Hindsight is always 20/20, but it’s hard not to lament these Miami Hurricanes getting towards a potential breakthrough point mid-November, opposed to a month ago this time when it was truly needed.

Reports out of Coral Gables all week have been positive towards N’Kosi Perry getting the starting nod over Malik Rosier; the redshirt senior’s career apparently done as the Canes have two to play and are scrapping for bowl eligibility at 5-5.

Perry is apparently “watching a lot more film” and studying a lot more—”Not just in the facility, but on my own”—the redshirt freshman shared with reporters days back. “This week has [gone] really well,” Perry shared with the Miami Herald.

“Practice has been great. I’ve been a lot more energetic, a lot more positive and I feel like it’s rubbing off on everybody.”

As a whole, lots of chatter about how lively practice has been—a stark contrast to the negativity reported in the wakes of losses to Virginia and Boston College; running backs coach and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown going as far as to call some guys on the offensive side of the ball a cancer as they hovered in that no man’s land of not leading, but also not following, either.

How Perry’s newfound love of the process plays out this weekend at Virginia Tech, time will tell—but an overwhelming feeling of frustration and disappointment regarding what it took to get here; it won’t soon be shaken.

TRENDING DOWNWARD; IT NEVER SHOULD’VE COME TO THIS

Even if Miami can find a way to pull out wins over the next two weeks—the season finale taking place at HardRock next Saturday when would-be Coastal Division-winner Pittsburgh comes to town—that 7-5 record will be impossible to run from. Especially for a squad that started in the Top 10 and was 5-1 just over a month ago, riding high after taking down arch-rival Florida State at home for the first time since 2004.

There was a bit of fool’s gold last season as Miami eked out wins in several games—late comebacks against Florida State or Georgia Tech, as well as surviving nail-biters against Syracuse and North Carolina. That 10-0 start could’ve just as easily have been 6-4, 7-3 or 8-2—but the Canes got the breaks last year that simply haven’t come this season—a negative trend that started at Virginia weeks back and is yet to be righted.

Zigging versus zagging or second guessing—a reality for all of us. All journeys and experiences are chock full of “what if” moments. For Miami, still riding a four-game losing streak—it’s impossible to not revisit the 11:11 mark in the second quarter at Charlottesville, when Rosier entered for Perry, after No. 5 (apparently) called a few ill-advised audibles and coughed up two interceptions in six attempts—proving not ready for primetime.

Despite the Hurricanes’ defense forcing two Cavaliers’ interceptions in the first quarter, Miami still trailed, 10-0 as Perry’s second cough-up was returned 62-yards. A play later, Virginia punched it in from seven yards out and seemed to have full control of what was going to be a grind-it-out, ball-control type of game.

Rosier was pedestrian in his return; No. 12′s first game action since early-on against Florida International three weeks prior. Miami pulled to within three late—offensive play calling finally relying on the Rosier’s legs down the stretch—but boneheaded defensive and special teams penalties in the final minute kept the Hurricanes from seeing the ball again.

Where a huge portion of the fan base wanted Mark Richt to hand the keys back over to Perry, it was a decision that wasn’t as clear-cut for those on staff who’d seen the quarterback quandary playing out daily in practice.

LACK OF MATURITY FUELED LOSING STREAK FOR CANES

Outsiders did get a little dose of the maturity-related issues Richt’s consistently spoken about when Perry spent the ensuing bye week airing his grievances on social media—thinly-veiled shots via an Instagram story about his getting pulled, as well as videos with him flashing stacks of cash; not the best look for a program a few years removed from an NCAA investigation where illicit booster money was the main culprit.

On one hand, the reaction out of a 19-year old college athlete can be chalked up to “kids being kids”. On the other, hard to label a scholarship athlete vying for the starting quarterback job at the University of Miami as a “kid”.

With great power comes great responsibility—so those raised stakes result in getting judged accordingly—and Perry should know this, as he was the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback recruit nationally in 2017.

Ahead of him, second-ranked Kellen Mond, who saw action in 10 games for Texas A&M last season, while starting this season—as well as top-ranked Tua Tagovailoa, who led a second-half comeback for Alabama in last year’s national championship game and is almost robotic in his precision this season for the No. 1 Crimson Tide.

Zero “maturity issues” with those two, yet Richt and Miami wind up with the guy who seemingly didn’t put in the work during last year’s redshirt season, was suspended for this year’s opener for boneheaded mistakes and halfway through the season seemed more concerned with airing his grievances over social media, opposed to fighting for and taking the starting job from a redshirt senior who doesn’t possess a quarter of his natural talent.

Perry never saw the field at Boston College after the bye week; which was a direct result of not getting it done on the practice field and showing coaches he was ready to re-supplant Rosier. The result; another lackluster offensive outing—the Canes held scoreless in the second half, worn down by the Eagles, 27-14.

Against Duke the following week, Rosier again got the nod—though Perry saw his fair share of reps; including a shot to tie the game late, forcing overtime—but a slow-paced offense, coupled with a senseless end zone penalty ended any hopes of a comeback.

Still, with Miami dropping a third consecutive game and a division title repeat out of reach, Richt handed Perry the reigns last weekend at Georgia Tech—and while there was minimal improvement, turnovers cost the Hurricanes and another loss was absorbed.

Perry was a pedestrian 14-of-23 for 165 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions—but fumbled on 3rd-and-1 early in the second quarter, just shy of mid-field—which the Yellow Jackets converted into a field goal. This came three drives after DeeJay Dallas coughed up a kickoff return on the Miami 23-yard line, which the Ramblin Wreck turned into seven three plays later.

Dallas’ fumble was his third in three quarters of play; two second half fumbles against Duke with a huge opportunity cost for the Canes in that low-scoring grind of a game.

Where turnovers have swung the wrong direction for a team that’s made a living feasting on opponents’ mistakes the past two seasons, the Miami defense didn’t do itself any favors in Atlanta—losing ways and general dejection penetrating all aspects of these reeling Hurricanes.

Georgia Tech only amassed 304 yards on the night—but went 3-of-4 for 73 yards in the passing game, including a 31-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that pushed the lead to 13. The Canes’ defense also gave up some crucial third downs—three on the Yellow Jackets’ final drive, allowing them to run out the game’s final 6:43 after Miami cut the lead to six—Perry engineering a 15-play, 95-yard drive capped off with a two-yard Travis Homer punch-in.

Toss in seven penalties for 49 yards and losing the time of possession battle by just under ten minutes and it simply wasn’t the recipe needed to beat Georgia Tech in their house.

MISERY LOVES COMPANY; HOKIES’ BACKSLIDE ON PAR WITH CANES’

With two to play and bowl eligibility on the line, Miami must tap into whatever positive it can—most-notably, the opening score drive last weekend, as well as the late push that also resulted in a touchdown. For an offense that scored 13 in Charlottesville, 14 in Chestnut Hill and 12 at home against the Blue Devils—any sign of life right now is a positive.

Another break; Virginia Tech is also reeling this season—4-5 on the year and without the services of gritty starting quarterback Josh Jackson, who was injured earlier this season in an upset loss to Old Dominion. Ryan Willis has since taken over and has been as stagnant as any the Canes have had under center; the Hokies dropping four of the past six since his arrival.

Equally as off; Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster-led defense getting chewed up since the midway point of the season. Notre Dame dropped 45 in Blacksburg, while Georgia Tech rolled up 49 and Boston College, 31.

Last weekend at Pittsburgh, the Panthers rolled 55-22 and amassed 654 yards—492 coming on the ground; something Richt obviously noticed as he declared this week that Miami will play running back Cam’Ron Davis in his fifth game this year, meaning the option of redshirting is no more.

Toss in Homer and Dallas and one would think the Hurricanes will look to run the football, taking pressure off Perry and keeping the chains moving—barring the maligned UM offensive line comes to play.

The approach sounds good, in theory—though breeds little confidence due to the style in which Miami lost their last four games; each a mini-disaster of its own.

Falling at Virginia obviously shell-shocked the then-once beaten Hurricanes, but the real disaster came in the way Miami failed to respond to that set back—not bouncing back in Boston College after a bye week, complete with the all the horror stories about lackluster practices and al those “third party” players Brown mentioned.

Certainly the Hurricanes would be able to remedy the situation at home against Duke—which instead became a disaster of its own; the losing streak reaching three in a row before heading up to Georgia Tech last weekend, seeing a modicum of progress, but not enough to turn any corner.

BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE WHILE TRYING TO SALVAGE THE PRESENT

Yes, it’s welcomed news that with two to play, the focus is on the future, a renewed Perry is under center, Davis will get his reps at running back and that everyone seems to be towing the company line about still having something to play for, not giving up and getting the seniors to a bowl game—but will it translate into success come Saturday?

The last time the Hurricanes lost five games in a row, it was 1977—and while the Hokies are a shell of themselves this season, Lane Stadium has given UM fits over the past few decades. “Thankfully” the battle of two five-loss teams doesn’t make for prime time television, so Miami and Virginia Tech will duke it out at 3:30pm ET on ESPN.

Perry doesn’t need to be Superman come Saturday, but he can’t give the game away or freelance as he did against Virginia, when earning the starting job last time around. Miami’s offense must be run-first against a banged up and deflated Virginia Tech front seven. Points will most likely be a premium on both sides, so the Hurricanes not only must start fast—but can’t allow a defensive breakdown like we saw against Duke, where the first play from scrimmage resulted in a 75-yard Blue Devils score.

The Canes need to win one to become bowl eligible, while the Hokies need to take this one—as well as next weekend’s match-up against Virginia—so both teams need a the win as bad as the other. This showdown will be about execution, not motivation.

Win today, and it’s not far fetched to believe Miami can muster up enough to take out Pittsburgh at home next weekend—the Panthers clinching the Coastal this weekend if they can take out Wake Forest, shifting their focus to the ACC Championship game against Clemson, on the heels of a four-win season in 2017.

Toss in a lower-tier bowl game victory and a mid-season nightmare can actually end on a positive note; the ship righted going into recruiting season, where Miami needs to make up some ground as this recent backslide has impacted the fate of the 2019 class.

Every journey starts with that first step; for the Hurricanes it begins with showing up on Saturday and taking out an on-the-ropes Hokies squad, in effort to turn things around before they completely derail. It’s again must-win territory—but for reasons impossible to imagine.

What was originally expected to be a match-up that would ultimately decide the Coastal Division—Miami at Virginia Tech is now a matter of survival. Nothing more, nothing less.

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