It was late September and UM was 1-1 after falling week one at Maryland, where several suspensions took their toll. Still ‘The U’ rebounded and whooped the Buckeyes, 24-6.
It marked the first ‘Canes Walk’ of the Al Golden era, fans lining up early to get rowdy and welcoming Miami into Sun Life for the home opener. Nationally televised night game on ESPN and UM delivered, thumping OSU.
The Wildcats rolled in a bit unheralded. A surprise team last year, the win over the Canes truly put KSU on the map in 2011 as the previous opponents – Eastern Kentucky and Kent State – were less than impressive.
Kansas State wrapped the season 10-3, losing to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. After rolling to a 7-0 start, including a thriller over Baylor, back-to-back losses came at the hands of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, with the Sooners rolling, 52-17 in Manhattan.
The Wildcats are definitely on the radar this year, entering the season in the top 25 and are a touchdown favorite when hosting the Hurricanes this weekend at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Also in their favor, the fact they’re returning the core of the team who fought till the finish – thwarting a Miami comeback with a goal line stand on 4th-and-1 in the 28-24 thriller.
Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein is a Heisman candidate and again, made his name against the Canes last year with a gritty performance. What he lacked in a stable of receivers, he made up for with precise throws and great decision making, as well as his feet.
Klein rushed for 93 yards and a score in 22 attempts, while going a respectable 12-of-18 through the air for 133. Two of those completions were touchdown passes, as well.
Also returning, running back John Hubert, who carried 18 times for 166 yards and a score. Hubert stuck a dagger in the Canes early in the fourth quarter last season. Miami had taken a 24-21 lead and facing a 3rd-and-1 from the KSU twenty-nine, Hubert tore off a back-breaking forty-seven yard run.
Five plays later he capped it off with a two-yard plunge on 1st-and-Goal, putting the Wildcats ahead for good.
Late in the third Miami found itself down 21-10, but fought back. Lamar Miller broke off a 59-yard touchdown run in the final minutes of the quarter and after a quick three-and-out by the Kansas State offense, Jacory Harris found Travis Benjamin for a 34-yard score, giving the Canes a short-lived lead.
Harris was most-remembered for coming up one yard short on Miami’s final offensive play, keeping the Canes from the game winner, as well as not completing a first down pass to tight end Clive Walford, which was a little low. Still, the senior had a strong game regardless of some fans’ selective memories.
Harris was 21-of-31 for 272 yards in the loss. He threw for two touchdowns and had one interception.
In hindsight, this was a game where Miami simply came in unprepared and didn’t know how to deal with success. Even when down, there still seemed a sense that the Canes would find a way, be it a defensive stand or a wake-up call on offense – and in the end, fell one yard short of just that.
No one was afraid of Kansas State at that point of the season, Klein and Hubert were relative unknowns and the pace of this game was lackluster from the get-go – right down to the supposed 43,786 in attendance, sitting on their hands most of the day. A true home field advantage the Canes had not.
Seems there’s the opposite mindset entering Saturday’s showdown in Manhattan. Kansas State almost seems over-revered. CBS Sports’ Tony Barnhart picked the Wildcats to “win big” over the Canes and amongst both fan bases, some overconfident KSU folk while the U Family is understandably gun-shy with such a young team heading into a hostile road environment.
Coaching was the key last year – both in scheming and in execution – and to that point, Bill Snyder seemed to get more out of his group. The play calling. The execution. The desire.
Most notably, the way Klein was used as an all-everything. Threw long, threw short, buried his head and ran like a running back, optioned, scrambled and played all day one step ahead of the Canes’ defense. Klein was a one-man wrecking crew.
Three games into the Golden era, this was clearly not yet Al’s team. Thirty-plus less freshmen who arrived half a year after this loss – a handful of which were directly responsible for the win at Boston College last week.
More important, there was still a lack of understanding and no true buy-in on Golden’s “process”. Players might’ve heard the message, but were yet to start living it. That took a 6-6 run, a missed bowl and a grueling off-season with ‘U-Tough’ conditioning to let it all sink in and get to an applicable point.
“The Process” was truly underway last weekend in Chestnut Hill. Down 14-0 year, Miami never quit. Guys stayed positive, worked hard, executed and scrapped their way back to a 41-32 victory. Veterans did their job while young guys fell in line, fearlessly.
The Canes still gave up too many yards, but made the big plays when needed. An pick-six. A couple of forced fumbles. Some big third- and fourth-down stands – all in the face of adversity.
Offensively, there was a clear game plan. Quick tempo. Get the ball in playmakers’ hands. Keep the defense off-balance.
Make no mistake, Miami will lose its share of games this year, but there was noticeable improvement and it’s not out of line to think that the Hurricanes will surprise some of those with low predictions.
Klein is the key to Saturday’s showdown. That’s no mystery. He’s going to get his, just as he did last year – but Miami will get theirs, as well. Especially if Jedd Fisch keeps calling plays that work to this offense’s strengths. The Canes’ offensive line came off mature and solid last week and another effort like that is necessary for any shot at a win this weekend.
So much has been made about Klein and Kansas State’s offense last year, but truth be told, Miami’s only struggles in the loss were mostly self-inflicted. The Wildcats’ defense had their moments, but were hardly dominant as the Harris-led Canes amassed 411 yards, after sleepwalking through the first half and falling into a 14-3 hole.
Stats-wise, Miami turned it over once last year while Kansas State was inexplicably mistake-free. KSU dominated on the ground with 272 rushing yards to UM’s 139.
The teams were near even penalty-wise (UM 4-30, KSU 6-51) and with first downs (UM 18, KSU 16) but the most glaring stat was time-of-possession, which the Wildcats owned, 33:23 to 26:37.
Miami had similar numbers in the win at Boston College last week, with the Eagles owning TOP 33:39 to 26:21, due to UM’s fast-tempo, no-huddle offense. Unfortunately this weekend, that means more reps for a Wildcats’ offense that proved unstoppable last year.
Seems that so much of the energy going into this year’s contest is based on the simple fact that Kansas State won, Miami lost and that Klein had an all-world showing that late September afternoon in South Florida.
Had Harris gotten that one final yard late – or hit Walford in stride – Miami wins 31-28, completed a solid comeback and maybe has a different season, with a better feel how to close when teams like Virginia Tech came down the pike.
Instead the storyline was gritty quarterback’s “Tebowesque” performance – complete with unnecessary jump pass to a tight end for a score – and a kids that took a licking and kept on ticking.
Different year, different story and for that matter, some different players which can make all the difference in the world.
The worst thing for Kansas State was Miami getting down last week and coming back to win. Boston College went up quick and could’ve completed demoralized the Canes. Everything Golden preached all season, could’ve come undone – especially with a young team.
That’s not to say Golden and his staff couldn’t have built it back up over time, but most likely wouldn’t have been able to in six days, heading into another road game.
Instead the comeback gave the Canes new life. It allowed new stars to be born. It took a young group of guys who had done nothing more than practice together and turned them into a bonafide team.
Alas, Miami will stumble this season – and it could come as early as this weekend – but riding high off the comeback win and feeling invincible in the sense that everything Coach has been preaching since spring ball came true when they executed last weekend, the Canes enter this Saturday’s contest a different team – and program – than the ones the Wildcats faced a year ago.
On paper, you have to go with Kansas State. Their house. Some rowdy fans. Heisman-worthy quarterback. More experience. That said, both the Wildcats and Hurricanes have their defensive woes and as long as this Miami offense keeps grinding it out and scoring points, this UM team can absolutely go toe-to-toe.
Did we mention a high of 83 degrees in Manhattan on Saturday? Bodes well for a Canes squad in much better shape than last season, physically, as well as mentally.
This is an early-season challenge for Miami with tremendous upside. Win and it’s 2-0 with Bethune-Cookman on deck and a lot of critics proven wrong. Lose and it’s an out of conference game, leaving things 1-0 in the ACC and with a lesser opponent next week to work out the kinks before conference play really gets underway.
If this showdown were Florida State in Tallahassee or Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, the call might be different, but these 1-0, don’t-yet-know-better, ‘Comeback Canes’ deserve the benefit of the doubt going into this weekend – especially from a UM-themed site – until proven otherwise. (Or maybe that’s just the latest episode of ‘Raising Canes’ talking.)
Brick by brick, gentlemen. Lay ‘em down.