This was set to be an article about the Miami Hurricanes defying-odd-early-in-year-two of the Mario Cristobal era—an improbable, overdue 5-0 start—including a few dominating, all-business routes over inferior foes as well as a take-down of a ranked SEC and their loaded 5-Star roster.
Instead, Miami’s early-feel good narrative was destroyed in half a minute, courtesy of an inexplicable coaching blunder that that will absolutely redefine the Hurricanes’ 2023 football season if UM’s coaching staff doesn’t find the proper way to own, correct and grow from this nauseating gaffe.
There’s no need to over-relitigate what took place Saturday night—so the Cliff Notes version for those who only caught snippets and soundbites.
Miami was stifled early defensively by Georgia Tech, failed to seize some early moments, saw an early touchdown wiped out by a phantom hold—and an end zone interception two plays later—while a phantom roughing-the-passer call early second half set up the Yellow Jackets’ first touchdown and a 14-point swing in what everyone felt would be a close game after the first few possessions.
Tyler Van Dyke showed up lost, rattled and abysmal with three uncharacteristic interceptions—each more egregious and head-scratching than the previous bad decision—though a few clutch throws and a timely Hurricanes takeaway miraculously had Miami leading 20-17 late, after trailing 17-10 early fourth quarter.
The storyline was set to write itself; the Canes adding another chapter to what had been a feel-good year two under Cristobal after an abortion of a 5-7 season in 2022.
DREAM START TO SEASON GOES UP IN SMOKE
UM was all business in wins over lesser teams like Miami (OH), Bethune-Cookman and Temple—dismantling all three by a combined score of 127-17—which is what’s expected when the Canes are playing football at a high level.
Outside of that, a dominant 48-33 route of a Texas A&M roster loaded with 5-Star talent; the Canes pounding and out-gunning an SEC program that recently beat Auburn and Arkansas before conservative play-calling saw them falling to Alabama by six hours before Miami teed it up on Saturday night.
The next resume entry looked to be “gritty home comeback against a feisty opponent on a night where nothing went right until late”—which it would’ve been had Cristobal done what every other coach on the planet would do with :33 on the clock on 3rd-and-10 when the opponent was out of time outs; kneel the f**king football and end the f**king game.
This blemish so brutal, Cristobal could finish this season 11-1 with wins over North Carolina, Clemson and Florida State—and he’d still never live down this brain-dead decision to run Don Chaney Jr. a tenth time on what should’ve been the game’s final drive at that juncture in the contest.
The decision was that idiotic.
Keyboard-warrior critics spent the wee hours of Sunday morning unearthing footage of Cristobal doing something similar in 2018 while at Oregon, when he elected to run it instead of punting on fourth down in the waining moments against Stanford—who forced a fumble, set up a field goal, took the game to overtime and beat the Ducks at home.
One would think the muscle-memory of that would prevent a head coach from ever doing something like that again. Or machismo wins out, they stick to their guns with a lightning-never-strikes-twice energy, pound the rock and then take a 10-gigawatt strike to the nads when the plan backfires.
Again, in the spirit of perception actually not always being reality—Chaney didn’t fumble. The kid’s elbow was clearly down and the referees not overturning this call remains as inexplicable as Cristobal’s go-for-it handoff itself—but the running back never should’ve been in that position, and even if it’d have rightfully been over-turned, the criticism for the dumb call would’ve remained merciless.
AGONY OF DEFEAT WHEN VICTORY WAS INEVITABLE
If there’s anything one learns in a lifetime of sports obsession; winning covers all warts, while losing exposes everything. Survival is all that winds up mattering, as it allows every previous mistake in a contest to get swept under the rug.
Miami rival Florida State pushed to 5-0 this weekend, after back-to-back weeks that could’ve proved disastrous if a Clemson gimme 29-yard walk-on’s field goal doesn’t sail wide, or if feisty Boston College got in field goal range in the final moments—after a game full of self-inflicted wounds and 131 yards on 18 penalties.
Seminoles supporters would’ve unraveled nationwide after a game where the Eagles out-gained them 457 yards, to 350—on a day where Florida State was 1-of-9 on third down and turned the ball over twice.
Instead, they got the 31-29 victory and were afforded the opportunity to play the good-teams-find-a-way-to-win card that Miami was destined for, if not for the non-kneel and two monster offensive plays from Georgia Tech that were the result of a rattled Hurricanes defense on its heels.
This writer having just seen Guns N’ Roses live on Friday night at the PowerTrip festival in Indio, California—it seems an apropos time to quote the legendary W. Axl Rose, posing the much-anticipated question on every UM’s fan’s mind: “Where do we go now?”
Twitter sleuths have surmised that Cristobal ran Chaney—who had 97 yards prior to that final handoff—in effort to get his running back over the 100-yard mark, while others are fast-pointing to the fact that the head coach is averse to ever taking a knee, always running out the clock with a final running play.
Whatever the case, optics matter and the next series words that come out of the second-year Miami coach’s will absolutely define if and how his team responds, as well as where this 2023 season winds up.
Even if all the right things have been stated by players in their dazed-and-confused post-game pressers, trust has been breached, faith has been lost and a coaching staff gave away a game these kids scrapped back for a won, after not playing their best.
TURNING POINT MOMENT FOR A NEW SEASON
A year ago, Miami fell to lowly Middle Tennessee State after a bye week and never recovered. An offense-less road loss at Texas A&M started the derailment and after the Hurricanes underestimated the fight the Blue Raiders would show, losing five of the final eight games after that upset.
As quickly and impressive as Miami got to 4-0 to start the season, it will very-easily find itself at 4-3—if not worse—as a road trip to undefeated North Carolina looms next weekend, followed by a home showdown against a Clemson.
The Hurricanes have only won three times in Chapel Hill since joining the ACC, while the last overall win against the Tigers came in triple overtime on the road in 2005.
Cristobal gave the expected, “we should’ve taken a knee” answer—twice—during his post-game press conference, but his messaging to his players needs to be much more vulnerable and raw than the understandably-canned response shared with the media after this dejecting loss.
SHORT MEMORIES NEEDED TO BOUNCE BACK
Antonius Proximo wisely told Marcus Aurelius that he needed to win the crowd to win his freedom regarding the final battle in Gladiator.
Cristobal’s marching orders are to immediately do everything in his power to win back the respect and trust of his team after failing them miserably on Saturday night—a stealing-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory violation that feels more painful than every other Miami loss since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, due to the how, why and speed at which everything turned on one play and moment.
Because of this present-day world where social media criticism in omnipresent in this tear-down culture, the Hurricanes’ mistake has turned into nationwide fodder—as miserable people live for that fuel that comes from shitting all over someone else’s pain—and there’s no better mark than when something bad happens to Miami.
The embarrassment that now comes in this moment is amplified, which means the hurt and pain for these kids is two-fold—as athletes whose coach cost then a game they had won—and as human beings who are getting mocked and laughed at for something that wasn’t their fault.
Cristobal and staff cannot not just go heads-down, power-through and get-past mode with these kids for North Carolina week. They owe them more and have to own the decision and explain the screw-up without defending the moment.
“Guys, I’m sorry. I let everyone in this room down. I’ll never let it happen again and I will work to earn your trust back and hope you can forgive me as we forge ahead this week.”
Cristobal and staff have done this long enough and know it’s their job to put these players in the position to win football games, while protecting them from themselves in the moment.
Chaney shouldn’t harbor an ounce of guilt for a fumble (that should’ve been overturned), nor should All-American safety Kam Kinchens be torn up for jumping a route to end the game with an interception, which let a receiver get behind him for a game-winning score.
Both players’ blunders were the direct result of coaches failing them and the team and in a current world void of accountability, transparency and authenticity—an impassioned mea culpa and promise to make up for the error are a non-negotiable.
The margin here for Cristobal and staff is razor-thin; the difference between a rallying cry that can save a season, versus a wheels-off moment that can fast-derail everything this program has worked and built towards these past nine months.
For the “Fire Cristobal” crowd, a suggestion to get a grip—with the understanding that if that’s your reaction the morning, there’s no shot at getting through to you, so why bother.
Same to be said for the pile-on media that wants to gaslight Miami fans into believing all is lost; that 4-0 didn’t matter, that beating the brakes off of Texas A&M is old news, or that dominating lesser foes and entering October undefeated is all meaningless over one horrible coaching decision at game’s end.
Going into Saturday evening, Cristobal’s efforts and Miami’s resurgence was legitimately the biggest story in college football—despite what ESPN wants to oversell you about Colonel Sanders and Colorado’s flashy, overrated Buffaloes. But in the wake of this setback, all is supposedly lost and it’s same-ol-Miami—all bark, no bite, another disappointing year and Cristobal’s leadership efforts now under scrutiny.
One horrible decision and moment do not negate the work that’s gone on inside and around this program since late November last year, as soon as the 2022 season ended and 5-7 was in the books.
The upgrades at coordinator, the efforts in the weight room, the pick-ups in the transfer portal and tireless effort on the recruiting trail—Miami has looked all the part of the most-improved team in the nation this fall—and was one obvious kneel-down from 5-0 and preserving that.
Cristobal even received a Sunday morning pledge from 4-Star wide receiver Ny Carr—the former Georgia commit in the stands at HardRock taking in atmosphere and seeing enough for him to pledge his commitment to a Miami program at their emotional low 12 hours prior.
OWN THE MOMENT; CONTROL YOUR DESTINY
Shitty an evening as the Hurricanes had, these players and coordinators rallied back and deservedly were due a dodged-a-bullet experience in that locker room post-game—exhaling after a comeback and shifting their undefeated focus to a hell of a road game at North Carolina next Saturday night.
Instead, a week full of second-guessing and doubt appear on deck unless the bleeding is stopped immediately and this hurt and pain are channeled into redemption and controlled anger.
Michael Irvin famously gave a pre-game speech in Tallahassee back in 2005—a season-opening night Miami went out and lost to Florida State after a muffed game-tying field goal attempt—and while these old-guy, former player speeches can get trite at times, there were a few sentiments worth repeating here 18 years later.
Outside of one player to another making the promise to get their jobs done, Irvin closed with a message to not let any man get in the way of the history that is being written—directed at the Seminoles that evening, but equally as applicable as a coaching blunder here the morning after disaster.
This loss to Georgia Tech only defines the season if Miami lets one Saturday loss in October result in one, two or three more.
While most won’t admit it now, if these Hurricanes are renewed, recovered and sitting at 8-1 a month from now rolling into Doak Campbell Stadium for an epic showdown against the Seminoles—”knee-gate” will be the last thing on anybody’s mind.
This process can be as simple as getting back to work, not letting yesterday ruin today and refocusing on the task at hand—or these Hurricanes can do the opposite, letting themselves unravel and this season derail as quickly as it got rolling. The choice is theirs.
Is this current Miami group willing to write their own history, or will the resign themselves to believing the script has already been writing and there’s no overcoming a setback of this size?
Tune in the next seven weekends to find out what these Hurricanes are really made of.
Christian 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 is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his Miami-bred band Company Jones, who released their debut album “The Glow” in 2021. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.