Miami went into Toledo last weekend and did precisely what needed to be done.

The Glass Bowl was packed—28,117 in a standing room-only situation for a stadium that only holds 26,244 at capacity—while an upset-minded program had an entire city in their corner. It was the kind of stuff shows and movies are written about, until it wasn’t.

In the end, the Hurricanes pulled out of town with a convincing 49-24 victory, where the Rockets never truly threatened. Miami was up 7-0 after one and 21-0 last second quarter, until Toledo got on the board in the waning moments of the first half.

The Canes’ opening drive of the third quarter stalled, allowing the Rockets to pull within seven—making it 21-14 just over four minutes in.

It was an all-too-familiar feeling for the Miami program that’s been on display the past decade; underachieving and faltering in moments like these. That inevitable, “here we go again” sentiment taking over. In recent years, the Canes would’ve gone three-and-out, putting the Miami defense back on the field against a road opponent that had momentum, the crowd and fate on their side.

PRESENT-DAY CANES BABY-STEPPING BACK TO RELEVANCE

Instead, it was Malik Rosier and the Miami offense that rolled 75 yards on five plays in just over two minutes—pushing the lead back to 14.

When Toledo struck again—exploiting a Canes’ secondary that remained Jaquan Johnson-less; the safety leaving late in the first half with an injury—Miami answered with a 14-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that chewed over six minutes off the clock. UM overcame a 3rd-and-1, a 3rd-and-9, a 4th-and-2 and a 3rd-and-7 on the drive, as well—before Rosier hooked up with Lawrence Cager for the 5-yard score.

Notoriously bad on third down the past few years, Miami was 7-of-15 on the day and 2-of-2 on fourth down—while Rosier was a respectable 13-of-23 for 205 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and never turning the ball over. On the ground, the fifth-year senior rushed for 80 yards on eight carries and found the end zone three times—an index finger to the facemark every time; shushing the home crowd, and probably his critics as Rosier obviously hears all the outside noise from a frustrated fan base.

Despite the overall success; a 25-point road victory, key third down conversions, zero penalties, with mistake-free play and five touchdowns by way of a quarterback who’s had his struggles since late last year—a segment of Miami’s fan base remains the harshest critics, unable to take any joy from the win and still reeling from both a season-opening loss to LSU, as well as Rosier not yielding the job to one of a few back-up quarterbacks.

N’Kosi Perry
entered the game with 6:33 remaining—and if there’s any post-game knock on head coach Mark Richt, it’d be reducing his second-stringer to handoffs and kneel downs on two possessions. Richt—always classy and known as one of the game’s good guys—didn’t want to pile-on or run up the score, but the gesture towards Toledo ultimate hurts his offense as Perry needed real reps more than the Rockets needed mercy.

What’s the worst that could’ve happened—injury aside? Perry leads the Canes down field and scores? Even if he turns it over, a pick-six at that phase of game cuts the Miami lead to 17, assuming Toledo picks up the two-point conversion. The way the Canes’ defense was playing, there was no reason to run the clock out halfway through the fourth quarter.

All that to say, Rosier’s efforts solidified his role as Miami’s starter—proving that he’s the Canes’ best option under center, right here and right now—mid-September with home games against Florida International on the horizon. A safe bet that Perry—and maybe Cade Weldon—will get some reps against the Panthers this coming Saturday, but barring Rosier plays smart, good-enough football, Richt understandably won’t make a change. And nor should he.

BE WILLING TO “TAKE”; QUIT WAITING TO “RECEIVE”

Lost in all of this manufactured quarterback “controversy”; the fact that Miami has an overachieving, veteran 3-star with a proven track record, versus—at this point—what can only be considered an underachieving 4-star in Perry, who still hasn’t grasped the playbook and is said to still struggle reading defenses. There’s also a maturity issue; Perry suspended for the opener against LSU due to skipping classes during springtime.

In what little action Perry saw against Savannah State, there’s little wonder why some are overly-excited and what his era to begin—as he looks all the part of an athletic quarterback and a step up talent-wise from what Miami has seen at the position for years. There were a few crisp touchdowns passes against the Tigers, as the redshirt sophomore hooked up with Cager and tight end Brevin Jordan—twice—for scores.

While the Perry enthusiast will hype those first-game stats, still, it’s not hard to see why Richt still has his reservations as Perry oft stared down receivers, while throwing a brutal interception against a garbage defense that allowed 70 offensive points on the night. On the heels of a beautiful Sheldrick Redwine haul-in, Perry took over on the Miami 24-yard line and chucked a horrendous interception—obviously not seeing the underneath coverage, sending the ball directly at a Tigers’ defender.

“But Rosier threw that awful pick-six against LSU?”

No denying that pre-halftime gaffe when the Canes had a chance to make it a 20-10 game, opposed to 27-3—but that was against a fast Tigers’ defense run by a guru in Dave Aranda. Hardly the same circumstances. Rosier also struggled against a stout Wisconsin team; the Badgers moving to 34-7 under Paul Chryst after that Orange Bowl victory—as well as that machine that is present-day Clemson. All three foes played great defense, while having no problem moving the ball and scoring on the Canes.

Over Miami’s three-game losing streak to end the season—including the regular season finale at Pittsburgh—the Canes’ defense only forced two turnovers in 12 quarters of play. Add in LSU this season and that number stays the same over 16 quarters, as the Tigers protected the ball well all night. A far cry from the 30 turnovers the defense forced during the 2017 regular season.

All of this underscores what we already know to be fact; when quarterback play isn’t up to Miami’s old school standard, it’s going to take some aggressive defensive play and ball-hawking to give the Hurricanes a necessary advantage.

Who honestly believes Perry would’ve given Miami any type of advantage against LSU’s defense—considering what’s been muttered out UM’s camp regarding his lack of growth and understanding? Of course a Perry appearance wasn’t an option in Dallas as the second-year player missed the trip due to the aforementioned suspension—but it’s hard to picture anything but a wide-eyed sophomore struggling with the speed of the game based what a quality SEC defense brought that night.

QUARTERBACKS WANTED; APPLY WITHIN—JOB STILL “OPEN”

Richt was adamant early-on that Rosier wasn’t his guy, while verbalizing the job remained wide open and that he wanted to see other guys dig in and push the circumstantial starter. Miami’s current leader is old school and he’s not just going to hand the job to a sophomore with raw talent because a good-not-great senior—who’s putting in the work to get better—hasn’t gone next-level.

No, Richt wants to see a Perry, a Weldon or even a Jarren Williams step up and take the job from Rosier—because that characteristic and trait is exactly what Miami needs out of its starting quarterback; a leader who will go balls-out to take what’s his.

The Canes won’t soon benefit from a talented underclassmen being handed the job because his high school reel was impressive or because a few other big time colleges were after his services. None of that garbage matters when it’s third-and-long in Blacksburg late November, Miami down three and needing a touchdown to win—a Coastal Division title on the line and Lane Stadium splitting at the seams.

Average as Rosier has looked at times, fact is the kid has 17 more starts than any other quarterback on Miami’s roster. He also helped lead the Hurricanes to the program’s first division crown last season, as well as breaking a seven-game losing streak to Florida State—leading a game-winning drive at Doak Campbell in the final minutes.

Toss in back-to-back home wins against No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame—No. 12′s resume remains more impressive than his competition, while his good moments ultimately outweigh his bad.

Fact is, last year’s 10-0 start was a bit of fool’s gold—though few wanted to admit it at the time.

Buckling in for that late-November, nationally-televised College Football Playoffs show and seeing Miami ranked No. 2 for a hot minute; it got the juices flowing again. The Hurricanes were truly relevant for the first time in a dozen years; going all the way back to 2005 and that No. 3 late-season rank on the heels of topping then-third ranked Virginia Tech in their house, before Georgia Tech wrecked the Canes’ season in a post-Hurricane Georges make-up game.

TURNOVER CHAIN HYPE MUST MOTIVATE DEFENSE TO DELIVER

Those late 2017 losses to Clemson, Wisconsin—and even LSU to open this season—shouldn’t come as much of a shock, having taken place the end of year two for Richt and the opening game of year three. Quarterback issues aside, there are depth-related holes up and down Miami’s roster. The Canes even saw it this past weekend in Toledo when Johnson—the Canes lone All-American—went down late in the first half with an injury.

Within minutes, the Rockets had their first touchdown drive of the game—and when Johnson didn’t return in the second half, Toledo again was on the board their first possession of the third quarter. One lost player doesn’t have that type of impact when a program like Miami is stacked on both sides of the ball, but UM simply isn’t there yet—resulting in the Rockets offense having their way with the Canes on a few possessions before adjustments were made.

Anyone still not buying it, go back and rewatch the LSU season opener and how Miami’s secondary looked after Trajan Bandy—a true sophomore—was ejected on the opening drive after a suspect targeting call. The Tigers immediately picked on his replacement Jhavonte Dean, and the drop-off couldn’t have been more noticeable.

Miami’s defensive line was in a similar boat opening weekend, feeling the after effects of R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton leaving early, as well as Chad Thomas and Trent Harris departing after their senior seasons. The Canes turned to an Illinois grad transfer—Tito Odengibo—a guy who would never crack the two-deep at UM if depth was where it needed to be, but instead was thrown into the fire against LSU game one.

Odengibo’s biggest moment in the game; jumping off-sides on 4th-and-1, extending LSU’s drive—that ultimately ended in a touchdown and pushed the lead to 17-3.

None of that is laid out to pick on Odengibo; it’s to underscore a greater point that so many keep trying to ignore—the reality of seeing present-day Miami for what it is, opposed to some bogus projection of what they want the Canes to be, citing that they’re “sick of rebuilding” and are tired of not being “back”. The depth simply isn’t there and until it is, a fifth-year senior will hold off a couple of redshirt sophomores trying to take his job—while in-game injuries will yield ugly results when that drop off between first and second stringers are exposed.

UNDERSTAND WHAT “IS”; STOP PROJECTING “WANTS”

The acceptance of what is, opposed to what one wants or foolishly expects—it will ultimately lend itself to a week-by-week approach when looking at this Miami team. The Canes survived Toledo, got some valuable road experience that will hopefully pay off later this season and all focus now shifts towards the next three-game stretch—all home games with no major challenges.

Florida International is in the house on Saturday evening, marking the return of Butch Davis—last seen in October 2010 when a Randy Shannon-led bunch of Hurricanes finally toppled Davis’ Tar Heels, 33-10 at Sun Life Stadium. Shannon had lost the previous three games to Davis, but finally got one year four. He then lost three of his next five and was fired at the end of the regular season.

Davis’ Panthers went 8-5 his inaugural season and even made it to a bowl game—beaten 28-3 by Temple. FIU is no threat to UM, though those local kids who didn’t make it to “The U” will certainly play out of their minds come Saturday. Still, it’s an opportunity for Miami to continue cleaning things up before getting to the meat of the ACC schedule. Rosier will get the start, while Perry should see some playing time.

It’s also an opportunity for the Hurricanes to solidify the depth chart for the ground attack as Deejay Dallas has been outplaying starter Travis Homer for weeks and has earned more playing time. Same to be said for true freshman Lorenzo Lingard; who shone on a few big plays against Savannah State, but wasn’t given quality reps a week ago at Toledo. As the conference schedule beefs up, UM’s ground game must pick up steam.

Homer was a hell of a fill-in when Mark Walton went down injured last October—but Miami appears to have seen the best out of the junior. Dallas has shown better vision and natural instinct, so Saturday marks an ideal time for Richt and the offensive coaches to figure out when and how to use three capable backs.

From there, a quick turnaround as Miami welcomes a declining North Carolina squad to town next Thursday. Any goodwill head coach Larry Fedora was building a few years back when the Heels won the Coastal Division—it’s long gone. Injuries decimated UNC last fall, en route to a 3-9 season—and an 0-2 start against Cal and East Carolina has things bottoming out in Chapel Hill.

The late-week game gives Miami and extra couple of days before Florida State stumbles in—the Noles most-likely with three losses by early-October, killing any chance of a prime time showdown or national attention. The Canes haven’t won a home game in this series since overtime in 2004 at the Orange Bowl—so another chance to end a streak and exorcise some demons before the second half of the schedule ramps up and gets serious.

Even with that, we’re again getting ahead of ourselves. Four quarters on Saturday against a hometown rival. Show up prepared, execute, let back-ups get necessary reps and notch another win. From there, all focus than can shift to Thursday night and a quest to go 1-0 in conference.

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