After fighting through an extensive NCAA investigation that lasted 28 months and serving two self-imposed bowl bans, Miami finally returned to postseason play Saturday night against Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. But instead of a possible springboard to use heading into next season, this season ended with a turbulent thud.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater torched Miami’s defense all night long, throwing for a career-high 447 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another to lead the Cardinals to a 36-9 victory over the Hurricanes.
It was a disaster for Miami on both sides of the ball. While Bridgewater was moving Louisville’s offense up and down the field against Miami’s defense, Stephen Morris and the offense struggled to move the ball down the other end. Morris completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 160 yards and the Hurricanes were held to just 14 yards rushing. The 174 total yards was a season low.
Miami was looking for its first ten-win season since 2003 and its first bowl win since 2006. The Hurricanes got off to a fantastic start when safety Deon Bush sacked Bridgewater in the end zone on Louisville’s opening possession to give Miami a 2-0 lead but the game went down hill quickly after that. The Cardinals scored 36 unanswered points before the Hurricanes finally found the end zone on a two-yard run by Gus Edwards with 10:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.
It was a night to forget for Miami but despite not winning ten games it wasn’t exactly a season to forget. Miami showed improvement from a season ago and have actually shown improvement in each of Al Golden’s three years as head coach. Miami has gone from 6-6 to 7-5 to 9-4 in those three years.
Miami’s offensive MVP this season was senior wide receiver Allen Hurns, who became just the fourth receiver in UM history to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Hurns led the team with 62 receptions for 1,162 yards, setting a UM single season record for receiving yards in a season. Hurns was 19 yards shy entering Miami’s bowl game but caught two passes for 24 yards to break the record set by Leonard Hankerson in 2010.
Miami’s standout freshman this season was by far and beyond wide receiver Stacy Coley. Coley finished second on the team with 33 catches for 591 yards and led all receivers with seven touchdown receptions. He also scored on a 73-yard reverse against Pittsburgh and scored two more on special teams with an 88-yard kickoff return against Savannah State and a 79-yard punt return against Duke. The kid has blazing speed and will be the next great wide receiver to come through Miami. He’ll be to go to receiver next season regardless of who replaces Morris at quarterback.
While most of the receivers had great seasons for Miami, Morris struggled throughout the season and regressed some from his junior campaign. Morris completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 3,028 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Those numbers were either worse or equal to his 2012 season when he completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 3,345 yards with 21 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Morris entered this season with very high expectations. He was praised at the Manning Passing Academy during the offseason as one of the best quarterbacks at the camp and there was even chatter that he could be a future first round NFL draft pick. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes Morris didn’t live up to those expectations. Part of the reason was due to an ankle injury that he suffered during the middle of the season that lingered for about a month but Morris just didn’t seem to be the same player he was a season ago. Nevertheless Morris had an overall great career at UM and finished third all-time in program history with 7,896 yards and 49 touchdown passes.
Miami started the season 7-0 for the first time since 2004 and all signs pointed to winning the ACC Coastal Division for the first time in program history. But a trip to Tallahassee on November 2 changed everything for Miami. The Hurricanes suffered a huge blow when starting running back Duke Johnson tore his ACL against Florida State. Miami went on to lose to the Seminoles 41-14 that began a three game losing streak for the Hurricanes. Johnson had 920 yards rushing through seven plus games and was averaging 6.3 yards per carry before he was lost for the season. Miami’s running game was obviously never the same after it lost Johnson. The drop off in rushing yards hurt Morris’s game as well as the rest of offense for the remainder of the season and contributed to the Hurricanes losing three of their final five games.
The biggest disappointment of Miami’s season was the performance of its defense. Miami’s defense struggled mightily in 2012 but it was supposed to show great improvement in 2013, as many players were returning a year older and with another year of more experience under their belt.
Through seven games Miami’s defense showed improvement. The Hurricanes’ defense was ranked 11th in the country through its first seven games and was allowing only 17.2 points per game on its way to a 7-0 record. But after that great start Miami lost its next three games in which its defense surrendered an average of 44 points while allowing its opponents to go up and down the field to the tune of 536 total yards per game. It was just as bad against Louisville Saturday night too as the Cardinals tallied 554 total yards. Miami’s defense also struggled to get off the field on third down in its four losses, letting its opponents to move the chains 57 percent of the time. It was the biggest reason Miami dropped to 82nd in the country in total yards allowed at 426.4 per game and 62nd in points allowed at 26.8 per game.
One of the few bright spots on defense in 2013 was junior linebacker Denzel Perryman, who put together a stellar year while starting all 13 games for the Hurricanes. Perryman led Miami with 108 tackles to go along with 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He was voted to the All-ACC first team and was also named as a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker. Miami’s defense did improve in the turnover department this season with 18 interceptions compared to 11 in 2012, and it sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times to 13, its biggest weakness in 2012.
If this season showed us anything it’s that Golden needs some more time with this rebuilding project. The program is finally clear of the NCAA investigation and Golden can finally enter an offseason with no cloud hanging over his head. Golden has shown progress in his first three seasons despite that cloud but he can now finally push forward with putting the roof back on the house that was ripped off during the NCAA storm with a clear sky in sight. There’s definitely talent on this team, a lot of young talent too, but Golden still needs some more pieces to complete the image he’s built in his mind. He was quoted last week saying, “There’s never been a better time to be at the University of Miami.” He finally has nothing holding him back to prove it. He just needs time.
Canes fans just hope he’s right.