After a season-opening loss at Maryland, there was that ounce of fear that Miami could be looking at its first 0-2 start since 1978. Ohio State, even without a handful of players, is still seen as a formidable foe and ‘The U’ has flopped against much lesser opponents over the past half decade. That said, it’s a new era in South Florida and the Canes rolled, 24-6.
As expected, the critics surfaced soon after the game. Shots taken at Jacory Harris for two interceptions, as well as some other questionable decisions that could’ve caused damage had the Buckeyes capitalized. Knocks against Al Golden and the coaching staff for a decision here or there, be it play calling or clock management.
Had any Canes enthusiast been told Saturday morning that UM would keep OSU out of the end zone all night and would win by eighteen, there’s not a lover of the orange and green who wouldn’t have been elated with that forecast.
Of course when it proves true and the game is in hand, the critics are front and center, scalpels in hand, dissecting every aspect of the win – even one again a foe that fans have wanted to take down for eight years.
Both Miami and Harris were far from perfect on Saturday night. That’s a given. But in the next breath it should be asked, why should the Canes look flawless two games into a new season under a brand new coaching staff?
A team that lost eight players to the NFL last year (with three other starters undrafted)? A team that was riding a four-game losing streak? A team that went 7-6 last season, lost it’s last three and a coaches fired? Not to mention a bit of off-season drama that hung a dark cloud over this program for the past several weeks, including personnel issues that resulted from multiple suspensions.
The days of simply “expecting” the Canes to dominate and win big games; get over it as it’s long gone. This is a whole new ball game and while there’s full belief that Golden and staff are the right guys at the right time to right the ship, to “complain” about a 24-6 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes is foolish, selfish, idiotic and reeks of entitlement.
Where the present day Miami Hurricanes sit, there’s a lot more going on besides just wins and losses. This climb back to the top will be a process and when going through what UM and Golden are facing right now, you don’t just sum things up by reading the box score.
How are the Canes growing and maturing? How is Golden putting his fingerprints all over a program that has lacked an identity for almost a decade? Years worth of mistakes, poor coaching, sloppy play and sub-par conditioning doesn’t do a 180 in two games. Golden is digging in and attempting to give the culture a complete overhaul. That takes time, teaching, patience and understanding.
At quarterback Harris certainly didn’t resume his “J12” status of early 2009 in his first start of the season. That said, he was also a far cry from the broken junior he was the last time he took the field; a 4-of-7 performance against Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl, where his three “incompletions” were interceptions.
One game into 2011, Harris didn’t win the game nor did he lose it for Miami. Many will harp on the two early interceptions, but choose to do so without praising the two touchdowns or other clutch plays throughout the game that propelled the Canes to victory – especially that final fourth quarter drive, chewing up the majority of the fourth quarter and kept alive a few times by Harris’ legs or arm.
Even more upsetting, the premise that a portion of this fan base has lost the ability to revel in a win. Miami beat the pants off of Ohio State. For at least a minute, enjoy that at face value, crack a smile and high-five any fan of ‘The U’ you see over this next week.
It’s been a long eight years of listening to that drivel coming out of Columbus since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and despite some missing talent, Buckeye faithful headed south believing they’d head home with a win. In no way did they expect to get their asses handed to them, so make them eat some crow and enjoy being a UM fan right now, instead of wasting so much time lamenting how things could’ve been better Saturday night.
The coaches will work tirelessly to right the ship. That’s their job. Yours is to enjoy the wins and this was a big one over an accomplished program. Resume celebrating.
Some other thoughts on Miami / Ohio State:
Those wanting to argue Harris versus sophomore Stephen Morris, don’t waste your breath. Harris is “the guy” as Morris hasn’t fully proven he’s ready. That’s not just some writer’s opinion, that’s the belief of this coaching staff and they have the final say. Morris has some great upside, but coaches believe Harris is a better manager of the game.
The downside is some inconsistency, weak passes and head-scratching turnovers. The upside is a heady quarterback who smoothly changes plays at the line and had the foresight to check down, finding a running back or tight end when his receivers were covered, as well as generally keeping things flowing with the offense.
Miami’s final offensive possession was reminiscent to closing out Oklahoma in 2009, where Harris was a key component in a solid drive and keeping the chains moving.
With 8:48 remaining in the game and sitting on a 17-6 lead, UM coaches were intent on grinding OSU down with the run, though Harris would have to do his part in the process. It started with a near-pick where Harris inexplicably forced a pass into triple coverage when seeking Travis Benjamin. From there, Harris bounced back.
On 3rd-and-6 Harris found Allen Hurns for 19 yards, getting the ball past mid-field. On an ensuing 3rd-and-1, Harris looked for tight end Chase Ford, but decided to tuck and run when Ford was covered. The next 3rd-and-10, Harris found Tommy Streeter for a fifteen yard pick up and from there Miami bulldozed its way to a touchdown behind the legs of Lamar Miller and Mike James.
UM started a blazing 6-of-7 on third down conversions and hit an 0-of-4 funk before Harris and the Canes picked up three on the final, game-clinching drive.
The overall hope is that Harris could come out guns blazing as a new and improved J12 v. 2.0 but that wasn’t the case. What you saw was vintage Jacory, with better coaching. A good, not great, quarterback who is going to make some great plays, some frustrating throws and a guy who can manage the Miami offense better than the number two go.
The bad news? Quarterback remains somewhat of a liability, but the good news lies in the fact that coaches will devise game plans that play to Harris’ strength. Jedd Fisch called a great game. The first two Harris picks would’ve been huge gains had the throws not been late. Great plays on Fisch’s part and again this is something that will get worked on in practice and should improve once Harris gets his game rhythm back.
Some are saying Harris played a bad game and that’s simply not the case. He had a good outing with a handful of mistakes. Managing the game, throwing two touchdowns, picking up third downs and running the offense in route to victory are all positives. Harris didn’t win the game for Miami and he didn’t lose it (even if OSU gets the late pick-six, it’s a three- to five-point game and UM gets the ball back). Harris made a few bad throws and questionable decisions, but when you judge the overall body of work, he graded out well.
Morris definitely needs to get some reps, but after watching both, Miami is currently better off with No. 12 under center, flaws and all … at least until Morris can run this offense fluidly, earning the full trust of this coaching staff.
Miami cut down its number of penalties between Maryland and Ohio State. The Canes had 10 penalties for 65 yards against the Terrapins and 5 against the Buckeyes for 31 yards – the most frustrating, an illegal formation call late second quarter which negated a Clive Walford reception, which would’ve give Harris a third touchdown pass on the night.
The good news? Miami coaches went work in the ten days between games and came back with a more focused Hurricanes bunch. That said, don’t be surprised if there’s another hiccup down the road.
UM coaches can’t right the ship and make up for years worth of bad coaching, poor development of players and terrible habits over night. Miami has played eight quarters of football in 2011. There have been some growing pains and there will be more. Illegal formation took four points off the board in an eventual 24-6 win, but in another setting those four points could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Miami as a team played smarter game two and by that rationale, you hope that coaches will work on Harris’ mistakes as he prepares for his second start this weekend against Kansas State.
When was the last time you remember a Miami game ending and as a fan you could sit back and not only state that the Canes’ coaching staff outcoached the opponent, but that UM was also the better conditioned team? Something that used to be the norm has gone the opposite way the better part of the past decade, but under Golden and staff and against Ohio State, Miami looked better all around.
Buckeyes were sucking wind in the fourth quarter, while Hurricane coaches aimed to have their kids wear the other guys down. 14 plays and seventy yards in just under nine minutes proved to be a back-breaker. Miami also knew it’s bread and butter was a veteran offensive line and solid ground game, which was the recipe early and late in the game. 240 total rushing yards against an Ohio State defense is something to hang your hat on. The Buckeyes were definitely missing some key players for this showdown, but the majority of them were on the offensive side of the ball. This was still a good defense and the Canes ran hard all night.
Another coaching ‘win’ was seeing this staff shutdown a key component of an opposing team’s offense. Tight end Jake Stoneburner was arguably Ohio State’s most potent offensive weapon, entering Saturday’s game with eight receptions for 93 yards and four touchdowns. Miami held Stoneburner without a catch while both Buckeye quarterbacks were a combined 4-of-18 for 35 yards and an interception on the night.
Contrast this to Miami’s 48-0 loss to Virginia back in 2007 where tight end John Phillips was 4-for-77 on the day and the Cavs literally ran the same route play after play with no Hurricane adjustments.
Soild conditioning. Making a star player a non-factor. Calling a good game. Old is finally becoming new again for ‘The U’.
When preparing to face Maryland, the hope was that Miami could overcome the defensive suspensions, but almost 500 yards later, that wasn’t the case. The Canes welcomed back Sean Spence, Adewale Ojomo and Marcus Forston against Ohio State this week and as important as their physical presence was in the line up, it was the leadership and decision-making that was missed most and most appreciated.
Anyone watching UM football the past several years has seen a linebacking corps that has struggled. Players often in no man’s land, not rushing the ball carrier, yet not necessarily in coverage, either. Spence is the quarterback of this defense and as the Terrapins marched down field on the opening drive in game one, he’d have been the guy to calm his teammates down and to give assignments. Back on the field against the Buckeyes, he proved the type of presence he brings to the game.
Late in the first quarter Miami led 14-0 and Ohio State was driving with second string quarterback Braxton Miller under center. Spence read Miller’s eyes, dropped back into coverage and got a hand on a pass intended for Stonebreaker. Defensive back JoJo Nicolas made a diving interception and the Canes re-snatched momentum. It’s the type of big time defensive play that has always been a staple in the Miami D, but has been void as of late.
Another came late in the third quarter when defensive lineman Marcus Robinson showed what can happen when you don’t give up on a play. Robinson rushed the quarterback, was blocked out of the play, but stayed on Miller. As Miller gained some positive yards, Robinson pulled up behind him, punched the ball free and it was recovered by defensive back Michael Williams. Another Ohio State drive thwarted and again at the hands of an aggressive, never-say-die defense.
He didn’t have all the tools at his disposal game one, but defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio looks like the real deal and a hard ass when he has the proper personnel available. Just wait until Ray-Ray Armstrong and Olivier Vernon re-join the fold.
Special teams has been a sore spot for Miami for years, but is another area turning around under Golden. Great coverage on punts and kickoffs as well as good field position earned by Hurricane returners. Travis Benjamin only had three receptions for 13 yards but a 27-yard return early first quarter put Miami at mid-field and moments later the Canes led, 14-0.
Jake Wieclaw made all three extra points and connected easily on his lone field goal attempt of the night, while punter Dalton Botts averaged 47.8 yards-per-punt on the night – his longest going 58 yards – and helping Miami win a crucial field position battle very against a quality team like Ohio State.
Before halftime, Golden made the right decision to take the three, though some would disagree. On 3rd-and-6, Harris scrambled for the first down, stopping the clock. On 1st-and-10, Harris found Walford for a would-be touchdown that was called back. With a 1st-and-15, Harris handed off to Mike James, who picked up twelve. Golden then let the clock tick down to four seconds, called timeout and sent his field goal unit onto the field.
Up 14-6, having given up six unanswered and having a touchdown called back, the Canes needed points. Harris already had two picks under his belt and to leave the red zone without a score would’ve given the Buckeyes some unnecessary momentum. There wasn’t enough time left for another run, so it’d have been on Harris to throw for a touchdown.
Golden wisely took the points and momentum into the locker room, which proved smart in a scoreless third quarter as the Canes clung to a two-score lead instead of nursing a 14-6 advantage.
There was also the 4th-and-1 call in the third quarter that blew up, though the play call was still the right one. Miami started the drive on its four-yard line but quickly got out of a hole as Harris ran for four and Miller picked up a quick seven. With a fresh set of downs, Miller time again, where he picked up twenty-five. James picked up twelve on back-to-back plays and the Canes seemed on a roll.
With momentum and up 17-6, Harris fired a strike to Hurns, who came up a yard short of the marker. Needing one yard in Ohio State territory (their forty-seven), Golden and Fisch went for it, Harris fumbled and the Buckeyes took over on downs.
In hindsight a botched handoff, but if you look at the intended play, it was designed to go to fullback Maurice Hagens, who carried four times for fifteen yards at Maryland. Three times Hagens ran on third down and picked up the first and a fourth time he gained five yards on a 4th-and-1 in College Park.
Had Harris turned left instead of right, getting the ball to Hagens, a good chance Miami still doesn’t get the first down, as Ohio State looked like they won that trench battle – but from a momentum standpoint, going for it with the 17-6 lead then and there was a good call and a statement that Golden believed in his offense.
Lastly, for the Ohio State folk crying about Golden running up the score (honestly, who thought we’d even be having that conversation the morning after … ), get a grip. With a 4th-and-Goal from the one-yard line in a 17-6 game, what else are you going to do but run? Miami coaches called five straight running plays in a row, ending with James’ one-yard plunge.
Furthermore, Saturday night was about the Miami Hurricanes, an 0-1 first-year coaching staff, a program that was in need of a big time win and an entire program and fan base in need of something to celebrate after a brutal couple of weeks since the Yahoo! story broke. The Canes were riding a four-game losing streak and have wanted ‘revenge’ against the Buckeyes for eight years now.
24-6 sounds better than 17-6 and when your option is to take a knee or to hand it to a selfless running back like James (re: lost his mother last December, missed funeral to be with team for bowl game) – you take the points and the pointless criticism.
Miami needed that final touchdown more than Ohio State needed a moral victory that would’ve come from an eleven-point loss. Game over. 1-1. Bring on Kansas State. – C.B.