The second half of the Hurricanes’ most successful football season in nine years begins at noon Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
There, against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), the No. 7 Hurricanes (6-0, 2-0) can finally play the game they love without what UM coach Al Golden once called “that four-letter word” dangling like a black widow.
The NCAA delivered its Nevin Shapiro-related sanctions Tuesday, freeing Golden and his players from the weight of uncertainty and allowing them to focus on football minus scandalous drama.
And if bodies fill the seats that have been purchased for the game, there will be an impressive crowd to witness UM’s attempt to begin a season 7-0 for the first time since 2003.
Saturday’s “Operation Sellout,” as UM coined it, was strategically initiated for Employee Day. Each UM employee could receive one free ticket to the game and was allowed to purchase up to three more tickets for a dollar apiece.
Talk about serendipitous timing. The Canes are favored by 24 against the Demon Deacons, despite Wake defeating North Carolina State 28-13 and Maryland — with only two losses in seven games — 34-10 the past two weeks. UM fans, relieved about the NCAA case ending and the Hurricanes escaping what could have been more severe sanctions, can come out to the stadium and scream.
As of Friday evening, about 3,800 tickets remained, almost certainly ensuring a rowdy atmosphere. Golden penned a letter to UM students Friday, thanking them for their support and urging them to fill Sun Life Stadium for the final three home games.
“I want to stop and take a moment to thank you for the effort you have put forth to improve the atmosphere inside Sun Life Stadium,” Golden wrote. “I don’t know if you truly understand how important your role is in the grand scheme of our success.
“... As we hit the home stretch of the ACC schedule, we need your presence and enthusiasm more than ever… and we need it for four quarters. The student section is the epicenter of our home-field advantage, and we need you louder than ever during the fourth quarter.
“… I sincerely hope that each of you will continue to support us by packing that student section, dancing in the smoke, screaming on third down
“... See you on Saturday!” the coach wrote. “Deserve Victory.”
On Monday, just hours before the public learned that the NCAA would deliver its penalties the next day, Golden spoke to the media as practice ended. He insisted he still needed to hammer home the one-game-at-a-time mantra, especially with UM on the verge of being 7-0 and about to face No. 2 Florida State in a nationally televised, prime-time game Nov. 2.
Not that Golden would ever utter the name of a team that didn’t come next on the schedule, but …
“You’re fighting human nature no matter what,” Golden said. “And we’re just trying to keep them internally driven and focused on a process and let that deliver. When you have some guys that don’t trust that, or think it’s about something else, or freelance and don’t do their job, there are consequences. And we all pay the consequences.
“That’s the lesson. Stay in the bunker. Don’t worry about the outside. What got you this far, just stay with it and don’t start taking a bite of the apple.
“It’s a challenge. There’s cheese all around them. Don’t take the cheese. Don’t take the trap. You have a guy here or there and all of a sudden they’re seduced by it. They want to hear about it. They want to talk about it. It has nothing to do with the outcome.”
Saturday’s outcome is expected to go Miami’s way if the Hurricanes can avoid the turnovers — 12 in all — that have plagued them the past three games. Quarterback Stephen Morris, bum right ankle still hindering him, threw four interceptions last week at North Carolina.
“We can’t live like that,” Golden said.
The Demon Deacons’ two best players, receiver Michael Campanaro and nose tackle Nikita Whitlock, are huge threats. Campanaro has 704 receiving yards and five touchdowns in only six games. Whitlock has 45 tackles, seven sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in seven games.
On Wednesday, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe reflected on whether he believed “trap games” really existed — just in case Miami should look ahead and lose focus.
“I think that happens once in a while,” Grobe said, adding that he thought the Hurricanes’ trap game was last week at North Carolina, where they scored the winning touchdown with 16 second left. “I think they’re wide awake right now, so I’ve got a feeling we’ll be taking their best shot.”