It could have been the signature win this program so badly needed, so badly craved.
Yes, this was a valiant effort by UM. And no, UM is hardly the first team to blow a big lead to a steamrolling FSU machine that has now won 26 in a row.
After all, FSU --- down 23-7 in the second quarter tonight --- rallied from 17 down against NC State and from a 21-point hole against Louisville.
Still, this was a lost opportunity to return to the top 25 and push the program ahead. So there is no moral victory here, not against an opponent that can still look somewhat vulnerable even in winning 26 in a row.
And this is troubling, too: As WQAM/NBC's Adam Kuperstein noted, UM has been outscored 150-53 in the second half of its past eight losses under Golden, who's now 0-4 against FSU.
So how did this one escape UM’s grasp?
You could cite a dozen reasons.
Among them: Missed tackles, Brad Kaaya going 6 for 17 for 76 yards in the second half after a 10 for 17 for 240 yard first half; conservative second-half play calling; fourth-quarter injuries (on the same play) to Anthony Chickillo and Deon Bush that kept them sidelined late; a missed extra point and a missed short field goal; two dropped UM touchdowns in the first half and turnovers by two UM tight ends, one in each half; FSU safety Jalen Ramsey’s disruptiveness; and, of course, Kaaya’s interception on a fourth and nine to end the game.
"There were a lot of things we did to hurt ourselves more than them actually hurting us," Duke Johnson said.
Dalvin Cook’s game-winning 26-yard TD run with 3:05 left harkened back nightmares of UM’s defense against Nebraska and Georgia Tech: Olsen Pierre missed Cook, and then Tyriq McCord, Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister all missed tackles.
But there were plenty of breakdowns before that. WQAM's Duane Starks criticized the defensive coaching after the game, saying he saw UM blitz only twice in the second half.
UM often rushed four in the second half, but keep in mind that several of FSU’s big plays in the second half came when UM rushed five, including Cook scooting for 14 yards on a screen shortly before his touchdown run.
And UM was simply unlucky on Karlos Williams’ 11-yard third quarter touchdown, caught off a McCord deflection.
### After scoring 23 points in the first 19 minutes, UM managed just three over the final 41.
Braxton Berrios’ dropped TD pass --– it wouldn’t have been an easy catch --- was costly late in the first half, as was Michael Badgley’s missed 29-yard field goal that followed.
Earlier, Philip Dorsett dropped what would have been a tough TD catch, forcing UM to settle for a Badgley 45-yard field goal.
In the second half, UM's first possession ended with Kaaya overthrowing a receiver, and the next one stalled when Mario Edwards knocked down a Kaaya pass on 3rd and 7 when Dorsett was open.
UM’s next possession ended with a Standish Dobard fumble after a 33-yard gain, and on the Canes’ ensuing possession, Ramsey forced Kaaya to throw prematurely on third down, forcing UM to settle for a Badgley 46-yard field goal.
With a chance to drain the clock with 7:12 left, UM went three and out after Duke Johnson lost one on a first down run, followed by a Jonathan Feliciano false start, a Kaaya incomplete pass and a three-yard pass to Johnson on third down. UM punted, and FSU then put together its winning drive: 5 plays, 62 yards in 2:06.
UM got it back with 3:05 left but took too much time and the drive stalled after two first downs.
The final four plays: Kaaya overthrew Joe Yearby on a wheel route; Yearby ran for one on a draw; Ramsey deflected a Kaaya pass on a blitz and Kaaya threw an interception to Ramsey on fourth and nine with 39 seconds left.
"I had to force it [on] fourth down," Kaaya said. "They played harder, played more aggressive than the first half. There are a few plays we left on the field. They played a whole lot more zone in the second half. I expected it. It's what teams have been doing the last several games against us."
### If there was a second-guess --- offered by Kirk Herbstriet and others --- it was this: Should UM have played more aggressively in the second half?
Of UM’s first 17 first down plays, 10 were passes. But of UM’s next seven first-down plays before the final drive, six were runs. UM didn't do enough to exploit FSU's vulnerabilities in the middle of the field in the second half after doing it several times in the first half.
"We knew what was coming," Starks said of UM's second-half play calling. "Start running a couple more play actions and end arounds."
Another factor: After converting 8 of 11 third-downs in the first half, UM went 2 for 7 in the second half. UM entered converting 31 percent of its third down attempts, which was 117th in the nation.
### UM’s 320 yards in the first half were the most against FSU since 2010. But UM had only 172 in the second half.
### Al Golden afterward: “Real proud of the effort. There is no question they prepared and entered the game believing and knowing we were going to win. They made a couple more plays than we did. That was the difference in the game. Our guys fought their tails off. It was as physical as anything we’ve been involved in…. [Losing Chickillo and Bush] was a big loss…
If you come to the University of Miami, this is what this game should look like, what this game should be…. Missed an extra point and a field goal. Big factor in the game…. We just came up a couple plays short against a really, really good team…. We’re asking Kaaya to do a lot and he makes you forget he’s a freshman sometimes. I told the guys there’s no words. We just appreciated everything they did. They laid it on the line…. We lost the field position battle in the second half. We left some shots on the field.”
### Dorsett, who had 4 catches for 90 yards, including a 27-yard TD to open the scoring: “We’re competitors. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the W. I’m just happy how my brothers… fought. We had each others’ back tonight. I’m proud of that. We didn’t execute as well as we did in the first half. They adjusted in the second half. I feel like the whole country definitely respects us.”
### Duke Johnson finished with 130 yards on 27 carries, his sixth consecutive game over 100 yards. But he sat out a few plays in UM’s final drive because of cramps…. Joe Yearby had 10 carries for 34 yards. Gus Johnson sat out with injury…. UM closed with a 492-418 edge in total yardage.
### Walford had a fumble when trying to get extra yardage in the first half but closed with four catches for 127 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown that pushed UM’s lead to 23-7.
### UM dropped to 23-2 when leading at halftime under Golden… Winston closed 25 for 42 for 304 yards.
### ABC’s Kirk Herbstreit afterward: “Brad Kaaya is a future star. Miami is heading in the right direction.”
### So UM, at 6-4, is eliminated from contention for the Coastal Division title with two games left. Miami closes at Virginia (7 p.m. next Saturday on ESPN2) and home against Pittsburgh, with a bowl to follow –-- perhaps in Nashville or Yankee Stadium or elsewhere.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz