Miami must refocus on ACC play

Lost in the doom and gloom of another miserable nonconference loss for the Miami Hurricanes? They still have a very real shot at winning the ACC Coastal and playing for a conference championship.

That is about the only positive to take away from a tough weekend in Chicago. And in the end, that is bigger in the grand scheme of the season than the way the Canes failed to compete against Kansas State and Notre Dame.

Forget about being outscored 93-16 in those games. Miami must focus on this critical ACC stretch to come, starting Saturday at home against North Carolina.

“We're just going to put this behind us,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said after the loss to the Irish. “We've got a big stretch of ACC games. We have to put this behind us and move forward.”

When asked how, Perryman said, “The game’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it. Just put it behind us.”

One look at the Coastal shows Miami is in a good spot. The Hurricanes are in first place with Duke -- the only two teams in the division undefeated in ACC play. North Carolina looked terrific in a win over Virginia Tech and is going to cause major problems for a Miami defense that has not stopped one FBS team this season. But the Tar Heels are ineligible for postseason play.

Behind Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia Tech all have major problems to address. The Hurricanes already have a win over the Jackets, so at least there is an edge there.

Still, a look on the bright side is also accompanied by a stark reality. Miami has won its three ACC games in shootout style. Its defense is a mess. Perryman lamented a continuing lack of execution after the loss to the Irish. He was asked why that problem persists now that half the season is over, and he gave a remarkably candid answer, calling out teammates for having “brain farts” on the field.

“I don't know. I don't know what's going on in their head mentally,” Perryman said. “All it comes down to -- just guys doing their job.”

Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has taken his share of heat for the poor defensive performance this season, but he is working with a group that is extremely young, raw and not as talented as Hurricane defenses of the past. There is only so much you can do when your players are unable to execute, tackle properly or take the wrong angles in pursuit.

Coach Al Golden knows he has a young group, and cannot afford to be overly critical. He doesn’t want to lose his players, not with so much still at stake.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to grow up some day, and that’s a tough task,” Golden said. “We are not going to get negative. We are not going to go that route. There’s too many kids in that room that have bright futures and that really played hard. We just didn’t play well enough.”

We have seen this offense play well enough to win ACC games, in spite of its porous defense. It was disappointing to see a group that racked up 1,260 yards of offense in two games, muster just a field goal against Notre Dame. There were no quick touchdown strikes, no breakaway runs. In fact, Miami’s longest run of the day belonged to Eduardo Clements, who ran 17 yards on the second-to-last play of the game.

Duke Johnson had 11 touches on offense, for 60 yards. Stephen Morris was held to 201 yards passing. Miami was hamstrung by its own mistakes, including a litany of dropped passes -- two on the opening drive by Phillip Dorsett. Miami also had a touchdown called back on a holding call, missed a field goal and only converted four of 12 third-down attempts.

Compounding the problem was an inability to sustain drives, and the defense’s failure to stop Notre Dame. Miami had the ball for 20:52 -- and only 3:36 in the decisive third quarter.

Perhaps more than any other player on the roster, Dorsett has to find a way to put Saturday behind him. His two drops on the first series were tough to watch, and even tougher to live through. “I was already humble, but this humbles you even more,” he said afterward, a young player big enough to face the tough questions after a disappointing performance.

Dorsett showed an inordinate amount of maturity after the loss. It was a teachable moment for an impressionable bunch, one that has to be put aside the way the loss at Kansas State was pushed away. Miami reeled off three straight wins after that defeat. The Hurricanes can only hope another winning streak like that follows.

If it does, Miami could very well end up with a division championship.