Miami still has ACC Coastal chance
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP)
There's been one victory in five games since September. The stat sheet shows the worst defensive numbers in school history. And there's still the lingering issue of whether a postseason trip would be forfeited because of the ongoing NCAA investigation.
These are not the best of times for the Miami Hurricanes.
That is, except for this not-so-insignificant nugget: The Hurricanes might still finish the season with a winning record - and also have a chance to call themselves champions.
It was back-to-practice on Monday for Miami, still smarting from the 41-40 last-second loss at Virginia over the weekend. The Hurricanes (5-5) play their home finale on Saturday against South Florida (3-6), then end their regular- and Atlantic Coast Conference season at Duke on Nov. 24. Win the Duke game, and at the very least, the Hurricanes will be able to declare themselves co-champions of the ACC's Coastal Division.
''We're still preparing,'' running back Mike James said. ''We're still working. We still have things we need to do and want to do.''
The trip to Virginia was bad all the way around for Miami, which announced just before the game that it suspended wide receiver Rashawn Scott indefinitely and left linebacker Eddie Johnson and special-teams-standout Gabe Terry home because they didn't fulfill their football-related responsibilities for making the trip. Scott remains suspended, and there's been no indication whether Johnson or Terry will play against the Bulls.
On top of all that, Miami was up 38-28 with 6 minutes left, and went home with a one-point loss.
''It hurts,'' James said.
After having last season completely overshadowed by an NCAA investigation - which still isn't over - and now the chance of the school self-imposing a second straight postseason ban in anticipation of sanctions for compliance violations, it seems like nerves are fraying more than a little bit at Miami.
The school will likely not announce its postseason plans until after the team wins its sixth game and becomes bowl-eligible.
''It's been TMZ since I've been here, right? Let's be honest,'' Miami coach Al Golden said after leaving the practice field Monday morning. ''Yeah, it's been tough. It's been tough on the coaches. It's been tough on me, personally. There's not one minute I go to bed that I don't think I'm fighting that with the team. I'm looking forward to the day where we're focused on our opponents and getting our players better and not talking about all that.''
Miami has allowed 312 points already; the school record is 314. Unless South Florida gets held to 103 yards or less, the Bulls will push the Hurricanes' defensive-odometer over the 5,000-yard mark this season, easily the worst in Miami's proud history.
South Florida coach Skip Holtz said that he sees plenty of talent on both sides of the ball when he watches Miami film, and the Hurricanes don't need any convincing on that front.
But at the same time, there's plenty of work remaining - both on and off the field.
''We're in this to fix it long-term,'' Golden said. ''We just had a 2-minute drive at the end of the game and we didn't stop (Virginia), and there were no seniors on the field. None. Zero. So I think the guys understand that yeah, we didn't get it done, but if you're here long-term and you want to get it fixed, it's going to be all of us that are here plus whatever we add next year.''
With the suspensions, missing players and others like Denzel Perryman and Deon Bush out for the Virginia game with injuries - Perryman should play against South Florida, Bush remains iffy - it all took a toll on the Hurricanes, at the wrong time of year.
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said he used 21 players on that side of the ball this weekend, about five or six below the norm.
''You try to end the game and you have four guys that you thought could help (not there) and it is for different reasons whether that is injury or personal decisions, that is where we are at,'' D'Onofrio said. ''That part to me is disappointing.''
Still, Miami intends to at least end its home portion of the schedule on a high note.
''Last time through the smoke,'' receiver Davon Johnson said, referring to Miami's pregame tradition of the team entering the field through a haze of white smoke. ''It's going to mean a lot to all of us.''