With uncertainty over the post-game Zoom connection, Miami Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz tested his end with a David Bowie lyric late Saturday afternoon:
“Ground control to Major Tom.”
This was the issue all week for Diaz. Did his players hear him? Did his message get through? Could they understand what he wanted to correct from the previous week’s disappointment at Clemson?
Maybe Saturday’s 31-19 win over the gritty Pittsburgh Panthers was important for this season. Maybe not. Maybe this was the kind of game that gets Miami back on track after playing out of its weight class last week at Clemson.
Maybe it’s just another head fake, the way Miami seasons seem to have with wins that can’t be sustained.
Diaz, though, wanted one message to get across this week: Do your job — and only your job.
“We had to look at the reasons for our performance, both individually, and then collectively (against Clemson),” Diaz said. “This team, five games in, it appears we don’t have an issue with effort and we don’t have an issue with attitude.
“We had an issue with discipline. We had an issue with guys trying to do more than they should have.”
He looked at penalties from Saturday. Miami had five. It had 15 penalties against Clemson. Trying to do too much? Simply out-manned by better talent?
“It was always good intentions, but last week we had guys trying to do more than they could,” Diaz said. “The whole thing was to trust your teammates, devote energy into a team effort and be a cog in the wheel.”
They felt they got back to that Saturday. Quarterback D’Eriq King threw four touchdowns (along with a couple of interceptions). The Miami defense held Pitt to 26 yard rushing and four field goals in the red zone.
It bumped the record to 4-1 but doesn’t change anyone’s mind about Miami, of course. Not after Clemson, though maybe Miami actually played well in losing 42-17. Clemson beat Georgia Tech on Saturday, 73-7.
But everything can’t always be about the big picture with Miami. Saturday was taking care of the little picture. It hasn’t done enough of that in recent years, either.
Beating Pitt was a good step. It now has to put one foot in front of another for a while and make a season of such good steps.
If Miami can connect the dots from Pitt to Virginia to North Carolina State to Virginia Tech in the next month, then maybe we’re onto something.
Pitt didn’t have its starting quarterback, Kenny Pickett. His backup, Joey Yellen, only had thrown three college passes. It also now has lost three straight games.
But Miami players called it a big win, an important win. And they should. Look, coaches and players are wide-eyed optimists after games like this, because they have to be.
If there’s a drop of water in the glass, they’re not just calling it half full. They’re putting on bathing suits and diving in. That’s what you have to love about sports. It’s full of people envisioning good things happening and then working hard to make it so.
“We put last week behind us,” said King, who completed 16 of 31 passes for 222 yards to go along with the four touchdowns. “We knew we were facing one of the best defenses in college football.
“We had a big challenge in back-to-back weeks and we did enough to win (Saturday).”
The best stories end with teams coming together through a season. Look at what the Heat did in making the NBA Finals or the Marlins did in making the playoffs. Can the Hurricanes do the same?
“Coming after a loss like last week, this week is huge,” said tight end Will Mallory, whose touchdown catch gave Miami the early margin it never gave back. “We can keep the momentum rolling for the rest of the year.”
If so, there’s work to be done. Maybe Pitt is the start of getting back on track. There’s not another Clemson on the schedule — just a lot of Pitts coming up. That’s what has tripped up Miami before. Can it keep making good steps this year?
(Dave Hyde has been a South Florida Sun Sentinel sports columnist since 1990.)
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