MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- For three weeks, Miami has shown us what it can be in fits and starts, and that is why it is so hard to evaluate these Hurricanes after six games.
Their record says they are 6-0. The polls say they are No. 8 in the nation. Their stat sheet says they have won 11 straight going back to last season. For a program that has struggled with consistency over a decade, these are notable achievements.
But after yet another game that came down to the waning minutes, the question observers are asking is not whether Miami is back. They are asking Miami is for real. With a road game at struggling North Carolina (1-7) on Saturday, we might not have an answer until the first two weekends in November.
That is when the Hurricanes face No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 9 Notre Dame in consecutive home games that will have major ramifications on their ACC and College Football Playoff fate.
Until then, we are left to debate what we have seen from Miami to this point. The Hurricanes have beaten zero teams currently ranked and just one Power 5 team with a winning record (Georgia Tech). In that game, the Hurricanes got a fourth-and-10 conversion on a bobbled catch from Darrell Langham that coach Mark Richt called a miracle. That allowed Michael Badgley to kick the winning field goal with four seconds left.
Beating rival Florida State should have counted as a big win, but the Seminoles are having their worst season in decades. In that game, Miami needed a touchdown catch from Langham with six seconds left to complete an epic comeback and break a seven-game losing streak in the series.
This past weekend, Syracuse came to South Florida after stunning Clemson. In the first half, the Orange threw four interceptions and it appeared as if the rout would be on. Miami managed to turn those four interceptions into just 10 points, and allowed the Orange to stay in the game until the final minute.
Afterward, Richt was asked about the way his team has won games: without start-to-finish domination, but making just enough plays to win.
“We’re resilient,” Richt said. “We won’t quit or panic or feel like all is lost.” He also voiced frustration at so many missed opportunities against the Orange, when Miami dropped too many passes, was just 3-of-13 on third down and couldn’t find a way to slow down quarterback Eric Dungey in the second half.
There is plenty for Miami to fix, especially if it has designs on winning the Coastal Division. The last three games have said as much, when spectacular plays to win games have glossed over the issues the team needs to resolve. Miami still needs better tackling, better play on run defense and more consistency as an offense, especially on third down and with time of possession.
At the same time, there is something to be said for the resilience Miami has shown. According to ESPN Stats & Information, there is an 18 percent chance an average top 25 team would achieve the same record against the Hurricanes' schedule. That’s the same percentage as Alabama, for what it’s worth.
Miami has won three straight games by eight points or fewer, the first time that has happened since 2008. Last season, for example, the Hurricanes played in three games decided by a touchdown or less. They lost them all.
Quarterback Malik Rosier, who replaced Brad Kaaya as the starter this season, has shown an innate ability to stay calm and poised, no matter the score. After the 27-19 win over Syracuse, Rosier said, “The coaches do a good job of calming me down and talking to me, and saying, ‘Play the next snap.' I’ve taken on Coach Richt’s mentality of just -- if you fail the one play, you’ve still got two more plays. It’s not over with. Just keep playing the next play. That’s what we do, and all of us have been successful because of it.”
Every team takes on the personality of its head coach, so clearly Richt has made progress there from Year 1 to Year 2. Let’s not forget these players went through Hurricane Irma earlier this season, and were separated from each other for 10 days before resuming practice. In the immediate aftermath, players spoke about the adversity bonding them.
What also became more evident? Better leadership. When Miami gets into these close games where anything can happen, Rosier said it’s not necessarily burgeoning confidence that is helping them.
“I don’t want to say confidence,” Rosier said. “I feel like we have more leadership. I feel like a lot of guys are stepping up, playing a big role, leading. It’s been helping us out a lot.”
Helping out enough for Miami to be 6-0 despite its flaws -- and with all its goals in sight.