A grueling third of their regular season completed, the Hurricanes return home to Sun Life Stadium at noon Saturday with a 3-1 record, a first-place standing in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division and their only loss to seventh-ranked Kansas State.
Now, after three of four games on the road, the Canes can savor the comfort of home against a North Carolina State team that also is 3-1. But whether the home fans will be there to welcome Miami back is as much a mystery as the final score.
In the noon home opener against Bethune-Cookman — on the heels of UM’s blowout loss — the announced attendance of 39,435 (tickets distributed) seemed at least twice as large as the actual number.
Sun Life Stadium seats 75,540, according to the Dolphins media guide.
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“I am hopeful there will be noticeable improvement,” said UM associate athletic director for marketing and communications Chris Freet, who said he hopes for a crowd of 45,000 on Saturday. “It’s a totally different dynamic coming off a loss to Kansas State and facing a I-AA [Football Championship Subdivision] opponent as opposed to coming off a marquee win for Al Golden’s tenure and facing an ACC opponent.
“A lot of the marketing in this town for sports fans — right, wrong or indifferent — is based on the buzz around the team. And the buzz around the Hurricanes is very good now.”
Golden, ever the steady barometer as UM coach, has said repeatedly that the fans will come when his players win consistently. A victory Saturday would mark Miami’s first three-game winning streak since October 2009 (Oklahoma, Florida A&M, UCF).
It also would be only the second time Miami has started the season 3-0 in the conference since 2004, the year UM joined the ACC. UM hasn’t faced N.C. State since a 2008 loss in Raleigh, N.C.
“I hope more fans will come because they know we’re growing a team that they can be proud of and will fight,” Golden said a day after UM’s 42-36 comeback victory over Georgia Tech last week.
When he was asked Wednesday if he has “taken any steps” in making Sun Life Stadium “a more intimidating venue,” Golden again refused to put the blame on anything but results.
“We’ve got to get back to being the type of team that Floridians and the Miami faithful are accustomed to,” he said. “Once we do that, the rest will take care of itself.
“We have a great stadium. They’ve played the World Series there. They’ve played Super Bowls there. They’ve played national championships there. The stadium is not the problem. We’ve got to take care of our business. We can’t make any excuses.
“The fans will come out. … The way you make [games] meaningful is you win, right?”
No one is arguing about this game being meaningful. A 4-1 start for UM not only could move it into the rankings, but it would set up a huge game next weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago, where UM will face undefeated Notre Dame (4-0). The Irish have off Saturday.
N.C. State will be opening its conference schedule after losing to Tennessee, then defeating Connecticut, South Alabama and The Citadel. The Canes, according to Jeff Sagarin’s NCAA Football Ratings, are No. 18 in current strength of schedule compared with No. 100 for the Wolfpack.
After zoning in on Georgia Tech’s spread option, the Hurricanes this week face a more conventional, pro-style offense led by 6-6, 232-pound, fifth-year senior Mike Glennon.
“He’s a great player,” Golden said. “Size, mentality, tough, big arm — he’s there.”
A drop-back quarterback, Glennon ranks sixth in the ACC with 245.5 yards passing per game. Since his four-interception opener, Glennon has completed nearly 66 percent of his passes, with 694 yards, five touchdowns and no picks.
The Wolfpack, averaging 28.5 points per game, leads the ACC in time of possession (32:26).
Defensively, N.C. State ranks eighth nationally in tackles for loss (8.5 per game) and is holding opponents to just 15.7 points per game.
Most impressive, however, has been the Wolfpack’s third- and fourth-down defense. N.C. State has allowed opponents to convert just13 of 51 third-down opportunities (12th nationally), and opponents are 0 of 7 on fourth-down chances (first nationally).
The Hurricanes rank 20th nationally in third-down conversion percentage with 31 of 61 attempts converted.
“They’re really big up front,” UM offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “They’ve got an outstanding corner [David Amerson, with 13 picks in 2011 and three this season]. They’re very disciplined.
“It’s going to be a major challenge for our offense to move the ball and score touchdowns.”
The Canes hope they can do it in front of a substantial crowd, but Golden has convinced them to put on the blinders.
“As much as I’d like to see a big crowd, it’s not something we’re focused on,” linebacker Tyrone Cornelius said. “Either way, you still have to take care of business.”