A loss like this 34-23 setback would have been astonishing a decade ago.
Now, not so much.
This, sadly, is what the Hurricanes have become --- a middling, error-prone, barely relevant football program that continues to flail away in a sea of mediocrity, miles away from the Top 25.
Under Al Golden, Miami is now 10-13 on the road in the regular season and just 10-8 on the road against unranked teams (that last stat courtesy of AP’s Tim Reynolds).
This, though, is predictable when you have an offense that’s an absurdly awful 13 for 53 on third downs this season (including 4 for 15 tonight), a special teams unit that seemingly makes at least one big mistake a week (there were two costly ones tonight), a team that remains penalty-prone and a defense that can’t be trusted.
UM’s second-half offense was largely responsible for this loss. It's no coincidence the Hurricanes rank 126th of 127 FBS school in third down conversions this season, ahead of only Kent State.
But don’t gloss over this: The Hurricanes have allowed 30 points per game, on average, in their past 12 road games under Golden.
UM relinquished 300 yards and 27 points in the first half Thursday, then righted itself for a while, allowing only five yards on 14 plays over Cincinnati’s first four possessions of the second half.
But then, disaster: Corn Elder was beaten on a 53-yard pass, Dallas Crawford missed a tackle on a 17-yard run by Williams, and Tyriq McCord blew coverage on Tyler Cogswell’s 7-yard TD pass to put Cincinnati ahead 34-23.
UM once again allowed too many yards on the ground (167, 4.9 per carry) and too many yards overall (446).
Rayshawn Jenkins had a first-half pick, but he and Dallas Crawford were burned a bunch of times and Jenkins had the embarrassing play of the night when he allowed Hosey Williams to escape his grasp on a 29-yard touchdown run. (Chad Thomas and Raphael Kirby also missed a chance to corral Williams.)
The defense improved when safeties Deon Bush and Jamal Carter returned from suspension in the second half.
But enough about defense. UM’s offense deserves a large share of the blame tonight. Miami mustered only three points on six second-half possessions. Here’s how those series were doomed, in order:
### Alex Pace threw guard Alex Gall into the backfield, foiling a Joseph Yearby run on a third and one. UM punted.
### A Jaquan Johnson penalty negated a Corn Elder punt return for a touchdown. UM momentarily overcame that, helped by an Cincinnati end-zone pass interference on a throw to Herb Waters. But Brad Kaaya was sacked on a 3rd and 10 from the Bearcats’ 28, even though Cincinnati rushed only three on the play. Michael Badgley then missed from 52.
### Trevor Darling committed two penalties, a holding and a false start. UM overcame the first but not the second, which resulted in a 2nd and 13. Mark Walton was tackled for a loss on 3rd and 3. Another punt.
### UM rode Joe Yearby on a long drive, but Kaaya threw incomplete on 1st and 10 from the 14 and blew two timeouts.
Then, the strangest call of the game: a run by Mark Walton on 3rd and 6 that didn’t come close to getting a first down. Badgley kicked a 26-yard field goal, with 8:59 left, for UM’s only points of the second half.
### On UM’s fifth possession of the second half, a 47-yard pass to Waters took UM inside the Bearcats’ 10, but the Hurricanes went nowhere, as is often the case for them in the red zone.
Cincinnati then scored to essentially settle matters.
### Al Golden’s reaction, on WQAM: “We kill ourselves on drives with operational penalties up front. I thought we left some yardage out there in the run game. We controlled the ball, but didn’t convert, didn’t finish, had some penalties go against us and missed some kicks as well. Too many times, they hit [Kaaya]. We’ve got to do a better job there. We didn’t do well enough on third down again….
“The reason I kicked the field goal at the 10 minute mark was I thought we were playing really good defense. We had the wind. I really thought we would get a 3 and out, get the ball back and have plenty of time. We ended up giving up [a big] play and they flipped the field on us.
"I told them we have to stay together. We haven’t played an ACC game yet. We have all of our goals in front of us. Everyone is really disappointed. We’ve got to fix what we’ve got to fix. Give them credit. I know we have the leadership to get this thing turned around.”
### Per AP's Reynolds, UM had won 15 in a row on the road against unranked non-conference opponents, dating to a 1995 loss at UCLA. That streak is now over, UM beaten by a Cincinnati team that lost to Temple this season and was starting a backup quarterback.
### Kaaya was mediocre, closing 24 for 39 for 255 yards. Tyre Brady dropped at least two of Kaaya’s incomplete passes.
### Yearby closed with 113 yards on 17 carries, a 6.6 average. He entered averaging 7.6 per carry, 14th in the nation… Walton mustered only 34 yards on 12 carries, a 2.8 average.
### Brady led UM in receptions with five for 54 yards. Waters had 4 for 60, Rashawn Scott 5 for 34. David Njoku, who UM players call their secret weapon, had one catch for 40. Braxton Berrios, coming back from a knee injury, had one catch for five yards.
### At 3-1, UM is in danger of this season unraveling if it doesn’t win at least one in a difficult stretch that includes at FSU next Saturday, Virginia Tech and Clemson.
### Linebacker Jermaine Grace sat out the second half with an ankle injury.
### This had to have been satisfying for Cincinnati coach and former Hurricanes assistant Tommy Tuberville, who had interest in the UM job when Randy Shannon was fired. But Kirby Hocutt didn’t have much reciprocal interest, preferring Golden instead.
### Michael Wyche, who had played sparingly, made a first half appearance, as UM alternated a lot of defensive linemen, including freshman Richard McIntosh.
At one point, UM played a front four of freshman Kendrick Norton and sophomores Chad Thomas, Al Quadin Muhammad and Anthony Moten. That’s a high-end quartet of recruits.
Each of those players had some good moments tonight, but Cincinnati scored a touchdown on the series when those four were paired together.
### What else is new? UM had six penalties for 50 yards, including the one that cost Elder a return touchdown for the second time this season. UM ranked 107th in penalties last season, and that problem still hasn't been corrected.
“I don’t know [why],” Alex Gall said on WQAM. “It’s been such a big focus for us. It really has been killing us and it killed us here tonight."
### Moten started alongside Calvin Heurtelou at defensive tackle, with Thomas also getting the start.
### These UM and Dolphins football seasons have begun to feel like an inexorable march toward coaching changes.
I don’t blame UM for giving Golden this season, primarily because of the enormous buyout and a strong recruiting class. But a change will obviously be needed if Golden doesn't turn this around in the next two months.
But there were no such financial concerns for billionaire Stephen Ross, who inexplicably concluded Joe Philbin was a better choice than Rex Ryan, Dan Quinn or several others available. It's a decision Ross might come to regret, if he doesn't already.
Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last post for Thursday Heat and Dolphins and Marlins notes.