Al Golden has stated it since day one. This rebuild is a “process”. He arrived with a phonebook-sized binder and sold UM’s top brass on his vision.
He sized up the program when taking over at the end of 2010. Miami was stinging from an overtime loss to South Florida and was weeks away from being embarrassed by Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl. When the season was finally in the books and the keys handed to Golden, the Canes had amassed a 35-29 record since the 2005 post-season; a 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl.
Year one could prove to be the most difficult 6-6 season ever coached. A huge scandal dropping weeks before kickoff. Suspensions of key players lasting anywhere between one and six games. No continuity. Different line ups every game. Heartbreaking, last-second losses. Newbies thrown in the fire out the gate, expected to perform like seasoned veterans.
When it was all over, Miami would self-impose a bowl and and soon after the .500 season was in the books, a mass defection from upwards of a half dozen starters that the Canes hoped to rely on as season two of the Golden Era got underway.
Lost in the shuffle of a disappointing season – the ability to pluck any good out of all that bad. Focusing on any degree of progress proves difficult when the losses continue piling up. Only once last season did Miami win two games in a row. The other five times the Canes won games in 2011, the following week resulted in a loss and another back-to-the-drawing-board experience.
Looking To Place Blame Somewhere
After a 52-13 loss to Kansas State week two of season two, defensive coach Mark D’Onofrio is the villain as far as most fans are concerned. Even a 41-32 win at Boston College didn’t come without a price. The Canes gave up 537 total yards to the Eagles. 441 in the air and 96 on the ground. A week later the Wildcats did their damage. 52 points. 498 total yards. 210 in the air and 288 with the feet.
Eight quarters of football and UM has since surrendered 1,035 yards and 84 total points. The defense also lost safety Vaughn Telemaque for at least a week and linebacker Ramon Buchanan for the season – bot seniors, meaning even more freshmen will be relied upon.
Theories are already flying in regards to loyalty and friendship could cost Golden his job as he and D’Onofrio have been locked at the hip since their playing days at Penn State. Fourteen games in, some fans want the second-year defensive coordinator gone and are reaching for their media guides in effort to cite an example where a previous leader cut ties with a coordinator.
A week after Miami lost 66-13 to Syracuse late in the 1998 season, a make-up game was played against UCLA and the Canes upset the No. 2 Bruins, 49-45. The reward for the 8-3 regular season was a Micron PC Bowl berth against NC State and Miami won, 46-23.
Three games, 134 points given up and within days, defensive coordinator Bill Miller was fired by then-head coach Butch Davis, which has been a bit of a rallying cry this week for those in the anti-D’Onofrio camp.
Davis brought in Greg Schiano over the next two seasons, which a decade later many revere, though their long-term memories prevent them from recalling precisely how folks felt about both Davis and Schiano at the time.
The Penn State last-minute bomb. The blown 23-3 lead to lowly East Carolina. Down 28-0 at Boston College before a furious comeback. The inability to stop Marquis Tuiasosopo in the loss at Washington. Giving up 565 yards to Florida State, almost blowing a 17-0 halftime lead.
The Davis Era is revered in hindsight, with fans forgetting the degree to which they seethed during those days. Butch had his share of game day mistakes and personnel blunders. (Who can forget him arguing with Ryan Clement against Virginia Tech in 1996 – debating going for it or kicking a field goal, getting hit with a delay of game in the process, having to then attempt the field goal and missing.)
A five-year drought against both the Seminoles and Hokies. Two losses to lowly East Carolina. A few losses to Pitt. The 47-0 debacle in Tallahassee. The rout at Syracuse. It wasn’t all BCS games and first round draft picks, people.
Seems the Butch everyone chooses to remember is the post-Washington era, sparking the 34-game win streak and four straight BCS games, as well as his leaving the cupboard loaded when bailing out like a thief in the night – all of which made his first five years forgivable and forgettable.
No, no one wants to remember the fact he took over a 10-2 team that finished No. 3 in the land the year prior, or the “From National Champs to National Chumps – Thanks Butch!” banner that flew over the Orange Bowl in the late nineties. He’s simply a recruiting guru and if he were handed the keys tomorrow, he’d have UM back in the hunt by November, by God.
If anything, Davis’ era should give Miami fans hope that when a good recruiter with a game plan gets on board, with enough time he can point things in the right direction, building the necessary depth needed to compete.
Don’t Believe The Hype; Talk Is Cheap
Golden has stated that youth is no excuse and that he expects these kids to win now. He’s also stated, after seven career losses at Miami, that some guys didn’t do their job, but that the onus is on the coaches to make sure they do.
One word; coach-speak.
Golden cannot – nor should he – come out and state that Miami is going to fail this year for any reason, even as logical a they may be. What good general ever led his troops into battle, stated that they were outnumbered and were all going to be killed? Not exactly the words of great motivators.
No, Golden, and any good coach, is there to fire up his kids and to keep them believing that they can achieve anything – but as fans, logic needs to kick in and expectations need to be tempered.
In 2011, many an offense had their way with a young Miami team. Danny O’Brien passed for 348 yards in the opener at Maryland and the Terps amassed 499 yards. Collin Klein and Kansas State piled up 398 yards. Virginia Tech racked up 482 yards with Logan Thomas going 23-of-25 and throwing for 310. The following week North Carolina totaled 429 yards.
But as the season went on, some progress as the defenders started playing assignment football and tightening things up. Five of the final six games of the season had Miami’s D showing up.
Only 211 yards and seven points surrendered to Georgia Tech. 342 yards and 14 points to Duke, in a game where Miami put up 45.
The Canes held the Noles to 259 total yards, 13 first downs, 63 rushing yards and 16 offensive points and a week later played strong at South Florida, where the Bulls only tallied 249 total yards and a field goal.
The story of the season finale against Boston College was four interceptions, but even with that the Canes held the Eagles to 349 total yards and 17 offensive points and while the second half of the season wasn’t national championship-worthy, it showed marked improvement.
So why didn’t that improvement carry over? A lack of depth, an abundance of depth and a mass exodus, unfortunately.
Key Losses Proving Harder To Deal With Than Hoped For
Miami’s defensive line is getting manhandled early this season and while the losses of Luther Robinson and Curtis Porter have hurt, the early-to-the-NFL guys are what really left a mark.
Micanor Regis and Marcus Robinson graduated, which is filed under the way the game is played – but Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon leaving early, as well as Adewale Ojomo not being granted another season due to injury – that’s five departures when it should’ve been no more than two.
The Canes are a different defense this year with Forston, Vernon and Ojomo. Period. You want to be mad at someone? Point that frustration towards guy who committed to the U Family and bailed out without doing what they were supposed to do – not a second-year assistant working tirelessly to fix a decade’s worth of problems.
The Canes also lost Sean Spence and JoJo Nicolas to graduation, which again is the name of the game, but when coupled with all the other losses, the guys who didn’t pan out or the Ray-Ray Armstrong type, guys who blew second and third chances at redemption – you have a clearer picture as to why things completely unraveled at Kansas State.
Offensively you look at the starters, the issues and the breakdowns. The loss of Allen Hurns isn’t the end of the world if Tommy Streeter is still lining up on the other side. The weight of the world isn’t on the shoulders of Duke Johnson if Lamar Miller is still out there making plays. The offensive line isn’t so dependent on a true freshman or man-child if Brandon Washington came back for one more, as he should’ve.
It was easy this off-season to play the ‘sayonara’ card with those five who bailed early and when you add Ojomo and Armstrong to the mix, that’s seven starters gone from a team that could nil afford to lose one, and it’s wreaking havoc.
There was a great post on a UM message board days back regarding the defensive struggles. A fan who actually articulated his thoughts, broke down the differences between dumping a current scheme versus adjusting to the players a coach currently has, examples of coaches who did or didn’t, as well as screen caps highlighting Miami’s defensive lowlights.
The writer points out Al Groh and two years of struggles as defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. 6-7 year one and 8-5 last year before getting to 1-1 in 2012, including an overtime loss at Virginia Tech which the Yellow Jackets’ offense gave away in overtime.
Personnel is the name of the game and three years in, Groh is finally building the defense that works for him. He didn’t take the short cut, simply sticking to the old way and plugging guys in.
Players were forced to learn a new system, kids were recruited for that system, growing pains were taken on the chin – and in the loss column – but it was all done knowing that in time, there would be growth and the new way would be ‘the way’.
Golden and D’Onofrio are building the system they believe in. It’s their coaching philosophy, which isn’t right or wrong – it’s simply an opinion.
Revisionist History Regarding The Way Things Were Defensively
As explained in the post, Randy Shannon recruited and built this current defense, based on his philosophy.
“Shannon’s defense was built on speed. His philosophy upfront was to shoot gaps while also using hybrid strong safeties / linebackers known as “tweeners”. These players where normally too slow to play free safety, but big enough to play linebacker. Those linebackers could cover tight ends and running backs man-to-man.”
He goes on to explain how current kids would be used in Shannon’s system, versus D’Onofrio’s system and the fallout has been more revisionist history, with some clamoring for that old school defense – and even Shannon – to return to coach it.
It should be noted that Shannon’s defense was the scheme Miami ran this past half decade. The same defensive scheme that allowed LSU to roll UM, 40-3 in the Peach Bowl and same one that allowed Louisville to whoop Miami, 31-7 three games later.
It was the defense Shannon pushed Tim Walton, Bill Young and John Lovett to run when under his command the past several years and one that accounted for upwards of thirty losses between 2006 and 2010.
Shannon’s Cover 2 Man worked just fine with a monster defensive line, heady linebackers and speedy, athletic, stick-to-you-like glue safeties. As Shannon lost the marquee players, his defense too lost its luster.
The 2003 Canes’ defense was dominant-as-hell, to the point that four players went in the first twenty-one picks of the 2004 NFL Draft – safety Sean Taylor, linebackers Jon Vilma and D.J. Williams and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
Five games into the next season, the Canes’ defense was getting picked apart by clever offensive coordinators and over a three week span Miami gave up 38 to Louisville, 31 to NC State and 31 to North Carolina – 100 points and 1,492 yards surrendered over twelve quarters by a defense that was tops in the nation the prior year, simply due to a few key losses.
It’s not as much about scheme right now; it’s all about personnel. When Shannon had great players, his scheme looked flawless and the Hurricanes were dominant. When he had lesser players, his defense had its issues and Miami lost some games.
Look at ever UM roster the past decade and find a more depleted, depth-starved defense than Miami is currently starting. Between the early departees, players booted and handful of injuries, this is a shell of a defense and the inability to shut down a potent Kansas State offense becomes understandable when you peel things back a layer.
Miami started four seniors on defense last Saturday, two of which became starters by default after others departed.
Neither Brandon McGee or Darius Smith was a perennial starter and go-to defender the past few years. They spent the majority of their careers on the bench after losing battles spring after spring against better players.
Buchanan and Telemaque were the others; a linebacker banged up most of his career and a safety yet to live up to the hype. It should also be noted that neither will start this weekend as both are out due to injury – Buchanan for the season and Telemaque for the week – so in other words, a depth-challenged and way-too-young defense just took another hit.
Four sophomores and one freshman started last week, while the second string boasted three sophomores and three freshmen. A championship-caliber defense this is not, and it didn’t take the Kansas State debacle to show that – just a quick glance at the pre-season depth chart.
The jury remains out on Coach D’Onofrio and must for at least this season, if not longer. Calling for the man’s firing two games into season two is knee-jerk and off-base.
He may succeed or he may fail, but regardless, it takes time to implement a new scheme and if a coaching staff does choose to go with the new, instead of the quick-fix, going against their personal philosophy and conveniently sticking with the old, there are going to be tremendous growing pains and a pile of losses. It’s been proven in the past and is unfolding right now in Coral Gables.
More than time, it also takes the right players, which certainly isn’t the case with this year’s Hurricanes.
Golden and D’Onofrio need a few more recruiting classes – and saying that isn’t about backing either of them; it’s about backing this program and giving things the proper time to be corrected.
If there could be a huge defensive drop-off between 2003 and 2004 at UM, due to four lost starters, there’s going to be some serious backsliding between 2011 and 2012 after the Canes lost eight key pieces from last year’s 6-6 campaign. That’s just the truth, whether you want to swallow it, or not.
“The Process” continues. Fans can either get on board and support it, or can stick their heads in the sand for at least another year as things could get worse before they start getting better. Either case, what will be will be, despite how much you shake a fist.
For the rest of you, Keep Calm and Cane On.
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.