The Miami Hurricanes are no longer the college football darlings they were at the start of the season — at least in the eyes of pollsters.
The Hurricanes’ drop from No. 9 to 12 in the AP Poll on Sunday after a 25-24 win at unranked-but-always-tough Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon showed voters have their new shiny toys in the three teams they moved ahead of UM for remaining undefeated early into their schedules — No. 9 Indiana (4-0), No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0) and No. 11 Oregon (2-0).
As members of the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, the three had delayed starts to their 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, thus the difference in games played from the Hurricanes (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).
Even some Miami fans have been frustrated over how their team hasn’t won more convincingly than the 9 combined points in the past three victories against Virginia, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes are no longer as dominant as in the 52-10 win over rival Florida State in Week 3.
“Isn’t that a little bit of what 2020's about? If you want to be mad, you can find something to be mad about,” UM coach Manny Diaz told 560-AM on Monday morning as the Hurricanes get set to host Georgia Tech on Saturday night. “What we talk about in our building is, ‘Don’t play for the expectations of others’ — good or bad. Whether we’re ranked, we don’t care. That’s all just something false that you can just put around in your mind, whether we’ve done good, whether we haven’t done good.”
Regardless of what pollsters and fans with lofty expectations think, Diaz finds solace in how his team is just finding ways to win games — and doing it in different ways while understanding there are areas his team needs improvement.
“There’s obvious things we have to correct in our performance, but one thing we’re doing is we’re learning how to win,” Diaz said. “We’re learning how to win different games. The last four wins have all had a different personality. They may have all been close, but they all have not been the same game. We’re learning how to win in different ways.”
On this four-game winning streak since the loss at then-No. 1 Clemson, the Hurricanes have: topped Pittsburgh by getting red-zone stops and dialing up the right play calls at the right times for wide-open touchdowns; edged Virginia in a defensive struggle that had some down-the-field throws sprinkled in; won a shootout at N.C. State where quarterback D’Eriq King put together a historic performance; and got key stops late at Virginia Tech, along with another game-winning touchdown pass from King.
Diaz has emphasized his team should “honor the value of winning,” no matter how it comes.
“It’s a learned behavior,” Diaz said. “It becomes a habit, and it’s something that the young players now can learn from seeing the older players go through it and see sometimes how you’re viewed externally and the goalpost always moves.”
Going into Georgia Tech week opening as a 19-point favorite against the Yellow Jackets, Diaz addressed observers’ desire to see UM win by larger margins in his Monday afternoon web conference with reporters.
“It’d be fun to just beat everybody up early in the game, but that’s kind of hard,” Diaz said. “No one blows everybody out every week. That kind of makes you elite, which we’re obviously not there yet. We recognize that. We’re working our way to that.
“It’d be great to say, ‘Why don’t we just score 20 points in the first quarter?’ But it’s like X-Box on easy mode. The other guy is trying too.”
But he also noted that there’s something to the way the Hurricanes wear opponents down with their pace to be able to win in the fourth quarter.
“This tempo, it’s death by a bunch of body blows,” Diaz said.
This year’s Miami team is only the third to win at least six games in the ACC, which UM joined in 2004. Usually playing eight conference games, that number is 10 with only one non-conference game in a revised 2020 schedule amid the pandemic. The Hurricanes could end up with nine ACC wins if they run the table against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina.
While the Hurricanes were dropped in the AP Poll, they remained steady at No. 9 in the Coaches Poll.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)