The Miami Hurricanes dropped their third game of the season this past weekend, falling to undefeated Georgia Tech, in yet another winnable game where the five-time national champions weren’t up to task—despite knowing precisely what was coming.
Yellow Jackets’ head coach Paul Johnson—a triple option wizard—made his intentions rather clear days before the game; “We’re going to run the ball. If they can stop the run, they’re going to win the game.”
The rest–just another sad chapter in Miami’s recent history.
Georgia Tech ran consistently and at will—65 times, to be exact. They amassed 318 yards on the ground, converted nine times on third down, held onto the ball for 40:45, never turned it over and picked up 21 first downs, all while running back Zach Laskey had another one of those career-high nights that always seem to happen against “The U”.
Welcome to today’s Hurricanes—where average opponents are made to look like title contenders and mid-tier players turn into next-level superstars, by way of season-best performances.
Meanwhile a proud legacy is being chipped-away at game-after-game and and a multi-year rebuild has officially stalled, leaving no clear-cut answers in sight.
Miami head coach Al Golden is feeling the heat and even he knows he’s backed into a corner. The product on the field isn’t measuring up, losses are piling up and fans are no longer showing up. Hardly a winning combination.
Golden was granted some early reprieve, guiding Miami through the perils of an NCAA scandal and helping clean up a mess he didn’t make. Fast-forward and year four is half in the bag, the stigma of the investigation gone since last October and with the incentive and talent to get off to a better start in 2014, the Hurricanes sit at .500 with seven to play.
The critics are officially out in full force—talking heads, fans and some fired-up former players—and rightfully so. Things are worse than expected at this point.
Golden doubled-down on himself earlier this year—backing his staff and scheme, going with no coordinator changes. Miami lost four of it’s final six in 2013 and since then, three more, leaving Golden to defend his guys and process on a weekly basis—often saying a lot, while saying nothing.
It’s on me. We have to get this right. Beat in all three phases of the game. Guys are freelancing. Poor tackling. We’re not executing. Too many night games. New team to focus on. Put the loss behind us and move along.
That get-over-it mindset—easier to request than implement. This drought is going on a decade-plus and folks are simply too backed up to process anything but wins and a legitimately renewed program right now.
HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF ALL OVER AGAIN
Like his predecessor Randy Shannon, Golden also had a 9-4 third season and higher expectations on the horizon year four. A proverbial corner should be turned by most good coaches that point in their tenure, no?
Even with all the personnel losses the Hurricanes have suffered (upwards of 30 players have left the team or been dismissed since Golden’s after the 2010 season), this is officially Golden’s team. There’s been enough time to implement a new culture and while it’s understandable the Hurricanes’ aren’t back-back for a handful of reasons, this team should have a proper identity, while getting better week in and week out.
Miami looked like it grew up in a win against Duke—playing aggressive and clutch, while getting some big stops, laying some lumber and making a statement.
The Hurricanes genuinely looked like they brought some authentic attitude in a big-game environment and were turning a corner and eerily reminiscent to Miami’s 2010 win over North Carolina. Another spirited, nationally-televised night game where even Shannon was letting loose, animated with his players and giving a feeling like “The U’ was almost back.
From there, the familiar late-season skid with losses to Virginia, Virginia Tech and in overtime to South Florida; the final chapter in Shannon’s era with his late November firing.
Whatever Miami channeled against Duke, it reverted back to Nebraska-mode this past weekend in Atlanta. Georgia Tech set the tone, played their game, maintained a pace and steamrolled the Canes to a slow death.
Inconsistency is a sign of immaturity. Making the same mistakes and over at this point of the season—and Golden’s tenure—beyond troubling.
LOYALTY STILL DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT
Weeks ago senior linebacker Denzel Perryman admitted that even he was freelancing on defense, not playing his gap and not wrapping up his tackles.
Miami’a best defensive player and thisclose to declaring for last April’s NFL Draft and playing Sundays—why is Perryman copping to freshman-like mistakes after a primetime loss, while parroting the litany of excuses that spew from his coaches mouths?
“It’s not coach, man. I ain’t going to lie. I try to ignore the outside noise, but when I hear stuff like that it bothers me a lot,” said Perryman after the Nebraska game. “It’s not coach, you know. Coach D’Onofrio does a great job putting us in the best [positions] and the best situations where we need to be. It’s just up to us to execute. We had a lot of freelancing going on.”
Defensive end Anthony Chickillo—who almost left with Perryman after last season—has also been taking up for defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, echoing his coaches’ mantra—it’s not a scheme-thing; players are in position, but aren’t making plays.
“Coach D is one of the best football minds I’ve been around,” Chickillo told the Herald’s Manny Navarro. “He probably is the best football mind. His football IQ is unbelievable, and he puts us in the right position to make plays. People just have to make them.”
While it’s easy to understand the sentiment, it’s a hollow statement. Chickillo’s degree of experience is high school and a few years under the tutelage of Golden and D’Onofrio.
He’s not an NFL journeyman in the twilight of a lengthy career, studying under the game’s best for years on end. His benchmark on what is or isn’t superior coaching simply can’t be established at his age.
Chickillo and Perryman are simply backing their coaches—like most there-to-learn, impressionable college athletes across the nation. It’s a good trait and far from a knock; it’s just a reminder that loyalty doesn’t mean that one is right.
Both will come to understand that in time.
WHAT IS, IS … FOR NOW—CHANGE IN SOME FORM IS COMING
Miami is now 25-18 under Golden, has lost four consecutive road games and dropped seven of it’s past 12 match-ups—on the heels of a 7-0 start in 2013.
The continuous backsliding is also causing some pipe dream scenarios regarding how this could all shake out; things as outlandish as mid-season firings that will never come, buyout rumors or illogical scenarios where Golden will just walk away—leaving millions on the table—because the job is just too big for him.
Never. Going. To. Happen. Not now and certainly not under those circumstances.
Timing-wise, the University of Miami is in transition-mode and like a divorce-bound couple hanging on an extra few years while the last kid finishes high school—a changing of the guard and new era in Coral Gables needs to take place before any major coaching moves are to be made.
UM president Donna Shalala is stepping down next spring and certainly doesn’t want one of her last tasks in office to be firing a coach currently signed to a long-term deal and eating the balance of his contract.
She also knows that Miami’s next president deserves to have their say in such a monumental decision—picking an athletic director and head coach who fit their core values and vision for how a successful football program should be run.
No one is going to saddle the new leader with that kind of baggage.
Based on that key component, there’s is zero scenario where Miami and Golden part ways until after the 2015, unless the head coach wants out and takes another gig.
Time will tell if that’s a good thing. Right now Golden sits at a crossroads, knowing he has to create his legacy year five, or it’s seemingly over—and that process will include some career-defining decisions.
The Hurricanes have a quality class on deck, a bonafide young star at quarterback and the type of great-running-back-even-better-person that would surprise no one if he returned for a monster senior year, in effort to carry his team and to truly put Miami back on the map.
Not something to bank on, but if anyone did something like that, ia homegrown, Miami-pride kid like Duke Johnson would be the one. If not, the next great running backs are already lining up. On a positive note, the Canes are in finally good hands at the skills position again.
“TRITE”, BUT TRUE—OFFENSE SELLS TICKETS, DEFENSE WINS …
With the offense seemingly in primed to be something special, Golden’s dilemma remains defensive-related—much like Butch Davis after his fourth season in 1998.
A few late backbreaking games did-in defensive coordinator Bill Miller, giving up 66 points in a loss at Syracuse—with a Big East title and Orange Bowl berth on the line—followed a 670-yard, 45-point breakdown in a miracle win over No. 2 UCLA.
Davis dropped the hammer on his long-time coordinator, knowing it was his name was on the line. He quickly hired Greg Schiano, who brought an “attack, attack, attack”-style defense to South Florida—a change from the previous failed scheme.
The Hurricanes had some breakdowns year one, but a season later things fully clicked, and so began what would eventually become a 34-game win-streak, four consecutive BCS berths, two title games and one ring.
Fans soured on Davis early on and right up through a year-six loss at Washington. Weeks later, a win over top-ranked Florida State—breaking a five-year curse—proved the turning point, with fans finally believing in Davis’ process, by way of winning and accepting nothing less.
Where this situation is different for Miami in the Golden era; this is the head coach’s long-supported defense the Hurricanes are running.
D’Onofrio is simply pushing the buttons and pulling the levers. His firing would mean nothing unless Golden were to scrap his current scheme, turning the keys over to a next-level defensive coordinator with a completely different philosophy.
Where does year four wind up and what happens next year? That’s still to be determined. A few marquee games remain—the type that can still save, or at minimum, reshape the season’s narrative.
Can Golden this thing keep from completely unraveling and spiraling down? Are these losses growing experiences that will help the younger kids in years to come—or is this simply the new-new; Miami now a middle-of-the-road ACC football program that wins some and loses some, ho hum?
Lastly, will Golden go down swinging, his way—or does he follow the lead of past greats who learned how to react and adapt, turning things around like Davis did his fifth year?
Time hasn’t run out, but everyone’s officially aware the clock is now tick-tick-ticking.
Even the man in charge, despite any stay-the-course vibe he continues giving off.
Christian Bello have covered Miami Hurricanes football since the mid-nineties, stood with “The U” since the early-eighties and like most, can’t believe how far this proud program has fallen. Bello is currently the loudest voice at allCanesBlog.com, was a featured Miami columnist for BleacherReport last fall and has written for CanesTime.com and Yahoo! Sports in the past. Click here to follow him on Twitter.