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Finishing Drives - Why Miami Lost to Cincinnati

I try to make sense of Miami's loss last night. Struggles on 3rd downs and the inability to convert on scoring opportunities are the critical issues right now. I am always positive, but even I wavered last night due to frustration.

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"Expectation is the mother of all frustration." - Antonio Banderas

All the Miami fans I know call me "Mr. Positive." I always manage to see the light at the end of the tunnel, expecting and anticipating better days to come. Following the Nebraska game, I tried to focus on how good the Canes looked early in the game, taking a commanding lead and looking explosive on offense. As you all know, I watch far more college football games than any normal person. My brother and I have a saying that is constantly reiterated week after week. When we see a team have touchdowns or big plays called back for penalties or a team fail to take advantage of golden opportunities, we turn to each other and say: "That's what bad teams do."  The problem is I still refuse to admit that about Miami.

Miami has more talent than Cincinnati. The Bearcats' defense will likely finish the season statisically near the bottom of college football. There is no excuse for how Miami played last night. Early on, we all knew the Canes would be tested given the environment on the road in a Thursday night ESPN matchup. Cincinnati scored two quick touchdowns and led 14-3. Miami fought back and scored on three consecutive drives and took a 20-17 lead in the second quarter. I was excited about how the Canes responded and knew that if they finished the half strong, this game would be in control. Cincinnati had a short punt, setting Miami up with 1st and 10 at the Bearcats 38. This was the chance to deal Cincinnati a crushing blow and seize momentum for good. After nearly completing a long pass to Tyre Brady, the Canes ran for 4 yards on second down and threw an incomplete pass on 3rd down. Al Golden elected to kick a 51 yard field goal and Michael Badgley missed, giving life to Cincinnati. The Bearcats scored a quick touchdown and added a field goal in the final seconds of the half to take a 27-20 lead. A half that could've been under Miami's control, quickly got away from them.

There was a lot of discussion during the game about how poorly Miami played on defense in the first half, but that certainly wasn't the reason the Canes lost last night. To their credit, Miami's defense forced FOUR consecutive punts to start the second half, but Brad Kaaya and James Coley couldn't take advantage. Another critical drive took place in the third quarter. Corn Elder continued to be a star on special teams and returned a punt for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a questionable holding penalty. To James Coley's credit, the Canes went deep on the next play from the Cincinnati 43-yard line and drew a pass interference penalty. Miami was set up perfectly to tie the game with 1st and 10 at the 28. After a run for no gain and an incompletion, Miami faced another dreaded third down. Brad Kaaya was inexplicably sacked by a three man rush, forcing Miami to attempt a 53-yard field goal that never had a chance. I don't often criticize players, but Kaaya's performance last night was a setback in my opinion. Simply put, he has to be better on third downs. The Canes' offensive line isn't good enough in pass protection right now, but he doesn't help by standing still in the pocket. Miami is 13-53 this season (4-15 last night) on the most critical down in football. The inability to convert on 3rd down and the inabilty to score touchdowns once crossing into the opponents territory has been inexplicable this season. Running the ball on 3rd and 3 or 3rd and 6 certainly contributed to those struggles last night. James Coley needs to improve his play-calling in a hurry.

SBNation's Bill Connelly @SBN_BillC calls "The Five Factors" college football's most important stats. One in particular always catches my attention when watching games, the one he calls "Finishing Drives." For this stat, he calls it a Scoring Opportunity when a team has a drive that goes inside the opponent's 40-yard line. Teams are evaluated on Points per Scoring Opportunity, which I think is a better way of looking at a game than using red zone efficiency (40-yard line instead of the 20-yard line). Last night, Miami had eight drives that resulted in Scoring Opportunities and scored a depressing 23 points - 2.875 points per scoring opp. That's what happens when you are forced to attempt five field goals and fail to convert on a 4th down late in the game that seemed like the obvious time to actually settle for a field goal, which would've cut the lead to 8. Not counting the last drive which ended in kneel downs, Cincinnati had six Scoring Opportunities and got points on all six - four touchdowns and two field goals. The Bearcats had 34 points - 5.67 per scoring opp. The Finishing Drive stat perfectly explains how Miami can win the turnover battle, have passing yards and rushing yards be essentially even, and still lose by 11.

After the game, I tweeted out the following: "I try to be positive 100 percent of the time, but it's impossible right now. This is a disgusting and unacceptable loss." My friend immediately responded with a great line. "WOW! If you've lost Pickens, then you're really in trouble." The FSU game is still a week away and the Canes do have the ability to beat the Noles this year. I'll still be cautiously optimistic heading into the game, but I have to admit to everyone that I finally, albeit briefly, joined the negativity bandwagon last night. I'll withhold further judgment until I see how this team responds and deals with a brutal stretch of four ACC games this month. Let's try to pretend the Cincinnati game never happened and enjoy watching me jinx 15 more teams this weekend by picking them.