MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Miami has never gone through something quite like this.
Back-to-back losses, each by three points or less, and both coming when the Hurricanes had the ball inside the opponents’ red zone with a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds. In nearly a century of football at Miami, that’s never happened.
A season that started with high expectations for the Hurricanes has turned into a salvage operation, and Miami (2-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) will seek to avoid its worst start in nearly half a century when it plays host to No. 18 North Carolina State (5-1, 2-0) on Saturday night.
“It will be an important week for us to fix some things that are ailing us,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “I can’t fault our effort, our heart, our mental toughness, but there are some obvious things that we’ve got to get corrected to give ourselves a chance to win these games.”
The Hurricanes are coming off a 30-28 loss to Virginia where a would-be-game-winning field goal bounced off the left upright on the final play, and a 45-42 loss at North Carolina where Miami got to the Tar Heels’ 16-yard line before turning the ball over with six seconds remaining.
With that, it marked just the third time in Miami history that consecutive games were lost by three points or less. It happened in each of the last three contests of the 1984 season, all by exactly two points — including Boston College’s “Hail Flutie” game — and happened in consecutive weeks against Florida State and LSU in 1966.
Those games, though, didn’t end the way Miami had to accept defeat in its last two games, with the Hurricanes having the ball and on the doorstep in the final moments.
“Obviously, their record at 2-4 is not impressive,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “But they’re playing a lot better than I expected to see on tape. … They’re scoring a lot of points, they’re very fast on the perimeter.”
The Hurricanes beat N.C. State 44-41 on the road last season, a game where Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King was brilliant: 430 yards, five touchdown passes, including a 54-yarder to Mike Harley to put Miami ahead for good with 2:43 remaining.
King is injured and out for the season, so the Wolfpack will see Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback on Saturday. Diaz has raved about how Van Dyke has handled adverse situations, and more of them are likely coming this week against one of the ACC’s top defenses.
“We played them last year and played about as bad as we can play on defense,” Doeren said. “I know that side of the ball remembers that game and has a bad taste in its mouth.”
Half a season remains, but N.C. State’s current winning percentage — .833 — would be the highest over a full year by a Wolfpack team in nearly a century. The 1927 Wolfpack finished 9-1. A win Saturday would match N.C. State’s best start under Doeren; the 2017 team also opened 6-1. Before that, N.C. State’s best start was the 9-0 beginning in 2002.
A loss would send Miami to 2-5, its worst seven-game start since the 1975 team started 1-6 and finished 2-8. Only three other Miami teams since World War II got off to such starts after seven games; the 1970 Hurricanes were 2-5, the 1958 team started 1-6, and the 1953 team began 2-5.
The Wolfpack lost 44-41 to Miami last season and have been on a tear since, winning nine of their last 11 games. They won their next four games immediately following the loss to the Hurricanes, then lost to Kentucky 23-21 in the Gator Bowl, and have gone 5-1 so far this season.
Out of the 30 schools that Doeren has coached against at least twice, Miami is one of only three that he hasn’t defeated yet. Doeren is 0-2 against the Hurricanes, 0-2 against Mississippi State and 0-2 against Virginia Tech. He was 0-7 against Clemson before the Wolfpack’s overtime win over the Tigers earlier this season.
Diaz spent six seasons as a coach at N.C. State under Chuck Amato, working for the Wolfpack from 2000 through 2005. Among the players that Diaz coached during his time in Raleigh: current Wolfpack assistant Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay, and Wolfpack director of strength and conditioning Dantonio Burnette.