The Miami Hurricanes won Saturday’s football season opener easily, and new starting quarterback Malik Rosier enjoyed a solid, clean, confidence-building performance. But you want the message for UM coming out of this first game?
Be better. Fast.
Because what we just saw from the Canes in this perfunctory 41-13 rout of Bethune-Cookman won’t be good enough when the real season starts.
Expectations are elevated. This is the first season since 2010 that finds UM ranked (18th) in the AP preseason polls. Swagger is back, and the Canes aren’t afraid to embrace it, to be showy. Hence the “Turnover Chain” invented by defensive coordinator Manny Diaz — a gaudy, thick gold rope of a chain with a green and orange U that a defender causing an opponent turnover gets to wear on the sideline.
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“It’s a Miami-style chain,” as linebacker Shaq Quarterman put it. “We are kind of flashy.”
It’s in the context of gold-gilded expectations that Saturday’s opening performance was, in Rosier’s words, “not the championship level we need.”
The schedule claimed UM’s 92nd year of football started this day but, of course, the real start is now a mere four quarters away. Sixty football minutes away. After one more glorified tuneup game it will happen Sept. 16 in Tallahassee, in prime time on national TV, and Saturday was about as far from those trappings and stakes as you can get in this sport.
As preparation goes, getting ready for Florida State by playing Bethune-Cookman is like preparing for a heavyweight prizefight by playing patty cake. Like getting ready to enter a lion’s den by petting a kitten.
Bless your heart, Bethune. You tried your hardest at The Rock, where 50,454 turned out despite the early start and low-watt opponent, but you never had a chance. Not even when you scored first. College football is the only major sport that can offer such gross disparity. Do the Golden State Warriors open their season against McGillicutty Junior College?
Understand, UM had been favored by 51 1/2 points. By that reckoning the Canes were not all that impressive Saturday, and yet still the outcome was never in doubt.
UM’s escalating early season schedule is all about getting ready for mighty nemesis FSU on the road in the game that will largely shape and define Year 2 of the Mark Richt era. Saturday’s performance level by the Canes might be good enough at Arkansas State next week, but it won’t be in Tally.
None of this is meant to convey a need for anything close to early panic. The Canes surely feel none. This was a “soft” opening. The final margin didn’t matter much. This was a game not meant to tell Richt how good his team is —but rather how far his team still needs to go to get there.
Rosier looked the part in taking over for departed career-passing leader Brad Kaaya. There was an neat juxtaposition Saturday. Just as the news broke that the Detroit Lions had cut Kaaya (who never should have left early), Rosier drilled a 46-yard completion to Darrell Langham. Rosier missed a few throws, but 17-for-28 passing for 217 yards and three TDs, with zero interceptions, is a good day no matter the foe.
“His decisions were pretty darned good,” Richt said. “He didn’t put the ball in harm’s way.”
Also positive: Running back Mark Walton looked in midseason form with 148 yards on 16 carries, and backup Travis Homer also topped 100.
Negatives? The offense squandered a few drives into the red zone, and UM’s vaunted defense — the one that will be passing around that Tunrover Chain — got dominated in time of possession by Bethune’s ball control, gave up 25 completions and 350 total yards. Against the FCS Wildcats.
“It’s just one game, but I’m sure Manny’s not totally excited,” Richt said. “We’re not on offense, either. But I know our defense won’t be 100 percent thrilled when they put that tape on.”
The defensive leader, Quarterman, when asked if Bethune-Cookman felt like a “practice game,” admitted, “It kind of did.” Players know. Their coaches can preach how dangerous Bethune is. They know Arkansas State on the road will be a sharply increased challenge. And they know when the real season starts.
So Rosier’s evening plans were set Saturday.
He planned to watch that night’s game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State. To study the Seminoles defense.
“Try to figure out some of the coverages they’re going to play,” he said.
See, that gaudy “Turnover Chain” isn’t the jewelry this team is aiming for this season.
The Hurricanes believe they can be ACC champions.
They believe they can earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
They’ll believe it until FSU or somebody else can prove them wrong.