At 4-4 and 2-3 in the ACC, Miami could easily be considered mediocre, the victim of unrealistic preseason expectations for a program that struggled with many harsh realities.
But the road the Hurricanes took to this average record was anything but mundane, with countless swings and swoons along the way.
The new week breeds new hope.
Against Duke (3-5, 1-3 ACC), currently the only team behind the Hurricanes in the Coastal Division, there again exists an opportunity for Miami to get back on track for the remaining few games this season.
In every major team statistical category, the Blue Devils rank in the bottom third of the ACC.
The one area in which Duke has shown productivity is through the air, where junior quarterback Sean Renfree ranks third in passing yards per game, even though he’s thrown just six touchdowns.
“There’s so many catch-and-run plays with Duke, and Renfree does a great job of making the ball catchable, so there is a lot of yards after catch,” head coach Al Golden said. “I think that is a credit to Coach Cutcliffe. They get the ball out quickly, which also puts you in a bind. Are you going to rush four and only have seven in coverage?”
That question – what this defense must do to improve against the pass – has yet to be answered this season. Even with the addition of Ray-Ray Armstrong, whose production has not truly reflected his talent or ability, Miami has allowed offenses an average of 207 yards in the air per game.
The Canes are also third-to-last in rush defense in the ACC, leaving serious holes that one strong player or scheme could not possibly fill. That being said, linebacker Sean Spence has given it his best shot.
While Miami stands in the middle of the pack in terms of yards surrendered through the air, they have intercepted the ball less than every other ACC team – just four times all season.
“[McGee] needs to challenge the guy a little more and trust his technique, his talent,” Golden said of starting cornerback Brandon McGee. “He made a physical play against Georgia Tech and didn’t quite return. I’d like to see him make that physical play and return – have the confidence to return and fight through it. Have the confidence to be a little more aggressive, not reckless, but be a little more aggressive and assertive.”
At times this season, all aspects of this team have looked to be above average. Some playmakers , such as quarterback Jacory Harris and running back Lamar Millar, have teetered on the edge of elite status.
But just as the bright spots shine brighter, a bad game, an uncharacteristic mental lapse or demons of the past show themselves again. However, a bit of patience could be worthwhile in the end, as all of these problems – some of which persist all the way up through the coaching staff – are correctable.
Saturday’s game against Duke could be the next shred of disappointment this season, or could renew optimism for the end of this year and the future. At this point, it is anyone’s guess.