The good news is that the University of Miami won’t be facing a top-10 team the day after Thanksgiving at Boston College.
Despite one-touchdown losses at then-No. 4 Florida State Nov. 11 and in their 2023 home finale Saturday against No. 9 Louisville, the Hurricanes will go into Chestnut Hill knowing, according to them, that they’re that much closer to breaking through “the ceiling’’ to rise to a new level.
“We gotta keep pushing,’’ defensive tackle Branson Deen said after UM’s 38-31 loss to Louisville. “We’re still optimistic, man. We’re close. We’re so close.’’
The game against Boston College (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) is at noon (ABC) Friday at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, the final regular-season game for both programs. But the sting of Miami’s loss was likely still being felt Sunday by players who have 24 hours to lament, review mistakes and move on to Friday’s challenge.
The Canes (6-5, 2-5) must defeat either Boston College or their yet-to-be-determined bowl opponent to finish 2023 with a winning record.
Miami coach Mario Cristobal was asked about his players’ spirits after two losses in which they were driving for the tying touchdowns late in the fourth quarter — but couldn’t get it done.
“It’s football,’’ Cristobal said. “If guys have a hard time keeping their spirits, if coaches have a hard time keeping their spirits and going to compete, then they’re in the wrong profession and at the wrong place.
“We’ve made so much progress and we’re dragging these games into the fourth quarter and we are in position to take over and win them. Now we’ve got to have that breakthrough on a consistent basis.
“Sometimes progress comes in spurts. I want it all. We all want it all. I want it all now. But we have got to coach and teach and push and work our way to making these one possession, one-play games to make these things victories. And you don’t stop, you don’t seek shelter, you don’t look for comfort from somebody telling you how well you played or how close it was.”
Louisville offense/Miami defense
The Canes defense allowed the most rushing yards (162) and total yards (470) since they gave up 235 rushing yards and 508 total in a 41-31 loss Oct. 14 at North Carolina. Pro football focus had them missing 14 tackles. And the Canes had no sacks for the first time all season.
“They give you the same look and run different things out of it,’’ Deen said. “Hard on your eyes. We gotta be more detailed in our fits in the run game and pass game. It was just a crazy thing to see them come out in the same look and run so many different things to hurt us. But we can’t give nobody too much credit. We have to execute better.’’
Said Cristobal: “We gotta teach it better, we gotta coach it better so we can cover better he said of UM’s defense. “We didn’t affect the quarterback very much today, which is different. We’ve affected the quarterback all year long, and they blocked us pretty well.’’
The Hurricanes were hit with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties late in the game.
One was against receiver Jacolby George, after he apparently was held by a Louisville player on fourth-and-goal from the Cardinals 3-yard line with a minute-and-a-half left. The ball soared high and incomplete and George struck Quincy Riley in the face. Instead of getting the ball at their own 3 with 1:29 left, the Cards started the drive from their 18.
Fortunately, the Canes forced the subsequent punt, but unfortunately, UM’s Brashard Smith was flagged for unneccesary roughness on the play, and UM was moved back to its own 25-yard line instead of what would have been the 40, with 18 seconds left.
“I jump all over that,’’ said Cristobal, when asked what he tells his players after those types of penalties. “That’s crap. It’s complete and utter unacceptable immaturity from a couple guys who have played really, really well. You gotta use it as a teaching moment. But you gotta go right at them hard. It’s a bunch of bullcrap. That ain’t it. We all get upset and maybe get tugged, maybe get held, the guy hits you.
“It don’t matter. They have flags. They’re going to throw them when they need to throw them. We can’t do that. We’re not going to revert to that. We’re going to fix it.”
Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke bounced back in his return as starter, throwing for 327 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions or even would-be interceptions. He was sacked once. He had the three incompletions from the Louisville 3 to give the Cards the ball back at the 18 (after the George Penalty), but was far improved from the past several weeks.
“During the week of Florida State you saw it coming on,’’ Cristobal said of Van Dyke. “He was very determined and it carried over to this past week. And he was very urgent. The way he was moving around the pocket, his feet were quick. He’s healthy now – almost completely – and very determined to play well for his teammates. And he did that.’’
Also exceptional: receiver Xavier Restrepo (career-best 193 yards and a touchdown on eight catches); and running back Mark Fletcher (126 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries for a 7.4-yard-per-carry average). Restrepo is now 124 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season.
On Monday the Hurricanes will be looking ahead.
“We know where we are,’’ Van Dyke said. “So we’re gong to prepare well for Boston College and do our best to get the win up there.’’