It would be pointless to say that it’s imperative for Al Golden to win Saturday night at Florida State. This is his season on the brink.
The University of Miami football coach is in such deep straits that the game is couched in terms of a must-win for him, personally. He’s acquired the adjectives “embattled” and “beleaguered.”
UM is 3-1 but everyone acts like UM is really 0-2 and crashing after the breakdown at Cincinnati, the near-debacle against Nebraska and two negligible wins against FAU and Bethune-Cookman.
Golden is dragging the same weight Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was dragging before he was fired Monday — the weight of distrust. Fans and boosters have lost faith.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
So the annual rivalry showdown against Florida State takes on a sense of desperation. If UM loses it will be the sixth time in a row FSU has vanquished the program that used to be its nemesis.
UM’s seniors will leave without beating the Seminoles, Golden will fall to 0-5.
But if UM wins in Tallahassee, which is not out of the question given FSU’s stumbles against the Hurricanes in the past, Golden could instantly turn around the season and shore up his credibility. He would finally have the signature victory he has lacked during a tenure when he’s 0-12 against opponents who finished in the AP Top 25.
Can an upset of No. 12 FSU save Golden’s job? It’s difficult to work with a guillotine hanging over your head. He’s still got a grueling slate of Atlantic Coast Conference games, and he knows it.
UM needs to get to the ACC Championship Game, especially after the 6-7 regression of 2014.
“These are all one-game seasons now,” Golden said. “We have so much respect for the teams who can do it week in and week out.
“That’s what we’re trying to teach. The mental part of the game is a big part.”
UM fans cannot abide a team playing below its potential. Philbin had the same problem with the Dolphins.
“Execute” has been a popular word at UM practices. The implication is that game plans aren’t necessarily flawed, but they are not being carried out.
But that reasoning is hard to swallow. Like the Dolphins, UM has looked ill-prepared, slow to adjust, mistake-prone, deficient at tackling, vulnerable to or unable to summon the big play and impotent in the red zone.
The parallels don’t end there. Like the Dolphins, the Hurricanes seem to have adopted the personality of their coach. Although Golden is not nearly as phlegmatic and monotonic as Philbin, he’s no Rex Ryan or Jimbo Fisher.
UM has lacked ferocity during the Golden era. They could use some of that enforcer mentality from the days of “It’s a Cane Thing.” Maybe it’s time to bring the fatigues out of mothballs.
As of the conclusion of Wednesday’s practice, the coaches had decided not to bombard players with crowd noise and deafening tomahawk chop chants in a rehearsal of the prime-time conditions at Doak Campbell Stadium. Instead, they seemed to be taking a zen approach.
“This game sells itself,” Golden said.
Said quarterback Brad Kaaya when describing the team’s emotions: “Not so much overzealous, over-prideful energy but focus.”
Yes, the Hurricanes need to concentrate better, but it wouldn’t hurt if they went a little berserk.
Last year, UM built a 23-7 lead then switched to preservation mode and lost the game when Dalvin Cook scored on a 26-yard run with 3:05 left. UM then lost its remaining three games.
“It’s so easy to sweep it into a corner and say we didn’t recover,” Golden said.
But, honestly, how else can UM’s 2014 collapse be viewed? That is the “mental part of the game” he has not been able to impart to his players.
Like the Dolphins, the Hurricanes have been surpassed by conference rivals. As new coach Dan Campbell admitted, the Dolphins are missing a fighting attitude, the basic resilience any type of winner possesses.
time to execute
UM’s awful 13-for-53 conversion rate on third downs — next to last in the nation — is a tangible measure of what has gone wrong.
UM’s greatest asset — Kaaya — is too often stuck in untenable situations. Golden has analyzed the film, the schemes, the personnel matchups and dispassionately vows to fix the flaws.
But he’s not a mechanic. He’s a coach. Beyond the X’s and O’s, he and his players must find the tenacity it takes to win a big one.
Linebacker Raphael Kirby was more emphatic.
“It’s my last shot at beating FSU,” he said. “I came here to beat them.”