Hurricanes must improve during upcoming difficult October schedule

Ithe Cincinnati Bearcats were to beat the Miami Hurricanes years ago, it would have been crowned as one of the great upsets in college football. Now, sadly, it’s not much of a surprise.

In a game filled with penalties and a lack of execution and energy, the 3-2 Bearcats defeated the 3-1 Canes, 34-23 at Nippert Stadium Thursday night. To make matters worse, it happened on national prime time television.

The Hurricanes had as great of an opportunity as ever to prove the doubtful wrong and show that this program was back on its feet, ready to contend once again. In every aspect of the game, they fell flat on their feet.

On defense, the Canes didn’t have safeties senior Deon Bush or junior Jamal Carter for the first half, allowing 446 total yards to an offense led by a second-string freshman quarterback. The most egregious of the errors, though, came when redshirt junior defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins and the rest of the Miami defense somehow allowed Bearcats running back Hosey Williams to break through a tackle and scamper to the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

“You know I had him,’’ Jenkins said of his missed tackle. “He fell in the pile and I was waiting for a whistle, but then he popped back up off the pile and starting running again. That’s clearly my fault, because I have to make sure he’s down on the ground all the way. At the end of the day, we can’t have those mistakes.”

The mistakes were not as extreme on the offensive side, but they were not much better, either.

Sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya’s streak of 16 games with a passing touchdown came to an end, and the entire Canes offense had little rhythm to speak of. The struggles to finish off drives in the red zone due to penalties and bad execution resulted in field goals as opposed to touchdowns.

“We’ve just got to stop making the mistakes and be more disciplined on third down,’’ Kaaya said when asked about the offensive struggles. “Penalties killed us tonight, and when you get yourself into third and longs, it just becomes much more difficult.”

Sophomore kicker Michael Badgley and junior punter Justin Vogel were maybe the only bright spots of the night as Badgley nailed three field goals when the Miami offense stagnated. Vogel was a weapon with his ability to switch the field and put the Bearcats deep in their own territory.

Even with the strong execution from kickers Vogel and Badgley, the special teams unit as a whole could not avoid key blunders.

For the third time in four games, sophomore kicker Jon Semerene had a kickoff go out of bounds, which allowed Cincinnati to capitalize on the shortened field with a touchdown. Then, the punt coverage team allowed a 69-yard return in the first quarter that eventually put the Canes in a 14-3 hole on the road.

The coaching staff matched the players’ poor performance on the field with struggles of their own on the sideline.

“I’ve got to do a better job, the staff has to do a better job and we just have to execute better,” Head Coach Al Golden said after the loss.

It was clear Golden and his staff needed to be much better late in the game as there seemed to be no adjustments made for the second half, in which the Canes scored just three points. Even when the Canes had a chance to put themselves back late in the game, they found a way to shoot themselves in the foot.

With the score at 34-23 and five minutes left in the game, the Hurricanes were on the Cincinnati five-yard line with a fourth and goal looming. Instead of kicking a field goal, which would have at least given the Canes a chance to stay in the game, they decided to go for it on fourth down and failed. Just like the rest of the night, things did not go as planned and the game was essentially over.

I’ve called for fans to give this staff a chance until things start going bad. Yes, the banners to me are still a bit excessive, but the pressure will and should now squarely fall on the shoulders of Golden.

Making matters worse for Miami, the games won’t get any easier throughout the rest of October. Next, the Hurricanes head to Tallahassee to take on their talented rival, the Seminoles. After that, the Canes will take on a solid Virginia Tech team at home, top-10 Clemson at home and a trip to Duke to finish out the month.

The team could very well flip the narrative next week and pull a huge upset over Florida State, but if the Canes perform like they did Thursday, this week’s game could result in a blowout. Those next three games are going to be challenging as well and we could possibly see the Canes below .500 when they enter November.

Maybe this was just a one-off and maybe things will turn around, but one thing is clear: this is not your father’s Miami Hurricanes.