That doesn’t make this bunch a great football team – but it shows that things continue moving in the right direction, which is the biggest goal in a rebuilding season.
After rallying and scoring twenty-three unanswered at Georgia Tech last weekend, it was another high-scoring, wild four quarters when North Carolina State rolled into Sun Life this past Saturday.
Again, Miami jumped out to a quick start. Down 7-0, the Canes put up twenty-three points in under five minutes of play. Stephen Morris connected with Allen Hurns, Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott on touchdown strikes totaling 114 yards.
UM looked like it’d cruise to victory but for the second week in a row, the middle quarters were as sluggish as the first and fourth quarters were explosive.
This outing against the Wolfpack proved uglier though, as it was a tale of missed opportunities. Statistically, the odds of the Canes walking with zero points based on what was faced? Infinitesimal.
Up 23-7 late in the first quarter, linebacker Gionni Paul forced a fumble recovered by safety A.J. Highsmith. Miami took over near midfield and started another drive. Morris remains in fire dumping it off to a bevy of receivers. Even hasn’t-been-needed, true freshman Herb Waters got in the mix, snagging two receptions on the drive.
Morris dumped a 2nd-and-10 pass off to running back Mike James, which went for a hard-earned twenty-four yards, setting Miami up with a 1st-and-Goal fro the five. After a pass interference call, the Canes were at the two and knocking on the door.
A quick pass from Morris to tight end Clive Walford was a little hard and high, but catchable. Instead, off of Walford’s hands and into the mitts of Sterling Lucas for the interception.
Three plays later, NC State moved the ball eighty yards and made it a 23-14 ballgame – the drive backbreaker, a perfectly-placed seventy-three yard pass to Quintin Payton.
The Miami offense stumbled on its next possession, but linebacker Eddie Johnson forced a fumble so the Canes got another crack from the Wolfpack sixteen – all but gimmie points based on the pace of the game thus far.
A few short runs and incompletions – including one in the end zone that went off the hands of tight end Asante Cleveland – set up a 4th-and-Goal from the two-yard line.
Not looking to get greedy, Golden called for the field goal and Jake Wieclaw missed the nineteen-yarder. Still a nine-point game when Miami could’ve easily been up 37-7.
The Hurricanes defense, maligned all season, gave up big yard and huge plays, but still made some of their own.
The Wolfpack drove all the way to the Hurricanes’ nine after the Wieclaw miss and on 2nd-and-8 saw Brandon McGee strip Tobias Palmer on his way into the end zone. The senior Miami cornerback returned the ball twenty-six yards and after a personal foul on NC State, UM was again mid-field and looking for more.
The drive stalled and Miami punted but two plays later a Brandon Barnes fumble gave the Canes live at the Wolfpack twenty-nine. Incomplete on first down, a five-yard James run and another incompletion on third down left UM with a 4th-and-5 situation. Wieclaw attempted another field goal and this time the forty-one yarder sailed wide.
The teams traded third quarter touchdowns, setting up a 30-21 ball game entering the fourth.
The Canes offense finally re-found the scoreboard for the first time since late in the first quarter, when Duke Johnson punched one in from four yards out on a 1st-and-Goal from the four in the final minute of the third – and the opp came on another NC State penalty; offsides on 4th-and-2 which gave Miami new life.
The nine-point lead was short-lived, though. The Wolfpack went ninety-seven yards on the opening drive of the fourth quarter, with Mike Glennon hitting Bryan Underwood for a twenty-eight yard touchdown. 30-27, Canes, after a missed extra point.
Morris went back to work, with a key forty-six yard hook-up with Dorsett on 3rd-and-10 and moments later, a 2nd-and-8 pass to Scott went off the facemack of a Wolfpack defender for the ultimate lucky-bounce score. Back to a ten-point lead at 37-27 with eight to play.
Glennon got busy and two plays in, a sixty-yard pass to Rashard Smith, who punched it in three plays later. 37-34, Miami and with another chance at extending the lead, Wieclaw whiffed again. NC State went forty yards in eight plays and settled for a fifty-yard field goal attempt, which Niklas Sade drilled. Just like that, tied ball game.
Miami, so potent for so long, had a bad series and was forced to punt, coming up with three straight incompletions and facing a 4th-and-10 from the NC State forty. The Wolfpack had a shot to take its first lead since the first quarter, but two plays in some communication issues between Glennon and his wideout, resulting in a Thomas Finnie interception at the UM thirty-nine.
The Canes had forty-eight seconds for a miracle finish and the result was just that.
Morris threw incomplete to Dorsett on first down, while James rushed for a loss of one on second. After a time out, Miami faced a 3rd-and-11 with :32 remaining.
Morris rolled right, dodged a few defenders, planted his feet, set his hips and hurled a pass over sixty yards in the air. Inexplicably, Dorsett blew past three defenders, caught the pass and rolled into the end zone for the game-winner. The Wolfpack had two more shots, but Highsmith came down with the Hail Mary attempt — the sixth NC State turnover of the day.
Miami 44, NC State 37 — a Canes win that wasn’t a surprise, but certainly didn’t play as anyone drew it up.
Still, the seems to be a contingent within this fan base that remains more focused on ways Miami almost blew the game, as opposed to the fact that a team predicted to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal and as bad as 4-8 this season is now 4-1 and 3-0 in conference play.
Again, not even the biggest bleeding heart will state that this Canes squad is on a road to 12-1, an ACC Championship and a BCS game. The defensive issues are apparent, as is the fact this offense is hot for two quarters and goes cold just as quickly. Not exactly the recipe for the ultimate success.
There have been coaching blunders, as well – and they deserve to be pointed out, though not over-harped on.
566 passing yards to 85 rushing yards isn’t exactly a balanced offense, though you must take what the defense gives you and in a game where NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer and linebackers coach Jon Tenuta (who stifled a few Miami offenses when at Georgia Tech) were expected to open things up and their big secondary was supposedly set for a big day, they were torched through the air.
Even with Morris’ twenty-six completions, a few of those misses on the forty-nine attempts were ill advised and almost cost Miami – and without that miracle sixty-two yarder in the final minute, would’ve forced an overtime that never should’ve been.
With 1:58 to play, Morris found Scott for an eighteen-yard pick-up and then back to James on the screen play that scored the game-tying touchdown at Georgia Tech last week. Thirty-five yards on back-to-back plays, the Canes were on the NC State forty within seconds.
From there, another 1st-and-10 screen to James that was broken up and with a Wolfpack injury, the Canes had time to draw up a few plays to keep the hurry-up cranking. Instead, another screen attempt that NC State read and on 3rd-and-10, an incomplete pass to Dorsett that was still a few yards behind the marker, which would’ve set up a fifty-yard field goal attempt for a kicker who’d missed three on the day.
With under two minutes remaining, Miami had two timeouts and was in no rush to put up points. Picking up first downs was the goal and while a touchdown was optimum, grinding down the clock and playing for a game-winning field goal was the smart football play.
After taking over possession after the Finnie interception, a deep ball down the sideline to Dorsett, who was double-covered, thrown out of bounds. On 2nd-and-10, a world-class head-scratcher as Jedd Fisch called for a run with James.
The Canes had amassed eighty-six rushing yards on the day and with half a minute remaining, called for a run from the UM thirty-nine.
A play later, the miracle connection where Morris air mailed one to Dorsett for the game’s final score. Utterly amazing, but a video-game like play that just so happened to work – and a case of ‘better lucky than good’.
Earlier in the quarter, another questionable call when Wieclaw missed his third attempt of the day.
With 5:43 remaining, Miami took over on their own twenty-five and looked to extend a three-point lead. Morris went incomplete to Dorsett on first, Johnson rushed for four on second and facing a 3rd-and-6, went to one of last week’s heroes, Davon Johnson, who reeled in a forty-one yarder.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the NC State thirty, Johnson rushed for three on first, Morris went incomplete to Dorsett on second and on third, a designed quarterback run that only netted one. Facing a 4th-and-6 coaches called on Wieclaw for the forty-three yard attempt.
The game was now at a point where NC State had scored touchdowns on its last two possessions and was narrowing the gap. With a field goal kicker in a proven slump, was this a time to go for three – or a time to pick up the six and to move the chains? A miss either way gives the Wolfpack momentum and the ball on their twenty-six.
Seemed like a go-for-the-jugular moment that was missed, though it did play proper with Miami’s defense rising to the occasion and getting a 3rd-and-5 stop on NC State’s next drive, forcing the game-tying field goal attempt.
Nit-picky? Sure. Easier to judge these calls from a chair than roaming the sidelines? All day long. The point? That every aspect of this program is growing and part of “the process” is these coaching learning what to do in certain situations.
Still, the ultimate take-away from this 4-1 record is this; Miami is winning games that it has lost or given away so many times in recent memory. Part of this rebuild is seeing maturation across the board and the fact these kids are showing such resiliency is proof that Golden and crew are reeling in the right kind of players.
These young Canes have learned from last year and outside of the blowout in Manhattan, have played sixty minutes, continued grinding and found a way.
Down two touchdowns week one at Boston College, Miami put together an eighty-three yard scoring drive, complete with a huge 4th-and-2 conversion where The Duke buried his head and laid a hit on a few Eagles. Golden showed faith in his offense, as well as his freshman running back in his first ever collegiate game.
Two plays after Eduardo Clements punched in the score, Denzel Perryman made a perfect read on the overused, go-to Chase Rettig screen pass, returning it forty-one yards for the score. 14-14 after one and a brand new ballgame.
Down 17-14 a drive later, Duke rumbled fifty-four yards for his first career touchdown. up 24-23 late in the third, he did it again – this time from fifty-six yards out.
When Boston College was driving early in the fourth quarter, a forced fumble and moments later, Morris found Malcolm Lewis for the eighteen-yard touchdowns, pushing the lead to 41-23.
When the Eagles narrowed it to 41-30 and had a chance to punch it in on 4th-and-1, the Canes got the big-time stop — and did the same a few weeks later at Georgia Tech, when quarterback Tevin Washington tried to pick up the fourth-down first-down in overtime.
One yard isn’t a metaphor anymore. It’s a turning point. It’s now Miami getting the stops and making the plays year two in the Golden era, as opposed to being the recipient of some heartache.
A year ago Kansas State got the game-definining one-yard stop and weeks later, after taking the lead in Blacksburg, Miami gave up the game-winning touchdown run to Logan Thomas on a 4th-and-1 stop opp.
Miami defense is still giving up monster yards and has to clean things up, but damned if there aren’t do-or-die moments where they’re getting necessary, game-defining stops.
Did Georgia Tech rally back from a 19-0 deficit, rattling off thirty-six unanswered. Yes. But should that be the focus – or the fact that Miami’s defense kept them off the board from the 10:07 mark in the third quarter, through the rest of regulation and overtime? What about the fact that the Canes also went on to post the game’s final twenty-three points – unanswered?
A week later Miami left an ungodly amount of points on the field. The first four NC State turnover netted zero points and the Canes clung to a 23-14 halftime lead that should’ve been somewhere around 37-7.
The Wolfpack responded with a clutch and crucial early third quarter drive, chewing up time and resulting in seven – aided by a running into the kicker penalty when the Canes defense looked to have started the third quarter with a forced three-and-out.
Too close for comfort at 23-21, Miami never buckled. The defense held strong the next possession and when the offense got the ball back, a methodic ninety-yard drive to extend the lead.
Three games this season could’ve gone either way. Miami could just as easily be 1-4 and 0-3 in conference, but despite some spotty play, youth, holes on defense and inconsistency on offense, the Canes continue finding a way.
This current type of play won’t ensure wins over the next seven games — but the no-quit attitude, the bounce in these kids’ step and the overall pride and growth are showing that Miami will come to play week in and week out.
In the past, 14-0 early deficits would’ve spelled disaster. Same with blown 19-0 or 23-7 leads. But not these Canes.
No, setbacks have instead been seen as in-game challenges. This group continues having fun in the fight-back process and while these nailbiter-type finishes can eventually backfire, fact remains that Miami is now 3-0 this season in decisive moments, proving to be a few plays better than the other guys and showing that they are willing to fight to the end.
Five games into year two of the Golden era, “the process” and based on the state of the program late 2010 and what was inherited, one can’t really ask for more.
Not now, at least.
IN OTHER NEWS : Both Perryman and Raphael Kirby are expected back at linebacker for this week’s showdown against Notre Dame, though offensive lineman Ben Jones will be out …. The status of defensive tackle Olson Pierre is currently unknown, but should he be sidelined, Dequan Ivery will be worked into the rotation … Offensive lineman Jermaine Johnson is not with the team right now, which Golden cites as the player’s decision … For those keeping score, Miami picked up seventeen points in the USA Today coaches poll, but still hasn’t cracked the Top 25 … Lastly, next weekend’s home game against North Carolina has earned a 2:30pm ET kickoff and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN U.
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.