Greg Cote

Greg Cote: For UM coach Al Golden, beating Virginia Tech is fine, but it isn’t FSU or Clemson

Hurricanes coach Al Golden directs traffic during the second quarter of Saturday’s victory against Virginia Tech at Sun Life Stadium.
Hurricanes coach Al Golden directs traffic during the second quarter of Saturday’s victory against Virginia Tech at Sun Life Stadium. adiaz@miamiherald.com

There had been the typical pregame flyovers again here Saturday, only, this time the usual small planes pulling the patriotically treasonous anti-Al Golden banners were countered by other planes pulling pro-Golden banners — a clear escalation of war between the world’s two smallest, saddest air forces.

Some were circling like buzzards do, looking for something dead or dying below. Others were circling in a show of faith: rescue planes.

There were no midair mishaps seen, other than that one snarky anti-Golden banner being obliterated in a blindside hit by a flame-throwing pro-Golden drone. (OK, I made that up. Or I may have dreamed it.)

Meanwhile, the University of Miami’s embattled football coach remains down below on a sideline but metaphorically in a rowboat, by himself, bailing water.

Saturday’s extremely necessary Hurricanes victory — 30-20 over visiting Virginia Tech — didn’t repair the leak for Golden. It only slowed it. It only makes the bailing a little easier for a little while.

Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro recaps UM's 30-20 win against Virginia Tech at Sun Life Stadium.

Easier than it was last week, for example, when a loss at Florida State left Golden 0-5 at Miami against UM’s biggest rival.

And easier than it will be next weekend, for another example, unless Golden can find a way to beat No. 5 Clemson in what would be the coach’s elusive “signature” win and finally begin to quell his critics (maybe).

UM is 4-2 now, and square at 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where somehow winning the Coastal Division to reach the ACC title might be the one Golden ticket, his get-out-of-jail-free card in terms of this coach saving his job.

Saturday’s triumph was big and important and good enough, but it was not a domination or thoroughly impressive. That made it the perfect result for the South Florida Association of People Who Rent Small Planes — a result that both restores some faith in Golden but leaves the doubts hanging, depending on one’s point of view.

The Golden haters are denying themselves the simple joys of being a fan if they can’t let themselves feel good about a conference win because a home loss would have raised the water level in Golden’s boat and made the bailing harder.

Back in the day, fans rooted for teams and seasons, not against coaches.

Now, though, in this climate, beating FSU or Clemson matters in a way that a perfunctory win over the average Hokies does not, except that every game is precious when there are only 12. The game at Cincinnati had nobody’s attention until Miami lost it, right?

There was much to like about Saturday’s game that drew 50,787 fans.

Mainly quarterback Brad Kaaya, who passed for 296 yards and was at his best when he had to be, when the leads grew small and the result seemed in doubt.

“Made some big throws when we needed it,” as Golden put it afterward. “Obviously, Brad’s stepping up his game right now.”

UM quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for 296 yards and two touchdownss in the Canes' 30-20 win over the Hokies at Sun Life Stadium on Oct. 17, 2015.

And mainly the defense, too, with its four takeaways Saturday, including two interceptions by Artie Burns. Miami had no turnovers in the game and is now an ACC-leading plus-13 this season on turnovers/takeaways.

“We’re protecting the ball,” Golden noted. “We’re developing a culture of that.”

Issues remain, of course, and these tend to be why UM falls short against better opponents.

The Canes still are woeful in the red zone, at making the most of opportunities. Four field goals Saturday were evidence, including one after UM had first-and-goal at the 2 and somehow failed to reach the end zone.

Stuff like that might not hurt you against Virginia Tech; but it’s probably a killer against the Noles or Clemson next week.

Penalties also continue to bedevil the Hurricanes, including but not limited to an unsportsmanlike-conduct call against Rashawn Scott after his late touchdown catch.

Golden, not happy, huddled his team captains after the game and admonished them to take charge of disciplining themselves when it comes to “control” penalties such as that last one.

“They’ve got to own it, because right now it’s sloppy,” the coach said. “To get an unsportsmanlike-conduct after a touchdown is a poor reflection on our team and on me, and we’ve got to get it right.”

It’s interesting right now, the dynamic of being a Hurricanes football fan and the emotions pulling in opposite directions for some. The conflict is why you see those competing little air forces pulling those banners of vitriol and support.

Hurricanes fans on either side of those banners need to decide whether next Saturday they’ll be rooting for Miami to score a huge upset over Clemson, or whether their obsession with getting rid of Golden will weigh more and make them decide a loss serves the greater good.

If that decision isn’t easy for you — if your starting point is not wanting your team to succeed — you might not be the kind of fan the Hurricanes want, or need.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote

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