In the end, the ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish handed the Miami Hurricanes a thirty-eight point beat down, sending Al Golden and his squad back to Coral Gables with more questions – and a handful of answers; most-notably, the fact this young team simply isn’t ready for the main stage.
Wins over Boston College, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State? Less impressive when one looks at the current state of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Weeks back Virginia Tech fell to Pittsburgh and has since dropped back-to-back games, losing to Cincinnati and then to a North Carolina squad headed to Miami in search of a win next weekend.
Defending conference champ Clemson? Throttled weeks back by Florida State, who was again pegged as a national title contender, but failed to live up to the hype. The Seminoles struggled a bit at South Florida last weekend and last night, while the Canes were getting steamrolled, fell to the same North Carolina State squad Miami beat seven days back.
Miami had a Golden chance on the main stage last night, but failed in epic fashion.
Soldier Field. Premier opponent. Nationally televised broadcast. It was all there for the taking, but in the end, the Canes got took.
Much like the rout at Kansas State back in September, Miami had some early shots that could’ve changed the course of the game.
Stephen Morris went deep to the usually-reliable Phillip Dorsett on the game’s first play and the sophomore wideout inexcusably dropped it.
An aggressive call that should’ve been seven — instead a situation like last weekend against the Wolfpack, where the Hurricanes left valuable points on the field. Dorsett’s number was called again a few plays later and he failed to reel in another potential touchdown, this time in the end zone.
Notre Dame’s first drive went nowhere, but just like the opening drive of the third quarter against North Carolina State, Miami ran into the kicker and a 4th-and-6 from the Irish sixteen became a 1st-and-10 from the thirty-one.
A few plays later, a personal foul called, adding fifteen yards and crossing the Irish over into Hurricanes territory.
Everett Golson replaced Tommy Rees at quarterback and promptly moved Notre Dame downfield, en route to the one-yard Theo Riddick touchdown. The Irish picked up four first downs on the drive after the Hurricanes’ special teams gaffe.
Down 7-0, Miami started at its own thirty-nine after a thirty-seven yard return by Dorsett.
Morris and Davon Johnson synced up for a nineteen- and twenty-one-yard receptions, keeping the drive alive, while Duke Johnson chipped away with a few on three carries.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the Notre Dame thirteen, a designed run with Morris looked like a Miami touchdown, but was called back due to a hold on Jon Feliciano.
1st-and-20 from the twenty-three became less workable. A Johnson run, Morris run and Johnson dump-off set Miami up with a 4th-and-8 from the Irish eleven, where Jake Wieclaw banged out a twenty-eight yarder to bring it to a 7-3 Notre Dame lead, but another situation where Miami could’ve, should’ve and needed to lead, 14-0.
The Irish responded with a twelve-play, seventy-yard drive, pushing it to 10-3 and with another shot, the Canes offense sputtered when Morris and Rashawn Scott couldn’t hook-up on a 3rd-and-6.
Notre Dame again drove and settled for three, after a reception on 3rd-and-4 gained no yards. The previous drive ended with an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-4 from the Miami five, showing that early on the Hurricanes’ defense was hanging tough, but without offensive support, lost momentum and was eventually overwhelmed.
Miami got the ball back with 2:09 in the half. After winning the field possession battle due to a Dalton Botts punt down at the one, the Canes took over on the Irish thirty-five. Morris went to Johnson and Johnson – Davon and Duke – but both passes were incomplete. On a 3rd-and-10 Morris found Herb Waters, but the Canes only picked up five. Wieclaw came on to attempt the forty-seven yarder and promptly sailed it wide, wide left.
A 13-3 halftime deficit seemed workable, but the third quarter was a twenty-one point onslaught and Notre Dame ran away with the game, pounding the ball with George Atkinson III and Cierre Wood. Wood scored from two yards out on the opening drive after the half and again late in the third.
On the ensuing possession, Atkinson tore off a fifty-five yarder, putting the Irish up, 34-3. Atkinson was the game’s leading rusher, carrying ten times for 123 yards and a score, while Wood had eighteen carries, 118 yards and two touchdowns.
Miami’s three running backs – Johnson, Mike James and Eduardo Clements – had a combined sixteen carries for seventy yards, the longest, a seventeen-yarder from Clements in the game’s final minutes, when he got his lone two carries of the game.
Up 34-3 midway through the fourth, Notre Dame took possession at its own seven when Miami couldn’t convert a 4th-and-1. After one run with Atkinson, the Irish ran twelve plays through third string running back Cam McDaniel. The one time he didn’t run, Rees passed to him for a twenty-one yard gain.
The ninety-three yard drive was eerily similar to Kansas State’s final touchdown drive, punctuated with an eleven-yard scamper, courtesy of second-string quarterback Daniel Sams.
Six games into the season, there is still reason for optimism as Miami is a young team that has shown it can play beyond its abilities, at times – as well as the fact the Atlantic Coast Conference is again experiencing a down year.
Florida State and Virginia Tech were the runaway favorites, but both have now suffered a conference loss – and while the Seminoles should still take the Atlantic, the Coastal is a bit more wide open, with Georgia Tech out of the mix, Virginia Tech struggling and Virginia playing themselves out of the mix with four straight losses – two in conference.
North Carolina has rattled off three straight since losing to Wake Forest and Louisville, including Saturday’s 48-34 win over Virginia Tech, making Saturday’s game at Miami arguably the biggest Coastal game of the season, despite the fact that the Tar Heels cannot reach the ACC championship game, due to sanctions.
The Canes follow that up with home games against Florida State and Virginia Tech – meaning UM’s toughest conference competition must come to Sun Life this season.
With six games remaining, and on the heels of a 41-3 loss, Golden now has to start assessing his team’s defensive woes, which could put him in a bind with best friend, defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.
Golden has publicly defended D’Onofrio, but with half a season now gone, Miami has arguably one of the worst defenses in the country – which shouldn’t be the case, despite all that youth.
Miami opened the season giving up 537 yards to Boston College, which could’ve been overlooked as it was game one with a young group. A week later, 498 yards at Kansas State – which could be chalked up to the Canes playing a solid team, back-to-back road games – whatever.
355 yards given up to Bethune-Cookman? Quirky offense, some broken plays, mobile quarterbacks. Should’ve done better, but on the heels of the Kansas State loss, fans were simply happy Miami bounced back and got the win.
Georgia Tech’s triple option allowed them to amass 419 yards, but Miami shut it done from the early third quarter through overtime, so the focus remained on the fast start and comeback, as opposed to falling apart in the middle quarters.
But then the last two weeks happened.
North Carolina State put up 664 yards on Miami in a loss. The game should’ve seen overtime, had it not been for a miracle play and despite six Wolfpack turnovers, it was still a tied game in the final minute as the Canes became unable to get a stop.
Then last night, 587 yards to Notre Dame, allowing two 100-yard rushers, and a complete inability to shut down any ground game.
North Carolina enters and while the record also reads 4-2, the losses were nail biters, falling 28-27 at Wake Forest and then coming one play from a monster comeback at Louisville, falling 39-34 in the final moments.
Tar Heels running back Gio Bernard ran for 262 yards in yesterday’s win over the Hokies, which should strike fear into D’Onofrio and his defense, or lack thereof. North Carolina had 533 total yards against Virginia Tech and in the loss at Louisville, went for 410.
UNC quarterback Bryn Renner has also been effective this year, already throwing for 1,616 yards, fifteen touchdowns and four interceptions.
Without some drastic changes, improved effort and better execution, the 4-1 record Miami was looking at days back could get real ugly, real fast. Every team is proving beatable – but each could also take out a Hurricanes team with an absolutely porous defense.
While there’s no argument Miami is young on defense, there is no excuse to play as bad as it did Saturday night.
Did the lack of offense hurt the Canes? Absolutely. Would a 14-0 start have given Miami some much-needed momentum against Notre Dame at a “neutral” site? For sure. Was that defense out on the field too long, with UM again getting smashed regarding time of possession? Just ask them once they catch their breath.
There have been games this season where the Hurricanes offense has been able to bail out a sloppy defense, but that will not always be the case. There will be games where other defenses rise up and squash Miami’s offense. Kansas State and Notre Dame are prime examples and a Florida State could easily do the same.
As a novice, I don’t pretend to know what Miami’s answers are on defense – nor should I, as I’m not paid six figures a year to solve that dilemma. That said, it doesn’t take a big salary and mega-football brain to see that the issue on that side of the football has less and less to do with youth and more to do with scheme.
Miami is in need of some monster defensive linemen and some lock-down corners. That’s no secret – and neither is the fact that no help is coming this season. These are the players D’Onofrio has to work with and to statistically have the third-worst defense in college football – that should never be the case at “The U”.
Even amidst probation in the late nineties, things were never this bad.
In the end, a disheartening loss for a few reasons. It was hated Notre Dame. The whole world was watching. Miami flat-out tanked. The offense no-showed. The defense was again non-existent.
That said, it was the second loss of the season and second to a team that remains undefeated, is in the top ten and is a legit contender – which Miami certainly is not – but as much as it hurts to say, nor should the Canes be. Not this year. Not next year, either.
Not on the heels of the run UM has had this past half decade and not until there is more help, depth and experience on both sides of the football. Miami truly has to become a team and that will take some time.
Still, along the journey there needs to be more stability and steps forward and for this defense to remain a train wreck in week six, that won’t grade out well come progress report time.
The aspirations this year were to get better as a program and to attempt to make a run in the ACC, where Miami was picked fifth in the Coastal in the preseason.
Based on that, 3-0 in conference is a success and that needs to remain the barometer.
Yes, as fans we all want to see this team beating the likes of Kansas State and Notre Dame. We want Miami in the top five. We want to see 6-0, not 4-2. We want to see our rivals squashed out the next couple of weeks and we want this program to be relevant again.
Unfortunately, that will take time – something getting harder and harder to accept as the losses pile up and patience grows thin.
The main goals of 2012 remain intact, despite Saturday night at Soldier Field. The Canes played in primetime but are a ways from returning to their form as a primetime player.
Until then, it remains one game at a time. Regroup and don’t let Notre Dame beat you twice. North Carolina is on deck. Then Florida State. Then Virginia Tech.
Hell, a season finale at Duke is no longer the ACC gimmie it once was – for anyone. The Blue Devils are 5-1, with an early loss to Stanford, and 2-0 in conference, having just demolished Virginia 42-17 this past weekend.
South Florida is no slouch, either, having given Florida State a run for its money a week back.
Turn the attention to the Tar Heels, get rid of any cobwebs and mental errors that plagued the Canes in Chicago and get this thing to 5-2 and 4-0 in conference.
Stay the course. Continue with ‘the process’. Get better every week.
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.