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Fast Start, Strong Finish a Good Omen

Miami looked like they realized what was at stake against Toledo

NCAA Football: Miami at Toledo Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Miami had a very good chance of ending their season last Saturday. Pre-game, all the experts were picking the upset, the reigning MAC champs taking down the mighty Hurricanes, who traveled all the way from Coral Gables, Florida to Toledo, Ohio. Miami traveled quite a distance to play a non-power five foe in their home stadium with a noon kickoff.

The recipe for disaster was there and some were bracing for the worst, to be beaten by a Toledo team that really had no business being on the same field as the Canes. Another loss wasn’t off the table, not with the way Miami has played to start 2018, once again proving to be their own worst enemy in several factors. But on the other side, Toledo fielded a strong spread offense that, despite bringing along a new QB, had some NFL-caliber talent at their skill positions. And with Miami’s woes in so many areas, at least apparent the last time the team lined up against an opponent that played FBS football, a win seemed anything but guaranteed. Forget covering the spread, Miami just needed to come out of the Glass Bowl without their season shattered.

Mark Richt’s words, his coaching staff’s sense of urgency since the LSU debacle was certainly made note of. His players are listening, evident in the way they started fast, wasting no time in putting Toledo in a near-impossible hole to dig out from, a 21-0 lead with just under three minutes left in the first half. The Canes were dominating on both sides of the ball, smothering the Toledo run game while Malik Rosier had his finest afternoon while wearing orange and green. He ran for two scores and threw one to Jeff Thomas, who continued his breakout season with a 38-yard score where he simply ran away from his defender.

NCAA Football: Miami at Toledo
Jeff Thomas is really, really good.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

However, it wasn’t all good-Miami all game. The Canes let Toledo score on a lightning-quick two minute drive, tightening the game to 21-7 at the half. It likely should’ve been a greater deficit than that even. Miami came out of half time slow as well, looking as though they had never seen a QB leave the pocket, as Toledo marched down the field in under three minutes to make it 21-14.

The Hurricanes’ offense showed the proper response, not letting Toledo grab the momentum, Deejay Dallas proving himself to be the most talented rusher in the backfield while busting off a 19-yard scamper to paydirt to put Miami back up by 14 points again. Then Miami turned Toledo’s Diontae Johnson loose, Trajan Bandy getting burnt which only compounded the ugly angle Sheldrick Redwine took to try and tackle Johnson. The ball game was back to 28-21 but then, finally, we saw that killer instinct kick in.

Miami’s next time out bludgeoned the leaky Toledo defense, methodically moving downfield, 70 yards in 14 plays, while eating up over six minutes of clock. With a steady diet of Travis Homer runs and Rosier finding his targets when his number was called, the Canes got back into the endzone, Lawrence Cager converting a tough contested catch to put Miami back up by two scores. Toledo kicked a field goal their next drive but that would be all the scoring Miami would allow.

The defense was suffocating after that, snuffing out rush plays and generating constant pressure. Bandy, redeeming himself from the ugly TD he gave up, even earned the Turnover Chain for good measure. The offense was equally relentless, seeing a 35-24 lead as not good enough. Miami added two more touchdowns, a gorgeously-executed 37-yard rushing TD from their QB and then, just because CMR felt like it, converting on fourth and goal with a fullback dive play. At that time, Miami was up 42-24 with nine minutes left. Richt didn’t let up on the pedal.

Trayone Gray punching it in from one yard out sealed it for good and announced that Miami hadn’t been completely derailed following that week one horror show. No one should be getting excited over beating Toledo, even in a road match. But the way the Canes executed, the way Rosier bounced back and the way Miami showed a killer instinct to start and finish this game, should make anyone feel confident that this team isn’t ready to go down yet. At least not without a fight.