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2022 SOTU Awards: Worst Game of the Year - Middle Tennessee State

In a season full of lows, this game was the lowest.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Middle Tennessee at Miami Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The day was Saturday, September 24th, 2022. It was a warm and mostly sunny day in Jacksonville, FL, around 80 degrees. I had just watched Clemson survive Wake Forest on the road in double overtime from my couch and was looking forward to seeing the Miami Hurricanes score a comfortable home victory against the overmatched Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Looking back, I was so naive.

We’re going to go through this awful loss the only way I know how: The Seven Stages of Grief.

1. Shock and Denial Stage

This happened in the opening five minutes of the first quarter. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw an interception on Miami’s first offensive play of the game. Middle Tennessee State turned the good field position into a 28-yard field goal after a red zone stand by the Canes’ defense. Miami’s second possession was even worse. After a run for no gain by running back Henry Parrish Jr. on first down, TVD threw his second interception in as many attempts. The pick was returned 15 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Zaylin Wood. At the 10:20 mark of the first quarter, Miami was down 10-0 and it looked like they couldn’t care less.

Shock and denial perfectly describes the above sequence for me. I couldn’t believe the Canes turned the ball over twice and were down double-digits to a team I had never heard of until I saw the release of Miami’s 2022 schedule. The denial kicked in quickly. “We’ll be fine.” “It’s Middle Tennessee State.” “TVD will figure it out.” “It’s not like we’re actually gonna lose this game or anything.” These were all things I said in my head. Or maybe I said them out loud. I said them out loud. We all cope in different ways.

2. Pain and Guilt Stage

This started towards the end of the first quarter, and lasted through most of the second. After settling for a 39-yard field goal from future All-ACC Honorable Mention kicker Andres Borregales, Miami gave up a 71-yard touchdown pass from MTSU quarterback Chase Cunningham to wide receiver DJ England-Chisolm. It was like a punch to the gut. Not to be outdone, the Canes’ offense then turned the ball over on downs at the MTSU six-yard line. The Blue Raiders weren’t worried about being backed up, as Cunningham hit wide receiver Jaylin Lane for an 89-yard pass. MTSU scored three plays later. They led 24-3 with 12:36 left in the first half.

The pain was real. Miami giving up those huge pass plays hurt. Don’t worry though, the guilt soon replaced whatever pain was left. I felt guilty for having hope in the 2022 Miami Hurricanes Football program. I felt guilty for being a fan of a team that was hitting a new low right before my very eyes. I then had future guilt, as I knew I was going to watch the entire game, no matter how bad it got, because I was writing the Game Recap and Three Stars articles. I wish I could go back in time and warn my past self. “Change the channel. Focus on the Tennessee vs Florida game. You don’t want to watch any more of this!”

3. Anger and Bargaining Stage

The anger occurred before halftime. After trading punts, Miami took their sweet-ass time getting down the field, eating up six minutes. They finally scored with 1:29 left in the second quarter. Yay. MTSU led 24-10 at halftime. Question: Did Josh Gattis watch any Canes offensive game film from the past 30 years? Miami has had a quick-strike offense for as long as I can remember. Even during the Randy Shannon and Al Golden years, there were receivers like Travis Benjamin and Phillip Dorsett making big plays. Guys that can take the top off a defense. This dink-and-dunk nonsense paired with a running game where undersized backs like Parrish Jr. run directly into a lackluster offensive line is not a recipe for success. Gattis sucked in 2022. Ah! The anger is returning!

The bargaining started at halftime. “College football games are long. The defense could shut MTSU out in the second half.” “Okay, even if by some miracle we do lose, we still have all our ACC games. We could put it together and make a run in the conference.” Pfft. What was I thinking?

4. Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness Stage

These all showed up in the middle of the third quarter. Miami began the second half with two punts. But hey, anytime you’re playing the defensive powerhouse of Middle Tennessee State, there’s no shame in punting. I just remember shaking my head as I watched TVD walk off the field looking like he had just been robbed. The Blue Raiders extended their lead to 31-10 on a 69-yard strike from Cunningham to Elijah Metcalf.

The reflection was apparent and clear at that time. “What am I watching?” I said to myself several times, this time silently I promise. “How bad could this loss be for Coach Cristobal?” I then reflected on what scared me the most, “How could this loss affect recruiting for next season?!” The loneliness came right after. “Ugh. It sucks being a Canes fan right now. All the other school’s fans will be making fun of us after this debacle.” At least I was wrong about the recruiting. Cormani, please sign! You’ll play right away! Coral Gables is way nicer than Boulder!

5. The Upward Turn Stage

Welcome to the fun, Jake Garcia! Miami’s backup quarterback came in the third quarter and immediately sparked the offense with 23-yard and 39-yard passes to Will Mallory and Key’Shawn Smith, respectively. Recently transferred running back Thad Franklin Jr. capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting the lead to 31-17. Miami’s defense then forced a three-and-out, with two sacks in the series! There was some big-time momentum happening. The 4,000 home team fans left in Hard Rock Stadium could feel it, I’m sure.

Jake Garcia returned to the field ready to lead a historic comeback against a team Miami had no business being down to in the first place. I was pumped. Ten plays later, the Canes faced a fourth and goal at the MTSU 1-yard line. The third quarter ended. “Okay. We punch this in and we’re only down 7. We have the entire fourth quarter to take control and win this game. Disaster averted.” I know what I’m describing is more false hope than upward turn. I don’t care.

6. The Reconstruction Stage (Working Through Grief)

Well, the genius Josh Gattis thought it would be a good idea to let Jake Garcia throw the ball on fourth down at the 1-yard line. To the surprise of very few Canes fans, it didn’t work out. Then, on the very next play, it happened. Cornerback DJ Ivey got smoked by England-Chislom on a 98-yard bomb touchdown pass from Cunningham. Whatever air was left in the stadium, came out for good. I remember laughing out loud watching the replay of DJ Ivey getting no contact with England-Chislom off the snap, then attempt to turn and run with someone considerably faster.

The ensuing 91-yard kickoff return touchdown by Key’Shawn Smith helped with my reconstruction. It was nice to see an explosive 80-yard plus play in any form from the 2022 Miami Hurricanes Football squad. I also appreciated the sarcastic cheers from the sparse remaining crowd. I took a deep breath and wrote as much of my two pieces as I could. While I always focus when writing, I knew I had to take my mind off everything Miami Hurricanes as soon as I clicked the publish button for my articles. “I’m definitely going to Ruby Beach Brewing for the Arkansas vs Texas A&M game tonight. I wonder if there will be a food truck there. I’ll text Casey. I might have him make me that cocktail they were featuring last week. I need liquor.” Those are all thoughts that were running through my head. I was reconstructing myself.

7. Acceptance and Hope Stage

MTSU followed up Smith’s big return with a five-and-a-half-minute, 12-play touchdown drive to go back up by 21 points. The fourth quarter continued with a meaningless Miami touchdown, followed by both teams turning the ball over on downs. The game then mercifully ended with the Blue Raiders running out the clock deep in Canes territory. On September 24, 2022, Middle Tennessee State came into Hard Rock Stadium and beat the Miami Hurricanes in a game of college football, 45-31.

If I was in my 20s when this game happened, my entire weekend would’ve been ruined. Not anymore. Acceptance was with me. I was looking forward to publishing my two pieces and sending them to family and friends. I was excited to eat my favorite dish from a certain food truck that night. I was ready for a cocktail followed by several cold beers.

Hope can be fun. It can also be dangerous. With Coach Cristobal and his expensive staff, it’s what we relied on until the end of the season, especially with Cristobal’s recruiting reputation. Well, it’s nice when hopes are met. Miami Mario and company have put together a top-flight 2023 recruiting class. And since it worked a few weeks ago, let’s HOPE Cormani McClain signs with the Canes. Let’s HOPE these four and five-star recruits live up to their expectations. Seriously, I can’t go through the Seven Stages of Grief two years in a row.