Miami Hangs On In Season Finale At Pittsburgh

The regular season is in the books and after a 4-3 start, the Miami Hurricanes survived some late-October coaching turnover, yet found a way to go 4-1 down the stretch, for an unexpected 8-4 finish—capped off with a road win against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

With Thanksgiving barely in the rear view, still seems like an optimum time to show some gratitude for how the past several months played out.

Coaching changed seemed imminent as fifth-year leader Al Golden wasn’t a proper fit for this program—but what would it take for change to occur and how far would the Hurricanes have to fall before the administration pulled the trigger?

Fortunately for Miami, a series of small events prompted the type of change that many thought was only on the horizon of the Canes stumbled to a 4-8 type season. Slow starts against Bethune-Cookman and Florida Atlantic set the tone. As did a blown lead against Nebraska; turning a blowout into overtime survival in a matter of minutes.

Still, it was the imperfect storm leading to an unacceptable loss at Cincinnati, a fifth straight setback against Florida State and beatdown-of-a-lifetime at the hands of Clemson that wound up doing Golden in—a mid-season tipping point proving that it would be more of the same at “The U” as long as the former Temple head coach was running the show.

Addition by subtraction saved the Hurricanes down the stretch; tight ends coach Larry Scott getting tabbed as the interim guy. Miami rose to the occasion a week after getting rolled by the Tigers, taking down a then-solid Duke team in Durham. From there, the Canes held court at home against a Virginia team that’s giving them fits over the years.

North Carolina dismantled Miami—the Tar Heels prepping to meet the Tigers in the ACC title game—but the Canes didn’t let another setback keep them down like. A convincing win over Georgia Tech followed, as did last Friday’s takedown of a then three-loss Panthers squad.

By old school standards a four-loss season is nothing to celebrate, but based on the past decade of Miami’s football—as well as what was setting up to be a bottom-out year—eight wins is actually a pleasant surprise. The Hurricanes are on the brink of getting the change they so desperately need, without the epic-fail-type season paving the way.

Miami’s 4-1 finish—despite the lopsidedness of the lone loss—was a breath of fresh air when comparing to recent years. The Canes dropped three-in-a-row last year and made it four with the bowl loss. In 2013, back-to-back late-November wins felt a bit hollow, coming on the heels of a three-game losing streak after a 7-0 start.

A similar situation in 2012 as Miami won it’s two final regular season games after dropping four of its previous five. The list goes on; with the Canes’ last 4-1 regular season finish coming in 2009 under Randy Shannon.

Miami jumped on Pittsburgh early, which set the type of tone these Canes need; a fast start and a lead, which seems to prevent defensive breakdowns or an onslaught of penalties that usually result from trailing and failing to convert.

A few false starts plagued the Canes on their opening drive, but a steady diet of Brad Kaaya and Joe Yearby helped Miami find the end zone, while chewing over six minutes off the game clock.

Facing a 1st-and-20 after back-to-back penalties, Kayaa found Njoku for a 15-yard gain and hit Rashawn Scott for seven yards, converting on third down. Yearby tore off a 35-yard run two plays later and was fed the rock three more times once within the five-yard line.

On 4th-and-Goal from the one, Kaaya’s number was called and the quarterback punched it in.

The Canes’ defense pounced early, with Artie Burns reeling in an errant throw from Nathan Peterman, putting Miami’s offense back in business just outside the red zone. Seven yards over four plays set up a 33-yarder by kicker Michael Badgley and the lead stretched to 10-0.

The Panthers pushed a 48-yard field goal attempt wide on their ensuing possession, while the Canes took under a minute to score the game’s second touchdown. Kaaya hit Stacy Coley for 48 yards and followed up with a 22-yard strike to Scott, pushing the lead to, 17-0.

Corn Elder blitzed and sacked Peterman on 2nd-and-9, leading to the Panthers’ first punt and Miami responded in-kind, but picked up three on it’s next offensive possession. The Canes’ passing attack slowed down on the drive but Badgley kept momentum in UM’s favor by way of a 48-yard field goal.

Miami’s defense again rose up; shutting down a 1st-and-Goal opportunity—Pittsburgh settling for three after a 10-play, 68-yard drive. The Canes answered with three after a 17-play, 72-yard drive and went into the half up 23-3.

After a scoreless third quarter for Miami, the Panthers pulled to within nine by way of an 89-yard kickoff return, setting up a two-yard touchdown pass. The Canes’ offense remained in a lull, Blewitt shanked another field goal attempt, Peterman hit Tyler Boyd for a 36-yard gain and ran it in from five yards out two plays later.

The two-point conversion failed, Miami recovered the onside kick, chewed 2:28 off the clock, punted with :11 remaining in the game and left Pittsburgh :06 to do what the Canes did in eight-seconds at Duke, regarding a miracle, lateral-fueled finish.

Early leads and late fades are a trademark of this year’s Hurricanes, but like the win over the Huskers, Miami found a way to survive and get the “W”.

Where back-to-back wins is even bigger? Overall morale on the rise, opposed to that 4-3 start. Miami will prep for a bowl game riding a two-game win-streak.

The Scott era will come to a close regarding interim head coaching status, which should make for a more spirited effort over the next month as everyone preps for this era to close out. The last game for seniors, as well as NFL-bound juniors, but also a final hurrah for the majority—if not all—of this Miami coaching staff.

It’s an air of positivity that hasn’t blown through Coral Gables in a long while—right down to an eventual new coaching hire expected to set “The U” back on a proper course.

It wasn’t the season anyone dreamed up—but in the end, became a dream scenario. A changing of the guard underway and an unexpected 8-4 season; trending upwards when everything appeared on the brink of utter disaster.

Enjoy the bonus, survivor-style finish, Canes fam. Not always pretty, but in the end—effective. The result? A December rooted in positivity and growth, opposed to ever-familiar disappointment and despair.

On the mend…