Amid the gloom following the University of Miami’s ugly 17-12 home victory Saturday against Central Michigan (a mid-major team that finished 1-11 in 2018), there is reason for optimism.
The rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference, except, of course, for defending national champion Clemson, is not exactly sterling.
“With a bye week comes time to heal, as well as time to really get into our next opponent,’’ said linebacker Shaq Quarterman, whose career-high 14 tackles (and two tackles for loss) Saturday led all players. “The fact that our next opponent is [in] ACC play, you’ve got to take advantage of it. So, with the one we have coming up... we have to put in the work.’’
The Coastal Division’s Hurricanes (2-2, 0-1 ACC), who face ACC opponents in the next seven of eight regular-season games, are a microcosm of their league.
Only the Atantic Division’s Clemson and Coastal’s Virginia are undefeated overall and in league play. And Virginia (4-0, 2-0), which meets UM on Oct. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium for a Friday-night game, had to score 14 points Saturday in the final quarter to defeat Conference USA’s Old Dominion (1-2 overall).
Wake Forest, in the Atlantic, is 4-0 overall with victories over Utah State, Rice, North Carolina (which defeated Miami) and Elon, but has yet to enter ACC play. Wake’s win over UNC didn’t count in the ACC standings because the two teams wanted to continue a long-time rivalry and were given permission by the league to count it as a non-conference game.’
Then there’s the Clemson Tigers (4-0, 2-0), who will be nearly impossible to knock off not only during the rest of the regular season, but in their expected appearance in the ACC Championship on Dec. 7 in Charlotte.
The Canes have a week off before playing Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1) on Oct. 5 at Hard Rock Stadium. The Hokies (2-1, 0-1), who were off Saturday, also are a shell of their once former selves. Virginia Tech had to score 21 second-half points, including a touchdown with 5:04 left in the game, to defeat FCS Furman on Sept. 14 in Blacksburg.
Miami’s loss to UNC means it has to hope the Tar Heels (2-2, 1-0) lose a couple games in the coming weeks, not nearly unfathomable with the way this season has been going.
“I think what you’re seeing is a team that is learning how to win football games, that is understanding the structure from the first quarter to the fourth quarter— offense, defense and special teams — in terms of how we win a game,’’ said UM coach Manny Diaz after Saturday’s victory.
“What we found out today are things that you can do that help you lose, that can get you beat. Obviously, you can’t talk about it without going right to the penalties,’’ Diaz said of UM’s 13 penalties for 93 yards, four of the flags thrown during the Chippewas’ final scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. “Those things can deny an otherwise great effort defensively. You look at what their total yards were, even at halftime, but we were never off the field because of our penalties.
After Saturday’s game, UM is now ranked 128 of 130 FBS teams in fewest penalties, with 39, and in fewest penalty yards, with 313. Winless Rice (0-4), the team with the least penalty yards, has 42 total.
“Those were things that were getting in the way. Hitting a guy after a play and things that are very out of character for us and will be addressed in practice. That all matters. What the team is learning as we try to rebrand and as we are trying to find out how to win football games, is that all those little selfish type plays ultimately hurt the whole football team.”
Canes tight end Brevin Jordan, who led UM with three catches for 70 yards, tried to stay positive when addressing the media after the game on everything from run-blocking (Miami had 51 yards rushing) to UM’s conversion of only 1 of 10 third-down attempts.
“We didn’t plan for the first and second half to go... We were just trying to score and it happened to turn out the way it did. We didn’t play the best performance on offense. We were just really hurting ourselves, I think that was the main thing. MIssing blocks or not getting to blocks. We’ve just got to execute better.
“...Just clean it up. Know your assignments. When you’re not playing clean you can see it. I know the whole stadium saw it. Once we clean up the little things we’re going to be a pretty damned good offense.”
Jordan was asked if the bye week comes at a good time.
“I mean, I want to play next week,’’ he said. “We play Virginia Tech and we’re trying to get active. But a bye week will be good for us. ...We’re going to go into this bye week, we’re going to try to perfect our craft and we’re going to try to beat Virginia Tech.’’