Mike James was a human pinball, bowling ball and wrecking ball as he bounced, spun, plowed and churned through North Carolina State’s defense, splitting, upending and shedding seven would-be tacklers who sprawled on the field in his wake.
Dalton Botts, the slim punter, caught a fake field goal snap, tucked the football under his forearm and did a convincing Larry Csonka impersonation as he dragged a pack of linemen to the four-yard line.
Allen Hurns, with eyes in the back of his head and the soles of his feet, balanced on the tightrope that separates inbounds from out-of-bounds, collected a 14-yard pass over his shoulder, scuffed his toes on the edge of the green end zone while falling down, and looked up just in time to see the referee signaling touchdown.
On three remarkable plays, James, Botts and Hurns demonstrated the sort of extra effort that distinguishes the 2012 University of Miami football team from its recent predecessors.
The relentlessness they embody is what enabled the Hurricanes to hang on against N.C. State and seize the winning touchdown with 19 seconds left on Saturday in a wild thriller similar to last week’s overtime victory at Georgia Tech.
No OT this time, to the relief of everyone depleted by the sun and humidity of a brutal September day. Final score: Miami 44, N.C. State 37, Heat Index 99.
“I’m going to go full body cramp any minute,” coach Al Golden said afterward, chugging Gatorade.
He talked about his exciting, exasperating team while wiping sweat from his brow with a towel that was slung over his shoulder.
“I accepted a long time ago that this would be who we are this year,” Golden said. “We’re not dominant in any one phase. It’s just survive and advance.”
So when he saw quarterback Stephen Morris throw a 62-yard pass that became a touchdown catch by Phillip Dorsett less than two minutes after N.C. State had tied the score on a 50-yard field goal, his reaction was understandable.
“Holy [expletive]!” is how he described it, adding: “I’m sorry. I’m so tired I’m delusional.”
He’s also proud of the progress he’s witnessing.
“We’re not a perfect team,” he said. “You should hear the headsets. Whether it’s to be down 17 last week or to have them come roaring back this week, you have to be mentally tough to respond, and I think our team [was].”
Morris responded, accruing 566 passing yards to set a UM and ACC record. So did Brandon McGee when he ripped the ball out of the hands of a receiver on the threshold of scoring. Then there was the marauding duo of defensive end Jelani Hamilton and linebacker Nantambu-Akil Fentress, who ambushed N.C. State’s quarterback for a safety. Thomas Finnie’s interception gave Miami its last-gasp chance.
The Hurricanes are young and unpolished. But Golden’s influence is taking hold. Crisp tackles. Precise routes. Finished plays. The sloppiness and wheezing that Golden observed upon arrival is not tolerated. A half-baked approach has been replaced by keen attention to detail.
“WE’RE BAAACK!” read one fan’s sign.
“WE’RE GETTING THERE!” would be more accurate.
Miami is 4-1 with a game against Notre Dame at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Saturday night. UM’s performance against the undefeated Irish will be much more telling than what we’ve seen against mushy ACC competition.