Al Golden said he wasn't going to lose his mind scoreboard watching or “become a slave to the TV for seven hours” on Saturday to see whether the University of Miami would get the help it needed to reach next weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Duke made sure the agonizing for everyone else who bleeds orange and green didn’t last that long.
The Blue Devils, who beat Miami for the first time since 1976 two weeks ago in Durham, punched their ticket to Charlotte and a date with second-ranked Florida State on Saturday afternoon thanks to a late 27-yard field goal that gave them a 27-25 win at North Carolina.
Had Duke lost and Virginia upset rival Virginia Tech, UM would have began preparing for a rematch with the Seminoles on Monday. Instead, the focus for the Hurricanes (9-3) now shifts to final exams, a few days off and the team's first trip to a bowl game since Golden was hired in December 2010.
Golden said Saturday he was real proud of the focus the team displayed in its 41-31 win at Pittsburgh on Friday, but also said there's too much work to do to take a deep breath and enjoy how far the program has come in three years despite operating under the cloud of a 28-month NCAA probe.
“We sometimes on this side of it don't have [perspective] because it's getting to the point where you don't even enjoy the victories as much as you can't stand the losing,” Golden said. “I think the reality of it is if we all just take a deep breath — [we know] we're not where we want to be yet.
“But these seniors have been through an awful lot and I'm proud of the way they’ve responded, not just this year but over the 28 months. We’re going to be in a bowl game for the first time in three years. We have a chance to win 10 games for the first time in a decade. All said and done, let's keep recruiting and moving the program forward. And, we do have some opportunities here in the next four weeks that we haven't had the previous two years.”
Bowl practices are high on that list of “haven't had” for Golden. He said “it’s tough to quantify” how missing 30 to 35 practices in December under self-imposed bowl bans hurt the program.
But he said “having all the [recruits] in South Florida come watch bowl practice and watch us operate and be around our team and players” will be big for the program moving forward. Getting to 10 victories with a bowl win — at likely either the Chick-Fil-A in Atlanta (Dec. 31) or the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando (Dec. 28) — is also important, Golden said.
What did Golden like and not like about Friday’s effort in chilly Pittsburgh?
“The kids competed; they had a great attitude,” Golden said. “It meant something to them which is so important. I think we’ve all seen instances where it’s like, all right, nobody cares. We’re not in this bowl game or that bowl game. Or we’re letting external influences impact our judgment or our attitude or how we play. That didn’t happen [Friday], which was awesome. They wanted to finish on a positive note.”
Golden cited Miami's continuing woes on third down (UM was 4 of 11 on offense; and allowed 6 of 14 on defense), special teams breakdowns, and a few instances of poor tackling as negatives in the Pitt win. He did, though, credit linebacker Denzel Perryman, safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush and cornerback Antonio Crawford as having better tackling performances.
“There are so many things we have to fix and continue to fix,” Golden said. “One of our goals in the postseason is clearly to push a lot of young players along that have not had the benefit of this time of year — to be pushed at this time of year.”
Golden said UM came out healthy from the Pitt game and he expects cornerback Ladarius Gunter and defensive end Dwayne Hoilett, who missed Friday's game, to return for bowl practices. Linebacker Alex Figueroa, who has missed UM's last three games, could return but must be cleared by a doctor.
“If we were playing next Saturday Fig would not be ready,” Golden said. “There’s a good chance for the bowl game. That would be awesome for him and great for him to have that opportunity.”