VIRGINIA TAKES DOWN MUST-WIN MIAMI; OFFICIAL BEGINNING OF DIAZ’S END?

© VirginiaSports.com

The same foot that saved Manny Diaz weeks back against Appalachian State might be the one that eventually kicks him to the curb—with no one to blame but himself.

Miami lost a must-win showdown against a very average Virginia team on Thursday night—a game the Canes were never in until late—scrapping back, only to send a chip-shot, time-expiring, game-winning field goal attempt off the uprights.

It was a fitting end to an ugly game Miami lost a dozen times before a reeling head coach put the game on the foot of a freshman kicker for the second time in three games—and it could ultimately serve as the tipping point for The Diaz Era.

Andres Borregales will drill many a big kick or the Canes in the coming years. Until then, he’ll remain a footnote for how Miami theoretically lost this one. A kick he could’ve made in is sleep—this one will give him nightmares for the foreseeable future.

Still, The Doink At The Rock wasn’t the story. It was Diaz’s team rolling in ill-prepared for another must-win moment—all the pregame sideline hooting and hollering—only to go three-and-out on the first two possessions and taking a safety on the third, winding up in a 9-0 first quarter hole.

Appalachian State became must-win after Alabama broke Miami’s spirit; the Canes barely got out alive. Michigan State was the next big-time moment—yet it was the Spartans and their second-year head coach with the late-game domination of the program once known for holding up four fingers and taking over; while Miami’s third-year head coach was out there making year-one blunders.

Central Connecticut State was a glorified scrimmage; yet instead of a 1-2 team humbled by an inauspicious start—Miami’s sideline resembled a South Beach photoshoot; rings, chains and flash bulbs galore, while Hurricanes players mugged for the camera and struck poses through the 69-0 rout of a scrub.

Both Miami and Virgina entered Thursday’s contest with matching 2-2 records; both well aware the victor had a new lease on life, while whoever fell to 2-3 was in for a world of hurt. Still, based on pre-season expectations and what Diaz and his Hurricanes were to deliver year three, UM’s free fall was set to be greater if losing at home under the lights.

DARK CLOUD HOVERING OVER DIAZ’S CANES

Diaz now sits 16-13 overall in two-plus years at the helm; his first season a brutal 6-7 run—defined by his inability to get Miami up after bye weeks, or tempering out-of-control egos.

After a late-season three-game win-streak against average competition—Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of losing in overtime to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—Diaz expressed that his team was reading headlines and believing their own hype, which caused the embarrassing three-game skid against Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech, who shut the Canes out in a third-tier bowl game.

Last year’s COVID-defined season saw Miami getting out to a house-of-cards 8-1 start—the 42-17 one-sided loss at Clemson the true measuring stick regarding how far Diaz’s team was from competing with the big boys.

The 2020 Canes also got the kind of breaks and bounces they didn’t receive last night—comeback wins after slow starts at North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, while barely surviving this same Virginia team—quarterback D’Eriq King literally willing Miami to at least two or three wins as a transfer.

Anyone paying attention knew that 8-1 could’ve just as easily been 5-4 going into the regular season-ending home showdown with North Carolina—who demolished the Canes, 62-26, before Oklahoma State capitalized on another Diaz-inspired slow start in a second-tier bowl game this time around.

Miami’s third-year head coach is now 2-5 in his last seven games—the pressure mounting more each week he can’t find a way out of the mess he’s created.

If the natives were restless when Diaz was a rushed hire in the final days of 2018, they’re out for blood now.

Kirk Herbstreit delivered a vicious blow to the University of Miami’s administration with his takedown of a flawed internal process; one that has resulted in a sub-par on-field product for the past 16 years, as well as five different head coaches between 2006 and 2019.

Neither Herbstreit or his other ESPN cohorts believe that UM cares about fielding a quality football program—and that Diaz is only a symptom of a bigger internal cancer.

“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is,” Herbstreit lamented. “Until you get a president, AD and coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter.”

UM president Dr. Julio Frenk attempted an academic-inspired, pre-game hail mary—by way of a lengthy release that said a ton, without really saying anything. An excerpt of the doctor’s madness:

“We must pay equally close attention to the drivers of disruption and the ways lines are being blurred between amateur and professional sports by factors including NIL legislation, antitrust rulings, promotion of gambling, conference realignments, and a corrosive discourse that falsely portrays college athletics as a means to exploit talented players, instead of what it really is: an avenue to expand opportunities for young people through access to higher education. We can either be disrupted, or we can play a role in strategically shaping the course of disruption.”

Channeling that big Billy Madison principal energy for Dr. Frenk, “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Despite getting outscored 82-30 by Alabama and Michigan State combined, “The U” was all smiles at 1-2, while routing Central Connecticut State, 69-0.© StateOfTheU.com

NATIONAL WRITERS TURN GUNS ON UM

The national shaming has since a ripple effect—local columnists now green-lit to say what everyone else has been thinking.

The Sun-Sentinel’s Dave Hyde came out guns blazing this morning; stating in his op-ed that the Diaz era “is past the point of no return”—and that was just the headline—before opening with, “Game, set, Manny Diaz Era, 2019-2021”.

Hyde referenced the Herbstreit take-down and Frenk’s desperate we’ll-get-this-fixed rant—while quick to point out that Miami’s evening takeaway was merely coming close to a last-second win over a Virginia team who was coming off of back-to-back beatdowns courtesy of Wake Forest and North Carolina.

“Miami was weirdly off-kilter and lacking energy in the first half,” Hyde explained. “It trailed 9-0 thanks to a safety. Virginia had 28 plays after the first quarter to Miami’s ten. Miami had all of 95 yards on offense at half. That was against a Virginia defense that allow its first two conference opponents an average of 587 yards and 48 points.”

The veteran South Florida columnist continued,”Who’s teaching tacking to these players? And, as for meeting the moment, each time Miami score its first three touchdowns to try to pull back into the game, the defense gave a score right back to Virginia.”

The only thing Hyde could’ve and should’ve also hammered home—the fact that Miami’s defensive regression, the piss-poor tackling, bad angles and garbage technique all fall on Diaz’s shoulders.

The megalomaniac head coach somehow promoted-demoted himself this off-season—re-assuming defensive coordinator duties, instead of bringing in an alpha dog to get that unit back on track; as if playing CEO and rebuilding a flawed program with a broken culture isn’t enough to handle.

Many will argue that Diaz was playing the percentages and that Borregales simply whiffed on a gimme kick—which is technically correct—but as proven, even playing odds isn’t fool-proof and there was something bigger at play for Miami and their desperate head coach.

An offense that struggled the majority of the evening was finally finding its groove late, as was a defense that was getting pushed around early—but was finally getting stops—keeping the Cavaliers out of the end zone the entire second half, sans one freakish, miracle grab for the highlight reels.

The Canes have struggled in the red zone for years, settling for too many field goals which come back to bite Miami—and with high-scoring North Carolina and North Carolina State on deck—UM needs a better offensive game plan that relying on Borregales’ right leg.

Had Miami escaped 31-30 with a last-second kick—a fitting final score only in the fact Howard Schnellenberger was posthumously inducted into UM’s Ring of Honor at halftime—it still would’ve been a missed opportunity for a bigger moment this broken team needed regarding all that lies ahead.

PLAYING STATS & ODDS; FOR LOSERS

Diaz and Miami are well past play-it-safe mode—the pressure is mounting and the season is fast-slipping away. As the losses pile up, the outside noise gets louder—forcing coaches and players to turn inwards towards reach other, embracing a head down, us-against-the-world mentality, which makes the victories that much sweeter, while insulating the unity from the heavy criticism when things go south.

Weeks back the Baltimore Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs—midfield and nursing a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining.

Percentages would tell head coach John Harbaugh to punt; pin the timeout-less Chiefs deep with virtually no time left and better his chances for victory. Godforbid the Ravens get stuffed and don’t pick up the yard, Patrick Mahomes is one quick throw away from getting his squad in field goal range for a game-winning kick—the Chiefs in position to win their fourth in a row against Baltimore.

Harbaugh intended to go for it all along—knowing three short feet would put the game away—but saw a potential rallying-cry moment and trust-building opportunity, asking quarterback Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for it.

Harbaugh empowered his leader in that moment, even though the decision had been made—and proved the level of trust he had in his offense to put the game away. Jackson emphatically said ‘yes’—tucked the ball and ran a yard for the first down—Baltimore able to run out the clock and secure victory.

“Examined together, the final sequence in Baltimore’s win is a brilliant example of analytics, coach, and player acting like one. The team knew they were going for it. The coach knew his players would want to go and then put the decision on them,” wrote Tyler Lauletta of Insider.

Had Jackson gotten stuffed and Kansas City emerged victorious, Harbaugh would’ve been lambasted by every local newspaper and TV talking head—but he’d still have built necessary trust with his star player and sent a message to his team that they ride-or-die with Jackson; crucial after the young quarterback’s Playoffs struggles in Buffalo last year and Tennessee the year prior.

The momentum even carried over in the short-term, Baltimore down 17-16 at Detroit days later—Jackson completing a 4th-and-19 that set up the kick heard all around the league, as Justin Tucker drilled a record-setting, 66-yard game winner to crush the Lions.

Diaz and Miami needed more than to eke out a win Thursday night against one of the easier teams remaining on their 2021 schedule. Analytics, playing the percentages—the Hurricanes are well past that point, as yet another head coaching hire looks like a wrong-fit disaster, with the next rebuild on the horizon.

Borregales drilling the kick would’ve solved the evening’s problems, but there’d have been no teachable, bonding moment for both sides of the ball in need of serious growth. The only thing Diaz proved here is that he trusts his freshman kicker’s right foot more than he does his offense’s ability to find the end zone, or his defense’s skills regarding keeping a timeout-less Virginia from going 75 yards in under a minute.

Miami’s offense needed a touchdown, the defense needed a big stop and this Canes team needed a trusting head coach to put his balls on the line for their greater good—not to save his own ass, or to avoid another downtrodden post-game presser with more tired clichés and rah-rah rhetoric.

Miami’s Marcus Clarke (#28) had his hands on a would-be interception, which turned into a catch-of-the-year candidate as Dontayvion Wicks (#3) came up with the ball.

“The give games have been disappointing,” the head-slung-low Diaz shared in the bowels of Hard Rock. “There’s no excuse for it. There’s more to this team than that … We were on the verge of doing something really, really special tonight. We’ve got to take that part and build off that.”

Not quite sure how over a half of sub-par football, poor tackling, sub-par offensive execution, letting an opponent answer three scores and hoping to survive against a Virginia squad that other ACC programs have had their way with the past two weeks would’ve been “something really, really special”—but Diaz never met a hyperbolic statement he wasn’t all in on.

Really “special” would’ve been putting full trust and faith in his offense and defense to play football—riding the hot hand and punching in the score, while letting the defense pick up the slack and get a game-ending stop, for some real momentum going into the bye week.

If that somehow failed, Diaz at least had a bulletproof answer as to why—trusting his players on both sides of the ball to deliver in a big moment, setting the stage for some defining games on deck.

Now a conundrum exists for Miami faithful; never wanting to see this team lose—while knowing it will take a complete and utter collapse this season for a Diaz ousting and fresh start in 2022. How does one even attempt to rectify these feelings—actively rooting against the Canes now, with the hopes it sparks much-needed change tomorrow?

The brutal 2-3 start, the way the Hurricanes have lost—wrecked by Alabama and Michigan State, while outpaced by a sluggish Virginia team. There’s also the embarrassing practice of over-celebrating mediocrity with rings, chains and sideline photo shoots when players actually do their job—players mugging for cameras in games they’re losing, while no one in charge is pushing back on the antics, by simply acting like the adult in the room.

Diaz has long come across as the type of coach who wants to be liked and accepted over healthily feared and respected—but the “evolution” of Miami’s sideline hardware is giving off a vibe that the Canes’ head coach is working too hard to be “one of the guys”, instead of “the man”.

HERO TO ZERO: LOSE THE JEWELRY

The once-clever Turnover Chain captivated college football in 2017—and was a legitimate motivational tool that had Miami’s defense out-performing their 2016 efforts, sparking a 10-0 start to the season. From there the Mark Richt-led Canes went 7-9; bottoming-out with the 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin that sent Richt to retirement.

Where Diaz could’ve and should’ve rethought of ways to reshape a broken culture—he not only dialed up a third-incarnation of the chain; he doubled down with Touchdown Rings, for offensive players to celebrate doing their job when actually finding the end zone.

The phrase “jump the shark” itself has since jumped the shark, but so has Miami’s gaudy hardware experiment—bottoming out week one; the Canes busting out the hardware after a turnover—down 27-0 to Alabama—only to have to sheepishly return it to it’s case when the call was overturned.

Later in the game, the rings made their lone appearance after a Miami touchdown that pulled the Canes to within 31, down 41-10 at the time. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide was expectedly all business—outside of a post-game, well-earned “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE W” social media dig—while the Canes monkey business ways roll on, despite getting embarrassed every other week.

Like a parent delivering some tough love on their kids, Diaz needs to end this chain and ring experiment for the foreseeable future—until there’s actually something worth celebrating again. What was once trendsetting has since made Miami a laughing stock; which even the most laid-back of commentators is making mention of the absurdity of the Hurricanes celebrating in-game while actually trailing.

Every game of the Diaz era now takes on a must-win, most-important vibe—while the season’s biggest challenge is now on deck at Miami’s most-vulnerable time. Chapel Hill has been a house of horrors for Miami—now 3-5 since joining the ACC in 2004.

Mack Brown schooled his former pupil year one, jumping out to a 17-3 first quarter lead in 2019—the Canes coming off the bye, but still hungover from the late loss to Florida in the opener. Miami would scrap back, taking a short-lived 25-20 lead in the fourth—only to give up an unforgivable 4th-and-17 conversion, where a stop would’ve all but ended the game.

The Tar Heels were in the end zone five plays later, taking a 28-25 lead—the Canes going limp, missing a game-tying 49-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds.

A year later, a regular season-ending massacre in South Florida—North Carolina rushing for 554 yards and gashing Miami for 778 yards total—just steamrolling, out-toughing and smacking around a Hurricanes bunch that rolled in soft and was in no way ready for the fight the Heels were bringing.

North Carolina stumbled out the gate this season, upended in a low-scoring road opener at Virginia Tech—while on-the-rise Georgia Tech smacked the Tar Heels around to the tune of 45-22 last weekend; the home team turning it over three times while the Yellow Jackets protected the ball.

A week prior, UNC trounced the same Virginia team Miami struggled with—laying 699 yards and 59 points on the Cavaliers.

Make no bones about it, the Tar Heels will find another gear with the Canes are in town next week—and all sings points to a raucous environment at Kenan Memorial Stadium, regardless of an afternoon or evening kickoff.

Dazz Newsome (#5) hauls in a game-winning score against Gurvan Hall (#26) moments after the Tar Heels converted a 4th-and-17 against the Canes. — © TarHeelBlue.com

Miami will have to dig deeper than any point before in the Diaz era if they are going to get the better of Brown and North Carolina—avoiding a 2-4 skid with feisty North Carolina State heading to Hard Rock and looking for revenge for the Canes’ late comeback in Raleigh last fall.

The Wolfpack are fresh off an overtime upset of Clemson—where they outplayed the Tigers all night and would’ve won in regulation, had their kicker not pulled a Borregales. (Too soon?) Prior to their South Florida visit, North Carolina State hosts Louisiana Tech and travels to Boston College—all signs pointing to a 5-1 record and a massive game at Miami for their players and fans.

Virginia was Miami’s best chance to turn around a dismal start to their season—as the schedule only tightens up from here. Diaz barely got his team past Appalachian State; the playing-with-fire energy resulting in getting completely burned by Michigan State days later.

The Canes turned those frowns upside down when getting to ham it up while beating up a glorified high school the following week—only to show up flat five days later against Virginia; rallying late, but not getting it done. The result; another moment where Diaz praised the effort in an attempt to mask the end result.

“Our fourth-quarter effort was worthy of victory,” Diaz said. “And ultimately, we came up one play short.”

GAMES LOST FIRST 59:57—NOT FINAL :03

Those that know, know—there is no bigger loser statement than a head coach attempting to pin a defeat on one play. Diaz’s Hurricanes didn’t lose because a freshman kicker clanked one off the upright; Miami lost because of a slew of lazy, poorly-executed football moments the previous 59:57 of the game.

— It was poor offensive line play for about three-and-a-half quarters of football.

— It was Tyler Van Dyke not finding his groove until the second half—as well as players like Will Mallory not holding onto the football—or offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee figuring out how to attack holes in Virginia’s defense until late.

— It was Kamren Kitchens dropping a sure-interception in the end zone—which might’ve gone the other way, a la Maurice Sikes at Florida in 2002—instead leading to Virginia’s first touchdown moments later.

— It was Marcus Clarke letting a takeaway not only slip through his hands—but the fall to the ground creating a circus-act catch as Dontayvion Wicks saw the ball fall into his lap for a third quarter touchdown.

— It was Diaz’s defense unable to get a stop after each of Miami’s first three touchdowns—Virginia going 80 yards after the first, 75 after the next and settling for a quick field goal after the third; 18 of the Cavaliers’ 30 points coming from this three responding drives.

— It was Harris running for no gain twice and Van Dyke falling for a two-yard loss when setting up a middle-of-the-field attempt for Borregales; the Canes not even executing this conservative series correctly. A few inches would’ve been a difference-maker on the missed attempt; let alone a few extra yards.

Van Dyke started slow, but found late footing—dropping some dimes and making some clutch plays—none bigger than his 24-yard mid-fourth quarter touchdown scamper, pulling Miami to within two. The defense came back with a clutch stop; the Canes taking over at their own nine-yard line—trailing by two, with 5:29 to play.

Miami was on the move; Van Dyke to Charleston Rambo for a big conversion on 3rd-and-14 and a big Cam Harris rumble on an ensuing 3rd-and-9—the back going for 22 yards, setting up 1st-and-10 from the Cavs’ 14-yard line; Virginia burning their first timeout.

With :91 remaining, the tipping point moment that fans will bang heads on the morning after—split between playing odds and setting up a true freshman to hit a makable kick, versus empowering the offense to keep the momentum going and trusting the defense to get a game-saving stop.

Miami ran Harris into the teeth of the defensive line on first and second down, but Van Dyke scrambled towards mid-field on third down, trying to give Borregales the best option at success. The rest was history, the snap, the kick, the clank, the let-down and the opposition’s celebration.

“Got to put him in a better situation. Offense has got to score,” said Harris post game—trying to take some heat off his young kicker. “We shouldn’t have put him in that situation.”

Big of Harris to take ownership, but it’s Diaz who must shoulder the blame for putting his entire team in this situation. Miami shouldn’t have been in a dogfight with an average Virginia team that North Carolina and Wake Forest demolished.

Nor should the Canes need to steal wins from Appalachian State, get outworked in the fourth quarter by Michigan State in South Florida’s head, or act like sideline buffoons when running up the score against Central Connecticut State last week.

Same to be said for countless other critical moments over the past year that helped add to this embarrassing 16-13 run that is about get worse.

At no time over the past two seasons has Diaz proven he has a team built to bounce back from a gut-punch like this—especially with a road trip to Chapel Hill on deck, even if the Tar Heels are slumping a bit. Same to be said for handling revenge-minded North Carolina State at home, a gritty Pittsburgh program on the road, or a surging Georgia Tech—who like Michigan State—is also taking a step forward year two under a new coach.

Florida State is arguably the easiest game-on-paper remaining—and even that isn’t a gimme—as rivalry games bring out the best, even when one, or both is down in this rivalry. Duke in Durham? That basketball school has taken two of their past three against the Canes.

Virginia was the must-win moment to stop the bleeding; a hard-reset that theoretically could’ve been built upon—1-0 in conference play, 2-2 in the rear view and the conference race wide open in a wonky year for the ACC.

Instead, the Hurricanes stumbled brutally in a game it they absolutely needed—which feels like a back-breaker for this fragile program in its current state.

A win over the Cavaliers would’ve delivered Diaz a stay of execution and 12-day reprieve.

Instead, it’s Dead Manny Walking and seemingly the beginning of another end.

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.

MIAMI’S D’ERIQ KING—CROWN JEWEL OF NIL & NEWEST FACE OF BIOSTEEL


The release came across the wire this morning—BioSteel Sports Nutrition Inc. (“BioSteel”) announced the signing of Division I quarterback D’Eriq King, making him the brand’s first collegiate name, image and likeness (NIL) deal and first college football ambassador.

A couple of quotes followed; King talking up why this product is imperative to his training—smart about what goes into his body and what not—while co-founder and co-CEO John Celenza praise the Miami Hurricanes’ quarterback as being an ideal brand fit, wishing him well on the season.

BioSteel also lists Patrick Mahomes, Luka Dončić, Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey as brand ambassadors—as well as some “smaller sport” athletes and the USA Hockey Team—but King is the first college athlete the hydration specialists have signed.

As of July 1st, King already landed sponsorship deals with College Hunks Moving Company, The Wharf (event venue in Miami), Murphy Auto Group and Dreamfield—as well as creating his own logo—a graffiti-like “D-King”, with an orange “1” representing the “i’ in his name; the mark itself emulating a king’s crown.

Six weeks later, King signed on with the Florida Panthers—where he’ll appear at some games, engage with fans on social media and produce digital content for the local NHL franchise.

Safe to say the whole NIL—name, image and likeness—NCAA ruling has played well in King’s favor; as did his decision to sit out his final season at Houston in 2019 (he played in the first four games, before sitting). The decision paved the way to his one-year transfer to Miami—a bonus season granted in 2021, by way of COVID and last fall’s quirky, quarantine-defined, socially distanced season—where the almost 24-year old King decided to return for a sixth season as a college quarterback.

NIL RULING; BLESSING, CURSE, BOTH, OR NEITHER?

There’s a deeper dive to be done on all things NIL—a long-overdue ruling in the eyes of many, though one that still has its detractors.

Terence Moore, a sports journalist and contributor at Forbes admits the NCAA had no choice to comply—but was quick to follow up with the claim it will damage both football and basketball on the collegiate level.

Moore states that the Transfer Portal “is about to go nuts”—the NCAA announcing that players can now transfer once before graduating, without having to sit out a year.

By mid-May a record 1,500+ basketball players declared for the NCAA’s version of free agency—with football expected to see their own version of a mass exodus; playing time no longer the only key query—where can players go to maximize their financial portfolio, which school, city and fan base will result in more followers than another.

On the surface, it all sounds harmless, but Moore believes the modern athlete with the individual mindset is about to go next-level, with winning becoming secondary.

Moore also pointed out the fine print with some schools, versus others—the University of Georgia now allowing their athletes to use the school’s iconic “Power G” logo for endorsements deals—while the University of Tennessee has zero problem with their players displaying the Volunteers’ logo, or brand. Rocky Top for the win with this advantage-giving decision.

The rest of the argument falls rather flimsy—Moore’s mention that athletes will struggle to figure out how to pay taxes (while stating that universities don’t have the bandwidth to help players figure it out), as well as perceived dissension between teammates—that haves, versus the have-nots who aren’t earning, potentially causing locker room drama.

As for that sea of players transferring—he never explains how this is necessarily an issue—just that it’s happening in larger numbers than before.

What Moore completely ignores, outside of the small competitive advantage Tennessee might’ve given itself over Georgia—or other schools overly-protective of their mark—the different sales pitch universities can give based on their strengths against other’s weaknesses.

KING UNLOCKED CHEAT CODE WHEN CHOOSING MIAMI

As mentioned earlier, King’s transfer from Houston to Miami in spring 2020 is the ultimate reason the quarterback is seeing the type of attention he’s garnering from brands who want to align with him. If he were suiting up for his final season in the AAC with the Cougars, instead of the ACC with the Canes—he’d be prepping for Texas Tech this weekend, instead of a highly-touted showdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Atlanta.

The Cougars will also face Rice, Grambling, Navy, Tulsa, Tulane, Temple and a handful of other scrubs—outside of Memphis and South Florida in September.

Post-Alabama, Miami hosts the Big Ten’s Michigan State mid-September and a standard conference schedule—including what should be a prime-time showdown against a Top 10 North Carolina squad, the in-state annual battle against Florida State and other quality match-ups against Virginia, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke—all pumped out via ESPN, ABC and the ACC Network.

Conference and opponents aside, what about the city of Miami versus Houston—or the likes of Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Columbus, Gainesville, Tallahassee or Baton Rouge, for that matter?

The University of Miami has long been at a disadvantage for decades as a private university in large, diverse metropolitan city.

THE MAGIC CITY; REBIRTH DUE TO NIL SHIFT

Where the typical college town revolves around a successful football program, Miami remains an events-driven environment—as there is tremendous competition for the entertainment dollar and a slew of ways to spend one’s time, other than a stadium on a Saturday afternoon watching a non-championship caliber football team.

Miami’s ascension to the top of the college football world in the early 1980’s was the result of being a cutting-edge, outlier program who tapped into the nation’s best hotbed of athletic talent well before anyone else. Howard Schnellenberger kept local legends home—Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith and others who changed the game—and the Hurricanes were living proof that speed killed; defenses that smashed the wishbone and option, while Miami’s offense left slow and pasty Big Ten defenders choking on their dust.

Over time, other programs made their in-roads to South Florida’s treasure trove of talent—while these public universities who built football factories tapped into big alumni dollars to fuel their rise to glory—something the Hurricanes couldn’t use to their advantage, as the majority of UM supporters are local non-alum who pull for the program as they would the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins or Panthers.

All this to say, the pendulum could swing back in the Hurricanes’ favor as this NIL shift in thinking helps level the playing field. What Miami can’t offer in college town undying support, packed stadiums and big-fish-in-a-little pond adoration—it’s a legitimate paradise with sand, beaches, beautiful people, diverse culture, celebrity and entertainment. Miami Hurricanes players and coaches live in a place other folks pay to experience for a few days on vacation.

There’s a reason celebrities have flocked to the area for years—multi-million dollar homes on Fisher or Star Island, Coconut Grove or Key Biscayne. There’s a reason so many free agent athletes find their way to Miami at some point in their career—knowing it will create a season in life like no other.

Here I am in the place where I come let go—Miami the bass and the sun set low. Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day. No work all play, okay. So we sip a little something, lay to rest the spill. Me an Charlie at the bar runnin’ up a high bill—nothin’ less than ill, when we dress to kill. Every time the ladies pass, they be like “Hi, Will”.

Can y’all feel me, all ages and races, real sweet faces. Every different nation—Spanish, Hatian, Indian, Jamaican, Black, White, Cuban, and Asian. I only came for two days of playing—but every time I come I always wind up stayin’—this the type of town I could spend a few days in. Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin’.

Party in the city where the heat is on. All night, on the beach till the break of dawn. Welcome to Miami…

The old whack-track by Will Smith is a bit dated decades later, but the lyrics and sentiments still hit hard. There isn’t any place in this country like Miami—especially for high-profile athletes looking to live the good life.

THE U: TRANSFER PORTAL DREAM DESTINATION

There’s a reason “The U” has become the hottest transfer destination for college football’s best over the past few seasons. Before King.

Tate Martell didn’t ultimately pan out, but the former Ohio State quarterback and start of Netflix’s QB1 series was considered a crown jewel-type grab in January  2019—and Martell’s decision sparked the transfer of former high school teammate and 5-Start USC safety Bubba Bolden to UM.

Prior to that duo, Miami also reeled in former 5-Star defensive end Jaelan Phillips from UCLA—the oft-injured, underdeveloped talent ultimately playing his way into a first round NFL Draft pick this spring; reeled in by the Dolphins and thrilled to remain in his adopted city.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn found his way to UM in this cycle, as well—followed by Miami nabbing defensive end Quincy Roche, kicker Jose Borregales—as well as two key offensive line pick-ups in Issiah Walker Jr. and Jarrid Williams.

In this most-recent off-season, the bounty continued with defensive end Deandre Johnson—a Southridge product who opted for Tennessee out of high school—returning to the hometown program to run it back, as well as offensive lineman Justice Oluwaseun of UNLV. The Canes also nabbed veteran Oklahoma wide receivers Charleston Rambo, who is expected to start against the Crimson Tide this weekend—as well former Georgia cornerback and Southridge grad, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

All the aforementioned players took their talents to Coral Gables to play for Miami—simply for the football and the city and prior-to the NIL rule was put into place.

If this was the type of damage third-year head coach Manny Diaz and staff could do on the portal recruiting trail—just imagine the sales pitch when the city of Miami is now also part of the package as a money-making playground for college football players who moonlight as influencers?

The King Effect showed on the field last year, as Miami worked its way to 8-3 in the shortened season—as well as the locker room, where the transfer quarterback’s charisma, winning attitude and leadership skills helped cut through a long-time toxic culture at “The U”.

Next up, for the Texas native—laying and providing a blueprint for current and future teammates to follow in regards to image creation. pitching product, social media strategizing and laying the first building block in a personal-brand empire—with Miami the perfect backdrop for the journey.

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.

MIAMI HURRICANES SURVIVE ANOTHER GRIND-IT-OUT WIN OVER VIRGINIA


It wasn’t the game Miami Hurricanes faithful were looking for, but it’s the game everyone got—the Canes surviving the Virginia Cavaliers, 19-14 on Saturday night, under the lights at HardRock Stadium.

Even the bookies expected more out of this one—Miami a two-touchdown favorite—the Canes scoring over 30 points in every win this season, while even squeaking out 17 in a lopsided loss to Clemson.

All that to say, anyone who’s watched this rivalry over the years—especially since head coach Bronco Mendenhall found his footing in Charlottesville the past couple of seasons—they’re well aware the Cavaliers reinvent ways to play the Hurricanes tough.

Last year, a match-up similar to this most-recent showdown—Miami hanging on for a 17-9 win, fueled by several key red zone stops and holding the ‘Hoos to three field goals.

Back in 2018, a 16-13 road loss one week after a thrilling comeback win over Florida State—a backbreaking type of game that ended a five-game win-streak and saw the Canes dropping four in a row, embroiled in a quarterback controversy, before picking up two late season regular season wins to close out.

Miami almost went letdown-mode in the 2017 version of this game—9-0 after back-to-back primetime wins against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, yet twice falling behind—14-0 and 28-14—before pulling away big time in the second half, 44-28.

FAST START, SLOW MIDDLE, RESPECTABLE FINISH

This go-around looked like Vegas was right, early on—Miami on the board with a two-play touchdown drive less than a minute into the contest—a 32-yard strike to Will Mallory, followed by a deep ball to the wide open Mike Harley, who scampered 43 years for the touchdown.

High fives all around, as few expected the Hurricanes to only score 12 more points the rest of the evening—yet that’s precisely how this one shook out. Virginia answered with an 11-play, 64-yard drive—using three different quarterbacks employing a whatever-it-takes approach—which makes sense for a 1-3 team on the road against a 4-1 favorite.

By night’s end, Brennan Armstrong remained Mendenhall’s go-to under center—16-of-30 for 181 yards and two touchdowns—while also leaning on Armstrong’s legs for 15 carries and 91 yards.

Keytaon Thomspon and Iraken Armstead both saw a handful of snaps as well—but between the two of them, rushed nine times for 46 yards and only attempted one pass attempt, which fell incomplete. Even knowing these two were decoys, the Miami defense still defended against the pass, instead selling out and stuffing the run.

The Cavaliers threw for 181 yards on the night—35 of which came on a late touchdown from Armstrong to Ra’Shaun Henry with 5:27 remaining—Al Blades Jr. inexplicably out of place, allowing Henry to get wide open for what could’ve been a brutal scenario for Miami had Dee Wiggins not drawn a pass interference play on a 3rd-and-8 deep ball with 2:56 remaining.

The fresh set of downs allowed the Canes to bleed another two-and-a-half-minutes off the clock—the Cavaliers taking over at their own 20-yard line with :23 remaining and no timeouts—relying on a last ditch lateral, which resulted in the game’s lone turnover with Quincy Roche recovering the fumble.

No doubt many are growing wary of these survival-type games, as well as Miami finding ways to play down, instead of up. Truth be told, the offense hasn’t looked the same since Clemson exposed the Hurricanes porous offensive line—which resulted in D’Eriq King looking mortal, opposed to unstoppable—as he was against UAB, Louisville and Florida State.

King was an effective 21-of-30 for 322 yards and a touchdown against Virginia—but 14 carries for 28 yards kept him one-dimensions against the Cavaliers’ dense; similarly to the 11 attempts for 32 yards versus Pittsburgh last week.

King averaged 6.9 yards-per-carry in the opener against UAB—as well as 8.1 yards-per-carry in the rout of Florida State. That dropped to 2.1 against Clemson (if taking away the one 56-yarder), 2.9 against the Panthers and 2.0 this past Saturday night.

GROUND GAME RELATIVELY STIFLED SINCE CLEMSON LOSS

As a whole, the Hurricanes have been restrained on the ground as of late, considering the stable of running backs—Cam’Ron Harris, Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney, Jr.—as well as the mobility at quarterback with an athlete of King’s caliber.

Three games into the season—against lesser defenses like the Blazers, Cardinals and Seminoles—some big runs padded the stats, to the point many were pushing a false narrative about the Hurricanes’ offensive line turning a corner.

Commentators in wins over Louisville and Florida State were fast to point out that Miami’s offensive line gave up a whopping 51 sacks in 2019, but looked to be a renewed unit in 2020 under first year coach Garin Justice—none making reference to the competition, or the fact that the college football world should reevaluate the Canes’ line at the halfway point of this quirky season, after showdowns against defensive-minded programs like Clemson, Pittsburgh and Virginia.

Much was made about Miami racking up 337 yards on the ground against UAB—including the 66-yard score by Harris, route to a 134 yard performance. Harris topped himself a week later with a 75-yard score at Louisville—while Knighton caught a quick screen and scampered 75 yards to pay dirt, as well–a reception, but still a running back going the distance on a play where the offensive line its job.

King led all rushers with 65 yards against the Noles, while Harris, Chaney Jr. and Knighton ran for a combined 99 yards and four touchdowns.

Two weeks later, Clemson’s front seven set up show in Miami’s backfield all night—the offensive line out-manned, out-matched and out-played—the Canes only rushing for 89 yards on the night (again 56 of which came from King on one play—Miami still settling for three on the possession; -3 rushing yards net on the next three plays.)

Pat Narduzzi and Pitt pounced on the exposed weakness and kept Miami’s ground attack in check all afternoon—109 yard combined between King and four different running backs—and it was obvious Mendenhall was content to do the same; make King one-dimensional and force him to beat you with his arm, which will be the modus operandi of all ACC defensive coordinators the rest of this season, barring the have the personnel to do so.

OFFENSIVE LINE STRUGGLES SINCE EXPOSED

Prior to the Clemson showdown, Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel offered up a detailed piece regarding Miami being “back” and questioning if the Canes could hang with the Tigers. A big part of his piece; some back-and-forth with unnamed ACC assistants and position coaches sharing their thoughts on Miami, circa 2020.

Regarding the offensive line—during a time when ESPN talking heads were hyping a better, more mature front five—the inarguable sentiment was shared:

“They are still a below-average offensive line,” said another opposing assistant. “Their quarterbacks slipperiness allows them not to take sacks and make plays. They haven’t played a good defense and they haven’t played a good defensive line.”

Miami has now played one great defense, two pretty good ones—and while there’s been some improvement, especially regarding tempo in this new spread offense—these Hurricanes are still fielding an offensive line that is a huge liability, and will be for the rest of this football season.

The million dollar question—to what degree with this level of exposure hurt Miami with five games remaining?

Going back to that 10-0 start in 2017, where the Canes managed to eke out their share of early wins—before utter dominance against the Hokies and Fighting Irish—quarterback Malik Rosier was exposed in a regular season loss to a four-win Pittsburgh team and Miami never recovered.

Clemson attacked the Canes in the ACC Championship, rolling 38-3 and snuffing out anything Miami’s offense tried to run—while Wisconsin forced Rosier into three interceptions in the Orange Bowl weeks later.

The Rosier hangover carried into a 7-6 run in 2018, as well—LSU aggressively getting after Rosier— the senior throwing two interceptions and struggling to move the ball all day behind an outmatched offensive line.

Fast-forwarding back to 2020—some upside, receiver play is starting to improve—which should get the running game on a better trajectory.

Harley’s career-high 10-reception, 170-yard outing against Virginia was the most yards for a Canes’ receiver since Phillip Dorsett posted a 201-yard outing against Arkansas State in 2014—and was the most against a conference foe since Allen Hurns put up 173 yards against Pittsburgh the season prior.

It was the type of breakout game many expected from Harley, prior to the midway point of his senior season—his slump seemly breaking with that acrobatic 38-yard touchdown haul-in early third quarter last week against Pittsburgh—and it carried over to the opening possession with the big score against Virginia.

Mark Pope had three grabs for 48 yards—38 coming on one acrobatic grab that was initially called incomplete, but reversed—thought had Miami not held on to win, two crucial back-to-back drops late in the game would’ve defined his evening.

Despite all receivers putting in extra work this past week at Greentree, Harley was truly the only one who looked significantly improved and much more consistent—challenge both Pope and Dee Wiggins to up their game, or Manny Diaz and first-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to start looking towards younger players to show if they’re up for the challenge.

DIAZ; CREDIT—AND KNOCKS—WHERE DUE

As for Diaz, the second-year head coach deserves credit for guiding these Hurricanes to a 5-1 start—after a 6-7 run last fall, including a three-game losing streak to end the season.

In years passed, a Clemson-like loss would’ve carried over and destroyed morale—much like last year’s unforgivable loss to Florida International; Miami dropping the regular season finale to Duke and getting shut out by Louisiana Tech in a third-tier bowl in the following weeks.

Flaws and setbacks aside these past two weeks, the Hurricanes showed-up against the Panthers and Cavaliers—which sounds like a gimme, but for whatever reason hasn’t been in recent memory—lest anyone forget falling into 28-0 hole against the Hokies last October, or sleepwalking in an overtime loss to a 1-5 Yellow Jackets team that finished 3-9, with an early loss to The Citadel.

Diaz has been masterful in robbing the Transfer Portal—reeling in Bubba Bolden and Jaelan Phillips two years ago and Roche this off-season; all three of which are currently the Canes’ best defenders—not to mention King; Miami’s most mature and capable quarterback in 15 seasons, which is more of and indictment on the state of the program, than over-the-top praise for the Houston grad transfer.

Diaz also addressed special teams woes the past two seasons, landing Lou Hedley at punter and the game-changing Jose Borregales at kicker—who has been almost flawless this season—a year after the Canes were relying on two walk-ons and a head case that cost Miami at least 2-3 games last fall.

Salvaging the 2019 recruiting class wasn’t doable, due to the timing of Richt’s late December departure in 2018—but the 2020 class brought in instant-impact guys like Chaney Jr. and Knighton—as well as several others who will be the building block for the future.

The 2021 class is currently sitting just outside the Top 10 and second-best in the ACC with 22 “hard commits” and hopefully more to come if Miami can close this season strong.

Recruiting aside, the development, attitude and overall mindset of these players is what will define both Diaz and the program moving forward. Richt, Al Golden and even Randy Shannon all had some National Signing Day wins notched under their belts—but never a next-level program did those wins make.

The Hurricanes had scattered talent across the board, but never a team that morphed into a balanced competitor—while all these units ultimate took on the personality and demeanor of their respective leaders.

FEARED & RESPECTED, VERSUS LIKED & ACCEPTED

If there’s one big knock on Diaz at this point—it would be in his overall 46-year old approach to be relatable to his team and a players’ coach. Diaz comes off in year two as a guy who would prefer to be liked and deemed cool, opposed to having the type of separation that results in a healthy fear and respect  via his players.

When looking back at the Butch Davis era in Miami—those Hurricanes feared Davis in the way a Private would a Master Sergeant. There was nothing overly-friendly about the relationship; everyone understood the hierarchy and properly fell into line—no mistaking Davis at the general and adult in the room.

Davis was a wise-beyond his years 42 years old when he took over the Hurricanes program in 1995 and 47 when he left for the NFL in 2001—Diaz was 44 when he became Miami’s 25 head coach at the end of 2018.

Zero doubt that spending 14 seasons under Jimmy Johnson—winning a national title at ‘The U’ and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys—definitely puts some mileage on the odometer and takes some tread off the tires.

Granted the world has changed over the past quarter century—look at the national championship caliber head coaches who have won and dominated at the highest level; a list mostly made up of hard-asses who were feared and respected, opposed to coaches who overtly tried to relate to their players and get on their level—guys like Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and Urban Meyer—all cutthroat, no bullshit and all business.

All that to say, Saban, Swinney and Meyer didn’t just wake up one day—pissing excellence, with the profession completely figured out. All eventually morphed and experienced growing pains when becoming great.

Go back and watch Swinney aw-shucksing his way through halftime of the 2012 Orange Bowl—down 40-29 to West Virginia in an eventual 70-33 ass-kicking. Relive a downtrodden Saban in 2007 after Alabama was upset at home by Louisiana-Monroe—four years after he’d won a national championship with LSU, but failed with the Miami Dolphins.

Most think of these two championship caliber head coaches in their present-day form—forgetting how both reacted and responded before they’d officially arrived.

Diaz is still young and is only two years into this head coaching game—one he took over after three successful year’s as Miami’s defensive coordinators. Conversely, Swinney never held a position higher than wide receivers coach when at 38 years old he took over for the maligned Tommy Bowden during the 2008 season.

The hard-ass snapping at the media after rolling Syracuse this past weekend sure-as-shit isn’t the same rookie he was a dozen years ago—having a lifetime, by college football head coaching standards, to find himself and his style.

Diaz’s youthful energy is a plus, but over-celebrating routine ACC wins is part of a cultural problem at Miami.

Diaz entered the 2019 season taking over for a program Richt saw go 7-9 over a two-year span after that 10-o start in 2017—a youthful up-and-coming coordinator whose passion and personality were always worn on his sleeve.

That first order of business when promoted to head coach; a questionable WWE-style set-up at UM’s Soffer Indoor Practice facility—where players were encouraged to wrestle, beat-up and take out their “frustrations” in tackling dummies sporting 7-6 jerseys reflecting Miami’s 2018 record.

Diaz even got in on the action—tackling and beating up the dummies like his players—all of which left fans in wait-and-see mode. Would this approach work—or fall flat? It proved to be the latter after the Canes backslid with a 6-7 season—low-lighted with that FIU embarrassment and bowl game shutout; the program slipping to 13-16 since that out-the-gate run in 2017.

This season, Diaz broke out victory cigars after Miami laid it’s biggest win on Florida State since 1976—scoring the most-every points the Canes ever have on the Noles as well, in the 52-10 smackdown—an act that can be bought or sold either way, depending on the angle one wants to take.

Was it wrong to stop and smell the roses along the way—enjoying a big win over a rival? Probably not, though the fact Miami rolled out sloppy early-on at Clemson after the post-FSU bye week—it puts the celebratory gesture a bit more under the microscope.

Fact remains, the Canes had zero business losing to the Noles at any point over the past four tries—an thankfully have prevailed against a Florida State program that’s gone 18-21 dating back to the beginning of 2017 and is on their third head coach in four seasons.

So what makes more sense here—a business-as-usual approach attitude and we-expect-to-win-these-games-vibe—or a little gloating … which truthfully comes off a little overzealous on the heels of 6-7 and the tackling dummy event falling flat out the gate.

After the win over Virginia, Diaz again seemed overly-hyped for a game the Canes eked out against a one-win Cavaliers squad—even sliding in the rain in celebratory fashion, like players would, when all was said and done.

Some might love this player-friendly approach—others might loathe it; feeling a head coach in Diaz’s position should be setting at tone that wins like these over Pittsburgh and Virginia are the standard at Miami and that it should be treated in a business-as-usual mindset.

DAMAGED UPPERCLASSMEN VERSUS FRESH-START FRESHMEN

Fact remains, the Hurricanes’ program has lived with a loser’s mentality for too long now—13-16 entering this fall, going back to the end of 2017. Those losing ways have impacted this 2020 class—many of which bailed on the program before this year even got underway; another aspect of this broken culture—DeeJay Dallas, Jon Garvin and Trajan Bandy going pro, while Michael Irvin II and Scott Patchan transferred out.

All that’s left are the finally-turning-a-corner Harley, safety Amari Carter, who gets tossed every other week for targeting—as well as offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson, who redshirted to rehab a knee injury. Hardly the type of senior leadership championship caliber programs are accustomed to.

The flip side to this frustrating trend; the King effect this season and a grad transfer that has injected some life into the program. Despite any of King’s limitations—the 23-year old quarterback is a winner and in six short games he has raised the level of play of those around him.

It’s been a while since Miami has seen a veteran leader of this caliber—especially one at the most-important position on the field.

All those in the 2020 recruiting class; they’re getting a front row seat to the King show and are starting their Miami careers in a year where the Canes are winning the types of games they used to lose, en route to a 5-1 start and Top 15 ranking with five games remaining.

Closing strong—both on the field and the recruiting trail— might be the shot in the arm Miami needs. From there, another strong showing with the Transfer Portal—it could set up for another step forward in 2021.

Outside of that, Diaz and staff must revamp their approach to recruiting the offensive line—starting with tapping into Big Ten and Big 12 country and working to sell some big boys on getting out of the Northeast and Midwest. It is really that hard of a sales pitch to get those guys down to South Florida for some fun in the sun, nightlife, beach proximity and girls in bikinis? Sounds like a no-brainer.

Long-term, time will tell where things go with both Diaz and this program—but in the short term, Miami is doing the most-important thing it can do to help it’s overall sales pitch right now; it’s winning football games, while remaining in the conference race.

Next up; a bye and then a Friday night road challenge at North Carolina State—the same Wolfpack team that North Carolina demolished, 48-21 in bounce-back this past weekend—a week after the Tar Heels were upset at Florida State.

Virginia Tech,Georgia Tech and Wake Forest will then be all that remain before the Coastal clash of the season on December 5th, when North Carolina visits Miami.

The showdown will be the Canes’ highest-stakes game this season, outside of Clemson—and one worthy of a well-earned, season ending victory cigar—or a loss that leaves Diaz as punching bag and tackling dummy until 2021.

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 earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

MIAMI HURRICANES COME TOGETHER ON SENIOR DAY; SMOKE LOUISVILLE


The Miami Hurricanes passed their final home test of the season, overwhelming the Louisville Cardinals, 52-27 on Senior Day and homecoming at HardRock Stadium.

This was the type of game that the Canes easily could’ve let slip away due to a slew of reasons—but none bigger than showing up unprepared and not bringing the fight; which thankfully hasn’t been the case the majority of this inaugural season for Manny Diaz and staff. Even in early losses to Florida, North Carolina and Virginia Tech—Miami played scrappy, overcame early error and was in position to win all three games late, before ultimately not getting it done.

To Louisville’s credit, it brought the fight, as well—496 yards on the day, while dominating time of possession—but three turnovers, sloppy-as-hell play (14 penalties for 121 yards) and an inability to stop Miami’s offense, ultimately led to the 31-point blowout.

MIAMI OFFENSE ROLLED ALL DAY; CANES’ D LIMITED CARDS

Early on, it appeared nobody was going to stop anybody; the Canes marching 92 yards on its opening drive—highlighted by a 41 yard hook-up from Jarren Williams to Mike Harley; low-lighted by back-to-back face-mask penalties on the Cardinals that set DeeJay Dallas up for any easy five-yard punch-in on 1st-and-Goal.

Louisville answered with an 80-yard strike to speedster Tutu Atwell; the former Miami Northwestern product shining early back home in front of the local crowd, tying things back up—despite some early self-implosion from the Cards.

If there was any oh-shit-type-feeling that Miami was in for a shootout and questions about the offense bringing it, they were quickly answered when Williams went back to Dee Wiggins on a 67-yard touchdown strike on first down—a play similar to last weekend’s dagger in Tallahassee; the 56-yard early fourth quarter strike that pushed the Canes’ lead over the Noles to, 24-10.

Special teams delivered for Miami, as well—K.J. Osborn helping flip the field in the return game, while Al Blades Jr. partially blocked a punt—both leading to short fields and quick scores—which was ultimately the theme of the day; the Hurricanes showing up in “all three phases of the game”, which coaches especially love to go on about in the wake of a lopsided win.

Diaz touched on this, as well as what finally sparked a turnaround after a slow start to the season.

“The best part is the players get it. They know it is all about their accountability and connections to one another. It is in the little things. We see it in practice. It is like parenting a child. At some point they have to learn and they have to mature,” Diaz explained post-game.

“We have a very young football team. We did not honor very many seniors. We have some young guys that are maturing and starting to get it and they recognize what wins. That has been the most encouraging part.”

CANES TURNED A CORNER AT PITT; HAVEN’T FLINCHED SINCE

After a loss to Virginia Tech, followed by a gritty win over Virginia, only to backslide with an inexplicable loss to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—this season was in disarray, leaving many to openly wonder when these aforementioned young guys were going to mature, get it or recognize what wins. Thankfully that flip soon switched.

The same DJ Ivey that was caught slipping on two plays against the Yellow Jackets that directly cost the Canes 14 points—strutted into Pittsburgh the following week and hauled in game-changing interceptions in a 16-12 slug-fest that Miami pulled out. That road game against the Panthers is also where the season changed at quarterback, with Williams re-entering for a ceiling-hitting N’Kosi Perry, tossing the game-winning touchdown to Osborn; a 32-yard strike with under a minute remaining—Williams coming in cold and delivering.

Where Miami looked like it might’ve turned a corner that Friday night against the Cavaliers, it took two more weeks for things to finally come together—setting the stage for that “perfect storm” moment in Tallahassee the first weekend of November. Florida State’s rough season aside, Miami finally put together what was its most-perfect performance to date; improved offensive line play, Williams hitting the deep ball and a spirited defensive performance—highlight by Greg Rousseau, the one-man wrecking crew.

The Canes took another step forward against the Seminoles, showing they could handle not just adversity, but prosperity—winning a key rivalry game and coming in hot off the comeback at Pittsburgh, opposed to flat, like it did against lowly Georgia Tech days after topping Virginia.

This win over Louisville—again, not a perfect outing—was another big moment for this rebuilding-type season under a first-year head coach. The Cardinals aren’t world-beaters, coming off a 2-10 run last fall that saw the second coming of the Bobby Petrino era coming to an end late in year five.

POTENTIAL TO GET ‘OUT-COACHED’, DIAZ & CREW CAME WITH A PLAN

Scott Satterfield was tossed the keys in the off-season—after a successful five-year stint at Appalachian State, where he won the Sun Belt Conference title three years in a row. A combined 29-9 record over that successful run and known as one of the more-successful, on-the-rise offensive minds in the game, Satterfield had an immediate impact at Louisville his inaugural season—bringing a 5-3 record to HardRock this past weekend; those three losses coming against Notre Dame, at Florida State and Clemson.

Based on recent history and Hurricanes’ muscle memory; it was hardly a stretch to think Miami might not roll in prepared against Louisville. Despite some solid defensive play by Diaz’s squad the past few weeks, the Cardinals’ offense was averaging just over 444 yards-per-game going into this showdown—meaning this wasn’t the week the Canes could afford to struggle moving the ball—and they didn’t.

Five of six offensive possessions in the first half, Miami scored touchdowns—only punting once, with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter, after an incompletion on 3rd-and-7. Leading 28-14 at the time, the defense forced a quick three-and-out and the offense stayed aggressive—Williams scrambling for 12 yards on a 3rd-and-9, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass to back-up tight end Will Mallory on a 3rd-and-8.

When the Cardinals got back after it, trying to trim the lead before halftime—a seven-play, 57-yard drive was thwarted by way of an end zone interception by the surging Ivey, on 1st-and-Goal from the UM 18-yard line; a ten-yard holding call the play prior, putting Louisville and quarterback Micale Cunningham in a lurch.

Up 35-14, the Hurricanes received the opening second half kickoff—driving 66 yards on six plays, for another score; a 36-yard strike from Williams to Harley—made possible by offensive coordinator Dan Enos finally committing to the run these past few weeks; Dallas scampering for 20 yards on the first play from scrimmage and Cam Harris picking up 12 more, two plays later.

The Cardinals answered on the ensuing drive and the Canes punted, only to be bailed out by more clutch special teams play; this time Jimmy Murphy diving on a ball muffed by Atwell—the fan-favorite, senior walk-on getting his first Turnover Chain moment in his final home game. Three plays later on a 3rd-and-15, Williams found Harley again—this time for a 28-yard score, that proved to be the dagger, putting Miami up 49-21 with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter.

Camden Price tacked on a field goal for good measure in the waning moments of the third quarter—getting the Hurricanes to a nice looking total of 52 in the box score—though a 58-yard touchdown run by Hassan Hall middle fourth quarter gave the Cardinals a meaningless score, making things look slightly less lopsided.

POTENTIAL TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT; CLOSE BOWL SEASON STRONG

With two games remaining—a bye this weekend before Florida International at Marlins Park and a road finale at Duke—Miami is in very good position to finish 8-4, which seemed almost unthinkable late day on October 19th after the Hurricanes slipped to 3-4 after falling in overtime to the Yellow Jackets.

There were a few different trains of thought coming into the 2019 and year one of the Diaz era—those who expected #TheNewMiami to be some instant-fix, screaming about an undefeated season and rolling Florida game one—and then the more-logical crowd; frustrated with 15 years of irrelevance, but realizing nothing was getting fixed overnight.

For the latter, the season goals weren’t as clear-cut definition-wise—win x-amount of games, win the Coastal and beat both in-state rivals, as anything less is unacceptable—or things of that nature the win-now crowd was demanding. Progress can get lost or ignored in a loss, just as a win can mask deficiencies few (outside the coaching staff and players) take time to dissect when basking in the glow of victory.

Realistically speaking, the goal for this year needed to be growth, progress and the Hurricanes taking steps towards looking like the Miami of old. Yes, there were still three conference losses in the books by late October; the Canes still carrying on the annual tradition of reinventing new ways to drop winnable ACC match-ups—but the recent habit of fading down the stretch after those disheartening Coastal Division setbacks has dissipated.

Miami won four of its past five conference games, against the meat of the schedule most expected to be the most-troubling—Virginia on a short week, at Pittsburgh, at Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of a rivalry game.

All that’s left to do now is close strong; putting in on Florida International—former head coach Butch Davis on the other sideline, in a monstrosity of a stadium built on the hallowed grounds of the beloved Orange Bowl—and taking care of a Duke team that’s lost four of its past five games going into this weekend; the Blue Devils most-likely 5-6 for the finale against the Canes, needing a win for bowl eligibility.

While the Coastal Division is still a mess, Miami’s three losses mean at least a half dozen things have to fall into place for the Canes to back into a match-up with Clemson—something that’s completely moot without a win at Duke, so no reason to put any pointless energies towards what is nothing more than a pipe dream right now.

Crazily, the Hurricanes might actually be in better shape by not winning the division—as an 8-4 record is prettier than 8-5, which most-likely is the result of a showdown with the defending national champions—leaving Miami an outside shot at reaching the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl; insane as that sounds.

If no ACC team is ranked in the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 25, sans Clemson—the Orange Bowl gets to choose its ACC team to face a foe from the Big Ten, the SEC, or Notre Dame—and the way things are playing out, Wake Forest doesn’t look like it will be ranked (barring an upset of Clemson this weekend); all of which would leave the hometown Hurricanes the most-attractive ACC match-up for the Orange Bowl, despite a four-loss season (should UM win out.)

Improve, get better and look more like Miami. It didn’t seem like that would be the case as recently as a month ago—but credit to Diaz, the staff and these Hurricanes players for a mid-season hard-reset that looks set to save year one, setting up for a strong recruiting haul and step forward in 2020—which is precisely what the University of Miami needs to (finally) get back to contending ways.

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 earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.