Over the last two years, the Miami Hurricanes came within a knife’s edge of beating the Florida State Seminoles. But they could never make the play to get them over the top.

On Saturday, they finally made that play… and lost anyway because of a blocked extra point.

Miami wasn’t the better team — they were objectively worse. FSU, playing with a freshman quarterback, was more poised on third down, converting 9 of 17 to the Canes 4 of 13.

The Canes came out on fire, and FSU methodically whittled the lead down, eventually going ahead by a touchdown. It was the beating of the Tell-Tale Heart.

But these Canes were different. There was sucker punch after sucker punch:

  • Mark Walton had a spectacular TD run that would have put the Canes ahead 19-17 (can’t assume the Extra Point, obviously) called back on a phantom holding call (which was especially egregious given that FSU’s TD on the previous drive featured an obvious hold that went uncalled).
  • With FSU marching on a 13-play drive, and repeatedly converting third downs, the Canes’ defense stiffened and stuffed Dalvin Cook on second and third down to force a FG that kept them in the game.
  • There was Jamal Carter getting ejected for targeting in another horrific call that saw frustrated fans hurl water and beer bottles onto the field. The Canes’ D immediately forced another three-and-out and got the ball back.
  • And then there was the Braxton Berrios punt return. Having done the hard part, he seemed destined to score, only to be tripped up by the punter.

After all that, Miami was sitting there with a 4th and short. And Brad Kaaya, outplayed by his freshman QB counterpart on the night, threw a strike to Stacy Coley, who made a great catch.

It finally happened! The Canes scored the TD they couldn’t the last two years….and then the extra point was blocked. It was the final straw.

After getting up so many times, they couldn’t recover from that.

Another year, another loss to FSU. Seven in a row.

Not Good Enough

Last week, I wrote that Miami should win this game because despite the cliche of “throwing out the record books” in a rivalry game, the better team usually wins this game. And by better I meant the team that finishes the year ranked higher.

Well, I was half right, because FSU was the better team. The Canes could, and perhaps should, have won this game. There were enough costly mistakes and bad breaks that if one had gone Miami’s way, they would have won.

But FSU won this game because they won up front. They beat up the Canes, knocked Kaaya around, and stifled Miami’s run game. Even in their weakest form in years, they managed to exploit one of the few advantages they had.

It was good coaching on their part…

…and bad coaching on Miami’s part.

I’m not ready to go in hard at Mark Richt yet. It’s five games into his tenure. But the play calling wasn’t varied, there were too many penalties in key situations, and there were a ton of mental errors. He seemed content to play “cagey” when the team needed to be bold. That’s on the coach.

With that said, given the state of the offensive line, I’m not sure what plays would have worked. But with the Canes going almost the entire second half without scoring, they, at the very least, should have tried to open up the offense.

Meanwhile, Jimbo Fisher responded to Miami’s lock-down D by calling a misdirection pass to Dalvin Cook which completely changed the game. The Seminoles managed to stay ahead of the sticks for much of the second half, while Miami just couldn’t get anything going on 1st down. This enabled FSU to score 20 points in a row.

In a game that featured the winning team scoring 20 points, the Canes lost the game when they allowed 14 points in a less than five-minute stretch in the third quarter to blow what was, at the time, a 10-point lead.

And that featured an abhorrent three-play, two-yard drive sandwiched between FSU’s two touchdown drives. Pace is good, and even great in an offense. But you have got to be able to change paces too.

That was a time when the Canes needed to hold the ball and give the defense some time to not just physically recover, but mentally recover. They’d just taken a punch in the gut. Instead, the offense did nothing. Again, it’s too soon to really go in on Richt, but there were certain tactical errors that need to be addressed. It’s never too early to learn from mistakes.

Despite all these things going wrong, and despite being outgained by 131 yards, the Canes were right in it. You have to give it up for these kids. We’ve watched this team rollover so many times under Al Golden that them displaying this level of back bone is certainly commendable. They had every opportunity to give up tonight, after building a 13-0 lead and taking several punches, but they didn’t. They simply ran out of time.

And you know what? That’s the history of this series. When the Canes won six games in a row from 2000-2004, the margins were 3, 22, 1, 8, 2, and 6 (in overtime). FSU was a play away multiple times from ending that streak. In 2005, they finally did get that play when the Canes muffed a field-goal attempt that would have sent the game to overtime.

Miami’s time will come again. They’ll beat FSU, and if the history of this series is any indication, that will lead to a period of sustained success. But that time wasn’t Saturday, and it could have been. The bitterness of the disappointment will never wear off. As much as you exalt in the highs of wins, it’s the lows of losing that sting the most. We can’t sugarcoat this, or explain it away. That one stings. FSU fans are going to do exactly what we would have done in this situation…which is live it up. They’ve had three Wide Rights and a Wide Left. We now have a muffed field goal and blocked extra point.

And they have seven in a row. Nothing left to do but hope next year doesn’t make 8.

Get Up and Move Forward

Vice President Joe Biden recounts how his father told him that “the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up.”

And Mark Richt and the Canes need to get up.

North Carolina comes to town next week, having been pummeled at home by Virginia Tech. Then, five days later, the Canes head to Blacksburg for a showdown with first place Virginia Tech.

FSU is the biggest, most important game of the year from an emotional standpoint. These next two are the biggest, most important games of the year from a season standpoint.

We all know how Al Golden’s teams would respond. In 2013, they famously blew a 7-0 start, finishing 9-4 after losing a game to FSU and never recovering. But this was actually a chronic problem. Under Golden, the record after FSU was horrific.

That’s a 7-9 record, and a midseason firing. That cannot happen this year. Richt has his faults, but if he’s half the coach we think he is, this team will recover and play well again. North Carolina and Virginia Tech are good teams. Miami could certainly lose to them.

But there is a difference between losing and rolling over. And it parallels back to Saturday’s game. Al Golden lost to FSU the last two years precisely ’cause he rolled over. Richt’s Canes didn’t do that, and lost anyway. It might be a minute distinction, but it is the type of thing that can be built on.

You don’t recover from the type of loss Miami had to FSU. A decade from now, we’ll talk about this. But you can survive.

And you can also build off of losses. Building blocks aren’t always exactly how we want them to be. The energy in the building was incredible. The program was alive for the first time in recent memory. One loss cannot be allowed to undo that. If the Canes beat North Carolina and Virginia Tech, they take control of the ACC Coastal and have an inside track to the ACC Championship Game, which no one needs reminding they’ve never been to. That has to be the focus.

This isn’t going to be the year that Miami ends FSU’s streak. But it can be the year they win 10 games, go to the ACC Championship Game, and go to a major bowl. We can’t change what happened Saturday night, but we certainly can dull the pain by turning this into a great season.

And with that possibility ever-present, we’ll be able to measure exactly what type of team Mark Richt has. They’ve been knocked down, now they must quickly get up.