Winning is a magic elixir.
And for the first time in a month, the Canes finally won a football game — 35 days after they whipped Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
That’s the funny thing about sports. Win, and you feel like you’ll never lose again. Lose, and it feels like the end of the world.
But the nature of this win was significantly more refreshing than squeaking out a low-scoring victory would have been. So refreshing that, on the final Sunday before a Presidential Election, it warranted a mention from Meet The Press host (and Canes supporter) Chuck Todd.
Nice win by the #Canes. Kaaya was fantastic. Glad to see him scramble a bit. Defense was aggressive. Now about the short yardage calls
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) November 5, 2016
Because of a massive special teams breakdown, because of a busted coverage giving up a long touchdown, because of some untimely penalties that turned a first and goal at the 3 into a 46-yard field goal, because of some of the “losing” plays that the Canes made on Saturday that so epitomized the four-game losing streak, Miami had to play well on offense.
And they did.
They scored early, they scored often. They converted third downs. They cashed in turnovers for touchdowns. They stuck with the run game even though it was ineffective for much of the game, paying off late with a long touchdown run. And most importantly, they protected the quarterback.
The last point is probably the most astonishing. Pitt entered this game vulnerable to the pass, so it is no surprise that Brad Kaaya looked sharp. But Pitt’s one big counter to that is their pass rush. They entered the game sixth in the country in sacks… and were shutdown pretty handily by the Canes offensive line.
I don’t think anyone saw that coming. So what does it mean?
It’s probably a good time to recognize that we’re dealing with a work-in-progress, which can be good and bad.
Good news: As time goes on, you can hope that the team improves across the board.
Bad news: Whether the team is actually heading on a path to ultimate success or not, you would see similar ups and downs.
We’ve seen signs of progress and regress several years into Jimmy Johnson, Butch Davis, Randy Shannon, and Al Golden’s tenures. Two were successful and two were not. But at least for a week, we can enjoy the skill position talent.
The way forward
I think the positive thing here is that there is a way forward.
Pitt is really strong against the run and not so much against the pass, but overall, their defense is solid. Given the Canes’ performances the last few weeks, it was certainly reasonable to expect them to struggle.
Brad Kaaya has taken some justifiable pelters for his uneven play this year. But on Saturday, he was fantastic. He’s proven time and again that when given time to deliver a pass, he does so at an elite level.
Mark Richt made adjustments, the offensive line blocked well, and the ball was repeatedly delivered on time and accurately. The running game continued to be stuffed up, but Mark Walton put a cherry on top of the game with a spectacular touchdown run to remove any doubt. It was a fantastic, balanced, offensive performance.
But they managed to find something that worked. Perhaps the most encouraging part of that was they managed to game plan around the offensive line. And by doing that, they were able to be effective passing, which had a cascading effect all the way down the team.
They could stick with the run longer, because they could make up yards through the passing game. By having that plausible run threat, they then were able to unleash David Njoku.
And find Stacy Coley. Coley is criminally underrated.
We all kind of forgot how good he was after his “Sophomore Slump.” This year, he’s been everything to the Canes passing game. Going deep, catching screen passes, blocking, and going over the middle to absorb hits. He moved up to second on the Canes’ all-time receptions list against Pitt.
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) November 5, 2016
Many of the players on this team are younger and at least have a year of eligibility left. But Coley doesn’t, and he’ll join a long line of Canes players from the past decade that performed at a high-level, in the face of adversity, often with the season(s) collapsing around them.
And he deserves a ton of credit for that. Stacy Coley will be sorely missed.
Games in Charlottesville have been fun
This week, the Canes travel to Charlottesville. This is hardly a circle it on the calendar type of game when the schedule comes out.
But maybe it should be.
- 2008: The Canes, led by freshman quarterback Jacory Harris, drove 95 yards to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, and then won in overtime.
- 2010: Two years after leading the comeback in Charlottesville, Harris was knocked out and Randy Shannon might as well have gone with him when he absurdly inserted Spencer Whipple in the game trying to save Stephen Morris’ redshirt. He ended up having to burn Morris’ redshirt anyway because of Whipple’s ineffectiveness, and the Canes rallied, erasing almost all of a 24-0 deficit, ultimately losing by five.
- 2012: Another Canes loss that was somewhat of a classic. Miami’s offense and special teams exploded. Repeatedly building and restoring double-digit leads. But at the end of the game, needing a stop, they failed, as Mark D’Onofrio’s defenses were apt to do, and Virginia threw for the winning score with a second left. Duke Johnson, already having a huge game, almost ran the kickoff back for a touchdown on the final play of the game.
- 2014: This was a Canes clunker and the last straw for Al Golden (although it would be almost a full year until he would be fired). The favored Hurricanes completely didn’t show up and were blown off the field.
Other than 2014, these have been some entertaining games. But Miami has lost three consecutive games to the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, and four out of the last five.
There might not be massive stakes here. But the Canes have an opportunity to reverse a negative trend.
And maybe that’s ultimately what this season ends up being about. Reversing some negative trends that have stagnated this program, and making it the building block that provides some sort of a foundation for the future. The Canes are favored on Saturday, and sometimes, the first step is just doing what you’re supposed to do, winning games that you’re supposed to win, and just doing a job.
Miami has three jobs left, and three wins will go a long way towards toward restoring faith in Mark Richt’s ultimate success at Miami.