You keep waiting and waiting for encouraging signs, waiting for any tangible proof that the University of Miami football program is headed in the right direction, that it's poised to shake free from this excruciating era of mediocrity and underachieving.
Saturday’s Independence Bowl provided a couple of reasons for hope (primarily a run defense that held South Carolina to 2.3 per carry but ultimately couldn’t make a final stop) but not enough reason to believe that next season will be appreciably better. Not nearly enough.
And as usual, you’re left with the same conclusion: That the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts, that talent is being wasted, that too many winnable games are squandered, that catastrophic plays at the most inopportune times are seemingly part of this team’s DNA now.
And so another lost UM season ends 6-7, only Miami’s third losing season since 1980.
The others: 5-6 in 1997 and 5-7 in 2007.
Since starting 7-0 last season, UM is 8-11. The Hurricanes are 18-21 against teams from Power 5 conferences during Al Golden’s tenure.
Incidentally, Golden and Randy Shannon now have identical records as Miami's head coach: 28-22.
And there’s this: UM has lost five straight bowl games (last win was against Nevada in 2006) and dropped four games in a row overall --- the last three against mediocre teams (Virginia, Pittsburgh, South Carolina).
Golden is going nowhere; Blake James already has assured that Golden will return next season. The question is whether Golden will make any changes to his staff. All of his assistants were actively involved not only in coaching but also recruiting in recent weeks.
“We had a chance to win the game. No excuses,” Golden told WQAM afterward. “If we could have just not [given up] a couple of explosive plays. We gave them some easy ones. We dropped a couple before the half.
“[After halftime] we had good energy, good fight. We had two possessions to win the game. We missed the field goal on one, fumbled on the other one. It’s hard to overcome [turnovers]. I love the fight that we had, the resolve that we had. No one laid down. We just came up short. That’s where I’m disappointed for the guys because we just came up short in the end.
“The whole week was improved because the guys that were there last year shared with some of the younger guys what we have to do. We were ready to play. We came out smoking. Then the field flipped and they go with the wind and they got 17 points. We battled back to 17-14 without with the wind, and I’m saying, ‘We’re going to win the game.’
"We put the ball on the ground and it’s tough to win that way. Disappointed we couldn’t get [Duke Johnson] the win tonight. Just disappointed we didn’t get one stop at the end. I really thought we were going to get a stop.”
Golden’s thoughts on the 6-7 record?
“We are what our record says we are, but we’re better in so many ways,” he said. Beginning next week, “We’ll look at ourselves, what we need to fix, then go out recruiting and get ready to go for spring ball. From a recruiting standpoint, everyone knows we’re still trying to build it. We have so many guys on our team that are talented, that learned a lot this year and grew.”
UM’s secondary was leaky and the Hurricanes couldn’t get a needed stop to get the ball back late, but this loss is more on the offense than the defense.
Johnson’s late fumble was a killer, tarnishing an otherwise splendid final game as a Hurricane (24 carries for 132 yards rushing, 5 catches for 51 yards). Johnson's mother told The Palm Beach Post that Johnson will now turn pro.
Ultimately, UM could manage only 21 points against a South Carolina team that entered allowing 31.2, which ranks 93rd of 128 major programs.
UM mustered just 94 yards combined on a five consecutive possessions covering the second quarter and part of the third, while South Carolina was going on a 17-0 run.
After settling for field goals on its first two drives, UM's offense malfunctioned:
### A highly catchable pass to Johnson bounced off his hands for an interception.
### Brad Kaaya (19-33-236 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick) missed a wide open Philip Dorsett for a potential touchdown late in the first half; Dorsett went one away, Kaaya threw the other.
### Golden made a curious decision when he opted for a 51-yard field goal (that was nowhere close) by freshman Michael Badgley instead of going for it on a fourth and 9 with UM down three and 8:52 left.
“We attempted the field goal with the wind, which we were more than capable of making,” Golden said.
And of course there was Johnson’s fumble with 5:24 remaining and UM down 17-14, giving South Carolina possession at the Miami 29. Soon after, quarterback Dylan Thompson scored untouched on a two-yard run to push the lead to 24-14.
Defensively, UM limited South Carolina to 70 yards rushing on 30 carries, a 2.7 average. The Gamecocks entered averaging 169.4 yards per game on the ground (58th in the country) on 4.5 per carry.
But with UM needing a stop, Mike Davis ran for four on 2nd and 5, then essentially settled matters with a three-yard run on 3rd and 1.
Thompson (22-34-284 yards) and receiver Pharoh Cooper (9 catches, 190 yards) were too much for a UM defense that was once again plagued by miscommunication and mishaps in coverage.
On the 78-yard TD pass to Cooper for South Carolina’s first score, UM rushed only three and linebacker Darion Owens was inexplicably lined up over Cooper. UM then dropped into a zone, but there appeared to be confusion with at least one of the safeties (WQAM said UM inserted new safeties for that series after starting Nantambu Fentress and Deon Bush).
Cooper got free and Tracy Howard didn’t have the speed to catch him.
ABC analyst Andre Ware took issue with how Miami covered Cooper.
“He’s not being covered man to man; you’re going to allow him to get open,” Ware said, suggesting that UM should not have played as much zone.
Ware made that point after Cooper caught a pass against linebacker Tyriq McCord and a loose zone to convert a 3rd and 9 early in the second half.
During the 17-point second quarter blitz by the Gamecocks, Jermaine Grace and Corn Elder appeared confused on a 19-yard pass to Damiere Byrd. Davis then snuck around Raphael Kirby for a 15-yard touchdown reception after Thurston Armbrister failed to get to Thompson on a blitz.
Positives for UM? Defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou had one of his best games in his first season. McCord had a big sack on a 3rd and 15 in the fourth quarter and terrific stop (with Denzel Perryman) on a 4th and 1 a bit earlier.
There was a Stacy Coley sighting: he had four catches for 31 yards. Standish Dobard, filling in for injured Clive Walford, broke two tackles on a nifty 32-yard catch on UM’s final touchdown drive that accounted for the final margin. Malcolm Lewis had a drop but also delivered a 48-yard catch and run.
### Dorsett caught an 11-yard touchdown pass late but closed with five catches for 45 yards, modest numbers for a player who led the nation in yards per reception.
### A few more numbers: UM outgained South Carolina, 422-354. But South Carolina had two takeaways, UM none.... Gus Edwards had six carries for 25 yards, Joe Yearby 6 for 20.
### Johnson left with an ankle injury on his late fumble but was cleared to return to the game, according to WQAM.
### Randal Hill, on WQAM’s postgame: “I'm tired of mediocrity. I'm tired of all the excuses. I don’t believe in moral victories. That’s not my style. You didn’t fight hard enough. You lost.... What's going to be the excuse next year?”
Hill asked: "If you are going to recruit a press corner, why are you going to play him in a zone? It doesn't make any sense.... When you have a gap controlled scheme defense why would you want you [to play in that system] when you are used to playing in an [aggressive] take-your-head off defense?
"People will say you have the cloud of the NCAA. Look, I don''t care. So did Howard Schnellenberger. So did Butch Davis. They were still able to win that battle and excel. I don't want to hear that."
Hill said when UM players speak after losses: "I don't hear the frustration. I don't hear the fight. You really think Ed Reed, Gino Torretta, Alonzo Highsmith, Brett Perriman would sound like that after losses?"
### UM says it will open next season on Labor Day weekend against Bethune Cookman at Sun Life Stadium. Good seats are still available.