Miami entered its bye week off a big win over Cincinnati, but that victory has not done much to quell the questions surrounding the program.
At this point, a nonconference win against a mediocre opponent is not going to present many answers to the bigger picture -- trying to get into the ACC championship game. Miami sits 1-2 in conference play, and that slow start has given critics a reason to start hollering about coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.
We are not just talking about fans. Prominent alumni have joined the growing chorus wondering whether Golden and D’Onofrio are doing enough to coach up their players. Phillip Buchanon, Joaquin Gonzalez and Brett Romberg, who all played on the 2001 national championship team, have voiced their frustrations, either on the radio or social media.
Their comments show the growing disconnect between the program's most passionate supporters and Golden, who has come under fire on multiple fronts -- from his defense of D’Onofrio to his coaching decisions to his record in big games.
There is little doubt, then, that the Thursday night game at Virginia Tech next week is a must-win, not only to tamp down the outrage but also to climb back into the division race. Miami sits 1½ games behind Virginia, but in the topsy-turvy Coastal, no lead is safe.
Having said that, the Canes cannot afford to drop a third league game -- not with back-to-back games looming in November against Florida State and Virginia.
Playing in Virginia has not exactly brought a tidal wave of good feeling. The last time Miami won in Blacksburg was 2005; in Virginia it was 2008. So you can see why the pressure is on the preseason Coastal favorite to hit the road and actually win -- something the Canes have yet to do this season.
Miami has dropped its first three road games, the first time that has happened since 1995. The reasons have varied. In the opener against Louisville, the offense was a shell of itself as Miami started true freshman Brad Kaaya. Against Nebraska and Georgia Tech, the Canes could not slow down the run -- particularly maddening because the defense seemed out of position and improperly aligned on multiple occasions.
But there were two similar threads in all three losses, issues that have plagued Miami in all its games this season. In the three road losses, Miami turned the ball over eight times and converted just 6 of 28 third-down opportunities.
“We’ve been prepared,” Golden said Wednesday on the ACC coaches' call. “At Lincoln, we go down and move the ball and score, and at Georgia Tech, we do the same thing. There’s a lot of little details about why we didn’t win those games, but it wasn’t for the fact of being on the road. We didn’t have many procedural penalties in either of those two games or anything that would indicate there’s an issue.
“[Virginia Tech’s] a great challenge for us. Our guys are going to be excited about going into that environment. They know what it entails and what you have to do to win. It’s not going to change our preparation. We know the environment we’re going into and the type of team we’re going to play.”
Miami has not done much better holding on to the ball and converting on third down at home, where the Canes have played only one Power 5 team in four games. No surprise, then, that Miami ranks No. 13 in turnover margin and No. 14 in third-down conversions in the ACC.
Couple those offensive issues with an inconsistent defense that still has problems with its front seven and it is easy to see why Miami is 4-3.
“There’s a lot of things we need to improve and a lot of things we’re working on,” Golden said. “There’s a lot of positives, but our focus this week is to eliminate the issues and things that are holding us back.”
While the NCAA investigation into the program concluded last year, the Hurricanes are still trying to get out from under its cloud. That is a valid point to be made in defense of Golden, though fans and alums are tired of hearing excuses.
They are desperate for Miami to be a winner again. The longer it takes, the more vocal the critics will get.