Miami fares well against Maryland without a full deck

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Miami showed up at Byrd Stadium to face Maryland Monday night, in front of a sellout crowd and a national television audience, with a familiar display of energy and confidence … but without eight notoriously suspended players.


They laid an egg. And they’ll be the first ones to tell you so.

“To be honest with you, there’s no moral victories,’’ Al Golden said, soaking wet from more than just the frequent downpours throughout his inaugural as Hurricanes’ head coach. “The things that we could control today, like turnovers and penalties, we did not, and it cost us the game .’’


Before the game, of course – one that swung wildly all night before Maryland closed it out 32-24 in the final minute – everything surrounding the Miami program was about what Golden, the players and the staff couldn’t control. It was all about the Yahoo! Sports report on the imprisoned booster, the payouts, the yacht, the strippers and prostitutes, the NCAA  investigation and, finally, the multiple suspensions that, on this night, took the starting quarterback and four defensive starters out of the lineup.


The Hurricanes brought 63 players  on the trip, and those players threw themselves into the task not only of beating Maryland, but also blocking out the storm (no pun intended) swirling around them non-stop for three long weeks.


They may not accept moral victories, but they did pretty well. Against a defense without standouts Ray-Ray Armstrong, Sean Spence, Marcus Fortson and Olivier Vernon, the Terrapins rolled to more than 300 yards in the first half and 499 for the game. Yet 13 of Maryland’s points were generated by the defense, on a fumble returned for a touchdown in the last minute of the first half and an interception run back for a score with 39 seconds left.


Harris’s backup, sophomore Stephen Morris, blamed himself for the loss just as readily as his coach did, and considering he was personally responsible for three of Miami’s four turnovers, he had a good case. On the other hand, he was one big reason the ‘Canes kept jabbing back at Maryland, moving the offense as efficiently at times as his counterpart, Danny O’Brien.


Under a retooled fast-paced offense and new head coach itself in Randy Edsall, Maryland chewed up yards but regularly shot itself in the foot when it stormed into the red zone. The Terps came away with an end-zone interception, a dropped pass in the end zone, four field goals, a missed fourth-quarter chip shot, and exactly one offensive touchdown, on their first drive. Score one for the depleted Miami defense.


Morris made the Terps pay for their shortcomings often enough to have the ‘Canes in the lead, 24-23, with four minutes left. However, he couldn’t get past the offense’s horrific sputtering at the end: bad penalties, a fourth-down pass that Cameron Chism picked off and took 54 yards for the final score, and one final desperation try that was intercepted.


“It’s unacceptable. That the only word I can say,’’ Morris said, in a voice about which he apologized for being scratchy at the end of the night. “From an offensive standpoint, being a quarterback, it’s not supposed to happen. We’re supposed to be on top of all that.’’


One by one, the players marched in front of the cameras and microphones, following their coach’s lead, and refused to grade themselves on a curve.


“It’s a heartbreaker. Everybody hates losing,’’ said sophomore running back Lamar Miller, who rushed for 119 yards, returned kickoffs for 100 more, and produced Miami’s most explosive play, a 41-yard burst up the middle for the touchdown that gave the ‘Canes their first lead of the game, 14-13 in the second quarter.


Miller found nothing redeeming in the narrow loss by his undermanned team . “We have enough talent to win every game, really. We should be able to make that happen,’’ he said.


The result, loss or not, was a reminder of how loaded Miami is, and five of the absent players will be back when the ‘Canes play Ohio State two Saturdays from now. Harris will be one of them, although Morris appeared to do enough to give Golden something to think about.


He only wanted to think about what his team couldn’t, or didn’t, do on Monday, against an inspired team – one wearing uniforms that took gaudy to another level but which the players embraced immediately – that nevertheless kept giving Miami chances to steal the game.


Golden said he expected his team to be prepared and focused, even after the turmoil of recent weeks.


“I wasn’t surprised – and again, Maryland came out with a fury. We knew they would. We kind of survived the fury,’’ he said. “We had opportunities. We clearly had opportunities.


“No excuses, starting with me. We had enough to win on this trip to win this game, and we didn’t make the plays. Maryland did. Give them credit.’’


Maryland, though, played with pretty much a full deck. There’s no telling when, if ever – literally – Miami and Golden will have that available.


They won’t admit it, but on opening night, they did pretty well without it.