The loss could have broken Miami, a team that was but a wisp of smoke building up steam inside of Howard Schnellenberger’s iconic pipe. A team that struggled to brand itself, sell out games and had never tasted victory on a national stage. Miami, a football program standing on its last leg and Schnellenberger, a coach three years into a tenure without any hardware to show in return for championship promises.
The loss could have jettisoned ‘The U’ before it was born, forever redirecting college football and pop culture history, but instead the ’83 Hurricanes were emboldened.
Miami reeled off 10 straight victories in 10 consecutive weeks to earn a spot in the Orange Bowl’s fiftieth anniversary game against No. 1 Nebraska, a team that had won 24 consecutive games under hall of fame coach Tom Osborne , with a national title on the line – and won, against all odds. It was the program’s first title – it would not be its last.
30 years later, Miami has won five titles – fourth behind only Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Alabama in the AP era – but has hibernated for the last decade in turmoil and mediocrity.
Of 124 Division I NCAA college football teams, the Miami Hurricanes rank 118th in the nation converting on only five of 25 third downs. Against Florida, the ‘Canes faced an average of 12.5 yards on 11 third down opportunities and moved the chains only once.
Hurricane opponents have combined to posses the ball for 71 minutes and 38 seconds to Miami’s 48:21 – nearly five quarters of real play time to Miami’s three – and the differential was exaggerated against the Gators who held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the contest.
Stephen Morris, who has been touted by some as a potential Heisman dark horse and early 2014 NFL draft pick, is averaging just 161 yards per game in the age of the forward pass while his receiving corps has netted just 254 yards on the season, 121 of those yards coming on three long completions.
Yet for the first time since Nov. 14, 2010 the ‘Canes find themselves in the AP Top 25 and for the first time since Oct. 3, 2010, they’re in the AP Top 15. For the first time since the 2004 Peach Bowl, Miami has defeated Florida in what very well could be the last game of the in-state rivalry for the foreseeable future.
For the first time in almost a decade Miami – 2-0, despite not playing a game home – has just defeated a marquee opponent on national television.
For the first time during Al Golden’s brief tenure in South Gables, Miami has the feel of a team destined for more and one only needed to watch the post game celebration that rivaled the 2 Live Crew championship romps long since abandoned to know it.
“It was almost cathartic, to be honest with you,” Golden said. “It was just 26 months there unleashed in the last four or five seconds. I’m proud of these guys. You guys watched us grow. We couldn’t handle this setting a year ago.”
Another appropriate phrasing for the early 2013 Hurricane season: ‘better lucky than good’.
Miami’s defense took center stage against Florida forcing five turnovers and a game changing fourth-and-one red-zone stop and despite being severely out-gained and out-possessed, held on for a 21-16 victory.
Progress under Golden’s guide is evident and checking in at No. 16 in the AP poll off of a bye is no fluke. What’s also evident is that there’s still plenty of work to be done, particularly on the offensive end.
First year coordinator James Coley inherited all the requisite tools – a veteran laden offensive line, a stable of receivers and a star powered backfield – to rev up-and-down the gridiron and yet through two games, Coley’s ‘Canes rank 62nd in the nation in points (55), 73rd in yardage (715) and with just four drives of five plays or more and no single possession lasting longer than three minutes against the Gators, have been unable to get the ignition to turn over.
With only a day spent in celebration of the Florida victory, an entire two weeks was left to implement correction. A matchup this weekend against Savanah State University should also provide Coley, Golden and the Hurricanes another opportunity to ease into the season.
No matter how much improvement is made throughout the month of September, a championship run will be every bit as unlikely in 2013 as it was in 1983. If the ‘Canes do manage to stay in the mix however, a thank you card to Florida might just be in order.