Let's make no mistake about it: Miami's defense from last night was broken. If we can't completely forget this game, then let's also not forget that. Maybe the main silver lining in a game with a few of them is that the defense Miami put on the field last night almost literally no longer exists. Barring catastrophic injury, we won't see this exact motley collection of defenders again in 2011, and for that we can be thankful. All things told, the defense last night was not a disaster, but at its best it was merely harrowing. Encouraging it was not, and yet, that's still not why the Canes dropped a very winnable game.
No, it was the mistakes. Boneheaded, avoidable, maddening mistakes. Maryland tried its hardest to hand Miami the game on a black and yellow checkered platter, and yet the Canes continuously gave it right back. The Terps repeatedly drove down the field with ease, only to ram into a self-erected brick wall once inside the ten yard line. They somehow missed a 23 yard field goal. As the great Lt. Winslow tweeted, "at least we're not the same old 'slow as fuck, sloppy, undisciplined, ridiculously penalized, can't defend a f'ing screen pass' miami." Indeed, even though Randy Shannon is gone from the program, his spirit somehow lived on. Rather than studying game tape this week, Al Golden may just want to perform an exorcism.
Here is the gruesome tally: two fumbles, one that lead to a backbreaking touchdown right before halftime; two interceptions, though the second one came on a last gasp Hail Mary; ten penalties for 65 yards; and, most frustratingly, the same feeling of overall confusion and disorganization that colored the Shannon era. As far as the fumbles go, Mike James' gaffe was just one of those things, and though it certainly altered the game, the Canes were able to recover. In fact, if you were going to point at one single play that doomed the Canes, it wouldn't be that one, or any other play that actually counted. Not Brandon McGee getting beat by Kevin Dorsey for 52 yards on Maryland's clinching drive, and not Stephen Morris' first interception.
No, to me the play that both doomed Miami and typified the entire game was on the Canes' final go ahead drive late in the fourth quarter. After Maryland extended Miami's drive with a stupid holding penalty on third down, the Canes took over with first and ten on the Terps' 21 yard line. On first down, Lamar Miller rushed for six yards to the Maryland 15. On the following play, Miller ran off the left side to for a huge gain, down inside Maryland's five yard line, but the play was called back due to an illegal formation penalty. What would've been first and goal on the doorstep of the end zone turned into second and nine at the Terps' 20. The Canes picked up seven more yards, settled for a field goal, and kicked back off to the Terps for what seemed like a preordained scoring drive to clinch victory.
We can talk about exactly what went right last night and exactly what went wrong— and later today I'll do just that. But above all, the opening game of the Al Golden era was in many ways the return of a recurring nightmare. And that, we were promised, was not supposed to happen.