Rarely in the recent past have the Miami Hurricanes needed an extra week to prepare for the bulk of their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule like they need one now.
Whether the next two weeks prove beneficial is anyone’s guess. After squeaking out an ugly 17-12 victory Saturday against Central Michigan, the Canes will likely be doing some intense reflection.
“Obviously our fourth game of the season [and] tonight was our second win,’’ UM coach Manny Diaz said. “But probably our fourth-best performance of the four that we’ve had so far. But all that being said, the only thing we could accomplish today was beat Central Michigan.
“...There are a hundred things that we have to fix, but I’d rather fix them after a win than after a loss.’’
The Hurricanes (2-2, 0-1 ACC) wanted to start out fast after the previous week’s slow first quarter against FCS Bethune-Cookman. And they did. But in the process, the Canes likely fooled their fans into believing they were on their way to witnessing a rout.
Instead, the announced 49,997 fans, whose initial scattered boos at Hard Rock Stadium grew increasingly louder and more frequent, witnessed a steady demise after Miami jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
On fourth-and-1 at 8:32 of the opening quarter, tailback DeeJay Dallas scored his fifth rushing touchown of the season to make it 7-0 Canes. It was the first time this season that UM scored a touchdown on an opening drive.
But, besides that and three UM takeaways, there wasn’t much to celebrate.
How concerning was UM’s performance?
Miami gained 301 total yards of offense, including only 51 rushing yards, and converted one of 10 third-down opportunities.
Defensively, the Canes allowed 248 yards, only 31 of them rushing, but were flagged with four penalties on the Chippewas’ final scoring drive.
Jarren Williams, who finished 17 of 24 for 250 yards and a touchdown, was sacked four times by mid-major Central Michigan (2-2, 1-0 Mid-American), which finished 1-11 in 2018. The sacks included one that resulted in a safety and another leading to a CMU fumble recovery.
“We’re happy with the win, but we know we have to get better,’’ Williams said. “We’re going to learn from this.’’
At times, even when Miami seemed to escape a bad situation, it wound up right back in one.
Case in point: The Canes were fortunate after a safety that would have given Central Michigan two points was reviewed by officials and deemed an incomplete pass by Williams. But not that fortunate. Two plays later, on third-and-12 from the UM 5, Williams was, indeed, sacked in the end zone by CMU’s Jacques Bristol. UM’s lead was narrowed to 7-2 at 11:06 of the second quarter.
UM entered the game ranked 117th of 130 FBS teams in the “fewest penalties’’ category and 114th in “fewest penalty yards.” The Canes amassed 93 penalty yards on 13 penalties, two of which extended drives, including defensive end Jonathan Garvins’ second-quarter hands to face call.
“The most disconcerting thing, of course, is all the penalties,’’ Diaz said. “It wasn’t just the number of penalties, which is absurd and unacceptable, but it was the timing of the penalties and what that caused, when you talk about our offensive performance. Our defense could not or would not get off the field in the first half due to penalties, either on third downs or on downs that were going to be third downs.”
Added tight end Brevin Jordan: “We have to clean it up. ...The whole stadium saw it.’’
Garvin ultimately redeemed himself on that drive with a punishing hit that sacked Moore and caused him to fumble. Defensive tackle Pat Bethel recovered the fumble and earned the turnover chain with 6:22 left in the first half. (The other takeaways: Greg Rousseau strip/sack/fumble recovery and Al Blades interception.)
Then, more UM follies.
After Williams rushed 11 yards for a first down on third-and-eight, UM went backwards, first losing two yards on a Dallas run and then losing another five on a fumble by Williams, who recovered the ball. Two plays later, with UM fans already booing, UM’s Australian punter Louis Hedley somehow stayed calm after an errant snap. He recovered the snap, ran right and boomed a beautiful punt to the CMU 3-yard line. Officials called illegal formation, and Hedley’s do-over punt was blocked by the Chippewas.
Miami’s next second-quarter drive ended with Williams strip-sacked by Sean Adesanya. Chippewa Jacques Bristol recovered, but CMU also couldn’t score.
Amid boos, the Canes went into the locker room ahead by a paltry 7-2.
Miami began its march toward second-half points to open the third quarter, as an eight-play, 75-yard drive culminated in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Williams to K.J. Osborn at 10:45, giving the Canes a 14-2 lead.
Ryan Tice’s 55-yard field goal with 1:27 left in the third quarter made it 14-5.
UM’s struggling kicker Bubba Baxa missed a fourth-quarter 27-yard field-goal attempt, but CMU was flagged for running into him, and he made the 22-yarder, drawing cheers as the Canes increased their lead to 17-5.
CMU quarterback David Moore rushed for a 1-yard touchdown with 3:16 left in the game for what would be the 17-12 eventual finale.
After their bye week, the Canes return to Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 5, when they face Virginia Tech to open their ACC schedule. The game will be the third of their five-game homestand, their longest single-season homestand since 1987.