What is it? With this team, this Miami Hurricanes program, that can’t seem to get out of its own way.
We can discuss the many failings in the loss to a now three-win Notre Dame team, and I will, but in reality, it comes down to the Canes’ continued ability to not be able to overcome adversity and finish games.
Even when they make plays, they can’t string enough together without screwing something up. In the previous four games (and this is just a small sampling), the Canes have:
- Scored the tying touchdown against FSU, only to have the extra point blocked
- Made a goal-line stand against UNC, only to fumble away a chance to tie at the end
- Complete a bomb for a wide-open “touchdown” only to trip over the 30 yard line against VT
- Erase a 20-point deficit against ND, only to allow 10 consecutive points to lose the game
There is a chronic problem here that belies logic. Virginia Tech wasn’t particularly close, but the other three games were decided by a total of 11 points… you’d expect the Canes to win at least one of those.
But perhaps nothing epitomized the Canes collapse better than the confluence of events that converged in a loss to Notre Dame.
The first quarter counts
Nine days after the Canes lost to Virginia Tech on national TV, they inexplicably came out flat, not just from a player energy standpoint but from a game plan standpoint.
At least the defense gets somewhat of a pass. I’m not going to claim to have watched much Notre Dame football this year, but according to the commentators, the Irish came out with several wrinkles offensively that caught the Canes off balance… using pace and formations that they hadn’t shown before.
But the offense? How is it that with nine days to prepare, after three losses in a row, the plan to compensate for the offensive line was to run Gus Edwards with Mark Walton lead blocking?
There was basically no adjustment to the previous games’ offensive line issues, and Notre Dame feasted on Brad Kaaya, who for his own part continued to struggle getting rid of the ball and exacerbated the protection issues, which lead to a complete Miami implosion on offense. On their first five possessions, the Canes ran 17 plays and totaled 13 yards… which appears to not be very good.
As Notre Dame took a 20-0 lead, the domination was insane. Miami – 13 yards, Notre Dame – 207 yards. The game should have been over.
And then the Canes caught a break, a muffed punt that hit a blocker. This allowed Miami to stem the momentum and get back in the game.
Incredibly, the Canes traveled the 38 yards necessary to get the touchdown, and found themselves down 13… which is right where the notion of even when they do things right, something goes wrong becomes painfully obvious.
Mark Richt called a perfectly timed onside kick, and the Canes had the Irish on their heels. Miami immediately moved into ND territory, before (of course) a sack ended the drive and the Canes had to punt.
They soon found themselves back in Notre Dame territory, driving on 4th and 1. And this time, the offensive line stepped up, blocked perfectly, and opened a hole that easily should have lead to a first down, if not a touchdown… but (of course) Joe Yearby ran into the center, and was stopped a millimeter short of the 1st down (so close, in fact, that it was difficult to tell if he was in fact short).
Somehow, Miami had executed a perfect onside kick on one drive, and then a perfect fourth down run call on the next drive… and failed twice, not scoring. Such is the story of this four-game losing streak.
But give the players and coaches one thing… despite all those sucker punches, they made the adjustments and came out on fire in the second half, scoring 20 points in a row (one touchdown and two field goals offensively and one special teams touchdown) to lift themselves into the lead 27-20 with just under six minutes to play.
The Canes left in extra blockers, which finally gave Kaaya a chance to get the ball out, and he did so effectively. The offense much more closely resembled that of the first four games versus that of the last four games. Everything was looking up, but then…
After taking the lead the Canes collapsed completely as a team:
- The defense, which had not allowed a score in five drives, gave up a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in less than a minute to allow Notre Dame to tie the game
- The offense, which had only punted once in the second half (and that punt resulted in a special teams’ touchdown), ran three plays and lost four yards in a little over minute before punting
- The special teams, despite Notre Dame using a “hands” punt returner, gave up a 23-yard punt return which allowed the Irish to start their drive at the Miami 40
- The defense gave up a 34 yard drive that ate 4:13 of the remaining 4:43 before the Irish made a field goal
- The Canes offense failed to match that score in the remaining 30 seconds
It was six unbelievably inept minutes that erased two and a half quarters of excellent football. There were three plays in that sequence (two highly discussed, and one that went under the radar) where Miami had opportunities, but really shot itself in the foot:
- Jamal Carter had an opportunity to recover a fumble at the goal line but couldn’t come up with the ball that first went off his hands, then his legs, and then got tangled around his feet
- Miami jumped offside. This wasn’t really discussed, because it happened in the aftermath of the much more egregious Carter mistake, but it came after ND had already run 21 seconds off the clock and allowed the penalty allowed the play clock to reset. The Irish would false start after running most of the play clock down again, but this cost Miami roughly 15-20 seconds, which would end up mattering
- Brad Kaaya took an absurd sack to end the game, which was literally the one thing that he couldn’t do
Here’s the thing with those three plays. Yes, Miami should have done way better. If Carter recovered the fumble, Miami would have two minutes to drive into field goal range to win the game, or at least had a decent chance to see the game out into overtime. Had the Canes not jumped offside or Kaaya not taken the sack, the Canes would have had a better chance to force overtime.
But again, those were all longer shots. Miami lost this game twice, and did so badly. It’s best illustrated by ESPN’s win probability.
Miami spent the first 21 minutes of the game playing so poorly that their win probability hovered a bit under 7 percent:
And they then spent the rest of the game fighting back, doing an admirable job. When Deshone Kizer misfired at midfield, and the Irish sat at 2nd and 10 with 6:27 left, Miami’s win probability peaked at 84.1%.
And then they completely blew it. It’s worth noting that before any of the 3 plays I highlighted happened, the Canes’ win probability had already collapsed. We tend to focus on a play here or there, but in actuality, it was two horrid stretches, one lasting 20 minutes, the other lasting six minutes, that resulted in this loss.
So what now? Beating Pitt? Hardly a rallying cry. It’s hard to imagine that the team at some point doesn’t completely collapse under the weight of one crushing loss after another.
The Canes desperately need something, anything to go right. Any kind of win. It’s gotten to the point that even when they do things well, something immediately comes along to take the wind right out of their sails.
Nothing represented this more than the blown opportunity in South Bend. Maybe we’ll see that luck change on Saturday, because this Canes season has fully come apart and any further damage without success will surely erode what’s left of the confidence and will.