Now, the vultures are circling as surely as those “Fire Al Golden” banner planes.
The boos began as No. 6 Clemson scored its third touchdown late in the first quarter, a few minutes before University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was sent to the locker room with a concussion after being pummeled for the second time.
A few minutes later, fans began exiting Sun Life Stadium — just like UM’s season seemed to exit from any realm of hope.
Whatever could go wrong pretty much did on Saturday afternoon, when the Tigers humiliated the Canes 58-0 in the worst defeat in UM history.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“Got beat from top to bottom,’’ said Golden, UM’s embattled coach. “They outplayed us, they outcoached us. I just told the team it’s completely my responsibility for not getting them ready to play. They just beat us soundly in every facet of the game. Period.’’
After one quarter the score was 21-0.
At halftime the score was 42-0.
After three quarters it was 45-0.
Not star Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, not backup Clemson quarterback Nick Schuessler, but third-string freshman quarterback Kelly Bryant ran 59 yards to cap a four-play touchdown drive that made it 51-0 after the extra point failed with 11:48 left in the game.
Bryant capped the UM nightmare with a 10-yard run at 8:50.
Golden was asked if he was worried about his future at Miami.
“I am not, nope,’’ he said. “I’m just focused on coaching the team, going to work every day and doing the things we need to do to get ready for Duke.’’
Later, in a text message to the Miami Herald, UM athletic director Blake James, when asked about Golden’s coaching status and future, said this: “We are all disappointed with today’s outcome. Anyone who loves Miami is disappointed. But we have another game next week, and we need to make sure we continue to support our team.’’
Two weeks ago, James told the Herald he would wait until the end of the season to evaluate Golden and make any decisions. However, the significance of the loss could change that thinking.
Even though Golden’s contract runs through 2019, the buyout on that contract is not viewed as an impediment to firing him, according to multiple board of trustee members. In its annual report on NCAA coaching salaries, USA Today on Oct.10 listed Golden’s salary as $2,539,315 — 42nd of 128 FBS coaches listed.
It was UM’s first shutout loss since the 48-0 debacle against Virginia on Nov. 10, 2007 — the Hurricanes’ final game in the Orange Bowl.
Before Saturday, the worst margin of defeat for the Hurricanes was a 70-14 loss to Texas A&M on Dec. 8, 1944.
How much did the loss affect the most loyal of diehards?
Former Canes national champion Joaquin Gonzalez, who was honored during the game for being part of the upcoming 2016 UM Sports Hall of Fame class, posted this tweet aimed at Golden and James in the first quarter: “I’m done holding my tongue! This guy needs to leave South Florida…I will buy his plane ticket!!! Economy!!!’’
Other former UM players joined in. Former defensive tackle Warren Sapp, after Kaaya was sacked and left the game on the second play of the second quarter: “2-man Rush sack #MyLawd.’’
And former UM defensive end Allen Bailey tweeted a photo-shopped picture of Golden in a dumpster.
Golden was asked how his team could possibly block out the outside noise this week.
“We’ll see how mentally tough we are,’’ he said. “We’ll see how close we are. We’ve played one [Coastal] Division opponent. There’s a lot of football left in our division, and that’s where our focus needs to be.’’
Golden said right after the game he was “reflecting on some of the stats.’’
They included allowing 567 total yards — 416 of them rushing — and gaining a sickly 146.
The Canes rushed for 53 yards, an average of 1.8 yards per rush.
And after a week of being chastised and punished for an overwhelming amount of penalties, the Canes were flagged seven times for 88 yards.
Clemson’s Watson, who leads the ACC with 15 touchdown passes, completed 15 of 19 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown before he was replaced.
Kaaya, who came into the game with a league-leading 1,795 yards, completed 6 of 10 passes for 51 yards and an interception before he was injured.
Also injured: UM leading receiver Rashawn Scott in the fourth quarter, though Golden did not reveal the injury.
Kaaya’s backup, redshirt freshman Malik Rosier, completed 7 of 22 passes for 42 yards, with two interceptions. He was sacked twice.
Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC), which could end up back at Sun Life celebrating New Year’s Eve in the College Football Playoff semifinal, looked like a national contender.
UM (4-3, 1-2), which travels to Durham, North Carolina, next Saturday night to face Coastal Division opponent and 23rd-ranked Duke, looked broken.
“Yeah, it hurts a lot,’’ UM senior safety Deon Bush said. “Even though it looked bad on the scoreboard, we have got to bounce back.”
A reporter asked receiver Stacy Coley how he felt at that moment.
“Terrible,’’ Coley said. “We’ve got to deal with this feeling and get over it.’’
UM’s biggest losses ever: