Miami, FSU stage another thrilling finish

A good start, but …

Well, that was fun.

In a weekend when all the marquee games stunk, with a pall cast over the BYU win, thanks to the Sam Bradford injury; the Boise State beatdown overshadowed by a beat-up; and Oklahoma State’s win over Georgia making a big college football game seem like an insurance seminar (fine, so ‘Bama-Virginia Tech wasn’t awful), we all needed a game like Miami vs. Florida State. While it was played on the unofficial first day of fall, this was like a type of blockbuster summer action flick with a huge budget, a lot of special effects, and a guaranteed good time to be had by all, but with little to no substance behind it … for now.

The ACC is getting hammered for a rocky first weekend, but in reality, the two worst teams, Virginia and Duke, which were the two ACC programs that didn’t go to a bowl last year, were the ones who took it on the chin the worst. The Virginia Tech loss to Alabama was no sin — the Tide are the No. 5 team in the country — and Cal might have the best team yet under head coach Jeff Tedford, so it’s not too big a gaffe for Maryland to get blown away in Berkeley. Wake Forest and N.C. State didn’t help the cause with home losses. That’s why there will be a lot written and a lot of talk about the conference needing something to save it from falling into the abyss before the season gets rolling, and there’s going to be a general assumption that Miami’s scintillating win over Florida State did just that.

The jury is still out.

Just because the Miami-FSU game was fun, that doesn’t mean the conference is all of a sudden a killer. Both teams came into the season bragging about their defenses, and neither one showed up, outside of the Markus White pick-six to give FSU a fourth-quarter lead, and the last 25 seconds of the game when Miami held firm. As much as we might want it to happen, considering how much fun it was when these two powerhouses ruled the world, they’re not back to that level. The overall talent isn’t close to what it was a decade ago; there’s nothing behind Miami QB Jacory Harris to count on when, not if, he ends up getting knocked out for a stretch; and there were too many mistakes made by both coaching staffs. And, again, the defenses didn’t show up.

Now, that doesn’t mean that these two won’t be really good. There’s a lot of young, exciting playmakers and both defenses have a ton of speed and athleticism, but let’s wait and see whether or not FSU and Miami can save the ACC this season. If the ‘Noles go to BYU and win, and if Miami can beat Oklahoma, then it’s time to start getting fired up about the possibility that the glory days might be on their way back. For now, just having yet another great game from these two is good enough, but the ACC still needs a lot more.

— Pete Fiutak

Miami can take conference crown

The ACC is there for the taking, Miami. Now go get it.

Virginia Tech may or may not still be the conference favorite after getting bullied by Alabama, but it’s clear that the league, and the BCS berth that goes with it, is wide open. After winning an emotional and extremely physical throwback-to-yesteryear thriller against their rivals, the ‘Canes need to snatch this opportunity and use this victory as a launching point.

Monday’s win, an edge-of-your-seat capper to the first weekend of the 2009 season, is the type of game that can propel this young program to heights it hasn’t seen in the past few years. Vintage Miami? Not yet. The defense certainly needs more time in the film room, but you can see the faint flicker of the glory days in the speed and youth that are busting from just about every corner of the depth chart. Travis Benjamin at wide receiver. Sean Spence at linebacker. Oh, and what can you say about sophomore QB Jacory Harris? Cool beyond his years and rapidly improving as a passer, he’s exactly what this program has needed behind center since Ken Dorsey graduated six years ago. He’s going to win plenty more important games as a Hurricane over the next three seasons.

On a side note, start talking about Florida State rookie CB Greg Reid before you come off as a bandwagon jumper. It took about 15 minutes to see that he’s a special talent, who needs to get his birth certificate examined. For a kid to be so disruptive on defense and special teams in his first game and inside that stadium is a testament to his enormous ceiling in Tallahassee.

— Richard Cirminiello

Was the game really over?

1) It’s the 21st century; we’re just about done with one decade, and yet coaches are still calling for squib kicks. SQUIB KICKS. In 2009. What’s worse is that the first several squib kicks in this game didn’t work, so why would Randy Shannon and Bobby Bowden continue to sign off on them? Sigh.

2) This went unmentioned in the television broadcast, but ESPN showed one final look at the game’s final play, including the game clock on the information strip at the top of the screen. While the natural point of focus was the incomplete pass, confirmed by the fact that Christian Ponder’s pass was indeed dropped in the end zone, it was just as important to realize that the game clock appeared to have one second remaining when the ball hit the turf. Normally, plays do take at least five seconds (the time on the clock at the beginning of the play), but Ponder unloaded the ball very quickly and threw a laser over no more than a 15-yard span; it was plausible to rule that one tick should have been kept on the Doak Campbell clock for an extra play.

But enough couldas, shouldas and wouldas. The ‘Noles — who looked to be in good shape after completing a pass to the Miami 4 with 47 seconds to go — were far too disorganized in substituting for the next snap. They were right to attempt to run a play (you don’t spike the ball, because that’s wasting a precious down, and you don’t call a timeout because you save it for the final few seconds if necessary), but the personnel groupings certainly appeared to be confused as they shuttled in and out.

When confusion began to emerge for FSU — with roughly 35 seconds remaining (or 12 seconds after the end of the previous play) — Bowden or offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher should have bitten the bullet and called the final timeout. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was the move that needed to be made when the ‘Noles’ offensive unit displayed a lack of control over a chaotic series of substitutions. As an additional matter on the subject of clock management, Ponder — who for the record played tremendously — needed to pitch the ball on a late option play with 20 seconds left.

This was the case not just because Miami’s defense was pinching inside, but also because the outside run would have gone toward the boundary and likely stopped the clock, thereby saving FSU the timeout it should have used at the 35-second mark. Miami deserved to win this game because it made one more play than the Seminoles. Yes, one second should have remained on the clock at the end, but then again, Florida State wasted far too many of the game’s final 47 seconds. The ‘Canes deserve the victory they received, on a night that revived the Miami-FSU rivalry.

— Matt Zemek

Go ahead, A.J. Highsmith; you can transfer, too. It doesn’t matter whether Miami has one QB or 100. As long as the man under center when it counts is Jacory Harris, the ‘Canes will be just fine. By starting their imposing gauntlet of a September schedule with a 38-34 win at Florida State Monday night, The U took coach Randy Shannon’s backside off a blazing cushion and might have just established itself as the team to beat in the ACC.

The ‘Canes weren’t particularly pristine, but when they needed big plays, they got them, often because of the strong right arm of Harris, who climbed off the turf again and again to mount comebacks and give Miami its biggest win in a long time. One game isn’t everything, especially with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma looming, but Miami has great speed and a playmaker at QB. If they can stay healthy, they look pretty good.

FSU, meanwhile, shouldn’t pout, especially since if Christian Ponder’s last-second pass were two feet higher, the Seminoles would have won. If Florida State can get more productive in the red zone and tighten up its secondary, it could be dangerous. For now, it’s just 0-1.

— Michael Bradley