It was a game Miami needed to win for a litany of reasons. To prove the drubbing of Ohio State wasn’t a fluke. To prove that the electricity and hunger from a week ago could carry over to a showdown with lesser hype. The new-look Canes, led by Al Golden, are definitely getting better – but a new look doesn’t equate in a new team. Old habits die hard and another slow start, coupled with missed opportunities, cost the Canes in the end.
Miami fell to Kansas State, 28-24 on Saturday afternoon at Sun Life. The Canes began in a slumber, but were rejuvenated in the second half. Down 14-3 after two, UM took it’s first lead early in the fourth quarter, going up 24-21. Unfortunately the issues that plagued Miami early still remained; an inability to stop the run.
After Kansas State returned the favor with an eight-play, 80-yard drive to reclaim the lead, Miami looked as if it’d pull off a masterful comeback. A 33-yard strike from Jacory Harris to tight end Chase Ford had the Canes at the Kansas State fourteen-yard line and a pass interference call on an ensuing third down gave Miami 1st-and-Goal from the two-yard line. Four plays later, Harris was stopped on the one-yard line, the Wildcats took over, ran out the clocks and this one was in the books.
In the wake of another loss, dropping the Canes to 1-2 on the season, all the focus quickly shifted to the final possession. Two yards and coming up short four times had many questioning the playcalling of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and again calling for Harris’ head as he found another way to not get the job done. One yard was the focus, but it wasn’t the story.
Miami lost – again – because it didn’t play sixty minutes of football. On many levels that statement is a cliche, but it’s proving to be one that the Canes have lived to imperfection. It was the case at Maryland, where an erratic first half put Miami in a hole it couldn’t fully dig itself out of and that proved true again this weekend with Kansas State.
The Canes opened strong with a 41-yard kickoff return courtesy of Travis Benjamin. On the first play from scrimmage, Benjamin rushed for nine yards to the Kansas State 46- yard line. More Benjamin, mixed in with a few Lamar Miller runs and a ten-yard reception by Philip Dorsett had the Canes on a roll. On a 2nd-and-8, Harris wisely used his legs and set up a 3rd-and-1 from the Wildcats 17-yard line.
False start, Miami as offensive lineman Jon Feliciano moved early. Momentum killed and an incompletion later the Canes are settling on a 39-yard Jake Wieclaw field goal. Later in the first quarter it was a Joel Figueroa who moved on 4th-and-4, where Harris had two open receivers and a sure first down. Instead, the Canes punted and again left more potential points on the field.
Kansas State answered back on their first possession, driving sixty-three yards on eleven plays, punctuated with quarterback Collin Klein pushing in for a two-yard touchdown run.
Klein finished a respectable 12-of-18 through the air for 133 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. On the ground he amassed 93 yards and a score, as well. Even more frustrating, the timing. Whether if was Klein or running back John Hubert getting in done with their legs, it was how and when they made their plays.
Twice on Kansas State’s opening drive Miami allowed third down conversions – an 18-yard pass to Brodrick Smith on a 3rd-and-5 and Klein’s two-yard score on 3rd-and-Goal. Early in the second quarter, Klein found receiver Tyler Lockett between two receivers in the end zone. His pass, on 3rd-and-10, sailed inches above the outstretched hand of linebacker Ramon Buchanan, giving the Wildcats a 14-3.
Buchanan was also a second late when Klein did his best Tim Tebow, firing a jump pass to tight end Travis Tannahill – another failed third down stop by Miami.
A game of inches all day long, with few breaks going Miami’s way – most notably three Kansas State fumbles that all found their way back to offensive Wildcats.
Any shot Miami had at gaining momentum, Kansas State always resnatched it. The Canes got a hand on an early third quarter field goal attempt and responded with a four-yard touchdown strike to Tommy Streeter. UM went seventy-one yards on six plays, with a huge 3rd-and-3 pick up where Harris found Dorsett for 31-yards, followed by the Streeter score.
Kansas State answered with an eight-play, 83-yard drive and the Tannahill haul-in, the key play being a 15-yard Klein run on – you guessed it – another big 3rd-and-10. It was followed by back-to-back runs by Hubert, who gained sixty-two of his eventual 166 yards on this game-defining drive.
Down 21-10, Miami went big play again when Miller broke off a 59-yard touchdown and the Hurricanes defense finally seized momentum and stepped up. Jordan Futch sacked Klein on first down and on 3rd-and-12, Marcus Forston got to Klein, who fumbled, though Kansas State recovered.
Three plays later, Harris found Benjamin for a 34-yard strike and Miami had it’s first and only lead, but the Canes defense couldn’t hold court again. On the ensuing 3rd-and-1, Hubert tore off a 47-yard run and capped it off with a two-yard, walk-in score (moments after yet another Wildcats fumble they recovered).
The teams traded punts before Miami’s final drive, which ended with the four-play series that netted one lone yard and sent the Canes to the locker room with its fifth loss in six games – and while three of those losses closed out last season and earned a head coach his pink slip, it also proved that even with new staff in place, old ways still rear their ugly head at the most inopportune time.
You can’t watch Coach Golden and not believe this man has “it” and won’t turn things around. The preparation last weekend against Ohio State and the resiliency shown against Kansas State – these kids aren’t quitters. Miami fought back all afternoon and was one-yard from being praised instead of trashed.
That said, this team still has some old school Randy Shannon running through its blood and because of that, one step forward will often be coupled with a step back. A great drive will be followed by a flat one. A huge play will happen as often as a head scratcher. A player will look like a superstar one half and lost the next.
Pulling this whole thing together and gaining consistency … it’s going to take time, people. Frustrating as that is to accept, it’s truth.
As for Coach Fisch, he shouldn’t be a scapegoat for inefficiency. Harris and tight end Clive Walford should’ve connected on the 1st-and-Goal play for the game-winning touchdown. When that faltered, the Miami offensive line should’ve pushed hard enough for bigger, short-yardage back Mike James to get into the end zone, like he did on the final score last week against the Buckeyes.
On 4th-and-Goal, the first read was a shove pass to Miller, but the plays was blown up unintentionally when a Kansas State defensive lineman was late off the ball and blocked the lane. Walford was the second option, in the flat, but was covered. That left Harris to run and he came up short.
Four acceptable play calls. Four plays where inefficiency or good defense won out.
This loss didn’t come down to one play or one drive. It was a collective effort to fail as Miami did on Saturday. A slow start. An inability to stop the run or contain a lesser known quarterback, who the Canes made the poster boy for grit, hunger and determination.
A dozen plays in this game caused Miami to lose and it’s that collective body of work which will continue hurting the Canes if this squad doesn’t tighten up. Ten penalties game one, five game two and only four this weekend – but they couldn’t have come at more inopportune, drive-killing times.
Aside from the two first quarter false starts, a mid-fourth quarter illegal procedure penalty after a Kansas State kickoff pinned Miami at it’s own 13-yard line to start a drive that never got moving. It was the Canes’ worst field position of the day and took place after the Wildcats went ahead, 28-24.
Big plays on offense to chip away at a deficit or to eventually take the lead were rubbed out by an inability to tackle or get a stop when necessary. UM showed flashes of greatness, but simply didn’t do so in a consistent enough manner to get the job done.
Miami and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio must get better at stopping the run, which looks as if it will be a problem due to depth and personnel. The Hurricanes’ defensive line hasn’t been effective and isn’t getting the pressure it needs to, linebackers aren’t playing up to their potential and the secondary is a definitely weak, depleted link.
Maryland coaches exploited this defense game one while Kansas State coaches seemed to study that film en route to finding the same holes and capitalizing.
Miami are so focused on sending Harris to the bench, they’ll still work to pin the blame for this loss on him. Yes, No. 12 got off to a bit of a slow start, had an early interception and missed a few throws, but as far as the comeback went, it was Jacory-fueled.
4-for-4 on the opening drive of the third quarter, ending with the touchdown to Streeter. Harris completed his next three passes, as well – a twenty-yarder to Benjamin before the long Miller score and on the next drive, fifteen yards to Streeter before hitting Benjamin for the 34-yard touchdown.
Harris was 11-of-13 in the second half with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Miami did a lot of things wrong against Kansas State, but sticking with Harris and rallying behind him wasn’t one of them.
A loss is always a team loss, but the onus of this one falls on the Miami defense for making an average Kansas State offense look all world. That’s not a knock on Klein or Hubert, but a safe bet neither of them has a performance akin to this one the rest of the year.
The Wildcats put on 398 total yards – 133 through the air and an inconceivable 265 on the ground – many of those coming on third down or as a response to Miami’s offense putting up points.
The Hurricanes lost because of yards given away; not because of one yard it failed to pick up. – C.B.