It makes sense that an important victory for the Miami Hurricanes – a season-saving 17-9 win over the Virginia Cavaliers on Friday night – would simultaneously remind the Canes how far they still have to go, and how slim their margins are.
This was an improvement, and a significant one, but it wasn’t the conquest which dramatically changes opinions and gives birth to a fresh sense of hope.
The uneasy coexistence of happiness and uncertainty is going to remain part of Miami’s world in 2019, and if we’re being honest, probably the first half of the 2020 season. The U isn’t yet ready to escape the familiar problems which have dogged the program for a decade and a half.
If we are looking at the very big picture, negativity can’t be eliminated from the landscape. One has to see reality for what it is.
But enough about the bigger picture. In the immediate aftermath of Friday’s game against Virginia, Miami gained positive clarity and took a needed step forward in its evolution. The Hurricanes probably knew this on a conceptual level before the game began, but now they know this in a concrete way:
They have to lean on their defense, and they have to avoid huge mistakes.
The Canes watched a home game against Virginia Tech slip away the week before. A tidal wave of interceptions led to a boatload of Hokie points. Miami’s festival of mistakes enabled The U to lose as a 12-point favorite.
A starting point for the Canes against Virginia was to not commit turnovers Sometimes, “addition” can simply mean the elimination of negatives: addition by subtraction.
Miami did exactly that against the ACC Coastal leader and favorite, committing zero turnovers. Virginia endured a blocked field goal – made possible by Miami’s Pat Bethel – and a steady stream of failed red-zone possessions which recalled UCF’s nightmare the Friday before against Cincinnati.
Virginia committed a turnover inside the Miami 25-yard line. Jon Ford punched the ball out. Trajan Bandy made the recovery.
Miami didn’t make any of those debilitating mistakes.
No, the offense didn’t function well for most of the game. Miami’s first drive and its last produced touchdowns; everything in between created only three points. N’Kosi Perry (above) lacked touch on his deep ball. The offensive line wasn’t particularly good (though not as bad as it was against Florida).
Yet, with zero turnovers, Miami didn’t give Virginia any free points. It gave Virginia Tech several free touchdowns six days earlier.
Merely weeding out the awful aspects of its performance was enough, given how well the defense played, especially freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau
He hadn’t been in the starting lineup earlier in the season, but on Friday, he delivered seven tackles, a sack, a fourth-down stop, and a forced fumble recovery.
Perry might not need to win games; he can merely avoid losing them… and allow Rousseau and the defense to win them.
Miami isn’t a complete team. It does not have a complete solution within its grasp. It does, however, possess the roadmap to success in 2019. It probably won’t always work, but it is the way UM needs to play:
Don’t screw up. Shorten the game. Play for field position and a rested defense. Let the defense win.
If Miami can continue to trim the fat and add by subtracting, this season – which probably won’t reach all of its goals – can become a lot better than many expected after any of September’s especially embarrassing moments.
That isn’t a soaring statement of hope, but it’s a lot better than the previous weeks of this season.
For now, that’s a start, and a good step in the right direction.
Stunning loss to FIU shows Miami still isn’t back
On a recent Florida Football Insiders podcast, after Miami beat Louisville 52-27, I asked FFI columnist Jamil King if the Hurricanes had clearly turned the corner. It was not only easy, but logical, to be optimistic.
After all, Miami had truly cleaned up its act since the late-game escape in Pittsburgh The Canes then crushed Florida State on the road in the kind of physical, focused performance a good team delivers against a rival. Miami then scored over “half a hundred” against a Louisville team, which had defeated Wake Forest and Virginia this year.
Miami offered three straight convincing performances – somewhat shaky against Pitt, but good enough to win on the road against a decent opponent. Then, Miami maxed out on defense against Florida State and maxed out on offense against Louisville.
The Georgia Tech loss was a distant memory. The pronounced struggles of the offense in the first half of the season felt very remote. This was a different Miami team over the past three weeks.
Just to be sure, the Canes had a week off to rest, refocus, and recharge for the final two games of the season, one against Duke and one this weekend against Florida International.
Yes, Florida International viewed this game as its “Super Bowl” and was always going to be jacked up for a date with Miami. Former UM head coach Butch Davis, who led Miami to a No. 2 national ranking in the 2000 college football season before moving to the pros with the Cleveland Browns, badly wanted this win.
Okay. Sure. Fine.
Butch Davis really wanted this game. I wanted a million dollars and my own national TV show. You probably wanted five million dollars and an oceanfront condo.
Badly wanting something doesn’t mean you’ll get it. In no reasonable universe should Florida International beat Miami. Come close, MAYBE, but certainly not beat the Canes.
FIU didn’t merely beat Miami 30-24. FIU beat UP the Canes.
The Panthers were clearly better, clearly faster, clearly stronger, clearly better-coached.
Miami committed two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play.
Miami burned all its timeouts with 4:51 left in the game. The Canes threw a bunch of passes short of the sticks and in bounds on their last drives.
Miami couldn’t stop FIU when the Panthers recovered a late onside kick with just over three minutes left, and needed one first down to seal the win.
Miami’s offensive line couldn’t protect Jarren Williams.
As for Williams, he couldn’t protect the ball. Forget about making great plays; Williams couldn’t at least avoid huge mistakes. He had only thrown three interceptions all season coming into Saturday night. At the Miami Marlins baseball park Saturday night, he threw three of them, including two in the second half to dig the hole, further.
Miami wasn’t prepared at the start of the game. And, Manny Diaz’s staff didn’t make halftime adjustments. Miami kicked a field goal on fourth and two from the FIU 6 late in the third quarter, when trailing by 16 points.
What a disaster.
We at least have clarity on the question, “Has Miami turned the corner?” Nope. Not at all. No way.
At least this makes everyone sure of where the program stands entering next season. That, at least, is helpful, even if nothing about this game helped the Hurricanes.
Canes return to familiar location for “home game” Saturday
As the Miami Hurricanes get set to battle Crosstown rival FIU on Saturday, there will do so at the location that used to be their home for seven decades. And don’t think for a second that this year’s version of the Canes are not fully aware of the significance of playing where the legendary Orange Bowl Stadium, used to stand.
The two schools will be battling at what is now the Florida Marlins Baseball park which was constructed a decade ago on the grounds that used to host Orange Bowl Stadium. Marlins park has already previously hosted bowl games in December in previous years, and that’s the place where Miami dominated college football for the better part of a 10-year run in the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.
Hurricanesports.com had a fantastic retrospective item on former immortalized Cane coaches and legendary players of the past reminiscing about their favorite memories of having played in the Orange Bowl.
Without question, the foundation of Miami’s success was the intimidation of playing in that hallowed venue, where they once won 58 games in a row. Of course, it always seemed to help that the Hurricanes would be picked to play in the Orange Bowl New Year’s Day game itself, which was essentially a home game against the then, Big Eight conference champion for so many years.
One of those coaches, Jimmy Johnson, told the site about his favorite Canes memory,
“The most obvious favorite memory of the Orange Bowl was going undefeated and winning the national championship against Oklahoma (1988). It was so rewarding because we were disappointed from the 11-1 record the year before. One was one of my favorite memories, the other was my biggest disappointment.”
The man who led Miami’s monumental National Championship win over Nebraska in the 1984 New Year’s Day Orange Bowl, Bernie Kosar, said of that game/that stadium,
“For me, our program-defining game was against Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the 1983 National Championship. During that game, coach Howard Schnellenberger trusted me, a freshman, to throw it aggressively downfield from the first play.
“The confidence and belief that all our coaches and players had in me meant I had an enormous responsibility and I wasn’t going to disappoint. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but failure was not an option.”
The five national titles, the 19 All-Americans and two Heisman winners (Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta) who were part of Miami football in the Orange Bowl obviously made it even more special to put on the Orange and White there.
“I think it’s going to be special for us. I think it’s going to be special for all football fans in South Florida. Just setting the GPS on the car and turning down there, parking in somebody’s front yard and walking into Marlins Park and just seeing a football game.
“It’s obviously a little disorienting. The field goes north-south instead of east-west like it used to back in the OB, but it will be great to be back in Little Havana. It should be a great atmosphere in there.”
Of course on the other sideline with the FIU Panthers is former Hurricanes coach, Butch Davis, who was the architect of the turn-around in the early 2000s for Miami becoming a National Championship program, again.
Davis had previously been an assistant with Jimmy Johnson for the further rise of Miami football post-Howard Schnellenberger in the mid-1980s.
So while the players on the field Saturday for both schools weren’t born when there Hurricanes truly became “The U,” it’s still a neat bit of a nostalgia that they will be playing at a place that used to mean so much to the fabric of college football in South Florida.