It doesn't take an NCAA investigator to figure out what Hurricanes coach Al Golden is most thankful for this year.
“... I'm really grateful to take this team past this week and really dig in with them and be able to go to a bowl game and experience all those things," said Golden, who on Monday also said he’s thankful to the 27 seniors for helping lead UM "through the wilderness" of a 28-month NCAA probe and vacated trips to the 2012 ACC championship game and two bowl games.
"I can keep going, but that's enough for today."
The Hurricanes (8-3, 4-3 ACC) close out their regular season Friday afternoon at chilly Pittsburgh (6-5, 3-4 ACC) a day after they'll eat Thanksgiving dinner together inside of a hotel. While there is still an outside chance the Canes could win the Coastal Division and play Florida State for the conference title, most of Miami's players are just thankful the season won't be over on Friday.
"I'm just thankful for the relationships I've made here," said senior Brandon Linder, who will make his team-leading 41st start along the offensive line Friday. "Last week was a big one at home for me. I kind of got emotional. I really do love these guys, especially the offensive line. I'm thankful for them."
MISSING Home cooking
Being on the road Thursday, the Hurricanes won't be able to eat some of their Thanksgiving favorites.
"I'm going to miss the fried squirrel," Linder said. "I'm kidding. We do the traditional turkey. We may change it up and fry it this year. We got some stone crabs for this year, too."
Freshman defensive end Quan Muhammad loves turkey, but it's his family's banana pudding he'll miss most.
Senior defensive tackle Curtis Porter said: "A lot of people probably aren't familiar with it, but I love chitlins [hog intestines]. My grandma and my mom are really good at making them [on Thanksgiving]. My mom also likes to make these sweet potato pies and it will knock you off your feet."
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said Miami's tackling effort against Virginia Saturday was the best performance of the season for his unit. He said they graded out at 93 percent after grading out at 79 and 78 percent in the losses to Virginia Tech and Duke.
"We're still a work in progress, fighting for consistency," D'Onofrio said. "They obviously ran for more yards than we wanted to. But at the end of the day we played almost 99 plays. You're going to have yards."
Virginia tallied 483 yards against UM, but 147 of those came on the final three drives of the game with UM already up 38-20 and playing a lot of prevent defense.
"The last three series we were playing soft the whole time," D'Onofrio said. "It's my job not to give up a bomb at that point and let them back in the game. We were getting there, hitting the quarterback, hitting him with a four-man rush and trying not to give up something deep. The snuck some runs in there, did some things. But you can't sit here and worry about the yards. You got to worry about the game.”
D'Onofrio said he thought Luther Robinson, Curtis Porter, Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre "were stout" along Miami's defensive line.
Offense needs work
Offensive coordinator James Coley, whose unit produced only 304 yards (third fewest this season), said the Hurricanes left a lot of plays out on the field against the Cavaliers.
Miami has struggled on third down over their last four games, going a combined 17 of 52 (32.6 percent). UM's third-down conversion percentage this season (37.6) is slightly down from a year ago (39.4).
"It's been a tough deal the last couple weeks," Coley said. "We just got to execute. We got to do a better job. It starts with me. I got to do a better job coaching."