CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Turnovers, penalties and a quarterback dilemma.
Seems like old times at Miami.
After seeing his team turn the ball over four times — two of those leading directly to touchdowns — and commit 10 penalties in a season-opening loss at Maryland, new Hurricanes coach Al Golden said Tuesday said mistakes were clearly the Hurricanes' biggest downfall.
"We just didn't operate well enough," Golden said on a conference call. "And again, the thing that's bothering me the most is the penalties and the turnovers. We have got to get that corrected, especially if we want to run the type of offense we want to run."
As expected, especially after Golden tipped his hand last week, the race to be Miami's starting quarterback will pick up again when practice resumes Thursday. Jacory Harris, one of eight Miami players suspended by the NCAA for accepting extra benefits from a former booster, will continue competing with Stephen Morris to see who will start the Hurricanes' next game against No. 15 Ohio State on Sept. 17.
Morris completed 19 of 28 passes for 195 yards, but fumbled the ball away once in the early going and then threw two interceptions as Miami tried frantic rallies in the final minute.
"We'll allow those guys to compete here Thursday, Friday, Saturday, then figure it out," Golden said. "We're evaluating everything. Again, we need to improve our team here the next three days before we can even start thinking about Ohio State. And clearly we'll have a different team this week than we did last week. We have to get some guys who haven't been getting reps back to getting some reps and we'll go from there."
By "some guys," Golden essentially means the five players who were declared ineligible by the university and ultimately reinstated with conditions by the NCAA. Harris, linebacker Sean Spence, receiver Travis Benjamin and defensive linemen Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo all have completed one-game suspensions and will be eligible to play against the Buckeyes.
Against Maryland, the Hurricanes seemed to handle the challenge of playing without even established seniors like Harris and Benjamin relatively well.
Missing five defensive starters proved far more daunting.
With Spence, Forston and Ojomo home — along with defensive lineman Olivier Vernon and standout safety Ray Ray Armstrong, neither of whom can resume playing until October — the Hurricanes gave up 499 yards and 28 first downs to Maryland. Those numbers don't tell the whole story: Miami looked overmatched in allowing a touchdown on Maryland's first drive, then kept the Terrapins' offense out of the end zone the rest of the way.
"The pace got us early in terms of not reacting and not settling in," Golden said. "And once we settled in, again, if you had said to me that they were only going to score one touchdown against our defense, I would say that's great, that's what we need in this game given the amount of guys we're missing on that side of the ball and clearly some of the distractions on that side of the ball."
Maryland returned Mike James' fumble late in the first half for a touchdown, then saw Cameron Chism — who forced that fumble by James — intercept a pass by Morris and run that in for another score to cap the scoring with 39 seconds left. A first-half fumble by Morris was also turned into a field goal, and the only turnover that Maryland didn't cash in for points was the interception that ended the game.
"We had a lot of mistakes," said Miami receiver Allen Hurns, who made the first four catches of his career for a team-best 69 yards on Monday. "But the good thing about it is, they're all fixable."
Miami has been saying that for a while now, to no avail. Since the start of the 2009 season, Miami has turned the ball over 61 times, the second-most among teams from college football's top division over that span. (The "other" Miami — the one from Ohio — has 62.)
Golden watched Miami's loss to Notre Dame in last year's Sun Bowl from a box above the field, insisting afterward that he would not stand for debacles like the 10-penalty, four-turnover effort put forth by the Hurricanes that day.
Miami had those exact same numbers Monday.
So what was broken last year apparently is not yet fixed.
"It's unacceptable," Morris said. "That's the only word I can say from an offensive standpoint. It's not supposed to happen."
Of the 10 penalties, eight were the ones coaches loathe — mental errors. Golden has posted many signs in Miami's football complex, and the one about penalties may be most direct. "All Are Avoidable," it says. That message didn't click Monday, when Miami had three false starts, two delay-of-game flags on consecutive plays, two illegal substitutions and an illegal formation that nullified a run to the Maryland 3.
On that drive, a 15-play, 67-yard march that chewed 8:30 off the clock in the fourth quarter, Miami settled for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
Notes: Golden said the Hurricanes got out of the game relatively injury-free. ... Golden said freshmen Anthony Chickillo, Denzel Perryman and Phillip Dorsett stood out as players making debuts. "Clearly, we built some depth," Golden said.