Three weeks ago, University of Miami athletic director Blake James stood behind a lectern and publicly reaffirmed his confidence in already embattled first-year football coach Manny Diaz.
On Saturday, after Miami’s third consecutive victory, senior linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney stood behind a lectern and spoke about their vision of UM’s future, including “playoff talks’’ and longing to be part of “the new 30 for 30 The U Part 3’’ — if director Billy Corben should ever make it happen.
Running back DeeJay Dallas stood behind that lectern and asserted he was ready to “go bowling.’’
The “bowling’’ part will, indeed, happen, as the Canes became bowl eligible Saturday for the 43rd time since Miami’s inaugural season in 1926, and will learn their destination in early December. Fans of the Hurricanes (6-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) will have to practice some patience for the rest, but there’s no doubt the Canes are trending in the right direction.
Since quarterback Jarren Williams replaced N’Kosi Perry midway through the fourth quarter to lead the Canes back in the final, game-winning drive at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, Miami’s offense has exploded and the Canes resemble UM throwbacks. Explosive plays, short drives, artful catches, powerful runs, improved blocking.
Williams is 40 of 67 (59.7 percent) for 616 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions since the Pittsburgh game. His numbers for the season, including his school record-breaking and ACC record-tying six touchdown passes in Saturday’s 52-27 victory over Louisville: 130 of 194 (67 percent) for 1,702 yards and 16 touchdowns, with his three interceptions that came in the first quarter of an Oct. 5 loss to Virginia Tech.
“Fifteen completions for six touchdowns, that’s an unbelievable ratio there,’’ Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said of Williams’ performance Saturday (15 of 22 for 253 yard and the touchdowns).
The defense, despite seemingly being caught off guard more than once Saturday, continues to smother with tackles for loss (14), sacks (three) and takeaways (two). The Canes now rank second nationally in total tackles for loss (90), fourth in sacks (37) and 18th in total defense (310.7 yards allowed per game).
And special teams gets more impressive by the week. UM, at least for now, has found a kicker in Camden Price, who hit all seven extra points Saturday and his one field goal attempt of 24 yards. Senior Jimmy Murphy donned the turnover chain for the first time when he recovered a fumble on a muffed punt, Lou Hedley is 12th nationally in punting (45.6-yard average) and senior K.J. Osborn returned a punt 38 yards Saturday to set up a 14-yard touchdown completion to Dallas on the next play.
The best part is that the players get it,’’ Diaz said. “It’s their accountability. It’s their connections to one another. It’s in the little things. As a coach, you want to believe there are little things that happen and you say, ‘Why didn’t you do those things in August?’ But it’s like parenting a child. ...At some point they have to learn and mature. We have a very young football team. We have some young guys that are maturing and starting to get it and recognizing what wins.’’
Dallas again pointed to the player-led meeting before the Pitt game.
“It just came down to who wants to be here,’’ Dallas said. “We had to keep the standard the standard and that’s what it was. Our guys, our seniors and leaders came together and we just said, ‘There’s a standard here and we’re not going to wane for anybody.’’’
After the game, when asked if he felt like “this is finally it and you guys have turned the corner,’’ Quarterman said he didn’t “want to put a label on it, put a ‘new’ whatever.
“I just like the fact that we show up, or we’ve been showing up as a team to play for the last couple of weeks. When we do what we’re supposed to do, we always end up victorious. ...But I’m definitely on the positive about where this program is going to go. Diaz is the guy for the job and he built a staff [that] never lied to us.
“It has always been whether we buy in or not. When we buy in we do special things. So, moving forward, I think definitely, the Hurricanes are going to be a threat.’’
Said Pinckney: “I feel like my job was to not only come back to better myself but to better the program. It’s probably not going to be now, but eventually they’re going to be in the playoff talks, man, and I’m going to be right here being happy because I know I had a part in it.’’
As for Quarterman’s hope for the next 30 for 30 “The U” documentary, the Miami-based director of the existing two, Billy Corben, told the Miami Herald on Sunday afternoon, “We should live so long. I’m seriously hoping it will happen, but you need the benefit of that perspective and hindsight.
“National championship, plus 10 years, that’s what we need.”