The University of Miami football team debuted alternate uniforms Saturday night that featured no individual surnames stitched across the shoulder, only the word Hurricanes. That turned out to be just as well. What self-respecting UM player would have wanted to be identified by name as a part of a night and result so desultory?
Association by numeral seemed sufficiently cruel.
This was the Canes’ worst performance of the season — by a lot.
That wasn’t last week’s 41-14 loss in Tallahassee, because Florida State, of a higher plane, dominates everybody. And it wasn’t any of those narrow, late escapes by Miami against lesser teams like Wake Forest.
No, it was this.
It was this rain-drenched 42-24 home loss to Virginia Tech at Dolphins stadium that marked a season low because the stakes were so high.
“They have to decide which way they want to go,” UM coach Al Golden said of his team following its second consecutive loss. “They have to get their minds right and move on.”
This was the opponent you felt you were better than and were favored to beat.
This was the result that snatched control over where this season might end right out of UM’s hands.
This was the performance that made an Atlantic Coast Conference championship-game rematch with FSU veer from likely to much less so.
This was the loss that made an invitation to a major BCS bowl game seem less probable now than a consolation ticket to some second-tier affair.
As steady sheets of rain soaked the stalwart crowd of 49,267, this was the night that would cause the 11th-ranked Hurricanes (once as high as No. 7) to surely tumble down the polls like a man falling down stairs.
Have the Canes been over-ranked?
Are they anything special or just pretty good?
A loss like this — when there was so much reason for UM to win — makes you wonder, especially with that early-season signature win over Florida seeming decidedly less impressive now that the Gators have slithered to a 4-5 record.
Stephen Morris threw 81- and 84-yard scoring passes for UM and just about nothing else went right in a game ESPN beamed to the nation.
Miami’s defense reverted to sorry shades of last season, allowing 549 total yards and making Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas look like he invented the forward pass. (Thanks in part to shoddy tackling that Golden called “egregious,” and to UM’s safeties playing almost comically deep).
The Canes’ special teams were as bad, speciously so, with two lost fumbles on kick returns and a muffed punt leading directly to three Hokies scores.
“Just inexcusable,” said Golden. “I’m embarrassed by it, to be honest with you.”
Offensively the Canes had zero balance in the injury absence of injured star runner Duke Johnson, managing a negligible 28 net yards on the ground.
Virginia Tech dominated time of possession, too, by almost 2-to-1.
Just a bad performance all-round by a team that knew it would assure itself a rematch with FSU in the ACC title-game by winning Saturday night and the rest of the way.
Miami in 10 years in the ACC has never played for the conference championship, earning that right last season but denied it by the self-imposed postseason ban related to the NCAA investigation.
Golden considers Frank Beamer — who has coached Tech since game stories were etched on stone tablets — to be a mentor. Recently, Beamer sent Golden a note lauding him and Miami for the way they handled that elongated, just concluded NCAA probe. The gesture moved Golden.
Beamer showed no such kindness Saturday night. His team was close to dominant.
The chance to get what was taken from them a year ago and the chance for revenge against the Seminoles — those two dangling prizes should have filled the Canes with such hunger and drive Saturday.
Instead, it was an unranked, supposedly offensively challenged Tech team that lost its previous two games to Duke and Boston College that was made to look like a national power.
And it was the near-top-10 Hurricanes who were made to look like interlopers who had somehow snuck into the polls and had just been found out.
When the game gone bad finally ended, the rain still falling, about the only fans left in the stands were the out-of-state visitors cheering for the wrong team.