The gap between what first-year Miami Coach Al Golden can control and what he can’t has widened considerably since he took the job nine months ago.
Preparing to face an onslaught of questions — most of which related to the Hurricanes’ 32-24 season-opening loss to Maryland on Monday night only as it pertained to the scandal that has depleted their depth chart — Golden ran his left hand through his soaked brown hair and stared down at the stat sheet on the podium beneath him.
“The things that we could control today, the penalties and the turnovers, we did not,” Golden said. “And it cost us the game.”
If anyone had told him entering the game that his defense would hold the Terrapins’ offense to less than 20 points, he said he would have been more than pleased. And in that respect, there were encouraging signs for Miami to take out of a dreary outcome.
Miami played without five defensive starters — who were among the eight players ruled ineligible by the NCAA for accepting impermissible benefits from former booster Nevin Shapiro — and still managed to thwart Maryland repeatedly in the red zone.
The Hurricanes may have given up 499 total yards, but they proved stingy when backed up against their goal line. Maryland’s offense was responsible for just one touchdown. Terrapins quarterback Danny O’Brien proved plenty efficient, but he also threw an interception in the end zone, and another would-be touchdown pass dropped through the hands of wide receiver Kerry Boykins.
Five times, Maryland settled for field goal attempts, only one of which was from more than 30 yards out. The Terrapins converted on four of those tries.
And still, the Hurricanes never could fully hold on to the swagger that has defined their football program for decades because they proved undisciplined and occasionally careless on offense. Miami was charged with 10 penalties and turned over the ball four times.
“I thought we were ready,” Golden said. “I thought we were ready to go. I thought we competed. We answered the bell a couple times. But we just made too many mistakes. And when you make that many mistakes, you can’t win.”
The Hurricanes took their first lead of the night when tailback Lamar Miller sprinted 41 yards for a touchdown with just less than six minutes remaining in the first half. Miami’s defense then forced Maryland to punt. The Hurricanes began their march downfield and were due the ball to start the second half, as well. Momentum, it seemed, was turning in their favor.
But then Terrapins cornerback Cameron Chism stripped Miami tailback Mike James of the ball, which fell into the hands of Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Thirty yards later, Vellano rumbled into the end zone and pushed the Terrapins back on top.
The lead changed hands seven times Monday. Miami took a one-point lead on a 30-yard field goal with just more than four minutes to play in regulation, but it could have been more. Three plays earlier, Miller had advanced to the Maryland three yard-line on a 12-yard rush. But the gain was negated by an illegal formation penalty against the Hurricanes.
“That could have been the difference in the game,” Golden said.
Down by two with less than a minute on the game clock, Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw an interception that Chism returned 54 yards through the unrelenting rain for a touchdown.
“Hopefully, the further we get away from this game . . . we’ll be able to just continue to focus on ourselves,” Golden said. “But, again, there’s no excuses. We had enough talent here to win tonight, and we didn’t do it.”