This one was over before it even started—a dream scenario-type evening for the Miami Hurricanes—who dismantled the Florida State Seminoles, 52-10 in primetime at HardRock last Saturday night. It was the biggest beating the Canes laid on the Noles since 1976 (47-0) and was the first time 50+ points were scored in the series. Definitely the kind of history one wants to be on in this storied rivalry.
On a grander scale, it was just the type of evening the doctor ordered in regards to the trajectory both programs are headed. Miami appears to be turning a corner year two in the Manny Diaz era—the adaption of the spread offense under first-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, as well as much-needed stability at quarterback with grad transfer D’Eriq King—the Hurricanes are college football’s most-invigorated bunch.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles continue a free fall into oblivion. A program that once was the beacon of head coaching stability with Bobby Bowden at the helm for decades, first-year head coach Mike Norvell is Florida State’s third different leader during Miami’s four-game win-streak in the series. Insult to injury came in the form of Norvell missing his first game in this rivalry due to COVID-19, laid up in Tallahassee while his team took a colossal beating.
Before this recent streak. the Canes had lost seven in a row in the series—and one One doesn’t have to look far in the rearview to drudge up some painful memories; especially at HardRock, where the Noles had won five in a row between 2008 and 2016. Visions of ones-that-got-away—local talent like Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook, playing for an in-state rival and making mincemeat of the Canes; at times felt like the bleeding would never stop—both on the field, a well as the recruiting trail.
The Hurricanes are thankfully getting back to keeping those next-level running backs at home, too—as the coming out party for both Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton continues. Knighton, a former FSU commit flipped to UM after Chaney Jr. had committed, welcoming the competition—while Chaney Jr. is one of those throwback talents who was all about ‘The U’ from day one. Both freshmen hit the ground running this fall and are proving to be ideal compliments to the hard-nosed Cam’Ron Harris, who already matched last year’s five touchdowns three games into 2020.
Miami put up 517 yards against Florida State, going into cruise control-mode at the half, sitting on a 35-3 lead. The Noles finished with 330 total yards against a Hurricanes defense that held them in check all evening. The iconic Turnover Chain made three appearances, while players like Harris declined the Touchdown Rings after his two scores, giving them to his offensive linemen instead—the culture seemingly changing one play at time.
LONG-AWAITED CULTURE SHIFT FINALLY UNDERWAY
A small gesture, but one that certainly confirms a culture shift is underway at Miami and should have fans excited about the future. First-year football Chief of Staff, Ed Reed is also already having a cultural impact—as every facet of this program top to bottom will instantly be better by way of an all-time Miami great—and NFL Hall of Famer—so closely tied to UM’s day-to-day.
Miami moved up to No. 8 in both polls and will go into a bye week 3-0 before a road trip to take on No. 1 Clemson in Death Valley—again, in primetime. It’s the ultimate litmus test in a quirky season where the Canes and Tigers weren’t set to meet, until out-of-conference games got the boot in favor of a few more in-conference match-ups—and should be welcomed by all, as getting a crack at top programs is the only way to tell where one truly stands.
Critics continue asking if the Hurricanes are “back”—the annual premature build-up of Miami, only to tear the program down if or when it gets tagged in the mouth at some point this season. Understandable as it’s good business for the media to over-hype the polarizing program that is nationally loathed, but locally loved.
As the legend Jimmy Johnson stated after the Canes’ 10-0 start in 2017—Miami won’t be “back” until that sixth national championship is claimed—but on a weekend college football went so haywire for many, UM getting to 3-0 in dominating fashion over a bitter rival; it was a hell of a way to close out September.
Those paying attention saw No. 3 Oklahoma blow a 21-point third quarter lead against a Kansas State team who fell to Arkansas State in their opener—the unranked Wildcats tearing off 24 unanswered in the upset. Meanwhile, down in Baton Rouge, No. 6 LSU was the first SEC victim of Mike Leach and his Air Raid offense—the Bulldogs hanging 623 yards and 44 points on the defending champs.
There was also No. 8 Texas barely surviving a road test at Texas Tech—down 15 with 3:13 remaining, before tying things up and surviving in overtime, despite giving up 56 points in regulation.
Meanwhile, Miami continues shocking the nation with a best-case-scenario turnaround after a dismal 6-7 run last fall—on the heels of a 7-9 under Mark Richt, after his squad’s 10-0 start in 2017.
The hiring of Lashlee, the reeling-in of King—as well as poaching a crosstown kicker in FIU’s Jose Borregales—it gave Hurricanes supporters off-seasonhope, though it was somewhat tempered based on Miami’s over-hype the past 15 seasons. Even when everything looks like it’s lining up the correct way, all hell has had a way of breaking loose for UM—dating back to that late Fiesta Bowl flag in the wee hours of 2003.
FAST START DOESN’T ABSOLVE LAST YEAR’S FLOP
Just like the Hurricanes aren’t officially “back”, Diaz also isn’t yet out of the woods after a brutal inaugural season—one that won’t soon be forgotten after the year ended with a three-game losing streak to lowly FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech, who shut the Canes out in a third-tier in the bowl game.
Toss in the fact Miami faithful have bought into fool’s gold the past decade, by way of wrong-fit head coaches, or seasons that started strong, but ended with a thud—it’s going to take more than wins over UAB, Louisville and a bad Florida State team to crown Diaz “the one”. Keeping this team level-headed after any modicum of prosperity; it was a killer in 2019, as well as recent years passed.
Again, that mortifying three-game losing streak last fall—it came on the heels of big wins over the Noles and Cardinals, when Miami got big-headed and dropped its guard. Learning from those mistakes, these Canes must be mentally prepped for the meat of the schedule with Clemson, Pittsburgh and Virginia on deck—some thorn-in-the-side ACC programs that have all caught Miami slipping.
The rout of Florida State was a definite step forward for Miami, but it also must be taken in context. The Seminoles aren’t a good football team—haven’t been in a few years now—and the Hurricanes are riding high due to a level of maturity and experience at quarterback that the program has been void of for almost two decades. Despite most knowing this to be the case, it hasn’t stopped a lot of premature and overconfident, “We want Clemson!” chatter as Miami rolls through a bye week.
In a season where the fifth-seeded Miami Heat defied bubble odds with a 12-3 playoff run that had them toppling #4 Indiana, #1 Milwaukee and #3 Boston, en route to the franchise’s first Finals appearance since 2014—it’d be foolish to not give the Canes a fighting chance against the Tigers. This 2020 sports calendar has been as quirky and unpredictable as any in recent memory—and where a neutral court and no fans put the Heat in a mano y mano competitive situation—Miami playing in a sparsely packed Death Valley is not the same as full-throttle Clemson.
Still, that is a far cry from a belief that the Hurricanes belong on the same player-to-player, competitive field as the Tigers, program-wise right now—and Miami fans failing to acknowledge this are setting themselves up for a lot of misguided frustration this season, as well as 2021 when King is (most-likely) gone and a fresh new, inexperienced face is under center.
Those needing proof, just look at the past decade-plus of Miami football and all the program’s false starts that supporters have over-bought into.
CANES LOOKED “BACK” IN RECENT YEARS, BUT WERE FAR OFF
The Canes landed on the right side of a season-opening shootout at No. 18 Florida State in 2009 and went from unranked to No. 9 in the country after taking out No. 14 Georgia Tech at home a week later. Cue the standard “we back” chatter going into No. 11 Virginia Tech, where Miami was slaughtered, 31-7. From there, eked out a one-point win over No. 8 Oklahoma in a bounce-back game—the Sooners without veteran starter Sam Bradford—and picked up wins over Florida A&M and Central Florida, before blowing an overtime loss to Clemson late October.
Miami then beat Wake Forest, Virginia, Duke and South Florida—but sandwiched between those, another loss to the Butch Davis-led Tar Heels for a 9-3 regular season that ended with a Citrus Bowl loss to Wisconsin. A year later, Randy Shannon stumbled to 7-5 in his fifth season as head coach and was fired weeks before the Canes got crushed in the Sun Bowl by Notre Dame.
In 2013—year three of the Al Golden era—Miami rolled out to a 7-0 start, hyped by a defensive-fueled win over a No. 12 Florida squad that went on to finish the season 4-8, with a bottom-out home loss to Georgia Southern. The Canes crept all the way up to No. 7 for a road showdown against No. 3 Florida State and left on the wrong end of a 41-14 beatdown.
An unranked Virginia Tech squad gave the No. 14 Hurricanes an even worse beating a week later—42-14—before Miami surrendered 18 unanswered in the final quarter at Duke the following week, knocking them out of the Top 25. Wins over Virginia and Pittsburgh followed, before getting embarrassed by homegrown Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.
The 2017 season felt different talent-wise. Malik Rosier was a question mark at quarterback, but he managed to overachieve in what should’ve been a strong senior campaign from Brad Kaaya.
Coming into the new season fresh off the program’s first bowl win in a decade, a gutsy Miami squad finally broke that seven-game losing streak Florida State, with a last second win in Tallahassee. UM seemed to gain momentum each week in “Cardiac Canes” fashion—while late game heroics against Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina kept Miami’s dream season alive and an undefeated record resulted back-to-back November primetime showdowns at home.
No. 9 Miami pulled away late against No. 13 Virginia Tech, 28-10—setting up the perfect scenario with No. 3 Notre Dame looming. ESPN’s GameDay made for an electric atmosphere, the Irish were swamped early and the Canes experienced one of those rare perfect evenings where everything just works, in game-of-the-season, 41-8 rout.
Miami survived two 14-point deficits to Virginia the following week, before the offense was exposed by a four-win Pittsburgh team in the regular season finale. Clemson rolled big in the Canes’ first-ever ACC Championship Game appearance, 38-3—before Wisconsin out-gutted Miami in the Orange Bowl; an early 14-3 lead gone by half in a 34-24 loss and three-game losing streak that took all the piss out of that 10-0 start.
Three cautionary tale seasons in recent memory—yet few seem to have learned their lesson about what it takes for Miami to be back to true contender status.
TWO-DEEP STILL WAY OFF FROM TRUE CONTENDER STATUS
Even with a win over Clemson and a would-be, socially distanced miracle season—Miami still lacks a two-deep that could hang with the likes of bigs like Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia or Alabama—and is literally one or two injuries away from a fully derailed season. Contrast that to legit contenders who reload across the board the way the Canes used to in the dominant 80’s.
Come 2021, Miami is not only set to see King headed to the NFL—a slew of would-be seniors will most-likely forego their final year of eligibility to chase NFL paychecks.
Tight-end Brevin Jordan is playing his way into a first or second round pick, while there’s no reason for Harris to keep taking that uncompensated running back abuse. Those highly-touted, former 5-Star transfers from the Pac-12—Bubba Bolden and Jalean Phillips—are both also having the type of seasons that will send them packing a year early, while Temple transfer Quincy Roche is another who will probably decline the NCAA’s bonus year—content with a solid one-year showing at UM.
Longtime Canes like Jon Ford, Amari Carter, Zach McCloud and Mike Harley all graduate—not to mention other yet to be named, would-be seniors who follow current Canes’ culture by leaving prematurely; feeling they’re ready, despite experts and scouts telling them otherwise.
All the news isn’t bad, as the future is certainly bright for Miami—the 2020 class already yielding positive results by way of what Chaney Jr. and Knighton are showing in early season toughness and work ethics as true freshmen. Quarterback of the future Tyler Van Dyke was also part of this most-recent haul, as well as quality kids like Avantae Williams, Jalen Rivers, Elijah Roberts and Chantz Williams.
The drops and inconsistency at wide receiver, by anyone not named Dee Wiggins—Miami is prepping for guys like Michael Redding, Dazalin Worsham, Xavier Restrepo and late addition Keyshawn Smith to take over; all of which seem to have the tools and toughness needed at the position.
The Canes finally landed a their first 5-Star crown jewel type player since running back Duke Johnson in defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, of Palmetto—as well as American Heritage athlete James Williams. Miami currently has the ninth-ranked class—second best in the ACC—with 22 “hard commits” and that number can grow based on how the Hurricanes look against Clemson, as well as the rest of this season.
MAXIMIZE POTENTIAL DREAM SEASON; STAY LEVEL-HEADED
In a year when up is down, left is right and little adds up—the processing and summing up of these Hurricanes remains one more thing to try and make sense of. Who are these Hurricanes right now, what will they grow into this season—and how does one temper the excitement of this season, while properly assessing where the team will be year three in the Diaz era, without this season’s key components?
In most cases, the modus operandi would be to soak up 2020 for all it’s worth and to deal with next year, next year—but the Hurricanes’ experience is always a different animal in comparison to other more traditional programs. Miami’s rich championship history, coupled with a decade and an half of irrelevance—and the embarrassment associated with that level of failure—it’s the catalyst for overbuying into false starts over the years, instead of looking at things through a more logical and reasonable lens.
While Miami continues its preparation for Clemson and looks to shock the world once again—Hurricanes faithful might want to use that time wrapping their arms around what is, what could be and what lies ahead. A special year is underway, by way of a game-changing veteran quarterback and high-octane offense—which should have all Miami fans optimistic for all things 2020.
The trick lies in accepting this season at face value, while not prematurely getting caught up in the being “back” route—or fast-tracking the timeline regarding being a bonafide contender again.
Make 2020 all it can be, close strong recruiting-wise for 2021 and identify that next crop of team leaders ready to fill the void of the mature group that is captaining the ship this fall.
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.