But big plays — those made, and those not made — define big games, and those two huge drops on Miami’s first possession set the tone for this night and had the Canes scrambling from behind long before Notre Dame began to overpower the UM defense in the second half.
So the Irish, now 5-0 and feeling a renaissance in search of their first national title since 1988, can expect to rise from their No. 9 national ranking.
And the Hurricanes, now 4-2, can at least take consolation in that 3-0 ACC record that leaves hopes of a big bowl, maybe even the Orange Bowl, still in reach.
This was a big, big chance missed, though. A chance for Miami to get back into the national polls and into the national conversation in this sport.
The opponent was certainly right. Echoes of these schools’ riveting “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry from 1985 to 1990 gave this rematch a broader context and interest. Notre Dame is always Notre Dame, but Notre Dame in the top 10 ascends to another level.
“I’ve been waiting for this game since my freshman year,” the UM quarterback Morris had said.
Dorsett one-upped him. “I’ve been following Notre Dame since I was born,” he said earlier this week.
Miami had a huge opportunity to convince poll voters who clearly needed convincing. There were seven one-loss teams in the Top 25 entering this week — UM not among them. That 52-13 loss at Kansas State lingered sourly in voters’ minds. Plus, apart from the routine win over undermanned Bethune-Cookman, the Canes’ wins over Boston College, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State all have had a frantic quality to them, involving desperation or late comebacks.
When you make a list of the biggest victories in UM history you start with the five that brought national championships (the most recent in 2001). Right after that, though, any short list of biggest victories for this storied program surely would have included Saturday night had these Canes been up to the task.
Instead this signature opportunity went the way of that very first pass that arched so beautifully toward a waiting receiver Saturday night.
It was dropped.
It fell hard.