Column: Football has a lot to prove after embarrassing loss to Alabama

Keontra Smith
Sophomore striker Keontra Smith, left, attempts to tackle Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. during Miami's game against the Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 4. Photo credit: Josh Halper

If you are a Miami Hurricanes fan, you probably stopped watching Saturday’s game after the first half. If you were one of the few brave fans who continued watching, odds are your eyes weren’t glued to the TV and rightfully so, as the Canes lost 44-13 to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Saturday. With a difference in score greater than 30, fans are within reason to ask: what went wrong for the Hurricanes in their season opener?

Despite head coach Manny Diaz’s insistence that the team “came here to compete,” the Hurricanes didn’t put up a great fight. Alabama scored in their opening drive while the Canes remained scoreless until freshman kicker Andres Borregales’ 37-yard field goal at the end of the first half. The kick gave Miami three points to Alabama’s 27.

Alabama had a total of 354 passing yards – nearly doubling Miami’s 179 – and 147 rushing yards to Miami’s 87. For the Canes, the running game was used almost exclusively early in the game, and 37 of Miami’s total rushing yards came from running back Cam’Ron Harris alone.

Beyond their inefficiency at prolonging drives, the Hurricanes had a third down conversion rate of 43%. The Crimson Tide converted their third downs into first downs at a clip of over 60%.

While Canes quarterback D’Eriq King’s pass completion rate was greater than Alabama quarterback Bryce Young’s when it was all said and done, King did throw two interceptions. In a game where the narrative consistently saw Alabama maximize every possession they had, any extra time the Crimson Tide spent with the ball was bound to be a scoring threat.

Put simply, Alabama just overwhelmed Miami in every facet of the game.

“I thought the difference in the game was third down offense,” Diaz said. “Offensively, we had a hard time getting in a rhythm because of that.”

In his postgame interview, Diaz commented that there were plenty of positives the team would be able to take from their loss and benefit from in their home opener versus Appalachian State, while also keeping in mind that there are necessary corrections that need to be made throughout the season.

The Hurricanes must do a better job converting on third downs. If UM’s current third down conversion rate continues to hover around the rate it has over the past few seasons, fans can expect a similar final score against other competitive teams Miami faces throughout this season.

Miami also has to do a better job of protecting King and avoid putting him in a position where he can damage his ACL and meniscus, or fumble the ball the way he did when Alabama linebacker Christopher Allen sacked him.

On the defensive end of the gridiron, Miami can’t allow another team to score a 94-yard touchdown. Not only was that touchdown demoralizing, but it was also preventable.

Irresponsible and careless play, like when Bubba Bolden was ejected from the game for targeting, can’t happen again. While the redshirt junior was able to stay on the sidelines and help coach and cheer on his teammates, he would have made a far greater impact on the field.

Despite these statistics and areas of improvement, though, nothing went terribly wrong for the Hurricanes.

After all, the Crimson Tide are the reigning national champions, went undefeated last season and are consistently ranked among the top five best teams in the country. They also beat the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes by just under 30 points in January’s College Football Playoff National Championship. Despite Miami fans’ best hopes and wishes, it was unlikely for the No. 14 Hurricanes to compete against arguably the most elite college football program over the last decade.

Going into this Saturday’s game against Appalachian State, Miami has a much better chance of finding the win column. Not only is Appalachian State unranked, but the Canes are playing at home in Hard Rock Stadium with the University of Miami allowing students back in full force for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

While the game against Alabama didn’t go as fans would have hoped, the loss does not define the season.

All four games the Hurricanes play during September are at home and against teams that are currently unranked. The only teams that the Canes face this season that are currently ranked are No. 19 Virginia Tech and No. 24 UNC.

All in all, an easier schedule awaits, and the Hurricanes need to look forward and take advantage of the fact that their arguably worst day and most difficult task of the season is behind them.