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Can’t Seal The Deal

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Miami showed heart, but no finish in another last-second loss

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Missed opportunities doomed Miami once again as the Hurricanes fell to 0-2 for the first time since 1978. The Canes looked poised to put it away after sacking the North Carolina Tar Heels into 4th & 17 with just over 2 minutes left. But somehow, some way, the Heels managed to convert, march down and score. With just0 over one minute remaining, Jarren Williams did a great job leading the Canes into UNC territory for an OT-forcing field goal. Once again, Bubba Baxa proved to be an unfortunate goat, rather than a hero.

It’s not all on Baxa, even if his kicking difficulties has hurt Miami greatly. He had a field goal and extra point blocked; 4 points which ultimately made the difference. Tight end Will Mallory dropped a 2-point conversion after catching a touchdown on the previous play. The defense was gashed by deep throws from freshman QB Sam Howell. Manny Diaz decided to go for it on a 4th down at the UNC 19 – potentially another 3 points that Miami could’ve had. There was plenty of blame to go around on this one.

After maybe the worst performance first quarter possible, which saw UNC up 17-3 with all the momentum on their side, Miami came back and fought for the remaining 3 quarters. The offensive line looked much better, giving Williams more protection and looking average enough – a huge improvement after the abysmal performance versus the Gators. The line also opened holes for Deejay Dallas and Cam’ron Harris with some consistency after a bad first quarter, rewarding Dan Enos for sticking with the run. Williams was also significantly better, looking much more comfortable overall. He was sharp, accurate and willing to throw the ball away. It shouldn’t be overlooked that it looks like Miami has a special talent at QB, finally. That is no minor development.

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina
Jarren Williams completed 30 of 39 passes for 309 yards, 2 TDs and no turnovers in the 28-25 loss.
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, Miami had a great second and third quarter, only allowing 3 points total. But after getting toasted for 17 in the first quarter, it was necessary just to keep the Canes in the game. But when it mattered, on 4th & 17, with the game all but sealed, Miami gave it away. Under no circumstances should that ever be converted, especially with the game in the balance. Then to respond to it flatfooted and give up the game-winning TD is doubly damning. The strength of this team, the defense, has to get better after two below-par showings to start the season.

Miami has to improve on both sides of the ball. The offense must show more consistency and needs to get better at scoring touchdowns, not field goals, in the end zone. But the leap from Week 0 to Week 2 was noticeable, especially in primetime, in front of a pumped-up UNC crowd. It’s still fair to say this offense is better than anything from last season.

Defensively, the Hurricanes need more discipline with tackling, gap control and pass coverage. Far too many big plays given up; and to collapse at the end of the game? Completely inexcusable for a defense loaded with big names. Bubba Baxa has to find his mojo. He made a phenomenal 50-yarder to start the game but couldn’t send it to OT with a 49-yarder. College kickers are fickle however, and Miami should not be leaving it on his shoulder’s week after week, especially when the blocking prowess, or lack thereof, from his special teams unit cost the team 4 points.

The season is not over. This program has shown a fight and resolve that was simply not there in previous years. They just need to learn how to finish. Against two good teams, UNC is certainly better than anyone gave them credit for thanks to Mack Brown, in hostile environments, Miami got to the final whistle with a chance for victory. Too many missed opportunities doomed them again, echoing what CMD said about who the biggest opposition to this team was; itself. Miami can win out if they don’t beat themselves. The Canes will finally head home and get to tune up against Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan. They ought to head into the gauntlet of ACC play at 2-2 and a good chance to win the Costal. Miami should be better than they were tonight when they face Virginia Tech and Virginia in their next two ACC games.

The biggest thing CMD must do now is not let the ship stray from its course. Diaz has talked again and again about how this is not a short-term process. Miami has shown progress, maybe in steps smaller than most would like, but this is a superior program to anything seen last season. Stay the course, keep faith and watch for October 5th. The Hurricanes can put the Coastal on notice with a big win over the Hokies in Hard Rock.