Photo: Josh Baumgard
There are severe, systemic, foundational and fundamental issues plaguing the Miami Hurricanes football program, and the absolutely incompetent showing in the Russell Athletic Bowl highlighted it.
Everything negative we thought we knew about this program was reinforced. That the offense has no Plan B when Plan A is failing. That the defense has no Plan A. That the team is susceptible to getting stomped on while putting up minimal resistance.
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing is that these are not one-year problems, but three-year problems. In fact, you could easily argue that the 2011 season was the best under Al Golden. That team had the worst record, but given the massive suspensions that caused Miami to lose to two of the worst teams in college football, and the shocking number of close losses, that team easily played like a nine or 10-win team.
This 2013 team, on the other hand, played a marshmallow schedule, got blown out by the only four teams they played with less than six losses (with the closest loss being by 18 points), and needed to rescue two games against a 7-6 team and a 4-8 team. That’s where the nine wins came from. In the same way that the 2011 team played significantly better than 6-6, this team was much worse than 9-4. Whether or not the program is even getting better is a worthy debate to have, but I will table that for now given the uncertainty over the future of Al Golden at Miami as well as his staff, and instead look at this debacle of a bowl game, and focus on three sections: (1) Offense, (2) Defense and (3) Attitude.
I have been an apologist for James Coley and his offense this year. I have made no bones about the fact that I think their task is unfair. Having to compensate for a historically bad defense is not easy, and their margin for error is non-existent. In that sense, I have been easy on them because nitpicking the problems on this offense is like worrying about whether your lawn needs to be trimmed when your house is on fire.
But in this game, they left no room for apology. This was a disaster, and the coaches and players looked clueless. Louisville’s defense is one of the best in the country, but they had struggled against the few good offenses they had faced. There was reason to believe that Miami could move the ball well on them, as UCF had early in the season. Instead, the Canes barely showed up.
Much like his predecessors Jacory Harris and Kyle Wright, Stephen Morris’ final game as a Cane was a tragedy. Harris and Wright both played poorly in season-ending losses with no bowl game on the horizon, and Morris was particularly bad in this game — inaccuracy, not staying with routes, and spraying the ball. All of his flaws and none of his assets were on display. That Miami had a month to prepare and Morris’ ankle had a month to heal really made this a disappointment that was hard to watch. I find it hard to really rip into players (which is probably why I go in so hard on the coaches), because they are amateur athletes and young, whereas coaches are paid professionals, but Morris looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on the field playing this game and the coaches would have been justified benching him at halftime. He finishes with a solid career plagued by a scandal-ridden program, but his last moment was one of his worst.
The run game also completely disappeared. Some of this can be attributed to the lack of running back talent since Duke Johnson’s injury. The Canes have serviceable backs, but not the elite level talent without Duke, and that showed big time here. With Morris seemingly going through the motions, and this running game doing nothing, the Canes offense completely collapsed.
I thought James Coley got into trouble by trying to establish a running game that wasn’t there early. It put the Canes in tough spots. In the first quarter (when the game was still competitive), Miami ran on five of six first downs, and averaged only 1.6 yards per carry. That Morris was not exactly a good alternative to turn to is somewhat of a defense of the play calling. But too often we see Coley try to force a game plan rather than adjusting to how the game is being played. That was done here.
The Canes had opportunities offensively in the early stages of this game with the defense hanging on for dear life, and completely failed. We must laud Louisville’s defense for being one of the best in the country, but the fact the Canes had nearly 75 yards less of total offense than Louisville usually allows (despite Louisville playing a collection of the worst offenses in college football) is a damning indictment of the offensive staff and players.
And then there is this garbage. No one expected them to do anything against one of the nation’s best QBs, and they did not disappoint. But even in this loss, with absolutely no expectations, this Miami defense managed to disappoint. Teddy Bridgewater is a top-5 NFL draft pick, but he had never thrown for 447 yards until he faced this Miami defense. The routine nature of allowing career-high yardage to opponents defies logic. Louisville managed to exceed their season average by almost 100 yards.
And it all started so well. Deon Bush came free unblocked and sacked Bridgewater for a safety. The Canes’ bend-but-don’t-break strategy also seemed to be functional for once (I assume that is the goal of this defense, since they don’t cover anyone within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage). After the opening safety, Miami managed to hold Louisville to three consecutive field goals, and still be within a touchdown into the second quarter. The defense got no help from the offense, however, and the inevitable defensive collapse took place. Louisville scored touchdowns on two of their next three possessions to end the half with a three-touchdown lead. They expanded that after scoring on the opening drive of the second half. In about a quarter of game action, it had gone from one score to out of reach.
Miami’s run defense, which was shredded the last several weeks of the regular season, played well, keeping Louisville to 3.5 yards per carry. But the pass defense was a train wreck, as Bridgewater set the aforementioned career high, and the Canes failed to make any functional adjustments. It was the same old, same old, with players going through the motions, offering no resistance. Again, the opponent easily eclipsed 500 yards.
The defense did what we all knew they would. I actually thought the first 20 minutes of the game went as well as we could have expected, and if the offense had done better, there might have been a game. But when one of the worst defenses in college football plays an NFL quarterback, there is only so much hanging on that can be done. The defense ends the year ranked 89th in the country, having conceded over 500 yards in five out of the last seven games, with Wake Forest being the only team to not exceed 480. After a month of practice, the defense looked just as bad as always, leading anyone to reasonably conclude that the staff and players don’t have a solution to rectify this.
What in the hell was that? This is a program that hadn’t played in a bowl game in two years and hadn’t played in a real one since 2009 (given that the 2010 Sun Bowl was played with an interim coaching staff). I thought there was no way this team could come out flat and uninspired.
In fact, I thought Louisville would be the team more susceptible to that. They played in the Sugar Bowl last year and had National Championship aspirations. While the Canes should have been excited to play in any bowl game, you could easily argue that the Russell Athletic Bowl was a major disappointment for Louisville. Instead, the exact opposite happened.
Both Head Coach Al Golden and Defensive Coordinator Mark D’Onofrio openly talked about how important the bowl practices were, how “grateful” they were to be in this bowl game, and how the whole team was excited. Well, either they have no finger on the pulse of this team, are so bad coaching Xs and Os that extended practice time is a bad thing, or are just good at giving press conferences because absolutely none of that was on display.
How a team with a month to prepare, and an itch to play in the postseason, can get outgained by almost 400 yards is inexplicable. Something is rotten in this program. Top down. Everyone’s accountable, starting with Señor Corbata.
With that said, I have been livid at times this year with Miami’s performances — getting pummeled by Virginia Tech in the rain and making Logan Thomas look like Peyton Manning for the second time in three years. And I watched this bowl game on an internet stream in India, where the kickoff was at 5:15 a.m., giving me added motivation to blow my top.
But by the end of this game, there was no anger, just sadness. I was sad the seniors went out like this. I was sad the head coach was discussing just getting started here afterwards, trying to whitewash three years as being invalid, not realizing that while he might feel he has unlimited time, the players whose eligibility has and will run out had those three years count and count substantially. I’m sad this program can’t seem to move forward at all, and that we are headed into a divisive period. I’m sad that my belief in this coaching staff has slowly, inexorably withered away.
There will be plenty of time to discuss the future of this program in the coming months, and we’ll certainly do that. But this abject no-show in a bowl game, resulting in an embarrassing performance and a team being thoroughly outclassed, puts a very negative stamp on a season that started with so much promise before burning away. Where 7-0 turned to 9-4 with four losses by no less than 18 points. Where Top 10 turned to unranked. And where progress turned to stagnation. Ultimately, this game just served to reinforce all the shortcomings we wanted to ignore with this program and its direction. The 2013 season left me feeling defeated, with very little hope on the horizon.
The 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl will be a mere footnote in the school’s record book, but if it was meant to announce Miami’s forward progress, it instead served as a reminder of the lack of knowledge we really have about this coaching staff. It reinforced doubts about their inevitable success. If a statement was made, it was made emphatically in the negative, and that depressing message will continue to linger for some time.
Vishnu Parasuraman (@vrp2003) is a consultant in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area and an editor of the Sebastian’s Pub blog. His work has also been seen on Grantland. He is a graduate of the University of Miami with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.