If I’d have told you that new Miami Hurricanes quarterback Jarren Williams would play very well, and that the UM defense would wear the Turnover Chain four times Saturday night in Orlando, would you have felt pretty good about the chances of beating Florida?
Those things went very right.
Too much else seriously did not for Miami in a 24-20 season-opening loss to the No. 8 Florida Gators.
The sloppy Canes gave away this win.
Miami committed 14 penalties. Gave up 11 sacks. Missed a chip-shot field goal. Had two-special teams miscues that led to two Florida touchdowns.
It felt like a resounding Canes upset win that Miami simply let slip from its grasp.
The night’s biggest question started with Williams, the first-time starting QB. He did fine, completing 19 of 30 passes for 220 yards, one TD and no interceptions. Given his fire drill offensive line, those numbers were quite extraordinary.
Running back DeeJay Dallas was pretty great, too. So was tight end Brevin Jordan. There was a lot of offensive good going on when awful protection and penalties weren’t playing defense against the offense.
The Canes’ own defense was mostly solid. Four times it was able to brandish the third iteration of the Turnover Chain -- this one a gaudy, 10-inch wide “305” charm festooned with more than 2,000 white sapphire stones.
UM was far from perfect in the head-coaching debut of Manny Diaz, and yet stood up to a top-10 team as the state rivals launched college football’s 150th season season Saturday night in the pressurized cauldron of neutral-site Orlando.
Canes-Gators had the national stage alone before ESPN cameras in the “Week 0” prelude to next week’s opening for everybody else, and Miami had that stage to declare itself in a statement game. This was not a conference game, yet felt like the game of the year. There is a chance UM (just outside the Top 25 heading in) might not be an underdog at any other point in this regular season.
This could have been such a wonderful start to this season, if not for the many sefl-inflicted wounds.
Last year opened with a dispiriting upset loss to LSU in Dallas, a stumbling start to a season that would end a disappointing 7-6 and see Mark Richt abruptly resign. This was closer to being an exhilarating win in the first Miami-Florida matchup since 2013.
Miami had not beaten a higher-ranked opponent to open a season since turning back No. 4 Florida State at home in 2004, and came so close this time.
Williams, the redshirt freshman whose entire college experience coming in was one appearance and three pass attempts vs. lowly Savannah State in a 77-0 game last year, performed admirably -- maybe heroically, given his line’s malfeasance.
Diaz and new offensive coordinator Dan Enos gambled in starting Williams ahead of incumbent N’Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell.
And all Williams did was complete 12 of 14 passes for 158 yards in the first half Saturday, including a 25-yard tipped-ball touchdown pass to the tight end Jordan. (Jordan then debuted the Canes’ “Touchdown Rings,” the offensive equal to the Turnover Chain. The rings are “Hurri” on one hand and “Canes” on the other, in green and orange sapphires).
DeeJay Dallas? His 50-yard scoring gallop provided the go-ahead points to start the fourth quarter.
The UM defense did its share, too.
The first TD Miami allowed came right after its special teams allowed a successful gators fake punt. The preceded a 66-yard screen pass score through uncharacteristically shoddy tackling.
The second was set up by a muffed Canes punt return that gifted Florida a short-field score.
(UM’s special teams coach will be avoiding eye contact with Diaz tomorrow).
Miami twice overcame deficits. After Williams’ TD pass gave UM the lead back, the young QB shushed Gators fans with index finger over lips -- pretty impressive swagger for a kid one half into his first career start.
You knew the stakes were large in the buildup to this game when Florida trotted out Tim Tebow to speak to players this week and Miami countered with championship coach Jimmy Johnson. These rivals played 45 years in a row (1943-87), before the series became irregular.
For Miami this loss hurts because the Canes brought on the hurt themselves.Perspective, though.
This is a Canes team whose defense is plenty good enough.
A team that seems to have made the right choice at quarterback.
A team that looks capable of reaching the ACC Championship Game.
Then again, a few offensive linemen capable of actually blocking the other guy might help.