CHICAGO – Phillip Dorsett knew the ball was going to him when Miami trotted onto the field to start its game against Notre Dame on Saturday night.
Quarterback Stephen Morris saw something in the Irish defense during film study early in the week he thought his team could exploit. He went to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and said point blank, “Yo, I think we should run this play right here. I don't think they'll be able to stop it.’”
That play call was an aggressive one to start the game.
Go deep to Mr. Reliable.
So Miami practiced the play all week. Felt good about it all week. Dorsett was ready for it. When the ball was snapped, he went deep. And the play unfolded the way Miami thought it would -- Dorsett got behind the defense and was wide open. Morris delivered the ball beautifully.
Behind him, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o silently thought, “Please don’t catch the ball.”
Dorsett dropped the ball.
Four plays later, Morris went back to Dorsett, in the corner of the end zone.
Dorsett dropped the ball.
Miami put together what appeared to be a perfect game plan. The Hurricanes caught Notre Dame flat-footed on that opening drive, with some pretty aggressive play calling. Miami clearly wanted to make a statement -- the Hurricanes were ready to take it to the Irish.
That, in the end, was not only the story of their dismal 41-3 loss to No. 9 Notre Dame on Saturday. It was the story of their dismal loss in Kansas State. In its two national spotlight games, against teams ranked in the top 25, Miami dropped the ball.
Afterward, the Miami locker room was virtually silent. Linebacker Denzel Perryman said this lost hurt worse than Kansas State.
“We prepared very well for this game,” Perryman said. “This game -- we took this one personal. We just lacked communication, lacked execution.”
That is not what you want to hear in Week 6. We were told going into this game Miami would be better prepared to handle a highly ranked team, on the road. The Hurricanes had grown up in their two come-from-behind wins. They could do this.
Clearly coach Al Golden was convinced his team could, and would, be better than they were in Manhattan, Kan.
“I thought we were ready to go, and I was as surprised as anybody that we had lost our poise a little bit in the early going,” he said.
A week earlier against NC State, Dorsett had seven catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns -- including the game-winning 62-yard score with 32 seconds left. Saturday, his two drops sent Miami spinning.
“I was in disbelief,” Dorsett said. “Obviously, that doesn't happen much to me. I got a little too excited, the ball got caught in the lights. I couldn't see it. I'm not a person to make excuses. I've got to come up with those.”
Blaming the loss on what happened on that opening series is not fair to Dorsett. There were plenty of other mistakes and missed opportunities that followed. Miami forced a punt on Notre Dame’s first possession, only to give the Irish a fresh set of downs on a roughing-the-kicker call.
Two plays later, Eddie Johnson got a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds. Notre Dame ended up scoring on the drive. Late in the second quarter, Miami started a drive at the Notre Dame 35, with a chance to close a 13-3 deficit.
Then came the dreadful third quarter, one Notre Dame dominated on the ground. The Irish pounded and pounded and Miami simply could not get a stop. The Irish scored 21 points in that quarter, as they held the ball for 11:24. They ran 21 plays and racked up 197 yards on the ground.
Miami? On three drives, it ran six plays and got two first downs.
“It was really lopsided in terms of them having the ball,” Morris said. “We didn't have much opportunities, and the times we did have opportunities, we were on the field and we were off. We can't win games like that.”
In its two games against ranked opponents, Miami was outscored 93-16. The Hurricanes gave up a combined 1,085 yards of total offense and mustered 562 of their own, with one total touchdown.
Miami had two opportunities to make a statement, and failed both times.
Golden has a young team, with young starters who are getting used to playing in atmospheres as big as the one Saturday night. That is completely understandable. But there has to be a point where we should expect Miami to be competitive in these games, and not completely and overwhelmingly overmatched.
Would the game have turned out differently had Dorsett made one of those catches on the opening drive? We will never know. But it is probably safe to say the confidence would have been higher than it was for the remainder of the game.
When Miami trailed against Georgia Tech and NC State, you never truly got the sense the players felt they were out of it. Miami could hang with them.
But Miami could not hang with Notre Dame, and did itself no favors with all its mistakes.
In the end, this game was just another squandered opportunity.