MIAMI FALLS TO MOST-BEATABLE FSU TEAM IN RECENT MEMORY; DIAZ MUST GO NOW

The Miami Hurricanes pissed away a must-win game in Tallahassee on Saturday—falling to arguably the worst Florida State squad in recent memory.

The 31-28 loss ended a four-game win-streak against the Seminoles and should immediately end the tenure of lame duck, third-year head coach Manny Diaz—his team slipping to 5-5 on the season, while his overall record dropped to 19-15.

If there’s any solace in this abortion of a performance—it’s the fact the Diaz era has now passed a point of no return. Any manufactured goodwill built up over the past three weeks—win-starved fans clinging to eked out victories over North Carolina State, Pittsburgh or Georgia Tech—long gone.

The frustration is back to where things were at when Miami was 2-4, if not worse—as there is no excuse for falling to an abysmal Florida State team that had only won six of it’s past 20 games, dating back to mid-November 2019.

Players and coaches alike come to Miami to beat Florida State, and vice versa. Even in the most down of a year, the winner of this game can find a silver lining that helps with both recruiting, as well as overall morale; just ask anyone in Tallahassee since Saturday evening’s late rally.

This same Seminoles squad that went 0-4 out the gate—losing six of their past seven dating back to last October, including a home upset at the hands of Jacksonville State months back—managed a 31-point, 434-yard performance against the Hurricanes’ shoddy defense, while holding Miami’s ground attack to a measly 43 yards.

Some quick context on the rivalry and state of the two programs; the Canes outscored the Noles, 79-20 the past two years combined—yet now this.

Florida State is a bad, disjointed football program—yet it still bounced back from blowing a 17-0 lead and early fourth quarter eight-point deficit, rattling off 11 points in the final five minutes—while Diaz fumbled away another big moment that his all-everything quarterback couldn’t bail him out of.

This latest pathetic loss of 2021 is the epitome of why so many were rooting for an epic collapse after a 2-4 start—refusing to feast on any empty-calorie victories against the Wolfpack, Panthers and Yellow Jackets—as all only got in the way of a bigger movement; Diaz gone by all means necessary.

2021 SEASON—OVER BEFORE IT BEGAN

Those who took any solace in that three-game win-streak—does it still feel good at 5-5, in the wake of this awful loss to the Seminoles—another sour Monday morning and learning that Diaz is still employed by UM?

This 2021 season was kicked in the teeth week one and officially dead in the water two games later, when Michigan State wrapped their 21-3 fourth quarter trouncing of Miami—wearing down the Canes in that hometown heat and humidity that was supposed to work in UM’s favor.

Then again, what kind of grit did anyone really expect out of a team previously seen celebrating meaningless moments against Alabama—mugging for cameras when forcing a turnover (that was fast overturned) down 27-0 to the Crimson Tide—or busting out silly little rings when finally finding the end zone in the fourth quarter of a then 41-10 football game?

Furthermore, what can anyone really expect out of a group of players coached up by a program leader who celebrates mediocrity and overhypes conference wins over mediocre foes? Hardly a shock today’s Miami players find joyous moments in games they’re getting smacked around, or falling apart in big-time moments.

Even with five losses on the season, still no worse a look than Miami sitting at 1-2 and over celebrating touchdown after touchdown in a 69-0 rout of lowly Central Connecticut State—choreographed sideline photo shoots with bling, rings and other shiny things—zero concern for sharpening up their game with conference play around the corner and a losing record by late September.

Diaz and his Canes weren’t paying attention, but the talking heads as ESPN sure were—Kirk Herbstreit and others using their College GameDay platform to eviscerate all in charge of athletics at the University of Miami.

“If you look at the powerhouse programs—Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State—the president, AD and head coach are all aligned in their vision for what needs to happen,” Herbstreit said on the panel broadcast. “Recruiting, budget, stuff, whatever that means. That’s what it takes.

“Miami does not have that. So I don’t think it matters who the head coach is. Until you get a president, AD and coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter. It matters to the alums, the brotherhood of the U, but I don’t know if it matters to the people making decisions at Miami. If they don’t change that, it doesn’t matter who the coach is.”

Stubborn as the University of Miami has proven over the years, those in charge of this program might be dumb, but they sure aren’t deaf.

These words have echoed through the Hecht Athletic Center for the past eight weeks and there’s nowhere to hide after this level of exposure. UM was called out in front of the college football world and Miami became must-see TV—not with any expectation the Canes would turn a corner, but for outsiders to witness the demise, the disfunction and to feast on the carnage.

At 2-4 with North Carolina State and Pittsburgh looming, Diaz was on a collision course for a Halloween firing—2-6 looking inevitable—before a freshman quarterback’s play slapped a Band-Aid on the cancer that is this 2021 season.

FEASTING ON ‘EMPTY-CALORIE’ WINS; RECIPE FOR DISASTER

Tyler Van Dyke has undoubtedly been a bright spot for a program that has been searching for the next great Miami quarterback for over 15 years—but in vintage right guy at the wrong time fashion that plagues these Hurricanes—his efforts over the past three weeks have shifted the focus off of glaring defensive issues that broke Miami’s back in the waning moments at Florida State.

There was no worse recipe for the middle of this season than for a bad football team to knock down a few paper champion, conference teams in underwhelming fashion. North Carolina State and Pittsburgh were propped up to be bigger than they really were—one loss teams, at the time—in a brutally bad year for ACC football; currently tracking for a lackluster Wake Forest and Pittsburgh title game.

Dropped balls and a quirky overturned fumble were the difference in a one-point win over the Wolfpack, while two bad decisions out of a usually-sound quarterback helped the Hurricanes survive the Panthers.

Kenny Pickett had one interception on the season for Pitt, but managed two against the Canes—not seeing a wide open receiver streaking towards the end zone and forcing a pass into double coverage early, as well as a late-game overthrow of another open wideout, sailing his pass into the arms of a roving safety.

38-34 became the only number that mattered to some Miami faithful, completely ignoring that Pickett carved up Miami for 519 yards and three scores—which would’ve been just shy of 600 and five touchdowns, had he not made two uncharacteristic mistakes.

Fans starved for wins were also quick to dismiss a brutal defensive effort by the Canes in these two games—allowing emotion to best logic and getting wrapped up in sports cliches like the kids “showing up”, “having heart” and “not quitting”—which only fit the narrative when victories are snatched from the jaws of defeat.

This mental-midget, “a win is a win” mentality worked for quality, undefeated teams that are able to rally and find a way—but the sentiment loses all luster when simmering in a sad, 5-5 stew.

Miami’s three-game win-streak took the focus off the program’s macro-level issues, in favor of short-term job and celebrating a couple meaningless moments that ultimately did more harm than good. Three wins by a total of eight points are the reason Diaz is 5-5 and still employed—opposed to 2-8 and out on his ass.

Van Dyke’s 1,240 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception over that three-game span—unfortunately enough to counter the 1,337 yards and 94 points Miami’s defense gave up to North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, combined.

SAME GAME AGAINST GT & FSU—WIN CLOUDED JUDGMENT

Miami’s outing against Georgia Tech eerily foreshadowed what would shake out against another 3-6 football team in Tallahassee a week later—but few wanted to dissect the brutal performance, as the Canes “found a way”, “showed heart” and because “a win is a win”.

A fast 14-0 against the Yellow Jackets, versus a 17-0 hole against the Seminoles—a vast difference—but three first quarter turnovers were the culprit against both; Miami trailing Georgia Tech, 21-17 at the half, while down 17-7 to Florida State.

Up 33-30 late—instead of 35-28, when a two-point conversion was intercepted and returned.

Facing a chance to put the game away with a first down—much like they’d also deal with against the Noles—the Canes were forced to punt and on the first play from scrimmage, looked to be in big trouble as Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims dropped a 31-yard pass into the arms of a streaking, wide open Adonicas Sanders.

The Canes were granted a reprieve as Sims’ knee touched the ground when handling a bad snap—the play called back and the Yellow Jackets now staring down a 2nd-and-16 scenario—opposed to first down mid-field and just outside overtime-forcing field goal range.

Facing 4th-and-4 with a shot at putting the game on ice, Miami’s defense gave up an 18-yard reception—called back by a hold that had nothing to do with the completion.

Tech’s final attempt fell incomplete and the Canes escaped victorious—which again took the spotlight off of open receivers on final drive, against an inferior football team—with a quarterback who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn all day.

“Showed heart.” “Stepped up.” “Found a way.” “Never quit.” “On to FSU!” 

Fast-forward to early evening in Tallahassee this past weekend, failing to convert on 3rd-and-4 when Will Mallory caught the ball short of the sticks.

The play similar to Jaylan Knighton running up the middle on 3rd-and-1 late against Georgia Tech and stuffed—Miami again punting after unable to convert a third down that would’ve resulted in a victory formation and another comeback win.

Georgia Tech couldn’t turn Miami’s and Diaz’s incompetence into fuel for an upset—but Florida State proved up for the challenge—made easier after a late special teams flub by the Canes.

Lou Hedley dropped a well-timed, clutch punt—that managed to roll through a half dozen Miami players, into the end zone for a 20-yard swing and some much-needed breathing room for quarterback Jordan Travis.

One play later—just like Sims-to-Sanders a week prior—a Miami opponent with a back-breaking type of play; Travis finding a wide open Ja’Khi Douglas for a 59-yard gain, the Noles in business at UM’s 21-yard line.

A false start on third down looked like a well-timed setback—setting up a 4th-and-14 after an incomplete pass to Douglas—yet Diaz and the Canes blew it again; reminiscent to a 4th-and-17 unraveling at Chapel Hill in 2019.

Diaz chose to rush three—instead of bringing the house at Travis, forcing a pressured throw. The result, a 24-yard connection with the wide open Andrew Parchment—made even worse for Miami when the receiver was down at the one-yard line with :58 remaining.

Inexplicably, Diaz flinched and waited :12 to call his second timeout of the half—Florida State with a first down from the six-inch line, :46 on the clock and Miami down to it’s final timeout—which it burned after Travis was stuffed on first down.

Two plays later, Travis was in and after a successful two-point conversion—timeout-less Miami and Van Dyke had :26 for a miracle that wasn’t pulled off.

In the spirit of second-guessing, Diaz theoretically could’ve—and should’ve—allowed Florida State to score after the first time out, as it was foolish to believe this shoddy defense was going to win that battle of wills; the Noles needing six inches with four tries.

Doing so would’ve given Van Dyke and Miami the ball with :46 and one timeout—simply needing field goal range to force overtime—opposed to trying to accomplish this with almost half that time and no timeouts.

However it played out, another game where Miami not showing up early is a bigger story than how things wrapped in the fourth.

Three first quarter turnovers and eight penalties—five on the opening drive; UM jumping offsides while getting hit with two personal fouls that cost them 30 yards—resulted in a fast 14-0 hole that took most of the afternoon to dig out of.

Regarding the *why*, some interesting post-game comments and reasoning depending if listening to the head coach, or a freshman defender.

When pressed on the brutal start, Diaz chalked it up to players being too “amped up” and “hyped up”—blaming the “emotional setting” and stating his guys lacked discipline—where linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. ultimately said the quiet part outloud.

“We were very undisciplined. That’s on us. We knew … it’s a habit that happens in practice. Coach Diaz gets on us about it all the time. Brought up in the game, it’s not a shocker that it happened. Again, that’s on us.”

DOUBLE DOSE OF BLAME FOR DUAL-DUTY DIAZ

Diaz spent 13 seasons as a defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas, back to Starkville for a second run, as well as Miami—before assuming head coaching duties in Coral Gables in 2019, while keeping his hand in running this defense.

All that to say, how in the hell are the Hurricanes ten games into Diaz’s third season running this program—six years at the helm for the Canes’ defense—yet he’s unable to keep players from jumping offsides, both in practice and on game day?

Fundamentally, Miami has been ripped all season for being one of the worst-tackling teams in all of college football—now it’s coming out that the Canes have an ongoing problem regarding jumping offsides, which hasn’t been corrected during the week.

News flash, Diaz—it ain’t the big moment in Tallahassee if your guys are doing the same thing at Greentree day in and day out. This incompetence from a Miami head coach and long time defensive coordinator has reached new levels of indefensible.

Gaffes aside, as far as the simple nature of tackling, defending and making plays—this Diaz-led defense is surrendering an average of 35 points-per-game and 45 yards-per-game against the eight Power 5 teams faced in 2021. Abysmal.

There is a culture problem under Diaz that has been discussed ad nauseam for almost three years and it deserves to come up again, as this season’s free fall continues and Miami’s 25th head coach is now sporting an indefensible 19-15 overall record.

It’s been amateur hour at the University of Miami since well before Diaz was handed the keys; a series of low-rent, poorly-executed, knee-jerk hires—UM hoping a gamble on an up and comer would yield the type of results usually only seen when investing big dollars in a quality candidate.

Diaz worked for Miami, on paper—a mindset that he was head coach-ready, simply because Temple was ready to hand him the same job—as well as the lazy approach of keeping things status quo with promoting a coordinator to replace a vacating head coach, in effort to avoid the standard down cycle that oft comes with a rebuild.

Diaz’s resume was at best Temple-ready, but nothing about his career trajectory or persona was Miami head coaching-caliber.

Floating into booster events on yachts, an edgy social media persona, tackling dummies and a WWE-like spectacle when the new indoor practice facility launched, victory cigars after beating a bad FSU team or slip-and-slide in the rain after surviving Virginia last year—all acceptable if winning big football games, but immediately cringe-worthy when losing 15 times over the course of three seasons.

Same to be said for being ill-prepared after bye weeks, not taking Florida International seriously, losing to Duke, getting shutout by Louisiana Tech in a garbage bowl game, struggles against Central Michigan and Appalachian State—and now face-planting against arguably the most-beatable Florida State team in recent memory; one year removed from trouncing the Noles, 52-10 at home.

WHEN APATHY REPLACES ANGER; UM IN HUGE CONUNDRUM

This Miami football program has been stalled-out at the same crossroads for a decade and a half—and the natives are no longer restless; apathy has officially kicked in and the Canes are left with a numb, lifeless fan base that is reaching new levels of not-giving-a-shit anymore—supporters getting to the place no longer caring much worse for this program than the frustration and bitterness that used to define this era.

Read the nearest message board, social media commentary or comments section in any UM-related article—the tide has turning to a point where many have abandoned all hope that this will ever turn around—leaving them to check out and invest their money and energies elsewhere.

Many folks now brazen with comments about no longer donating to the program, going to games—or even watching from home; finding new ways to spend Saturday as UM has crushed their spirit and they feel like fools for blinding supporting an university that as Herbstreit pointed out weeks back, “doesn’t care about football”.

I don’t often write in first-person in these op-eds, but the conversations I’ve had with friends, family and long-time supporters of this program this dismal season—it bears a quick rant from this frustrated place.

Hurricanes football was once all-encompassing; growing up in a family that owned allCanes (formerly All Sports) for over four decades—”The U” was more than just Saturdays at the Orange Bowl—it was our livelihood. We lived and died with this program, literally—a double-win when championships were captured, while financially steamrolled when the losses piled up and fans didn’t need the newest shirt or ball cap.

When Miami lost a game, everyone in our little universe knew to give our family a wide berth and a few days to recover—crushing blows, falling out of the national championship race or leaving titles on the floor—it was painful, it stayed with you and in many ways left some scars.

Walking out of my first in person game at Orange Bowl in 1984—after the unthinkable second half collapse against Maryland—followed by a Thanksgiving memory weeks later when my dad and uncle were too rattled by Hail Flutie to sit down to dinner; pacing around the pool like mental patients and trying to make sense of what just happened.

Same for morgue-like environments after choking against Penn State in the desert for a second national title in the wee early hours of 1987—or bids for back-to-back titles falling short against Alabama in 1992, or stolen by Ohio State a decade later.

I still have an out-of-whack knuckle on my right hand from punching a file cabinet in the office when Kevin Thompson dropped a perfect pass into the hands of Chafie Fields for that 80-yard bomb—an upset bid against the second-ranked Nittany Lions falling short in 1999—as well as vividly recalling that sinking feeling when walking out of Doak Campbell Stadium after 47-0 two years prior, forced to ponder if Miami would ever field a competitive team again.

Thankfully the Hurricanes were back by the turn of the century—but as mentioned, the dominant ride was short-lived and brutal days were again just around the corner; Miami’s downward spiral bottoming out in late 2005 when blowing a shot at an ACC title—the third-ranked Canes stumbling 14-10 to a very average Georgia Tech squad.

When the Canes we’re sunk in 2006—a four-game losing streak mid-season, as well as an on-field brawl with FIU and the murder of a beloved player weeks later, en route to a 7-6 finish after winning a blue turf bowl game in Boise—full acceptance that Miami had slipped back into that probation-era level of trash football.

By the time Virginia crushed Miami, 48-0 in the Orange Bowl finale in 2007—the event was nothing more than a tragic comedy, as orange and green confetti sprayed all over the venue and celebratory music cranked through the PA—the university’s top brass never playing out any post-game scenario where a scrub Cavaliers team pounded the Canes like Miami would a Bethune-Cookman.

Still, “The U” had rebuilt before, leading most of us to believe it could do so again—so trust the process for a few years and Miami would soon be “back”, right?

Over a decade later, still waiting—riding this sick cycle carousel in three- to five-year increments; mustering up hope for a new hire, teased in to believing things will turn a corner, hitting that moment you know it’s not going to happen—and then waiting on UM to reach the same realization in the coming years; fire, rehire, start the process again.

Since Miami got smacked around 40-3 in the 2005 Peach Bowl by LSU, this program has amassed a 116-84 record and is on it fifth different head coach over that span—an average of 7.73 wins and 5.6 losses-per-season, over a 15 years.

The Canes have won the ACC’s lowly Coastal Division once—blown out 38-3 in their lone championship game appearance; 2017 their only double digit-win season since 2003, as well.

Dominant for decades, mediocre every season since—University of Miami football is at a turning point like never before.

The writing on the wall regarding low-budget, work-in-progress head coaching hires not being the answer—as well as needing to solve the athletic director-related conundrum—either stuck with a lackey like Blake James, or watching the likes of an opportunist Kirby Hocutt or Shawn Eichorst using the program like the rest stop and stepping stone it is to most in the profession.

For the first time in four-plus decades of this program pumping through my DNA, 2021 proved to be the first year I actually rooted against present day Miami—welcoming losses this season, in the name of change and a better tomorrow.

I saw zero value in beating a North Carolina State or Pittsburgh once the Canes had fallen to 2-4 and Diaz showed he’s not the guy to resurrect this program. Once that determination was made, 2021 be damned—it’s all about 2022 and leaning on UM to get their collective shit together next hire around.

Wins fell into place against the Wolfpack, Panthers and Yellow Jackets—and par for the course, I saw too many back to drinking the Kool-Aid; wrapped up in the temporary endorphin rush of a pointless win and no longer beating their drum about change.

A temporary moratorium this weekend as it was Florida State on the other sideline—the hatred for the rival running too deep—leaving me, like so many other disgruntled fans, clamoring for a win.

Instead, just the type of sobering, gut-wrenching loss needed to remind everyone what a train wreck this current staff is.

Diaz didn’t just lose this game in the end—his team pissed it away early, fought to get it back and then let an inferior squad just snatch it right back from them—bad decisions, poor execution and breakdowns resulting in a few daggers by a Florida State squad that had won six measly football games dating back to mid-November 2019.

Virginia Tech and Duke remain for this up and down .500 squad, followed by a third-tier bowl game if Miami at least beats one of the two—begging the question, who is all right with this pathetic brand of football at this once-great university?

Whoever is in charge, may you pay attention to this painfully bad product on the field, as well as the growing indifference shown by a disgruntled, over-it fan base. Miami has again reached a tipping point and anything short of sweeping change for the better—the Canes are no longer on the brink of irrelevance, but extinction all together. Lose the losers—Diaz and James—and go all-in on quality replacements; proving that football actually is a priority at the University of Miami.

Anything less, and even the most diehard of fans will continues this mass exodus and fast-tracked detachment from this once-great, currently-toxic program.

[Editor’s note. Within an hour of this article’s posting, the University of Miami relieved athletic director Blake James of his duties—the first domino officially falling.]

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 is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

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