TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Miami tried to keep up with Florida State, tried to make it a game, to show maybe it wasn’t such a big underdog after all.
The plan worked for a half. But the Hurricanes are simply not where Florida State is right now. They do not have the talent, nor do they have the depth, nor do they have the wherewithal to play a near-perfect game. That much was made clear in the aftermath of a 41-14 defeat Saturday night. As many suspected would be the case, this was a top-10 matchup in name only.
And yet, the Hurricanes could very well be the class of their division at the end of the season. Such is the state of the ACC today. Florida State is poised to decisively win the Atlantic Division. The team that lost to the Seminoles by 27 points? That very team could end up in a rematch with Florida State in the ACC title game next month.
Nobody on the Miami side was much in the mood for silver linings or happy thoughts after the game, though. Especially after running back Duke Johnson was carted off the field and in a cast after the game with an ankle injury, his season most likely over.
Seeing Johnson with his right leg bandaged up just made the game result even worse to stomach. As hard as the double-whammy loss is to take, Miami has to find a way to make this game just a blip in order to stay relevant in the ACC race.
“We’ve just gotta move forward,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “We’re building. I’ve been saying it for a long time now. We made too many mistakes in this game. You can’t make these kinds of mistakes in a game like this. I just tell them that the biggest thing is that they trust right now, that they trust the coaches and they trust their training, they trust their techniques. This environment was probably new to them, given the position that we’re in, and they just need to trust. We had too many little mistakes in the game.”
Too many big mistakes, too. Miami trailed 21-14 at halftime and got the ball to start the second half. The Hurricanes ran five plays, then punted. Florida State scored on its ensuing drive. Stephen Morris then threw an interception. Florida State turned the mistake into another touchdown, and the rout was on.
"We let the game get a little bit out of hand and we’ve gotta be smarter at that," Morris said. "We have to play better."
Miami must play better quickly. A bigger game looms Saturday at home against struggling Virginia Tech, a contest that will have an impact on the Coastal Division race. Miami still controls its destiny in the Coastal. If the Hurricanes win out, they go to Charlotte.
If they lose? The Hurricanes would have two conference losses, same as Virginia Tech and Duke and Georgia Tech. The Hokies have hit a rut recently, losing back-to-back games against Duke and Boston College while committing a combined eight turnovers. But Virginia Tech is not a team Miami can afford to overlook. Especially if the Canes have to win without Johnson, their best and most explosive playmaker.
After Virginia Tech, Miami has to travel to Duke, a game that all of a sudden looks as if it could have major Coastal Division ramifications. Duke already has a head-to-head win over Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils were on a bye this week but play reeling NC State at home this Saturday. Their defense has been much improved over the past four games, so Miami is not a slam dunk to win that game. The Canes barely survived a shootout a year ago.
Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is also sitting at 5-2 in league play with one ACC game left -- at Clemson. The Yellow Jackets have a win over Duke this year, but losses to Miami and Virginia Tech.
“Our biggest thing is we’ve gotta leave this game in Tallahassee,” Morris said. “Let’s come to work tomorrow and let’s learn from it. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to beat VPI is not let this game hurt you.”
Is Miami mature enough to do that?
“If we weren’t mature enough our record wouldn’t be 7-1 right now,” Morris said. “I have full confidence in the leaders of this group, and guys who’ve been here and understand what this program is about.”
Perhaps Miami receiver Allen Hurns, one of the most soft-spoken players on the team, said it best.
“It’s just one loss,” Hurns said. “We have a chance to see them again.”