Miami took MTSU lightly last month. Canes promise they got attitude adjustment during bye

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Of everything the Miami Hurricanes did wrong in their stunning loss to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders before their bye week, perhaps the most alarming pratfall was the return of an all-too-familiar, awful Miami trope.

In the immediate aftermath of the Hurricanes’ 45-31 loss last month, multiple Miami starters admitted the Hurricanes weren’t ready to against Middle Tennessee. Jakai Clark told WQAM the Hurricanes “weren’t prepared.” and probably overlooked the Blue Raiders. It clearly, in some capacity, contributed to another slow start and a third loss to a Conference USA opponent in four years.

Even after everything coach Mario Cristobal tried to do to change the Hurricanes’ culture in the nine-plus months since his hiring, Miami still found itself in need of a serious attitude adjustment and the Hurricanes insist it was a major point of emphasis last week — even if they’re not saying what exactly is going to change.

“Any time you have an issue like that, you certainly work on it,” Cristobal said, in reference to his team’s penchant for slow starts. “It has been addressed.”

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Miami (2-2) has trailed in the first quarter of every game this season and given up the first score in three of four. Against Middle Tennessee, the Blue Raiders jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to two interceptions and the Hurricanes went from a 94.1 percent win probability, according to ESPN, at the start of the game to a betting underdog by halftime and a sub-10 percent win probability by the start of the fourth quarter.

By the time Miami stopped taking Middle Tennessee lightly, its deficit was too much to overcome, and its next opponent provides an even more potent threat.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are tied for sixth in the nation in scoring with 45.4 points per game. If they blink as they come out of the starting gate Saturday, the Hurricanes could find themselves down by multiple scores and flailing to keep up with one of college football’s most potent offenses.

“That’s obviously one of the big things we had to work on,” offensive lineman Jalen Rivers said. “We obviously took that bye week as a new adjustment, to where we had to put certain arrangements in and focus on certain things that we didn’t focus on in the past couple weeks.”

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Rivers, however, said there aren’t any specific, wholesale changes being made — or at least he wouldn’t divulge them. Miami’s Friday night routine — typically including a stay at a hotel, a curfew and, in a new Cristobal rule, no video games — is staying the same, as is the pregame procedure, Rivers said.

The Hurricanes, instead, are just being open about the issue, getting together and talking to try to figure out why it’s something that has plagued him, and what they might be able to do to fix it.

“It’s definitely something that we circled as a team,” defensive lineman Elijah Roberts said. “The players got together and said, ‘What can we do to start fast?’ It’s something that we need to do between us, it’s something that we need to talk to the coaches about, it’s something that we can come to and just fix, and it’s been fixed.

“People have been talking about it — coaches and stuff like that — so I don’t expect us to have anymore slow starts like that.”

Still, it’s something they won’t be able to prove is fixed until this weekend, when North Carolina comes to Miami Gardens and another game kicks off at Hard Rock Stadium.

The all-work attitude Cristobal is trying to bring to Coral Gables is a theoretical salve for this longstanding issue, but it now bridges close to half a dozen different coaching staffs, with every new coach for the last two decades dealing with at least a handful of losses with his team a substantial favorite.

The loss to the Blue Raiders was something of a wake-up call, and Cristobal said he learned the Hurricanes are even further from true contention than he thought. With the first bye of the Cristobal era now in the past, the new coach’s motivational abilities will be put to the test.

“We’ve just been preparing. We obviously took advantage of the bye week,” Rivers said. “There’s not certain things we changed or anything like that. It’s just harping on more things than usual and just getting back to that daily routine, and taking advantage of the bye week, so no huge changes, just work.”