fourteen times for 54 yards in the opener. Instead, this staff knew that conservative and by-the-book wouldn’t be the way to victory this season. Leaning on playmakers, promoting competition and rewarding it – that’s how UM will return to glory.
Aside from Duke, Miami played upwards of sixteen freshmen – thirteen of them true freshmen. Lewis got his score. Gunter recovered a fumble. Tracy Howard earned his baptism by fire at cornerback. Deon Bush did some time at safety. Ereck Flowers started on the offensive line.
Everywhere you looked, kids who were last seen in recruiting highlight videos were making plays or Miami in the season opener.
Golden and staff remain committed to tweaking, fine-tuning and tinkering in effort to get things right. Ten years ago, it was less about scheming as the Hurricanes would out-talent opponents.
Doable when you’re three-deep with NFL talent at every position, but with depth-challenged and are coming off a 13-12 run the past two years, it’s going to take brains where there isn’t enough brawn.
Miami ran a hurry-up offense all day in Chestnut Hill, in effort to get playmakers more touches, while eliminating false start penalties that have plagued the Canes for years. UM ran around eighty plays on Saturday, while averaging close to sixty a game last year.
Stats-wise, there are still some glaring weaknesses that coaches need to fix. 542 total yards and 441 passing yards given up. Nine penalties for 7 yards. Losing the time of possession battle 33:39 to 26:21.
There were some good stats, though. Only 101 yards surrendered on the ground, holding Boston College to 6-of-14 on third down – and 0-for-1 on fourth – as well as winning the turnover battle 3-to-1.
Miami coaches aren’t going to solve this overnight, but for the first Saturday this fall, they came with a game plan good enough to win.
It took bounces the Canes didn’t get last year – a few forced turnovers, a defensive score, big runs from a much-needed playmaker, clutch catches, a quarterback who managed the game and wrinkles like a no-huddle offense – but it was enough to win.
Next week Kansas State presents a whole new challenge for Miami. Quarterback Collin Klein was a one-man wrecking crew in last year’s 28-24 Wildcats upset. 133 yards through the air, 93 on the ground and three touchdowns – two through the air and one with his legs.
Hurricane coaches have their hands full coming up with a new game plan for this week, but that’s something fans will have to get used to these next eleven games. As witnessed game one, it will take some shucking, jiving, playmaking and heart to earn wins this year.
Some weeks Miami will have it, some it won’t — but at least after game one fans can rest assured that this team will go wire to wire with no quit in them.
For now, kick back and enjoy this much-needed win for what it was, as opposed to driving yourselves crazy picking it apart. – CB