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Al Golden Enters Showdown Against Florida State on Hot Seat, Facing Make-or-Break Stretch at Miami

Al Golden

Al Golden

Miami coach Al Golden entered 2015 on the hot seat, and the pressure hasn’t decreased on the fifth-year coach after a 3-1 start. While the Hurricanes have a winning record, the manner in which this program is winning games hasn’t been impressive. Miami was tied at 20 with FAU in the third quarter and blew a 33-10 second half lead against Nebraska. While the Hurricanes won both games, neither performance was enough to quiet Golden’s critics.

Additionally, Golden has been the target of banners flying over Sun Life Stadium and even in Cincinnati last Thursday, calling for the program to make a coaching change.

For a variety of reasons in recent seasons, Miami hasn’t been able to match the level of the success this program had from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. However, after Thursday night’s loss to Cincinnati, it’s pretty clear Golden is looking at a critical four-game stretch that could define his tenure at Miami.

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The Hurricanes host rival Florida State on Saturday. While the buzz surrounding this matchup isn’t quite what it was previously, this is still a critical game within the ACC and for bragging rights within the state of Florida. Here’s the key stat to remember for Miami: The Hurricanes have lost five straight to the Seminoles and two of Golden’s defeats in this series came by 13 points or more.

Let’s say Miami loses to Florida State. That drops the Hurricanes to 0-1 in the ACC and 3-2 overall. The road won’t get any easier in the next few weeks. After taking on the Seminoles, Miami hosts Virginia Tech and Clemson, followed by a road trip to Duke on Oct. 31. The Tigers are the best team out of that trio, but the Blue Devils won the last meeting in Durham (2013). The Hokies are struggling with a 2-3 start but won four out of the last six in this series.

The November slate isn’t drastically easier for Miami, especially with road trips to North Carolina and Pittsburgh, along with a home date against Georgia Tech.

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Cleaning up some of the mental errors and mistakes could go a long ways for Miami over the last eight games of the season.

Behind quarterback Brad Kaaya, Miami’s offense ranks fourth in the ACC with an average of 37 points per game and second in the conference with 6.5 yards per play.

Both of those numbers are good enough to win a lot of games in 2015. However, it’s the small things hurting the Hurricanes’ offense. This unit is last in the ACC by converting just 24.5 percent of its third downs. And Miami is also committing nearly eight penalties a game (7.75).

Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was the subject of criticism throughout last season by Miami’s fanbase and this unit has struggled once again in 2015. The Hurricanes have surrendered 29 points a game in three contests against FBS teams this season, rank 12th in the ACC in third-down defense, surrendered nine plays of 30 yards or more and give up 5.4 yards per play.

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Football Outsiders’ advanced statistics only reiterate Miami’s troubles on defense. This unit is No. 53 in defense S&P and No. 95 in defensive efficiency.

It’s no secret Miami has yet to play for the conference championship or win a Coastal Division title since joining the ACC in 2004. Combine that historical note with seven players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft after a 6-7 record, and it’s easy to see why most consider this program to be an underachiever.

Al Golden has recruited well. Miami inked the No. 27 signing class nationally in the 247Sports rankings last season, but prior to 2015, Golden signed three consecutive top 15 classes. Over the last five seasons, the Hurricanes average a 19.2 finish nationally in team recruiting rankings. That’s No. 3 in the ACC. Yet, Miami is just 16-16 over the last four years in conference play.

Is time running out on Golden at Miami? The next four games have to be considered a make-or-break stretch for this coaching staff.