CHICAGO -- The opponent was legendary. The temperature fell into the wind-blown 30s. A howling, hostile crowd filled a sacred old stadium. The challenge was all ways enormous here for the University of Miami football team Saturday night.
And yet none of that intangible stuff beat UM. Neither the atmosphere nor the elements conquered the Hurricanes.
If only such easy excuses were available.
The Hurricanes beat themselves, first, and then the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took over and did the rest. The combination — Miami mistakes and the opponent’s might — fashioned a 41-3 rout by Notre Dame that instructed the young Canes on exactly how far they remain from the return to elite status this program seeks so hungrily.
If this was a measuring stick, it just slapped UM upside the head.
What has to hurt a Canes fan as much as the defeat itself is that on a night when the opportunity was as big as the stage, this was a game completely and thoroughly lost as a once-great old rivalry renewed itself on national TV from Soldier Field.
The Miami offense that has mostly looked so dominant this season was humbled and buried by Notre Dame’s vaunted defense.
And the Canes defense, a problem all season — at times embarrassingly bad — was run over, through and around by an Irish offense that (you wouldn’t know it) had been struggling. Notre Dame rushed for 379 yards against a school once renowned for run defense. Warren Sapp and Cortez Kennedy had to be shaking their heads. The tears in heaven were Jerome Brown’s.
Former UM stars Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis were on the sideline before the game exhorting the current troops. Better they should have been out there trying to help tackle Notre Dame’s running backs. The chilly weather didn’t stop UM coach Al Golden from eschewing a jacket and going with his trademark white shirt and tie. He wanted to set an example. Asked if he worried his players would be huddle around sideline heaters, he said, “I hope we’re just tough enough to go out and play.”
They were tough.
Just not good enough.
Golden, student of college football history, had called this a “special day.” The kind that “creates memories.”
If only many of those that shaped Miami’s loss weren’t the kind the Canes would rather forget.
So many early wounds all were self-inflicted.
The first play of the game was a likely 72-yard Stephen Morris touchdown pass that Phillip Dorsett let fall to the ground. Later in that series Dorsett would drop a perfect pass in the end zone.
A roughing-the-punter penalty against Miami and then a personal foul would help Notre Dame to its first touchdown.
A Miami holding penalty would erase a 13-yard TD run by Morris.
A Canes possession that started at the Irish 35 was squandered, expiring with a Jake Wieclaw field goal try that knuckled and wobbled horribly short and left.
A defensive personal foul gave the Irish a first-and-goal that turned into a TD.
The mistakes became a small parade, but the grand marshal was that initial drop. You have to wonder how the game might have been different had Dorsett made that first catch. Had a big crowd been stunned silent so soon. Had the Irish trailed in a game for the first time all season.
I don’t mean to pick on Dorsett. He was the team’s last-minute hero only one week earlier.