Miami has had a tumultuous and exhilarating season thus far. Saturday’s masterful performance, against a mediocre albeit amped up rival, was by far Miami’s most complete game of the season and was a showcase of what most Miami fans thought the 2019 team would feature: A dominant defense that would give every team in America fits, coupled with an explosive offense that can put up points via big plays, if inconsistent.
Miami fans must hope the 2019 season finishes like the 2016 season, when the 4-4 Canes racked off 5 wins in a row to finish 9-4 and ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 2009. The Canes carried their 5 game winning streak into 2017 and were able to extend it to 15, rising to #2 in the polls after a solid win over UVA—Miami’s longest winning streak and highest ranking respectively, since the glory years.
In 2019, Miami has already played its most difficult games and the upcoming games against Louisville, FIU, and Duke are very winnable. Make no mistake, the next three games are of paramount importance to the Miami Football Program and will convey to the fan base and nation if Miami’s dominating defensive performances against Virginia, Pitt, and FSU were mirages, or if Miami’s identity as a program—that is a dominant defense—is truly back to 2017 and 2018 form.
The most alarming aspect of Manny Diaz’s early tenure was the regression of the defense. Despite a solid effort against Florida where the Canes only allowed 24 points, the Canes gave up a fourth quarter lead on a huge pass play that led to a touchdown. Against UNC, Miami’s offense fought back tooth and nail to take a fourth quarter lead, before the defense allowed a reeling UNC team to convert on 4th and 17 a—an abominable offense that allowed the Tarheels to escape, 28-25. Against Central Michigan just weeks later, Miami gave one of the most uninspired efforts I have ever seen, eeking out a 17-12 win.
Once conference play opened, Miami failed to show up for the first half against an average Virginia Tech squad on either side of the ball, allowing VT to amass a 28-0 halftime lead. The first sign of life since the Florida game, Miami fought back and should have beaten Virginia Tech, but lost 42-35. The very next week, Miami played host to the other Virginia team, who most picked prior to the season as the favorite to win the ACC coastal. In a dominating defensive effort, Miami was able to defeat Virginia, 17-9.
Inexplicably, Miami followed up its big win versus Virginia with a loss against the worst Georgia Tech team I have ever seen; a team that only has one conference win—which came against the Miami Hurricanes.
I will admit that I did not even watch the first half of the Pitt game—I simply did not care to watch a team with more talent than its opposition, continually commit the same mistakes and put on lethargic performance after lethargic performance. Still, when Miami was able to beat what is probably the second best team in its division, I was glad but also a bit perplexed.
The 2019 Miami Hurricanes are one of the strangest college football teams I have ever watched. If Miami had made any one play of five or so potential plays against Florida, they would have beaten a legitimate top-ten team in what was in essence, a home game for Florida. If Miami would have stopped UNC’s slow-developing out-route on 4th and 17—in addition to showing up for the first half of the VT and all of the GT game—it would have won and been in the driver’s seat to play the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship Game.
Yet, if Miami made a few more more mistakes it would have lost to Central Michigan—at home no less. With the 5-4 Cardiac Canes, anything and everything is possible. Miami could just as well lose this week against a resurgent Louisville team (that is 5-3), as it could win out. The fledgling Miami Hurricanes—with only nine contributing seniors—are an interesting conundrum.
In 2019, Miami has lost its two most winnable conference games, while winning the three most difficult in dominating defensive fashion. The 27-10 evisceration of FSU, which resulted in the firing of the much-maligned Willie Taggart, was Miami’s biggest win over its rival since 2001, when Miami beat the Noles 49-27.
If Miami can finish 2019 like it did 2016, there is much to be hopeful about with the program moving forward. If Miami continues to show up at random and play uninspired and undisciplined football as it did against CMU, VT, and GT, the program will stay mired in mediocrity as it has been since 2005. If the Cardiac Canes play every week as they did the last, watch out CFB!