As the Miami Hurricanes’ turbulent season rolls on, the only way to absorb all that’s going on is to take everything in bite-sized segments. The bigger picture—past, present and future—is simply too much to absorb all at once.
Miami beat Virginia, 27-21 at Sun Life Stadium. The Hurricanes won their second consecutive game under interim head coach Larry Scott. Whether it’s a stretch, or not, a Coastal Division crown is still within reach. That was the team’s goal months back and despite three losses on the season, the Canes live to fight another day.
Of course all that can be ridiculously dissected should one choose to go there.
Three losses is unacceptable for Miami, standards-wise. The Cavaliers rolled into town a 3-5 team. The Canes’ defensive scheme—and oft-criticized guy running it—remains way off. All-around energy of program is flat. Division-related goals equal lower expectations.
Truth in all of that, but again, it shouldn’t be the focal point right now. Miami is almost living in an alternate universe mid-November as the 2015 season winds down. Fifth-year head coach Al Golden was fired one day after the Canes suffered their worst loss in school history.
I’m still not sure which part of that last sentence is harder to believe.
Few thought Clemson could put that type of beating on Miami—but beyond that, no one thought “The U” would fire Golden mid-season, eating millions of dollars in the process it could’ve saved by waiting until December—when his original five-year deal would’ve wrapped and UM would be paying to buyout his extension.
An ongoing narrative has been pumped over the past few years that Miami’s top brass doesn’t care about football; content with ACC television money, four-loss seasons, being mildly competitive and having a good-guy leader policing the program, while keeping kids out of trouble.
The circumstances of Golden’s dismissal proves that UM wants more—and come 2016, that journey begins. Until then, the remainder of this season is nothing more than a dress rehearsal and reprioritization or core values that got lost along the way.
In other words, should Miami find it’s way to the top of the Coastal by the end of November, it’s gravy.
If not, the consolation prize is a new coach in board by December, an extra month of practice by way of getting bowl eligible—something that wasn’t necessarily a gimme a few weeks back—one final game and then a month to close strong on the recruiting trail.
However it plays, both options are light year’s better than where this program and fan base were as Saturday October 24th drew to a close.
CAVALIERS (SADLY) ARE NEVER A GIMME FOR CANES
For whatever reason, Virginia has had Miami’s number since ACC play got underway. Since becoming conference rivals, the Canes have dropped six-of-11 in the series—seemingly reinventing new and more painful ways to lose.
In the Golden era alone, Miami was smoked by a four-win Virginia team (2014), blew a 10-point lead and gave up a game-winning touchdown with six seconds remaining (2012) and saw a rally fall short on a Thursday night when trailing, 17-0 by way of some gimmicky and clutch plays by the road underdog.
Golden’s one victory in the series—45-26 at Sun Life two years back, where a two-win Cavaliers’ squad still out-gained the Canes, 483 yards to 304; causing piss-poor defense to again steal the headlines.
Prior to Golden, four wins combined for Larry Coker and Randy Shannon—yet three super-painful losses; a 48-0 ass-kicking in the final game at the Orange Bowl (2007) a year after Miami lost at Virginia weeks after Bryan Pata was murdered, eventually leading to Coker’s firing at season’s end.
The point of that rant; it may often be a sub-par Virginia team—but they always have Miami’s number, so wins can’t be taken for granted. Doesn’t matter who is roaming the sideline—Al Groh the first six years the Canes were in the ACC, or Mike London the last five, the Cavaliers have successfully pushed buttons and found a way.
Not this year, though, thankfully.
MIAMI OFFENSE USED SPEED, BALANCE AND FOUND A GROOVE
Somewhat-even statistically this first week of November in South Florida, the home team forced a few late field goals, coupled with an early fourth quarter touchdown drive that extended the lead to nine, with the Canes holding on to win.
Brad Kaaya found tight end David Njoku for a 58-yard gain on 2nd-and-6 the second play of the fourth quarter. Three quick Mark Walton runs later, the freshman punched it in and the Canes took a. 24-15 lead.
Earlier in the game, a steady done of Walton and Joseph Yearby got Miami on the board early—Yearby tearing off runs of 15 and 20 yards on the Canes’ second offensive possession.
Leading 7-5 late in the first—having given up a safety and field goal the previous two possessions—Kaaya hit Stacy Coley on a brilliantly-called pass, facing a 3rd-and-2 from the Canes’ 33-yard line. Coley’s 67-yard touchdown one one of seven haul-ins for 132 yards on the day. Njoku was next in line with two grabs for 63 yards and a score.
Kaaya finished 20-of-26 for 286 yards, two touchdowns and an interception after a slow start—missing last week at Duke with a concussion hangover that prevented him from traveling with the team to Durham for the eventual miracle win over the Blue Devils.
Kaaya was cleared Friday night by team doctors and his presence made a difference, though Malik Rosier was stellar in leading Miami to a hard-fought road victory last week.
There’s been a lot of next-man-in chatter for the Canes as the injuries have piled up—but where that was all talk in the past, this team has taken a step forward in living up to the hype.
Rosier-for-Kaaya was the most-notably change for Miami this season, but it started with Yearby and Walton carrying a heavier load when big-bodied running back Gus Edwards went down in the preseason with a foot injury.
Since then, Miami lost defensive team leader Raphael Kirby to a season-ending knee injury, leaving both Trent Harris and Juwon Young to step up in his place. Both have been superb.
Wide receivers Coley and Braxton Berrios were injured early-on this season, opening the door for tight ends Njoku and Chris Herndon to get more looks, while wideouts Tyre Brady and Lawrence Cager helped hold down the fort, as well.
This week it was freshman cornerback Shedrick Redwine thrust into a deeper role as Artie Burns was too emotionally rocked to play, having buried his mother Dana Smith days back. Adrenaline carried Burns at Duke, but the upperclassmen was understandably shot as this weekend rolled around.
SCOTT’S IMPACT CHANGING ATTITUDE, EFFORT AND ENERGY
Right up there with all these on-the-field replacements; Scott taking the place of Golden—handed a broken, fragile, on-the-brink of falling apart team. The tight ends coach had Miami physically and emotionally ready for all that Duke threw at them.
The Canes overcame a slew of bullshit calls, got a break on the miracle return and escaped with a win they more than earned a few times over on that final Blue Devils’ offensive possession.
Virginia didn’t pose as much of a challenge, but the Cavaliers’ history against this program loomed heavily and just as the road team started to creep back into the ballgame—Miami repeatedly found ways to shut the door or pull away.
It might not have been a championship-caliber performance for the Canes; but it was a win when all this program needs to do right now is survive, hang around, grow, learn and prepare for more of those “teachable moments” Scott is oft seen preaching about in the locker room or postgame.
Next up, yet another challenge, more adversity and another must-win game if that Coastal Division goal is to be reached.
THREE IMPROBABLE WINS (AND A BREAK) AWAY FROM COASTAL
North Carolina is on a roll; pouncing on a Duke team this weekend that wasn’t anywhere near over last weekend’s heartbreaking loss to Miami. The Tar Heels rolled their Tobacco Road rival, 66-31 in Chapel Hill and advanced to 8-1 on the season—their lone setback coming in a 17-13 season-opening loss against a South Carolina team whose wheels have since fallen off.
It’s hardly been Murderer’s Row for North Carolina—wins coming against North Carolina A&T, Delaware, Wake Forest and Virginia—as well as tougher challenges in Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Duke.
Win, and the Tar Heels are your Coastal Division champs. Lose, and the Canes live to see another day. Miami would then have to knock off Georgia Tech and win at Pittsburgh, while rooting for North Carolina to drop one of two road games; traveling to Virginia Tech and North Carolina State to close out the season.
A lot must fall into play for the Canes—and while playing out the next three weeks goes against the whole, bite-sized approach mentioned earlier, again, Miami is playing with the house’s money as this season rolls to a close.
A troubled coach is out, a new one is set to get on board, a broken culture is changing and expectations have since shifted to next year—despite this one not yet in the books.
The pressure is off. Have fun. Cut it loose. Play football and shake off the heaviness that once weighed-down this season.
Miracle finishes have been a common theme across college football thus far this year.
Who’s to say Miami doesn’t have a little more magic left in the tank as November draws to a close?