And so it was the Miami Hurricanes who found themselves tied at 20 in the third quarter of a game against FAU, having been outgained and outplayed, with an apoplectic fan base unsurprisingly on the verge of outright mutiny.

Just as quickly as it came, the threat was gone, the game over. Dissipated like Tropical Storm Erika.

Just as much as Miami struggled through the first two and a half quarters, they dominated the final quarter and a half. It was peak Al Golden. Enough for everyone to be enraged, while also tossing a bone to those inclined to be hopelessly optimistic.

But the story of fan angst began long before the game and will continue to manifest itself until definitive proof of a new leaf is provided, or there is a regime change.

On Banners

The pregame story was not about what might happen on the field, but what happened above it.

Now, let me just preface this by saying (1) I don’t think hiring Butch Davis is a good idea given he hasn’t coached since 2010 and wasn’t that impressive at North Carolina and (2) I don’t think it is a worthy investment to spend money on banners ostensibly targeted at a clearly tone-deaf administration and program that has convinced themselves  “outside noise” is the root of all their problems. This will only embolden them.

With that said, the sanctimonious faux outrage that followed the banner’s appearance by some local media and administration lackeys is worthy of comment.

I understand this, on some level, makes it harder for Al Golden to do his job. It also is unfair to the players, who are just along for the ride. We are constantly complaining about people like me being keyboard champions, writing, taking to social media to complain, but not really backing it up. Well, these fans put their money where their mouth is, literally. At the very least, even if you disagree with their message, you have to respect they put money into getting it out.

As to the specific message, one line of criticism was the same fans flew a banner criticizing Butch Davis, and they are now flying a banner advocating for his return. This is wrong and ridiculous.

First, I’m not sure how anyone knows it is the “same” group of fans. We are almost 20 years removed from the original Butch banner. I’m sure some of the fans investing in the banner weren’t even alive and some were certainly not in any position to hire a plane to fly a banner. Simply because a group of fans roughly two decades apart chose to communicate through the same medium doesn’t mean it is the same group.

Second, even if you acknowledge the irony of the banner in comparison to the decades old banner, the original Butch Davis tenure is very complicated. There was probation, blown games, disappointment, and ultimately, he left right before reaching the summit — in the middle of the night. I could write 10,000 words (well, on anything) on his tenure, easily. In 1999, the year before Miami finally exploded back on the national scene, Davis’ Canes managed to blow a 20-point second-half lead to East Carolina and erase a 28-point late third quarter deficit against Boston College. His tenure was literally all over the place and trying to stick into a bucket of “good” or “bad” is just impossible.

Yes, on some level, there is irony. But that irony goes both ways given that the manner in which Butch conducted himself after the Canes administration kept faith with him in the late 90s is one of the main obstacles to his rehiring. So you have dueling/opposite message banners, but you also have an administration that was appalled by the way Butch left and would hesitate to hire him back based on that. Irony all over the place.

The Real Issue

But this isn’t really about banners. It is about fan behavior.

I completely understand some fans being sick of the constant drumbeat of negativity. As someone who has openly, repeatedly advocated for Golden’s dismissal, even I get a bit frustrated with it at times. So I can only imagine those thinking Golden will ultimately be successful here having to face that constantly.

Here’s the problem with blaming the fans: it’s not their fault. We ALL knew this was going to happen. For people to be surprised is pretty ridiculous. The administration went into this with both eyes wide open.

We’ve watched this team play poorly for the majority of four years. If the administration response to that is going to be no changes, and the coaches are going to blame last year’s distinction as the most underachieving team in college football on a lack of team unity, then surely any fan base would look for any confirmation that nothing has changed on the field and direct their ire at those that opted for status quo in the face of failure. The confirmation bias is skewed heavily in one direction.

And the FAU game was the manifestation of that. The anger festered all offseason, waiting for the first signs of past failures. And with the game tied at 20 in the second half, in spite of FAU’s repeated, self inflicted wounds, all the worst fears were being realized.

It was at that point the Canes turned the game completely around and dominated. If people want to weigh the last portions of the game more heavily than the beginning, and focus on those positives, they certainly can. But to expect everyone to collectively do so in some sort of unity scheme because the administration and Golden continually point the finger anywhere but inward? That’s just unrealistic.

If the constant negativity is too much, the blame is fully on Blake James and Al Golden. The results haven’t been there, and the decision not to change anything was going to be greeted with some level of perpetual negativity. They can ignore it, but they can’t eliminate it. And if people are annoyed with it, then they only need to look at the decision-makers. We don’t blame an angry citizenry if politicians misread public opinion, and we shouldn’t do that here either.

Moving Forward

But what if they’re right? What if Al Golden and Blake James are actually right? That if the team stays the course, this will be a successful season (yes, the definition of the word “successful” is very much up for debate, but that’s neither here nor there).

Well, there is this thing called the team’s record that will show it. That is tangible. There is no debating it. And for all the poor play against Bethune-Cookman and FAU, no one will ever remember those games, and the Canes emerged 2-0.

Nebraska is different. But I think it is being blown way out of proportion. It is an out-of-conference game against a team that has already lost at home and is going through a major system transition. It’s not unlike Golden’s previous two high-profile out-of-conference wins: Ohio State and Florida. Both were early season wins against name schools. And both opponents ended up with a losing record. If Miami wins this game, Nebraska will be 1-2 and could be headed towards that territory.

The “meat” of the schedule is in October, and we’ve seen horrible late-season collapses the last two years. To judge the season as successful, we’ll need it to actually finish. Miami turned a 6-3 into a 6-7 last year.

A win now tangibly doesn’t change anything long-term. But neither does a loss. If the Canes win this, then struggle in the tough October stretch, and falter down the stretch again, winning here won’t matter. Likewise, if the Canes lose, but turn around and win the ACC, losing here won’t matter.

What it does afford, however, is an opportunity to change the conversation. We don’t yet know how good Nebraska is, but barring a completely unwatchable disaster of a performance by both teams, any win would be greeted with relief. There is unlikely to be a discussion of “style points.”

A loss with more of the same, and we know the justifiable negativity that will rain down on this program.

A win and the narrative coming out of this game can be 3-0 heading into a bye week. It will be that the Canes won a game against a P5 conference (when  they had a 3-7 record against last year).

Al Golden’s tenure is treading water, on the verge of drowning. This game could provide a temporary lifesaver. Keep him afloat. But it won’t get him in the rescue boat and safely ashore. He is a long, long way from that.

It also won’t drown him. But it could start that process.