The only remedy for a gut-wrenching loss to Georgia Tech would’ve been the Miami Hurricanes showing up huge in Chapel Hill.
Instead, North Carolina proved they were the bigger dog in this fight—beating Miami a fifth-straight time in year five under head coach Mack Brown—while second year leader Mario Cristobal and his Hurricanes now attempt another regrouping effort for the visiting Clemson Tigers next Saturday at HardRock.
What a difference eight days can make.
Miami went into last Saturday’s home black-out against Georgia Tech riding high with a 4-0 record and now sit at 4-2, with the reality of dropping a third straight unless it rebounds quickly for another home night game against a Tigers program that’s won six of the past eight showdowns, dating back to 2004.
For longtime fans, a return to those seven stages of grief as another Hurricanes season fails to go as planned—coping mechanisms galore once those first couple of blows are absorbed and losses are notched.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL, CANES FAM
This past week saw supporters of “The U” hovered in the anger and bargaining stage—seething over the brain-dead play call that handed the Yellow Jackets a game that was won with a kneel-down—while attempting to rationalize that a bounce back in Chapel Hill could serve as a reset and wake-up call moment, ultimately resetting these Canes for the second half of this 2023 season.
Working it backwards, nobody expected Miami to undefeated this year—a program that’s only had one double-digit win season (2017) since joining the ACC—so get that first loss out of the way and, refocus and go make things right, as wins over North Carolina and Clemson would put the Georgia Tech upset in the rearview mirror for good.
Easier said than done, of course.
Vegas odds only had North Carolina a three-point favorite on Saturday night—a belief that these two ACC foes were evenly matched on paper—while ignoring the fact that Miami hadn’t beaten a Top 15 team on the road since knocking off No. 3 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg back in 2005.
As the game unfolded, it became crystal clear that these Tar Heels are further ahead in their journey under Brown and that Drake Maye is a total-package quarterback, while Tyler Van Dyke can be a stat-padder who puts up some good numbers, but when it’s all on the line late in a tight or crucial moment, that deer-in-headlights energy is prone to return. Especially these past two weeks as the Canes too a few steps back.
Going into Georgia Tech week, Van Dyke was statistically one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
288 yards, one touchdown and three unthinkable interceptions later against the Yellow Jackets—ESPN cameras caught the dead-eyed quarterback looking shell-shocked on the bench, before roommate, sidekick and go-to receiver Xavier Restrepo visibly lifted Van Dyke’s chin, knowing that cameras were panning the bench for a reaction.
The timing of Van Dyke’s gaffes were unforgivable; an end zone interception into triple coverage late second quarter (which at worst should’ve been a field goal), a late third quarter pick that gave the Yellow Jackets the ball on the Canes 26-yard line (where the punched it in for a score four plays later) and the third and most-egregious turnover, a drive-killing cough-up on 3rd-and-7 from the Georgia Tech 25-yard line, where the ball was a mile behind Jacolby George and returned to the Canes 20-yard line, resulting in a field goal after Van Dyke thankfully chased down the culprit and stopped him from reaching pay-dirt.
For all talk that a shit coaching call blew the Georgia Tech game killed this team’s mojo, Van Dyke’s body language and spaced-out vibes feel equally as detrimental as all early-season chatter about the quarterback being back to his 2021 self and putting 2022 behind him; the emotional regression over the past eight quarters is impossible to ignore and cause for concern, lest he post a big outing against Clemson this weekend.
EARLY LEAD VANISHES IN SECOND HALF AGAINST TAR HEELS
Miami hung tough early against North Carolina, overcame a goal line fumble by Henry Parrish Jr. in the moment—though leaving seven points on the field loomed bigger as the game went in.
The Canes scrapped their way back to a 17-14 halftime lead, though it was gone just as quickly after the Tar Heels owned the early third quarter—driving 74 yards in four plays, capped by a 56-yard strike to Devontez Walker—his second of three haul-ins of the night.
The Canes started to move the ball on the ensuing possession before the defense quickly got it back, only to see Van Dyke cough up an interception that gave the Tar Heels the ball on the Miami 23-yard line. Three plays later a 33-yard hook up between Maye and Walker on a 3rd-and-20 where the Canes defense couldn’t get off the field, pushing the lead to 28-17.
Another three-and-out for the Canes, another lengthy scoring drive for the Tar Heels—63 yards on nine plays—including another massive conversion on 3rd-and-10 going for 30 yards and proving why North Carolina is one of the best third-down teams in the nation.
The Lance Guidry-led Miami defense gave up 508 yards on the night to a balanced attack—273 through the air, 235 on the ground—while the Canes secondary was generally lit up; superstars like safety Kam Kinchens even falling victim to getting burned, being out of position or not making plays. Same to be said for Oklahoma transfer Jaden Davis, who looked strong against Texas A&M but has faded in the weeks since.
On the other side of the ball, Miami’s offensive line no longer resembles the world-class unit it looked like earlier this year—resulting in Van Dyke not having the time or protection he saw in September where he surgically picked apart secondaries, while the running game hasn’t seen many big plays or bursts in weeks.
Parrish carried the load with 13 carries for 73 yards, while Don Chaney Jr. ran five times for 23 yards and Ajay Allen got 13 yards on two carries—Miami failing to reach the 100 yards mark with 91 on the night. Meanwhile, no sign of the speed Chris Johnson, while freshman sensation Mark Fletcher Jr. hasn’t seen the field the past two weeks due to a nagging foot injury.
An inconsistent offense, a defense making mental mistakes, a quarterback that’s lost its mojo, an offensive line that’s been brought back down to earth—as well as disappearing acts from players like Colbie Young—who looked ready to take a massive step forward earlier this year, but only had six receptions for 76 yards and no touchdowns the past two games; the Hurricanes are regressing at the wrong part of this football season.
In fairness to Miami, it handed a win to Georgia Tech on a silver platter and it lost to a North Carolina team that is probably looking at an 11-1 regular season and is on track to face Florida State in the ACC Championship game in December.
The Canes fell by 10 points on the road to a Tar Heels team that is no slouch—and despite a painful week being the national punchline for a loss to the Yellow Jackets, Miami brought the fight. North Carolina just proved to be the more skilled fighter. The better, more-experienced team simply played a cleaner game—zero turnovers to the Canes’ four—and the more consistently-coached program dominated the second half the football game, going on a 24-0 run at one point.
REDEMPTION AGAINST CLEMSON; STOP THE BLEEDING
Lucky for Miami, another chance at redemption as Dabo Swinney and Clemson head to HardRock next Saturday night for another nationally televised showdown.
The two-loss Tigers are a far cry from what they’ve been over the past decade under Swinney—but they’re still loaded with talent and a win over Clemson would be a big shot in the arm for a Miami squad that faces Virginia and travels to North Carolina State in the coming weeks—a little mid-season rally potentially getting the Canes up to 7-2 before a road trip to Tallahassee if Miami can find a way to stop hemorrhaging, which starts with finding a way to get back into the win column.
Miami hasn’t beaten Clemson since a triple-overtime road game in 2005 and has never beaten the Tigers in South Florida since joining the ACC—blowing a halftime lead in 2004 before falling in overtime, falling again in overtime in 2009 when Clemson drove the field for a game-tying field goal in regulation and of course the 2015 massacre in South Florida, where Swinney sent Al Golden to the unemployment line after a 58-0 ass-kicking.
Clemson opened this season getting rolled-up 28-7 at Duke—before smacking around Charleston Southern and Florida Atlantic. A week later, an overtime home loss to Florida State, before eking out wins over sub-par Syracuse and Wake Forest squads—the Tigers sitting at a similar crossroad as the Canes, also 4-2 with six to play.
Miami’s chances at playing for an ACC title are pretty much out the window barring a miracle—winning out, a well as needing teams like North Carolina, Florida State or Duke to stack up some losses—so all that’s left right now is the cliché sentiment of playing for pride and to prove that this team is everything these players and coaches proclaim that it is.
“This team is special,” Van Dyke shared post game. “We know what we’re capable of. We can’t fold.”
His head coach took a similar path, with the intent of regrouping and keeping the wheels on going into another big home game and redemption-type moment.
“The way our organization is built, there’s no time for self-pity, no time for negativity or pointing fingers or getting in a shell and balling up,” Cristobal shared. “It’s really addressing the things that we gotta get better at, and getting better. That’s it. That’s all we can be focused on.”
How all that coach-speak and robotic player rhetoric translates to the rest of this season, time will tell—but the bigger focus remains on the future and an acceptance that everything Cristobal and staff are doing here in year two is to build Miami into a contender again over time—as two decades of incompetence and irrelevancy don’t change overnight, no matter how tired fans are of both.
Yes, a fast start with a win over Texas A&M, as well as rolling the “other” Miami, Bethune-Cookman and Temple by a combined score of 127-17—it absolutely got the juices flowing and hope was alive—as Hurricanes fans have championship muscle memory and remember days where this dominant program was consistently winning titles, or was at least in the hunt for one year after year.
Two decades of eating shit and being a college football punchline—set up to fail year after year—it not only stings, it has fans losing their minds and getting too high after wins, too low after losses and taking out years worth of frustration and failed past regimes on whichever staff is currently trying to lead the next comeback.
Miami hadn’t seen 4-0 start since Mark Richt got this thing to 10-0 in 2017—before finishing 0-3, going 7-6 in 2018 and abruptly retiring after getting wrecked by Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. Three years of Manny Diaz followed—along with his dismal 21-15 record—and when that low-rent experiment failed, the Canes finally ponied up, paid big and brought in a proven head coach like Cristobal; now Miami’s third head coach in five seasons and sixth since 2006.
Beyond head coaching turnover, there is also the musical chairs game this program continues to play with coordinators—Van Dyke now in a comparable role to what Kyle Wright went through between 2003 and 2007.
Over that five-year span the can’t-miss, 5-Star quarterback from California not only had two head coaches in Larry Coker and Randy Shannon—he also had the misfortune of four different offensive coordinators over his five-year run; Rob Chudzinski, Dan Werner, Rich Olson (as well as new quarterbacks coach Todd Berry) and finally Patrick Nix—while Van Dyke landed Dawson this year, the bland Josh Gattis in 2022 and high-flying Rhett Lashlee in 2021.
And we wonder why quarterbacks regress, offenses aren’t consistent and player development has suspect at “The U” year after year…
SOLID REBUILDS DON’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT
Circling back to Brown, despite North Carolina owning Miami during his tenure—the Tar Heels were a dismal 7-6 his first season, 8-4 during the COVID-strapped 2020, 6-7 in 2021, 9-5 and Coastal Division champs in 2022—and are now 6-0 halfway through 2023; their best since 1997 during Brown’s first stint in Chapel Hill.
A similar slow start for Mike Norvell at Florida State as the Seminoles also sit at 6-0 in what is his fourth year in Tallahassee—and while fans may love what he’s doing right now, a quick look back at his first couple of year had the former Memphis head coach looking like a laughingstock—while Seminoles faithful were trying to figure out how the program could afford a buyout after the millions they’d just paid Willie Taggart to walk away in 2019.
3-6 out the gate in 2020 during the shortened COVID season—including a 52-10 loss to Diaz and an average Canes team. Year two, a 5-7 run where Florida State finally beat Miami—ending a four-game losing streak to the Canes—but not before an 0-4 start and home loss to Jacksonville State had Norvell starting out 3-10 overall and sitting at 6-12 before a late-game comeback against the Canes that November.
By year three, a 10-3 season unfolded—albeit not beating the three ranked teams on their schedule (No. 22 Wake Forest, No. 14 North Carolina State and No. 4 Clemson)—and getting to face a 6-6 Oklahoma team in the Cheez-It Bowl. Still, the Noles blew out the rival Canes 45-3 and going back to last fall are now riding a 12-game win-streak under Norvell, who for a while didn’t look like he’d even survive year two.
Shifting to next week’s opponent, another head coach who finally got it together—but not before a strong learning curve.
Swinney’s run in Clemson started in 2008 when taking over for Tommy Bowden— fired mid-year during his tenth season—and far from a fan-favorite as his resume saw him coaching up wide receivers for the Tigers for five years, prior to six years with pretty much the same title at Alabama when the Crimson Tide were a run of the mill program.
Clemson’s new leader went 4-3 down the stretch followed by 9-5 his first year at the help in 2009, 6-7 -year two and 10-4 by year three—though the ACC Championship season still ended with a thud when West Virginia rang Clemson up to the tune of 70-33 in the Orange Bowl, which led to Swinney wisely tapping former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables to head east for year four, which is where the transition finally started.
Still, it took Clemson time to even play for a national title—which they did in Swinney’s seventh year, and lost—before winning their first natty (since 1981) his eighth season in 2016, before a second two years later.
Not the kind of stories ornery, pent-up Hurricanes fans want to hear—after literally not playing for anything meaningful since having a natty stolen in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl—but the facts are the facts and it’s been a long an arduous journey for a lot of programs that have been rebuilt and are just now, or recently, achieved the type of success Miami has been chasing.
Give it time. Patience. Trust the process. It’ll get there.
Not exactly chicken soup for the jaded soul as the Canes’ sixth head coach in 17 seasons looks to do what nobody has been able to do in Coral Gables since alpha-dog Butch Davis was brought home to do back in 1995; rebuild “The U” from the ground up.
While it’s tough to admit in the wake of back-to-back losses, Miami has undoubtedly taken a step forward year two under Cristobal—again, easier to admit at 5-1 if the Georgia Tech collapse never happened, but it did and this is where we’re at. Dawson and Guidry haven’t gotten things all figured out yet, but they’re first-year coordinators feeling out this roster, working with what they’ve got and trying to gel with Cristobal and this program six games into their inaugural seasons.
A harsh, obvious reminder to all that it’s a long way to the top when 5-7 was last year’s basement—a slew of hurdles between losing at home by double digits to Middle Tennessee State and dethroning undefeated conference foes further ahead in their rebuilds in Chapel Hill and Tallahassee.
As far as year two goes, every week is a new opportunity to regroup grow, teach, learn, correct mistakes and to figure out how to be better every next time this team takes the field—so as o now all eyes are set on some form of redemption against Clemson and ending a two-game losing stream—the same Tigers that beat the brakes off the Canes, 40-10 in Death Valley last year, despite what was thought of as a “down” 11-3 season for them, considering it was only their second three-loss season in eight years.
BUILT FROM THE GROUND UP STILL MATTERS
Back to the grind as hard work and growing from setback experiences is a must for a program trying to grind their way back to relevance. There’s no excuses or short cuts to circumvent that.
Yes, the transfer portal and this NIL world can help fast-track the old school type of five-year rebuild that took several organically-built recruiting classes to solve—but there still is no overnight fix; as proven by what the college football world is currently witnessing as media darling Colorado sits at 4-3 after a 3-0 start that was made to be a bigger deal than it really was.
How ol’ Deion Sanders and Colorado fare in the long run, time will tell, but proof that even a brash leader, a brand new roster—with an NCAA-most 68 new transfers—and some early success aren’t enough to rewrite the tried and true playbook of process and rebuilding the right way from the ground up.
Chemistry matters. So does teaching, learning, grinding and putting in those 10,000 hours it takes to master a skills set—be in the weight room, the film room or just the standard camaraderie that comes from teammates hanging, bonding and growing together over time.
All that chatter about the blood, sweat and tears that champions wax poetic about when standing on the podium when handed the trophy—that’s really how it all went down; the suffering and sacrificing that it took when you start at the bottom and wind up on top.
Georgia might not have necessary been basement dwellers when the program parted ways with Richt in favor of Kirby Smart back in 2016, but again—a six-year journey for Smart to take the program Richt had knocking on the door for 15 years an to get the Bulldogs their first national championship since 1980. As well as an administration that dumped low nine figures into football with Alabama as their blueprint and inspiration; their “Do More” campaign directly aimed at pushing a little bit harder across the board to become the next Crimson Tide.
Kirby went 8-5 year one—on the heels of Richt going 9-3, 10-3, 8-5, 12-2 and 10-4 his final five years in Athens—proving this was hardly a strip-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild for the Bulldogs.
By year two, 13-2 and a title game berth against Alabama, with a soul-crushing overtime loss. Close, but no cigar.
Back-to-back SEC Championship losses years three, four and six—twice to Alabama (2018, 2021), once to LSU (2019)—with a quirky 2020 pandemic season sandwiched in-between, with regular season losses to Alabama and Florida—before this current, dominant run started.
Now in year eight, Smart the Bulldogs are riding a 24-game win-streak and have supplanted Alabama as the odds-on favorite every year to win a title—while Georgia’s new head-honcho is the modern day Nick Saban and king of college football… until somebody eventually knocks him from the perch, as goes in this cyclical sport.
History has proven nobody stays on top forever in this ever-changing game. It’s simply a matter of timing, chemistry, winning recruiting battles and putting all the necessary pieces together—remaining obsessed with success and the ongoing chase of rings, making history and ultimate glory.
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 withBleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.comwhere 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.