Miami makes most of being out from under shadow of NCAA
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — No roller coaster ride lasts 28 months.
Over the past two and a half years, however, the seventh-ranked Miami Hurricanes experienced enough twists and turns of drama to warrant an Emmy nomination.
The program waited to hear from the NCAA on a ruling, and finally did so on Tuesday. Four days later, it played its first game under clear skies.
For the second straight week, the Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0 ACC) orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback for a 24-21 victory, avoiding an upset by unranked Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3 ACC).
“Clearly emotional,” said head coach Al Golden, who has the Hurricanes at 7-0 for the first time since 2003. “I’m not going to lie to you. Just an emotional week. Now we can breathe and move forward. I was more worried than ever this week just because nobody was really talking about Wake.”
Junior defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo’s entire tenure at Miami has fallen under the NCAA uncertainty.
Golden, who heard the NCAA news on Tuesday from athletic director Blake James, proceeded to tell his team at 9:05 a.m. before focusing back on preparation for the Demon Deacons.
“It was awesome, a long time coming,” Chickillo said of the announcement. “We were all excited. It’s something lingered over our program the whole time I’d been here. Move on.”
If the decision felt freeing to the Hurricanes, they certainly didn’t look to be playing any looser.
Miami’s defense allowed a 67 percent third-down conversion rate heading into halftime trailing 14-10. The offense scored just 10 points before sophomore running back Duke Johnson’s two touchdowns in the game’s final six minutes.
Senior quarterback Stephen Morris continued to struggle with consistency since an ankle injury in late September messed with his mechanics. Defenders missed tackles, including one on redshirt freshman Dominique Gibson’s then-go-ahead 44-yard touchdown catch.
Instead of letting these be reasons for a loss, the Hurricanes managed to extend their winning streak to nine games, dating back to last season. That ties for the fourth-longest mark in college football.
“Two years ago, a year ago, we would be in these situations and not come back,” junior offensive lineman Shane McDermott said. “I think coming back [at North Carolina] definitely taught us how to win last week and a couple weeks before that.
“Learning that culture is what we’ve learned, and now it’s pretty much in our culture that we can’t give up until there’s four zeros on the clock.”
Maybe it’s the bunker mentality the team has adopted, keeping outside influences from leaking into the locker room. Or strong senior leadership from Morris and defensive lineman Shayon Green.
History, after all, wasn’t on Miami’s side.
Since 2007, the Hurricanes were 2-3 the week before their Florida State rivalry game.
With the win, next Saturday perfectly sets up as a top-10 primetime showdown in Tallahassee, Fla., between two undefeated teams.
It will surely bring even more publicity to a program coming off national headlines.
Freshman Stacy Coley, who caught two passes for 52 yards and returned two punts for another 37 against Wake Forest, chose Miami over Florida State this past National Signing Day.
Like most of his teammates, however, he deflected questions regarding the magnitude of the upcoming rivalry game.
“Just another game,” Coley said. “Treat it as another game and do our best.”
Junior linebacker Denzel Perryman, a local from Coral Gables Senior High School, grew up a Hurricane. When prodded a bit more, he offered his take.
“It’s why you come to UM,” said Perryman, who finished with a team-high six tackles on Saturday. “It’s a lot of fun because nine times out of 10 you’re competing against guys from high school or Pop Warner.”
Saturday would be spent celebrating a win over Wake Forest and finally putting the NCAA saga to rest, as evidenced by a plane that flew over Sun Life Stadium carrying a banner that read, “Thanks to Al, Donna & team #FullSpeedAhead.”
Sunday would begin focus on the second-ranked Seminoles.
When asked whether his team would be prepared for the impending media frenzy, Golden welcomed a challenge he and his team could actually control on the field.
“With all respect, there has been more national exposure over the last 28 months than any of us can handle,” Golden said. “If it’s about football, we’re all in. We’re all in.”