In the end, a thirteen-point loss. The favorite won and for those who woke up Sunday morning to nothing more than box score, they don’t know the whole story regarding what took place at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday night when No. 11 Florida State took on Miami.
Three weeks ago the Hurricanes were 4-1 and 3-0 in the ACC and since then, three straight losses. A blowout in Chicago against Notre Dame, a failed final drive (with a back-up quarterback) in an 18-14 loss to North Carolina and now a 33-20 loss to Florida State.
On paper, 4-4 with a bye-week approaching and now 3-2 in conference with four games remaining – three within the conference.
For those who only choose to see wins and losses and nothing in between, close out this page now, return to a message board and rant away about the current state of the program. You have that right, so go ahead and peck away.
There’s no ‘moral victory’ to claim in this recent loss to Florida State. It sucks. Losing to the Seminoles is hell and beating them is euphoric. That’s pretty much the mindset every season. UM has now lost six of eight to FSU, after tearing off a six-game win streak last decade. Nothing about that is easy to swallow.
That being said, 2012 was never supposed to be the year Miami overtook Florida State. Yes, both teams were equal record-wise a few years back, but if you looked at the roster, things were far from even.
BOTH MIAMI AND FLORIDA STATE’S RECENT STRUGGLES
The Noles had the talent – it simply was getting coached down by on-his-way-out Bobby Bowden and upon Jimbo Fisher taking over – which is why Bowden’s Noles went 7-6 in his swan song and Fisher pulled off 10-4 and 9-4 in back-to-back years, reaching the ACC title game his first seasons at the help.
Meanwhile, Randy Shannon limped to 7-6 in 2010 – Fisher’s first year, losing to Florida State, 45-17, which started the countdown to his firing – and Al Golden opened his tenure with a 6-6 campaign in 2011, with FSU putting together a double-digit win season for the first time since 2003.
Florida State opened last year a national title dark horse and came into 2012 as a legit contender. The 2011 campaign ended quick, with three straight losses – Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest – and the Seminoles didn’t even reach the ACC title game, despite lofty expectations.
This year? The title dream all but died week six in Raleigh, where Florida State blew a 16-0 half time lead against North Carolina State, falling, 17-16.
Miami’s expectations year two in the Golden era were understandably low. Six upperclassmen left early, along with a handful of veteran starters. The defensive side of the ball was young and the offense, behind a veteran line, was breaking in a new starting quarterback, running back and handful of receivers.
The media pegged UM fifth in the ACC Coastal and some were calling for a 3-9 or 4-8 season.
Miami was clobbered on the main stage when playing Kansas State and Notre Dame, both of which remain undefeated, are in the title hunt and are top five teams, while stealing a few ACC games in scrappy fashion against Boston College, Georgia Tech and the same North Carolina State squad that upset Florida State, laying forty-four points on the Wolfpack.
On the heels of back-to-back losses for the first time in the Golden era, Miami prepped for Florida State – the game of the year – with starting quarterback Stephen Morris sidelined due to an ankle injury. Morris didn’t take a snap all week, yielding to back-up Ryan Williams, but stepped under center on Saturday night, banged up, with Florida State in the house.
LOST BY THIRTEEN, BUT BROUGHT THE THUNDER FOR THREE
Depends which side of the ledger a fan is on, determines how the next sixty minutes would be described. From my vantage point, Miami came to play and fully intended to seize the opportunity – feeding off the capacity crowd and nationally televised primetime showdown.
The Canes’ first drive stalled, going twenty-one yards over five plays – the highlight, a ten-yard reception by Rashawn Scott on 2nd and 5. After two quick incompletes and a Morris rush for six, Miami punted and Florida State took possession on its own nineteen.
On the first play from scrimmage, E.J. Manuel completed a pass to tight end Nick O’Leary, who went airborne for extra yards, but was met by the head and shoulder of linebacker Denzel Perryman, putting his body into the football and jarring it loose. Jimmy Gaines picked up the fumble, returning it to the twenty-two and Miami’s offense was back in business.
Early, as planned, Miami went to the ground game. Morris handed to Duke Johnson twice in a row, picking up three and then four, before a crafty dump-off to Mike James for a six-yard gain for a first down.
One play later, James bounced left – a la his game winner at Georgia Tech – scampering in for the nine-yard touchdown.
The Hurricanes defense took the field and continued playing inspired football, forcing a three-and-out. A play later, the Cason Beatty punt sailed seventeen yards and Miami took over again, this time at the Florida State thirty-four.
Johnson picked up four on first down, putting Miami in a manageable 2nd-and-6, before Morris tried to exploit a one-on-one match-up, overthrowing freshman receiver Robert Lockhart Jr. – a seemingly inexplicable option out there with the Canes sporting four more obvious, go-to, veteran receivers.
A return to the bread and butter Morris-to-James on 3rd-and-6, netting twenty-two – while avoiding the heavy Florida State rush – setting up 1st and Goal from the eight.
Morris incomplete to Davon Johnson on first down. A James rush for two on second. On third, Morris dumped off to James, who carried four yards to the two. Facing 4th-and-Goal and thinking points, Golden sent the shake Jake Wieclaw out for the easy confidence booster and the senior nailed the nineteen yarder for the early 10-0 lead.
Manuel went back to work, throwing incomplete on first down but handing off to Chris Thompson on second for a fifteen-yard gain.
On the ensuing first down, Manuel went to wideout Kenny Shaw, who was tattooed by Miami safety Deon Bush, jarring the ball loose for what looked to be a fumble, but was called incomplete and not overturned.
A bang-bang play that could’ve gone either way, again it proved the Canes defense wasn’t backing down and came to play.
Manuel and the Noles picked up seven on the next play and again Miami forced the fumble – this time back-up safety A.J. Highsmith – but Florida State recovered. Four plays later a mishandled snap coupled with heads-up defense had Canes’ defensive lineman Tyriq McCord picking up the loose ball and Miami had fresh life.
Unfortunately, where the defense succeeded the offense failed. Facing a 3rd-and-6 from mid-field, the Noles brought the house, Morris scrambled left and when getting wrapped up by Telvin Smith, fumbled the ball, recovered by linebacker Christian Jones to the Miami thirty-one.
Again, for those refusing to give this defense some credit for the past two games – the Canes held the Noles to a five-play, sixteen-yard drive – albeit aided by a false start on 3rd-and-1, making it a 3rd-and-5 where Manuel’s pass might’ve been picked off by Bush, had Kelvin Benjamin not gotten tangled up with Ladarius Gunter and hit with offensive pass interference.
Miami declined the penalty and held Florida State to a field goal. 10-3, Miami lead with a minute remaining in the first – and huge early advantage to the much maligned Hurricanes defense, going up against the nation’s tenth-ranked offense.
The Miami offense returned for another three-and-out. James rushed for one, Duke picked up four and on third down, a dump off to the freshman running back only netted three. 4th-and-2 and punt time, again – unfortunately coming at a crucial time when the Canes’ offense truly needed to do something.
Florida State took over on their ten and aided by a huge thirty-two yard pick up to Thompson on the drive’s third play, the Noles had crossed mid-field and relied on the legs of James Wilder Jr. to bring it home, carrying four times after Thompson left the game (re: torn ACL), barreling in from seventeen yards out to tie the game.
Miami’s offense finally showed some life the next drive. After an incomplete pass from Morris to receiver Phillip Dorsett, a pass to Duke went for nineteen and a dump off to James gained ten, with fifteen extra yards for a horse collar tackle on the undisciplined Noles.
Duke rushed for four on 1st-and-10 from the Florida State thirty-one and looked to add fifteen more when defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan slammed Miami offensive lineman Jon Feliciano after the play, but no whistle came.
Instead of 1st-and-10 from the UM thirteen, it was 2nd-and-6 from the twenty-seven and lined up in a quirky trips-type formation, Morris forced a pass to Duke, which corner Tyler Hunter picked off after jumping the route. More points left on the field, in a game where every point gained still wouldn’t seem to be enough.
Where the offense hurt this team again, the defense stepped up to force another three-and-out, courtesy of a first-down corner blitz which had Brandon McGee sending Manuel to the ground and setting up a 2nd-and-18, changing the course of the drive.
After the punt, the Canes could only muster up fourteen yards on six plays after taking over again, punting and giving Florida State the ball at the thirteen (after another penalty), with 2:21 remaining.
Manuel got pass-happy on this final drive of the half, exploiting the middle of the field and sticking to shorter passes. The Noles moved the ball all the way to the Canes’ twenty-eight, before Dustin Hopkins sent a forty-six yard attempt through, giving FSU momentum, and the 13-10 halftime lead.
Golden and Miami opened the second half with a poorly executed onside kick, which comes off foolish in the sense that it didn’t work – but had the Canes recovered, a shot in the arm for a struggling offense and a chance to start mid-field.
Based on that alone, coaches don’t deserve to be questioned for the effort – especially considering the defense held strong and Hopkins’ sailed his forty-four yard attempt wide.
The Miami offense again went three-and-out, with Morris sacked on first down and the Canes unable to convert a 3rd-and-16. Florida State then strung together an eight play, fifty-one yard drive, derailed by another offensive pass interference call on Benjamin, eventually leading to a 4th-and-Goal from the eighteen. Hopkins kicked the thirty-five yarder and the Noles lead 16-10.
Both teams traded mid-third quarter three and outs before Miami finally got back on the board, going fifty-two yards in nine plays, settling for a twenty-seven yard field goal on 4th-and-2 from the ten – again, on the heels of some suspect play calling by Jedd Fisch and Golden.
A completion to James netted twenty-four yards on 2nd-and-16 after a first down sack and again the Noles shot themselves in the foot with another personal foul.
Duke picked up four on 1st-and-10 from the Noles’ thirty and after a second down incompletion, Morris found Dorsett for an eight-yard gain on 3rd-and-6.
Duke then got two on first down and Dorsett tossed to the hobbled Morris for a six-yard gain, setting up a 3rd-and-2 – which fell incomplete to Lockhart Jr.
With a 3rd-and-2 from the ten, why not run the ball or try something more high percentage, at least making it an option to go on fourth down if there’s any positive yardage? Whereas an incomplete pass all but kills the notion.
A sputtering offense finally gets deep inside the red zone, down six and with a chance to take the lead, and a few erratic play calls force a field goal opportunity. Honestly, this proved to be one of two late-game backbreaking moments – the latter coming three plays later.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from their own forty-one, Manuel connected with Benjamin, after Kacy Rodgers II blew coverage, got lost and surrendered the thirty-nine yard pick-up. Four plays later Devonta Freeman punched it in from three yards out and the lead jumped to 23-13.
BIG PLAY BREAKDOWN OPENED FLOODGATES … AGAIN
Games rarely come down to one play, so putting it all on Rodgers isn’t fair – but the moment was eerily reminiscent of Miami’s 2008 loss at No. 3 Florida and a game-changing deep ball that set the stage for the Gators to pull away.
Florida held a 9-3 lead late in the third quarter when Tim Tebow went deep for Carl Moore on a 3rd-and-9, for what looked like an incompletion out of bounds – though officials ruled that his elbow touched in-bounds before the rest of his body went out.
Three plays later, the Canes were flagged for pass interference and with a fresh 1st-and-Goal from the two, Tebow punched it in to go ahead 16-3. The following possession, Florida rolled ninety-five yards on five plays, with outmatched Miami finally withering and the Gators piling on late for the 26-3 win.
There’d be no such drama in this showdown with Florida State, but once pushing ahead 23-13, a depth-challenged Miami defense finally gave way to an offense that came alive – behind its fresh-legged, third-string running back, yet-to-be-used fullback – Lonnie Pryor – and even Manuel, who rushed a few times on the Noles final legit drive, going thirty-eight yards in nine plays, settling for another field goal, extending the lead to 26-13 and putting the game out of reach.
Florida State would punch it in one more time, but it came after Miami attempted a 4th-and-20 from its own thirty. The Noles took over on the Canes’ twenty-one and after three plays from Freeman and Manuel, punched it in from five yards out.
To UM’s credit, Morris continued playing hurt – and with pride on the line, the Canes moved seventy-five yards on eight plays, highlighted by back-to-back receptions to Davon Johnson, netting thirty-two and seventeen, setting up a 1st-and-Goal from the ten.
James rushed for two in first down and after a timeout, Morris hooked up with Scott for his first touchdown pass of the game. Miami pulled to within thirteen and Florida State kneeled twice to end the game.
EVEN IN A LOSS, MIAMI NARROWED THE GAP
Stats-wise, the Canes and Noles were dead even with 229 passing yards, but the ground game was where things fell apart for Miami, rushing for a mere 29 (on twenty-one attempts) while Florida State put up 218 (with forty-four carries).
FSU had twenty-three first downs to UM’s fourteen and the time of possession was 34:34 to 25:26 in the Noles’ favor. Penalties-wise, Miami was disciplined hit only four times for twenty-five yards, while Florida State had an erratic twelve penalties, costing them 121 yards.
Still, the most important stat of this game? The fact that Miami came to play and wasn’t blown off the field by the supposed national title contender from up north. Again, this isn’t a moral victory – as much as it showed that the Canes aren’t too far behind the Noles, despite what Fisher and his coaching staff are selling.
Make no mistakes, Florida State didn’t come south just looking for a win. The Noles were prepared to stick it to the Canes, in even greater fashion than the 45-17 ass-beating they handed out two years back at Sun Life.
The recruiting game is cut-throat and while Florida State won the showdown, Miami ‘won’ in terms of how it will pitch kids looking at both FSU and UM at year’s end.
Golden and staff can walk into kids’ houses and talk to them about this game — one where the Canes were primed to get blown out, but one where fans packed the stadium, made for a rocking night and where the defense showed up and Miami trailed by a field goal early in the fourth.
In a season that was primed to be disastrous, the Canes continue hanging tough – which was a must as Golden attempts to rebuild properly.
With four to go – and the toughest challenges in the rearview – the hope is that Miami can heal up, make a run, stay in the conference hunt and take a step forward in a known down year.
Keep playing for the future, while controlling their destiny. Virginia Tech, Virginia, South Florida and Duke remain. Push for 8-4, Canes and keep buying into ‘the process’.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.