As much as the Fiesta Bowl controversy was a subplot, it finally felt light years away once this one was underway.
So easy for many to get caught up in the hype as it’d been eight seasons since Miami and Ohio State met somewhere besides a message board, newspaper article, YouTube clip or on ESPN Classic. As soon as both squads finally took the field, it was impossible to revel in ancient history. You simply felt this was a new era, fresh season, new players and different set of circumstances. Win or lose, somehow the demons were exorcised, though never forgotten.
Everyone knew how badly Miami wanted this one, but that desire didn’t translate into focus and the perfection needed to pull the road upset.
From the get go, this was colossal. You could feel it. Road game at the Horseshoe. No. 2 team in the land. Heisman-candidate quarterback. Talented squad (which some have penciled in the title game.) Raucous Midwestern fan base that lives for little other than the nationally-hated program the obsess over.
Win or lose, it was the main stage and had the feeling of a BCS showdown. In the end, another loss in the ‘rivalry’ – which will have loud-mouthed Ohio State faithful bumping their gums, employing the same narrow-mindedness Miami faithful spent the last eight years listening to.
The stats were damn near even, but revisionist history will have them calling this one a beat-down until the teams meet again next September in South Florida.
Is Ohio State is a good squad? Absolutely. A great one? Too early to tell. Regardless, they embodied the word ‘team’ as they pulled together, got it done, capitalized on turnovers and most importantly, played mistake-free, fundamental football.
No way were they going to give this thing away like Miami did.
Months of pregame chatter predicted the Buckeyes ‘manhandling’ the Canes in the trenches. Big Ten faithful continued pointing to the bowl loss against Wisconsin, oft playing the “if they did that to you, imagine what we’ll do to you” card. Ohio State swore this would be the men against the boys. It wasn’t. Miami proved it could go into a hostile environment, hanging four quarters with one of the better teams in the land. It simply turned the ball over too many times to gauge how close to being ‘back’ the Canes are.
You go into every game looking for a win, but as growing team looking to get better every week, you have to assess what went wrong while building on what went right. There are no moral victories, but UM fans have every right to wonder where this one might’ve gone had Jacory Harris been a playmaker instead of a back breaker.
The Buckeyes got the win, solidified their No. 2 ranking and enter next week undefeated while the Canes have to regroup for a three-game, season-defining stretch; @Pittsburgh, @Clemson and Florida State.
Cite the scoreboard and win column all day long because that’s what ultimately matters, but any superfan ranting and raving about the blowout this could’ve, should’ve and would’ve been – point them to the nearest box score for some perspective.
Miami had 19 first downs to Ohio State’s 21 and was 7-15 on third downs, compared to 6-18 for the Buckeyes. OSU totaled 414 total yards to UM’s 352. Harris threw for 232 yards while Terrelle Pryor went for 233.
On the ground, Miami backs combined for 120 yards while three Buckeye ball carriers ran for 181 (113 coming from Pryor). Time of possession was 31:11 to 28:49 in OSU’s favor.
Miami shot itself in the foot with eight penalties (Ohio State had two), but no more glaring stat than turnover margin; Ohio State was flawless while the Canes coughed it up four times – each more detrimental than the next:
– A deflection deep in Miami territory on the first possession put UM in a hole. A heads up play by a Buckeye defender, but how often is a teammate waiting in the wings when another bats a ball directly into his hands? Skill resulted in the play being broken up. Luck sent it into a teammate’s mitts for the interception.
– In the second quarter, an errant pass to a wideout who had his back to the ball. Harris had his sights set on Travis Benjamin the whole play and never looked off another receiver. The turnover was gift wrapped for Chimdi Chekwa.
– Later in the quarter, another mishap involving Benjamin, though in this case credit Chekwa for battling for this one and taking possession. He looked it in after a rattled Benjamin failed to make a play. No excuse for that one, No. 3.
– Early in the third, down 26-17, Miami is driving with a chance to pull within two and Harris throws behind Damien Berry, into the arms of Cameron Heyward, who rumbled 80 yards with the nail-in-the-coffin pick. Credit Ohio State for dropping a defensive lineman into zone coverage, but Harris needs to put that ball on the money and for the umpteenth time during the contest underthrew, overthrew or short-armed a pass to an open receiver.
Four turnovers for Miami, none for Ohio State, relatively even stats and a 12-point differential. Hardly the ass-kicking OSU folk sell it as, though it won’t stop them from running their big mouths.
Two days later, Miami’s special teams scores are considered flukes. “Take those two returns away and you only scored ten points!” emailed one delusional Buckeye. Another was quick to note, “If we didn’t settle for field goals and scored more touchdowns, it’d have been 56-10!” (.. and if Harris threw four more touchdowns instead of interceptions the Canes would’ve rolled. Both are a huge, pointless “if”.)
Those two sentiments pretty much sum up Miami’s hatred for all things Ohio State. Never gracious in victory and forever delusional while embellishing how the actual contest played out.
The Fiesta Bowl came down to a bogus flag in overtime after both teams battled to 17-17 in regulation, yet Buckeyes nationwide spent the following eight years defending their tainted title (instead of simply relishing in their victory), selling it like they rolled Miami the way Florida ultimately owned them four seasons later.
A kickoff or punt return for score were considered ‘breakdowns’ in their eyes, giving no credit to the Canes for having speedy and talented return men and solid blocking.
The past eight years were spent ripping Miami for not being tough enough to get into the end zone from the one-yard line in double overtime, but the Canes holding the Buckeyes to five field goals this past Saturday – viewed as mistakes by the OSU offense instead of crediting UM’s defense for tightening up in crunch time.
Turnovers gave Ohio State a short field on several occasions and in most cases, Miami’s defense won the battle:
– Harris’ first turnover came in Miami territory. Ohio State took over on the UM 25-yard line. Momentum on the bad guys’ side, the Buckeyes went 18 yards in seven plays. 1st and 10 from the UM 13-yard line, OSU mustered up six yards over the next three plays and settled for a field goal on 4th and 4.
– Late second quarter Ohio State took over on the Miami 28. OSU moved the ball 24 yards in nine plays. With a 1st and goal from the UM 6-yard line, the Buckeyes gained two yards over the next three plays, again settling for three.
– Harris turned the ball back over one play later and Miami’s overworked defense was back on the field. Ohio State took over at the UM 27 and after picking up a first down, faced a 1st and goal from the Canes 7-yard line. The Buckeyes gained three yards over three plays and again took the gimmie three.
– Harris early third quarter pick resulted in a touchdown, but late in the third quarter the defense again sacked up. Facing a 1st and 10 from the UM 13, Ohio State gained six yards on three plays and again kicked on 4th and 4 from the Miami 7.
– Early fourth quarter, up 36-24, Ohio State reached the Miami 14-yard line, lost two yards on three plays and again had another field goal attempt, this one sailing wide one a 4th and 14 from the UM 15.
On five red zone occasions Miami shut Ohio State’s offense down, yet an over-the-top fan base continues to cite Pryor kneeling out the final drive, as if it was fait accompli that the Buckeyes would’ve pushed the lead to 43 with ease.
More one-sided “would’ve, could’ve” chatter from one of the most hated fan bases nationwide, completely dismissing the fact their supposed Heisman-worthy quarterback failed to find the end zone on the majority of his red zone attempts.
But don’t just take that from this little ol’ biased blog. CBS Sportsline echoed the same sentiment.
“Bucknuts can celebrate because they got the Showdown Saturday win, 36-24 over No. 12 Miami. But what did we learn here? That Harris still has a troubling career-long trend of throwing interceptions. There were four on Saturday that turned into 20 Ohio State points,” said national columnist Dennis Dodd.
“Take away those mistakes — which, of course, you can’t — and Miami was Ohio State’s equal. Harris was Pryor. Pryor was Harris. Two immensely talented quarterbacks still searching.”
Ohio State didn’t bring their best game, but brought a much more complete effort than Miami. When Harris wasn’t firing passes to the guys in red, he was overthrowing receivers – twice missing Benjamin and the dependable Leonard Hankerson. When putting it where he needed to, both Aldarius Johnson and Chase Ford had key drops. Credit the Buckeyes defense where due, but it proved to be another big time game where Miami failed to get out of its own way at the most crucial moments.
On the other side of the ball, when Pryor actually was off the mark, again Miami failed to capitalize. Ray Ray Armstrong let an errant pass sail through his arms while DeMarcus Van Dyke celebrated a break up that had every reason to be picked off. When facing No. 2 on the road, you can’t trip all over yourself offensively (Miami did) and you have to make the other team pay when the opportunities are there (the Canes didn’t).
Championship-caliber teams have to make plays. Ten years ago Santana Moss talked about big time players stepping up in big games, moments after knocking off top-ranked Florida State. Who stepped up for the Canes this past weekend outside of a few special teams speedsters? Opportunities were there all day, yet when it was time to get the job done, UM folded on many levels.
A year ago this month Miami took a 2-0 record to Blacksburg, Virginia and found itself in 21-0 halftime hole. Everything that could go wrong in the first half did. A fumble on the first offensive series. A quick score given up due to the short field and momentum shift. A defensive back slipping in the rain, giving up a 48-yard touchdown strike (thrown by a quarterback not known for his strong arm or accuracy). A blocked punt returned for six.
The Canes adjusted at the half, got the quick score, forced a three-and-out and just over three minutes into the second half, started a drive that could narrow the gap. After driving 41 yards, two key drops sucked the life out of Miami’s offense. A shot at 21-14 quickly turned into 24-7 and game over, for all intents and purposes.
Miami let a similar opportunity slip away in Columbus, when mistakes of that nature are supposed to be a thing of the past.
Down 26-17, the Canes started the third quarter with a bang. Harris found Mike James for six yards, followed by a 19-yard haul in by Benjamin, trying to atone for his sins. Berry took the rock back-to-back plays, gaining 48 yards and putting Miami on the OSU 6-yard line.
False start, Canes – again slapping prosperity in the face. A quick two-yard run by Lamar Miller was followed by an incomplete, short-armed pass to a well-covered Hankerson. On 3rd and goal from the nine, Harris locked on to Berry, put the pass a yard behind him and Heyward snatched it – and all momentum – rumbling 80 yards to the UM 15.
Ohio State fans will wear out their arms patting themselves on the back, but again you have to wonder why Miami seems to freeze up in moments they used to live for. You also question why offensive coordinator Mark Whipple would look to a somewhat cutesy play instead of using the height of a LaRon Byrd in the end zone.
Miami has height at receiver and entering this weekend Ohio State’s secondary was one of few perceived weaknesses. Inside the ten-yard line on second and third down, both receivers were thrown to a few yards shy of the goal line, leaving it on them to find a way to paydirt even had they caught the ball.
Hurricane mistakes allowed the Buckeyes to keep building a lead, eventually insurmountable and forcing Miami to abandon the running game, needing to get pass-happy as time dwindled.
For the emotionally-fueled fan, this one hurt and you’ll remain unable to see past the loss to hated Ohio State. You refuse to acknowledge any growth, you’ll pound your fist as this was a “must win” game and you’ll refuse to take any good from where this team is and where it’s headed, once working out the kinks.
If you slow your roll and allow logic to prevail, you’ll realize things aren’t as bad as they seem after the fact. The good and bad in a nutshell:
– All the talk leading up to this game had opposing critics talking about Miami being blown away in the trenches, a la Wisconsin in last year’s bowl game. That wasn’t the case in the least. Miami’s young offensive line hung tough with Ohio State’s defensive unit and while the Canes d-line and linebackers didn’t take over the game, but they weren’t a liability and had a respectable outing against what some will say is the best team in the nation.
Turnovers did Miami in, but stats-wise, the Canes went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes; something that wouldn’t have been the case the past few seasons. Whether you want to admit that today or not, it’s growth.
– There’s little solace in a moral victory, but two games into the season if you’re gauging where UM is at – this team has the talent of a top ten squad. It simply needs to step up and start playing like one.
– As good as the defense looked at times, it still needs to learn how to close. When would-be interceptions hit you in the mitts, you have to reel them in. J12 may be one cool customer, but anytime you’re throwing multiple picks a game, it gets into your head. Would’ve been nice to see Miami’s defense make Pryor pay at least once and to get one back for the Canes’ offense. To Harris’ credit, he’s a momentum guy and he can shake off a bad play. Give your offense the short field for once, Miami D.
As a team, learn how to close. Focus. Seize opportunities. Make plays. Steal momentum … especially in a huge road game.
– Even with turnovers piling up, the Canes never folded. Tough road venue. Mistakes happening at inopportune times. UM never backed down. All those times Ohio State took over in the red zone and Miami manned up, holding them to three – something to build on.
Two years back the Canes had one of the worst red zone defenses in the nation. Game two of this young season it held the Buckeyes to a slew of field goals. While it’s of little solace in a loss, the Canes’ defense needs to build on that. Shutting down Pryor at home and keeping a good squad out of the end zone five times – it’s proof this defense is growing up, but isn’t fully where it needs to be.
– Miami has playmakers again. Miller looked spectacular on that kickoff return and UM found an answer in Benjamin as a punt returner, after booting last year’s star Thearon Collier off the team this off-season.
Big special teams returns and field position battles – they were always a staple for good Miami teams and as this year goes on, that is a new facet that the team can rely on. Special teams needs to be an asset, not a liability. The Canes finally have some ballers who are making plays – even in road games and hostile environments. Blocking so speedsters can do their job – that looks under control. Tackling when the other guys have the ball and winning the field position battle … long way to go.
– There’s been a lot of talk about Jacory versus his alter ego J12. The junior quarterback rolled into Columbus rocking a sweater vest, days after being seen on campus shirtless in a pair of Oakland Raiders overalls. Harris is also a Twitter fiend, oft commenting, jibber-jabbering and having fun with his celeb status.
I believe Harris can be a good one, but until the touchdowns start replacing the interceptions it’s time for No. 12 to speak softly and carry a bigger stick. Fall off the radar a bit. Show it on the field, instead of broadcasting it via the Internet, leaving yourself open to more criticism and putting added pressure on yourself.
This is Jacory’s junior season and year two as a starter, this is the time that great quarterbacks and supposed to take that giant leap forward. Harris had 17 last season and is already up to four after 1.5 games. Ohio State may be the best defense he sees all year, but Saturday’s mistakes weren’t all forced by a great defense – some were mistakes by a quarterback who should know better and a supporting cast that he needs to reel in and lead.
Time for Harris to grow up overnight, putting last year’s mistakes in the rear view. If not, doesn’t matter who is left on the schedule – multiple interceptions a game will hurt, whether you’re facing a Florida State or Florida A&M. Miami will go as far as Harris will take them and this can’t be another turnover-marred season. Period.
At day’s end, coaches coach these kids up to the best of their ability … but they can’t make plays for them. Harris knows where he’s supposed to put the ball and these guys in the secondary know when an opposing quarterback puts one in your mitts, you have to haul it in, make a play and change the course of the game.
A few years back you could blame an inexperienced staff for not getting the most out of inexperienced players. Not the case anymore. Miami coaches had a good enough game plan to win this game and at this phase of the rebuilding project, a junior quarterback and junior wideout simply cannot make freshman mistakes. Same to be said for unfocused defensive backs.
Lastly, for those still wallowing in this loss, look at the current state of the ACC as well as the slew of upsets that have already taken place two weeks into this season.
Then No. 10 Virginia Tech fell to No. 3 Boise State in a heartbreaker … and five days later is upended by lowly James Madison, making the Hokies the second ranked team to ever lose to a Division I-AA opponent.
Entering last Monday, the Hokies were a top ten team thinking national championship. A week later they’re out of the top 25 and started their season 0-2. Just like that.
Florida State garnered a ton of hype after beating down lowly Samford – to the point where many across the nation were talking ‘upset’ regarding this past weekend’s road trip to Oklahoma. The only ones upset were Seminole faithful who made the road trip to Norman. Final score, 47-17, with FSU scoring a touchdown on the game’s final play, padding the stats.
The Noles surrendered 394 yards through the air, turned it over three times and had 12 penalties. It was the third-worst beating Florida State has seen since 1991.
For a team that is supposed to be inching its way back (even predicted to win the ACC by some), this was a huge blow and one of the worst losses the Noles have suffered in decades. It was also a weak outing for the hyped Christian Ponder, who only mustered up 113 yards through the air and had zero touchdowns to two interceptions.
Defending ACC champs Georgia Tech fell 28-25 at Kansas – a middle of the road Big XII squad that lost to North Dakota State last weekend. The Yellow Jackets moved the ball fairly, but couldn’t score against a very average and deflated football team. Next up, North Carolina and a grudge match between two Coastal teams that can’t afford a big conference loss out the gate, after already suffering early season letdowns.
Virginia hung tough but lost at Southern Cal while Wake Forest gave up 48 to Duke, scoring 54 in the win.
Even in defeat, this should be a time for optimism at The U. Losing to Ohio State hurts, but Miami fought a good fight and handed away a winnable game. Temporarily crushing, but not season-defining. Ten games remain and this was a non-conference showdown with no bearing on the conference race and potential BCS berth. At best, the Canes were considered a dark horse for the national title this year, while last weekend’s opponent is expected by many to reach Glendale.
Some will still scream “ACC or bust”, which remains pointless as Shannon isn’t going anywhere at season’s end – but based on the conference competition (and the fact that Miami showed it could play with Ohio State), there absolutely is that much more pressure to win the Coastal and get to Charlotte.
Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have proven beatable. Florida State’s defense is in shambles. Clemson returns a solid quarterback but as shell of the running game they had last season. Duke, Virginia and Maryland are all lower-tier, beatable teams, while North Carolina remains in hot water and will most likely have depth problems by the time November rolls around.
While on the road to recovery, it is about taking steps forward and even in a loss, Miami did that this past weekend. Those Canes too jaded to believe that, go back and watch the tape. Even with three first half interceptions, UM hung tough and was in position to close the gap to two … before interceptions number four. Recent Cane squad would’ve folded. This one fought to the end and whether you can admit it or not, that’s progress.
A national championship is always what you aspire for in Miami, but an ACC title berth and BCS game are absolutely a tangible goal when sizing up the rest of the conference this year.
Regroup. Focus. Take care of business. ‘No Excuses’, right?
Get out there and prove next Thursday at Pittsburgh. Still a lot of football to be played this fall. Rise up.