Another year where Miami rolled into Charlottesville and for a litany of reasons, failed to come out with a win—despite being the “better” team. The Hurricanes have now lost five of their past eight to the Cavaliers at Scott Stadium since joining the ACC in 2004; UM reinventing new ways to lose winnable games in this series.

Fresh off a comeback victory against Florida State last week at HardRock, Miami was already on upset alert due to the obvious letdown from the home energy felt in a rivalry game—opposed to what one gets when going into the heart of blue blood country for a mid-tier conference showdown. Toss in the history in Charlottesville and the fits Virginia has given Miami in their house—this game gave off an eerie feeling all week; the result proving the concern was justified.

There’s a lot of blame to pass around regarding how this one played out—pointed everywhere except the defense, who outside of standard struggles in containing mobile quarterbacks, literally did all they could to bail out a slugging Hurricanes offense that not only started slow, but never found a groove. Outside of turnovers returned for scores, there was no way to dig Miami out of this mess on Saturday night.

DISASTROUS START ON OFFENSE ALTERS MIAMI’S GAME PLAN

Mark Richt will shoulder the majority of the blame for this loss—though not for the knee-jerk reasons some are pointing to. A change at quarterback, or late game onside kick attempt weren’t the reason Miami fell—it’s what the Canes did, or weren’t able to do, when the ball was in their hands; a completely inefficient outing from the get-go.

N’Kosi Perry rolled in wide-eyed and not ready for the moment on Saturday night. Could he have ultimately worked through it in his first road start if given more time? Maybe—maybe not—but a 3-of-6 start with two interceptions in back-to-back possessions should be more of a focal point than a head coach who’d felt he’d seen enough at that point.

Even more disheartening; this stagnant offensive play came as Miami’s defense did its job—the Turnover Chain making back-to-back appearances, as well—Trajan Bandy picking off Bryce Harper on the Cavaliers’ first drive, while Sheldrick Redwine got Harper two possessions later; which Perry immediate gave back, resulting in a field goal.

Perry’s second pick happened moments later when Juan Thornhill hauled in an under thrown pass and returned it 62 yards to the Virginia seven-yard line. A backwards pass that looked like recovered fumble for the Canes was ruled incomplete—without any review—and the Cavaliers punched it in a play later, extending the lead to 10-0.

Richt went to Rosier the next possession—while also subbing Travis Homer for DeeJay Dallas, as the ground attack was having zero success behind yet another awful offensive line showing. The reasoning for the switch to Rosier was two-fold; the r-senior more experienced and with a better come-from-behind resume than his r-freshman counterpart—as well as bringing another dimension to the offense by way of his running abilities.

Making the switch in that moment, understandable. How Rosier was used once entering—that where things went sideways regarding Richt’s quarterback change. Miami had a slew of close games last season that could’ve gone either way. Florida State. Georgia Tech. North Carolina. Syracuse. Virginia even twice had 14-point leads over the Hurricanes at home last year before the defense flipped the script.

Rosier’s accuracy issues have been on display since taking over in 2017—yet he dug his way out of mistakes thanks to what he was able to do with his legs. Last year against Virginia Tech—11-of-22 for 202 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions—balanced out by 84 rushing yards on 13 carries, with a score. In a game where Homer carried 14 times for 94 yards, the Canes damn-near matched that production with Rosier’s legs—the quarterback sporting a 6.5-yard-per-carry average against the Hokies, while Homer was a 6.8 and Dallas at 5.3 on six carries.

Seven times last season, Rosier had outing with double-digit rushing attempts—15 against Duke the highest, while the rushing yardage against Virginia Tech was the most. Even earlier this season, Richt relied on Rosier’s rushing skills at Toledo—No. 12 with eight carries for 80 yards and three touchdowns, which impacted how the Rockets’ defense attacked the Hurricanes.

Regarding his return in Charlottesville after two games on the shelf; a complete abandonment of those designed rushing plays where Rosier’s legs helped put Miami in and-short situations on second and third downs, or would help move the chains in third down situations.

Perry’s 11-yard touchdown run on 1st-and-10 that cut Virginia lead to three with just over three minutes remaining—a sinking feeling of what could’ve been on so many stalled offensive possessions earlier in the night; Rosier using the one thing in his arsenal that is superior to Perry’s. Even more disheartening; two boneheaded defensive and special teams plays that prevented the Canes from getting the ball back to give Rosier one more crack.

LATE COMEBACK THWARTED BY BONEHEADED PENALTIES

The Canes pulled to within three with 3:04 to play after the Rosier score—but completely unraveled from there. Richt’s decision to go for an onside kick was the result of a Cavaliers’ penalty, coupled with a lack of faith in a sputtering offense. Best case; Miami recovers midfield—after losing the field position battle most of the day. Worst case, in theory; Virginia jumps on the ball around their 47-yard line, the Hurricanes’ defense forces a three-and-out and UM has a shot at a game-winning drive.

Instead, a disaster much like last year’s opening third quarter gaffe against Georgia Tech—a freakish return; in this case, Evan Butts rolling 30 yards to the Miami 27-yard line, due to the quirky bounce and alignment. Still, the situation overcome-able as the Hurricanes were on track to give up a field goal with 2:39 remaining—more than enough time for a game-winning drive, down six.

Tito Odenigbo—the Illinois grad transfer who jumped offsides on a key fourth down play against LSU, leading to a touchdown—put an end to any comeback bid, when losing his composure and barreling into a Virginia lineman after the Cavaliers failed to convert on third-and-short. Instead of a field goal attempt, the home team had a fresh set of down from the Miami nine-yard line.

The Hurricanes held tough, used their timeouts, still forced a field goal attempt—losing a ton of time in the process—but Bandy running into the kicker gave the Hoos yet another opportunity; taking the penalty, as well as the points off the board, setting up a victory formation kneel-down as Miami’s offense would never see the field again, falling 16-13 in nightmarish fashion.

Even worse; the Canes were a casualty on one of those standard upset Saturdays where survival would’ve seen a nice little spike in the polls. Instead, two-loss Miami dropped out of the Top 25 completely.

The loss comes as Miami enters the bye week, which is probably a good thing for a program—and fan base—in need of a hard reset. Richt has come out since the setback and explained that things will be reevaluated top-to-bottom before the Hurricanes trek north for a Friday showdown at Boston College on October 26th.

SEASON GOALS STILL TANGIBLE IF CANES REGROUP FAST

What that reevaluation looks like—time will tell, but the Canes are in full-blown must-win mode for the next five games as another loss all but kills any chance Miami has of repeating at Coastal Division champs. UM must win out—with Virginia losing once to either Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech.

Truth be told, the premise of Miami winning 11 straight after that LSU loss—it seemed like a tall order with the issues at offensive line and questions at quarterback. The hope now; that the Canes ultimate got that one hovering potential loss “out of the way” and can regroup with five one-game seasons to close out at 10-2.

In looking at the rest of the games one-by-one—every one of them is winnable if Miami plays its game. As we saw in Charlottesville, the Canes doing their thing isn’t as easy as it sounds—though UM made it look easier than it was last year by pulling out several close calls that easily could’ve gone the other way; that 10-0 start looking as low as 6-4, or somewhere in between.

2017 WASN’T AS PERFECT AS EARLY RECORD INDICATES

Miami needed two fourth quarter rallies to survive in Tallahassee last year against a Florida State squad that wound up finishing 7-6. A week later, a mini-miracle fourth down haul-in to keep a drive alive, setting up a game-winning field goal against Georgia Tech for a one-point victory—after trailing 24-13 late in the third quarter.

The Canes also needed a late score to put Syracuse away in a game Miami was only leading by one with 5:23 remaining—and it took a forced turnover around the two minute mark in Chapel Hill the next weekend to stop a potential game-winning drive by a North Carolina squad that was 1-7 at the time.

UM came alive in back-to-back weeks in primetime, dismantling Virginia Tech and Notre Dame at home—only to find itself down to lowly Virginia by 14 points twice in the same game a week later, before the defense clamped down and blew the game open. From there, the 10-0 Canes never won again—falling on the road at Pittsburgh in the season finale, before getting smashed by Clemson in the ACC title game and outlasted by Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.

Dance with the devil regarding close games full of missed opportunities—you’re eventually going to get burned.

Everyone remembers the jubilant feeling of those comeback wins against the Noles and Yellow Jackets, as well hanging on against the Orangemen and Tar Heels—while forgetting some of the awful play in those contest that put the Canes in position to need to comeback, or to rally late as winning cures everything.

A few non-breaks in those games, there’s no Coastal title or Big Six bowl game. Instead, Miami falls somewhere around 8-4 and the expectations aren’t heightened going into 2018; a more realistic approach to what the Canes should look like in 2018 with that depleted offensive line and question marks surrounding quarterbacks.

EXPECTATIONS VERSUS REALITY, PRESENT-DAY COLLEGE FOOTBALL

We’ve written about it a few times already this season, but it warrants another mention; current expectations being rooted in what fans want—after years of being irrelevant—versus fans accepting what is, halfway through year three for Richt and staff. The minute any conversation the past few weeks was focused on Miami getting shut out of the Playoffs after a 12-game win-streak, culminating with a take-down of Clemson in Charlotte—a reminder that too any are way ahead of themselves regarding year three expectations.

This program hasn’t even hit the three-year anniversary of the Tigers dropping a 58-0 pasting on the Hurricanes at home (10/24/15), which proved to be the end for Al Golden—yet some feel Miami is ready to take down a program that’s won the ACC three years in a row, while reaching the Playoffs every year, playing in two national championship games and winning one title?

If one can’t see the insanity in that belief, then of course they’re losing their minds after an “unfathomable” loss at Virginia. Forget the fact the Cavaliers have owned the home portion of the rivalry—the notion that “We’re ’The U’ and we shouldn’t be losing to teams like this, bro!” prevails, despite evidence to the contrary—both regarding the current State of Miami, as well as what’s taking place every Saturday across the sport.

Miami losing to Virginia didn’t even scratch the college football surface in regards to upsets this past weekend. No. 2 Georgia got absolutely clobbered by No. 13 LSU, 36-16—the Tigers rebounding strong after their first loss of the season at Florida last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Gators needed a mini-miracle to survive at Vanderbilt after finding themselves down 18 points early—days after upsetting the Tigers, yet still wondering how the hell Kentucky broke a three-decade losing streak to them earlier this year. Toss in The World’s Largest Cocktail party next weekend and either Florida or Georgia will see their one-loss seasons absolutely obliterated by Saturday night.

No. 6 West Virginia took it on the chin in massive fashion, as well—three-loss Iowa State, humbling the Mountaineers, 30-14.

No. 8 Penn State saw their Playoff hopes dashed with their second loss of the season. Weeks back a one-point loss to Ohio State was a minor setback, but the bottom officially fell out for the Nittany Lions after two-loss Michigan State scored with :19 left—the Spartans looking very average this season with losses to Arizona State and Northwestern, as well as a near upset against Utah State in the season opener—yet they still rose up late and silenced 109,000 in Happy Valley this weekend.

Wisconsin started the season ranked No. 4, but lost to BYU at home weeks ago—and is now clinging to the Top 25 at No. 23 after getting smacked around at Michigan, 38-13—while previously undefeated Colorado lost by double-digits at USC, dropping them from the rankings. Tennessee—a hot mess for well over a decade—found a way to beat an Auburn team, that had upset Washington in the season opener.

As for the Huskies, another Playoffs contender and Pac-12 favorite; dropped in overtime by Oregon for their second setback of the season, knocking them from the Top 10—but is any logical fan calling for the head of Chris Petersen? What about Kirby Smart, James Franklin or Paul Chryst? Of course not.

The parity in today’s game is light year’s ahead of what was ten years ago, let alone a long-gone era when Miami dominated the sport several decades back. Upsets occur on a weekly basis and everybody that’s not Alabama—and maybe Clemson—is absolutely vulnerable. Title game runner-up Georgia’s 20-point loss to an LSU squad that started the season No. 25—no better example this past weekend; and one that should promote a shift in thinking for those who don’t yet grasp this reality.

Miami isn’t as good as some supporters of this program want to believe—and that’s just the way it is halfway through year three for Richt and this squad. As already explained in this piece, there was a bit of fool’s gold for any who didn’t see last year’s 10-3 run for what it was—the Canes overachieving and pulling off some wins that realistically and mathematically should’ve gone the other way.

To expect a step forward this year when the offensive line was taking a step back—losing K.C. McDermott and Trevor Darling to graduation—not to mention the losses of other key offensive playmakers like Mark Walton, Chris Herndon and Braxton Berrios; that projection wasn’t rooted in reality—as proven by the growing pains the Canes are dealing with on offense this year.

Defensively, Miami was in better shape to reload—as the losses weren’t as plentiful and guys coaches hoped would step up have done just that; none more important than Gerald Willis, who was a question mark for the Canes the past few years, sidelined due to personal issues.

The former 5-star’s emergence has erased any of the perceived setbacks UM was expecting after Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh decided to go pro a year early. Miami needs a Willis-like presences on the offensive line—but that player simply doesn’t exist right now. Welcome to present day for a program halfway through a year-three rebuild on the heels of a 60-47 run from 2006, through Golden’s firing mid-2015.

UNTIL THE TALENT FULLY RETURNS, SCHEME WILL SUFFER

So much focus on Richt’s coaching, while completely ignoring the talent and depth issues Miami is still facing. While some positions are loaded, others—offensive line, specifically—have a tremendous drop-off. In other cases the Canes’ first string is solid—but once relying on the second-string, again, a much different looks. The secondary experienced this when Bandy got tossed for targeting against LSU, or when Jaquan Johnson was sidelined for the second half against Toledo—and the Rockets’ best receiver started having his way with UM’s secondary.

Ed Orgeron is no figurehead or prototypical head coach—but one-loss LSU has already knocked off Miami, Auburn and Georgia this season and had it not been for a late pick-six against the Gators weeks back, the Tigers are probably the No. 2 team in the country behind top-ranked Alabama today. Like Miami with Manny Diaz, LSU sports a good one in Dave Aranda—and the third-year defensive coordinator is doing the most with his loaded roster.

Why? Because despite the switch from Les Miles to Orgeron, there was no drop-off in talent for LSU. The x-factor this season was transfer quarterback Joe Burrow and his ability to step in—which he has, behind a seasoned offensive line and the help of a few emerging running backs and playmaking wide receivers. Put Burrow behind Miami’s line—what do his stats look like at the halfway point this season?

LSU currently has the seventh-ranked class for 2019. The past few seasons; 15th (2018), 7th (2017), 2nd (2016), 5th (2015 and 2nd (2014)—the lone hiccup; a ripple effect this past February as Orgeron had to scramble to hold things together in the wake of Miles being fired in 2016, and LSU not removing his interim title until the end of that troubled season.

Point being, depth and talent are the common denominator—and until they return for Miami, expect more ups and downs than folks are currently planning for.

Rob Chudzinski
was somewhat bland in his play calling for the Canes back in the day—while Randy Shannon ran a Cover 2 Man just about every defensive possession—in both cases, Miami succeeding because it had the personnel to take care of business.

That isn’t the case for the Canes in 2018, so enough with the senseless rants about Richt “opening up the playbook” as a viable answer to what’s going on here and now—as if the fix is as early as flipping a switch. This thing is moving the right direction, it’s just not at a championship-caliber level yet—nor should it be year three.

The setback to Virginia was a frustrating one, but with an off-week to assess and five more games on the docket—time for Miami to focus on what is, versus what isn’t. The Coastal remains very much in reach and season goals in-tact as Richt and this squad continue their journey towards again being a contender.

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