Here's what I'm thinking about after last night's disappointing, but hard-fought 20-19 Miami loss to FSU:
1. Coastal Division
As much as we got sick of hearing the "C'' word last season, it's time to suck it up, exhale and move on to the two most important games at this point: North Carolina and Virginia Tech -- UM's next two games against Coastal Division members of the ACC.
One game at a time, they’ll say, and that’s correct. But the No. 10 Canes (the AP rankings won’t be released this week until Monday) need to win both to securely stay in the race for a division title, which would lead to a berth in the conference title game for a chance at a major bowl.
So, guess who played each other yesterday in the Coastal? That’s right. UM’s next two opponents, with No. 25 Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-0) dominating 34-3 over No. 17 UNC (4-2, 2-1) in sloppy conditions caused by heavy rain and winds.
North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who entered the game with the ACC’s No. 2 passing average (342.2) and had put up three consecutive 400-yard passing performances, threw for 58 yards and his first two interceptions of the year
The Hokies scored 20 points off four turnovers. What does that mean for Miami? NC and Trubisky will be extra fired up to prove its worth. Then, UM will have a five-day turnaround, including a travel day, to face the Hokies in Blacksburg.
This will be a true test for UM’s coaching staff, which for the first time will have to get its troops focused after another loss to nemesis FSU.
2. I was sure the offense would be the strongest part of this year’s Hurricanes. But it has been the defense.
This well-coached defense is the real deal, and will continue to grow along with its youngsters. Dalvin Cook’s 59-yard receiving touchdown came on a defensive breakdown, but the Canes were violent (a Manny Diaz word) and aggressive and physical, repeatedly hitting Deondre Francois or blocking his passes (seven total breakups). Tackles Kendrick Norton, R.J. McIntosh and Gerald Willis were dominant, as were ends Chad Thomas, Demetrius Jackson and Joe Jackson. The defensive backfield was also physical,imposing and a pleasure to witness, with Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins, Sheldrick Redwine and Jaquan Johnson having big games – and Jamal Carter being ejected for targeting on a questionable call.
“We can feel bad about this for 24 hours, but we’ve got to go back to work tomorrow,’’ said safety Jenkins. “It’s very frustrating.
“It’s never OK to lose to Florida State. Unfortunately, I’ve never beaten them but those younger guys, they’ve got to learn from this. They have to. They gotta be the ones to stop that bleeding. We’ve got to learn and move on.’’
3. Brad Kaaya needs to be protected better. He got hit against Georgia Tech and he got hit hard last night. He was sacked three times last night. Granted, Matthew Thomas was ejected for targeting (and knocking out half of Kaaya’s molar tooth early in the third quarter), changing the complexion of the game and Kaaya’s performance thereafter. But he was sacked on two consecutive plays in the fourth quarter after FSU had scored to go ahead 20-13.
4. Penalties, penalties, penalties: 10 for 110 yards. You might disagree with some, but there are still way too many.
5. Individual offensive kudos go to Mark Walton (he should have had that 45-yard touchdown had holding not been called), receivers Stacy Coley (seven catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns) and Ahmmon Richards (four catches for 58 yards). And Braxton Berrios not only is all heart, he’s full of talent (and fast, too!) That 43-yard punt return to the FSU 16-yard line to give UM life with 3:19 left, was a thing of beauty.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN