The Canes’ defense was so bad last year, remember, that fans calling for defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s job joked he should be called Mark “Onofrio” because he had no D.
He does now. D’Onofrio — with a D — and his entire unit received a game ball from Golden.
Four of UM’s takeaways came with the Gators driving in Miami territory. The fourth-down stop was at the UM 16. The Canes were dominated almost 2-to-1 in time of possession and gave up 413 yards, yet it was a tremendous, clutch defensive show.
Morris was average but for one gorgeous 52-yard scoring pass, and Duke Johnson was budgeted to 59 hard-won yards on 21 carries. But the Canes defense was there to pick them up.
“We couldn’t handle this setting a year ago,” Golden said. “This team had the guts to win.”
A year ago, Miami got clobbered by ranked opponents Kansas State and Notre Dame, remember.
“The stipulation that’s been around us is that we can’t play with the bigger programs,” admitted running back Dallas Crawford.
Games like Saturday’s put a paintbrush to graffiti like that. I suspect Morris had that opportunity as much as the rivalry in mind when he said, “We’d been thinking about this game for a long time.”
Handling the Gators also means the Canes might now claim bragging rights for eternity, or at least until this great rivalry resumes as it should.
Miami’s series lead is now 29-26. (I might also remind that UM enjoys a lead over the Gators in national championships. Not sure what new math they teach in college these days, but I’m pretty sure five is still greater than three.).
Not as quantifiable is whether Saturday’s win means Miami is fully “back,” that long, elusive road that would end with the Hurricanes being players again on the top echelon of college football. Five national championships were bunched between 1983 and 2001. Golden is running toward another one as hard as he sprinted toward his players as this game ended.
He isn’t overselling or dramatizing what Saturday meant.
“Big win? Yes,” he said. “But we have a long way to go. It’s been such a long road. We’ve been battling this thing.”
Beating the Gators matters. It matters as tangible proof of progress, and it matters as a reward for perseverance. For believing.
Those were the things carrying Al Golden on Saturday on the happiest spring of his life.