From the outside looking in, Miami might have surprised a few college football fans on Saturday with its gritty come-from-behind road win at Boston College.
Coach Al Golden had a different perspective.
“We dropped seven balls, had way more mental errors than I ever imagined we would, made too many mistakes in the game to exceed our expectations,” he said. “Our expectations are that we're going to be a smart, disciplined team. Nine penalties doesn't resemble that. But certainly in other areas we played the way that we want to play in terms of our brand.”
It certainly wasn’t a flawless performance, but it was an encouraging one nonetheless, considering 12 true freshmen saw playing time in a conference road opener and 14 players made their collegiate debuts. Golden is right, though -- the Canes will need to get better quickly if they are going to have a chance to upset No. 22-ranked Kansas State on the road on Saturday.
Golden called it a “Herculean challenge.”
“I think hopefully they're learning how to be steady,” Golden said of his young team. “That's the challenge. It's not a surprise to anybody that opening up at BC, then at Kansas State, is a tough challenge. So it's really important for us to control our emotions, not get too high [after] last week, understand what a challenge this is for our football team going out to Manhattan on Friday.”
Apparently they weren’t fazed by opening the season on the road against a league opponent. True freshman running back Duke Johnson scored his first career touchdown on a 54-yard run in the second quarter, and scored again on a 56-yard run in the third quarter. His 135 yards were the most by a Miami true freshman since Javarris James in 2006.
Johnson and offensive lineman Ereck Flowers each started the season opener, becoming the first true freshmen at Miami to start since quarterback Jacory Harris and receiver Aldarius Johnson started against Charleston Southern in the 2008 opener. Johnson and receiver Malcolm Lewis accounted for three of the Canes’ five touchdowns in their debuts.
Golden said there were more true freshmen in the game than he’d like to admit.
"Malcolm Lewis, his first play and he goes in and catches a ball for 11 yards on a sight adjust,” Golden said. “He was just relaxed. I think it's a tribute to the leadership of our team and unity on our team, and the upperclassmen embracing those guys. It wasn't really about -- this is where sometimes we get kind of lost -- the media is saying, 'he's playing all these young guys.' Really the young guys are completing the upperclassmen. The focus isn't on the young guys. They're helping us fill in the holes of the upperclassmen. They've done a great job leading, mentoring and embracing them, and I think that's what's allowing a lot of those guys to relax and go play. There's no angst, no animosity.”
And there was no quit in the Canes last weekend, either.
Miami was trailing 14-0 to an injury-laden Boston College team and allowed the Eagles 537 yards of total offense but managed to hang on for the 41-32 win. The pass defense was questionable at best, though, as Miami allowed the Eagles 441 passing yards.
"We are going to put in the game plan as the week goes along, and do what we need to do,” K-State senior quarterback Collin Klein told reporters at his news conference this week. “You are right, [Boston College] was successful, but [Miami] sees that too and are working on correcting things. We are just focusing on the game and getting ourselves better. We are trying to improve and come out with a win on Saturday."
Miami is looking for a more complete performance and a 2-0 start to the season for the first time since 2009.
“We'll see if our kids respond,” Golden said. “I think they responded last week. Now it's going to be ratcheted up a notch here in Manhattan.”