University of Miami

I thought I was in the Orange Bowl: Big ‘D,’ Baby Canes & that old-time chip

Lawrence Cager (18), Michael Irvin II (87) and quarterback Malik Rosier walk off the field after Miami’s victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017
Lawrence Cager (18), Michael Irvin II (87) and quarterback Malik Rosier walk off the field after Miami’s victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 Al Diaz

Did that really happen? Yes, once again, of course it did.

Despite the sloppiness by both teams, sometimes the byproduct of a tough, physical game, you couldn’t help but come away impressed by the University of Miami’s dominance on both sides of the ball — in its ability to produce big plays offensively and defensively, and its inner fight that doesn’t quit.

In the newest polls released Sunday, the Canes (8-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved up in the AP from No. 9 to 7, and stayed at No. 6 among the coaches. UM is No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the ones that matter most now, and should move up at least two spots on Tuesday.

Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2) fell from 13th to 17th in both the AP and coaches’, a sign of respect for UM that they weren’t dropped more.

Notre Dame (8-1), the Canes’ opponent at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock, rose from No. 5 to 3 in the AP and from No. 8 to 5 among the coaches.

Here are some quick impressions after UM’s 28-10 victory over No. 13 Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2) late Saturday:

I thought I was in the Orange Bowl

Last night’s pulsating atmosphere at Hard Rock Stadium was absolutely thrilling for anybody who appreciates college football. When I looked at the video I shot of the Canes running out of the smoke before the game began, I had to do a double take. This is Miami, when later is right on time. It seemed that every single one of that announced crowd of 63,932 was in his or her seat and rockin’ it for four quarters. At one point after the Hokies either scored or got a turnover, a stream of Virginia Tech players ran along the end zone pointing to the crowd in glee. It was fun to see the fans reply with very loud, but otherwise harmless, chants of “Boooo!’’

The Hurricanes mentioned that crowd last night, as did coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. How could they not? It’s gratifying to see Richt and Diaz and the staff show their appreciation, because they know the importance of that boost for the players. When this town embraces a team, it’s really a blast.

No doubt in my mind that this will continue next week when Notre Dame comes to town. I’m sure the Hurricanes hope it doesn’t stop.

That defense is the best show in town

The UM defense is a group party. And it appears that their attitude is the bigger the better. You want the turnover chain? Come on down. You want it too? Definitely.

Put it around your neck, jump on the team bench and mug for national TV. Various critics on Twitter think it’s disgraceful, bad character, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s 18- to 23-year-olds relieved and proud and thrilled to have done something to help their team and to have that short moment in the spotlight. Maybe I’ve missed something, but I haven’t noticed those guys taunting other players with the chain. They don’t have enough time before it’s off their necks and waiting for the next recipient.

The Canes are now ranked 12th in scoring defense, allowing 17.6 points a game, and seventh in interceptions with 13, fifth in team sacks, fourth in turnover margin and first in the nation in tackles for loss.

Malik Rosier hangs in there and comes out on top

Quarterback Rosier is now 9-0 as a starter (he started one game in 2015 when Brad Kaaya had a concussion). What’s impressive is that no matter how he does on the field, he doesn’t appear to be flustered. He takes in what the coaches are telling him and battles back with poise. Three picks last night. Not good. But you never got the sense that he was hanging it up and going down the tubes. Great job by quarterbacks coach Jon Richt, the head coach’s son, to help keep him grounded and focused.

Rosier is 19th in the nation in passing touchdowns with 19, 30th with 2,264 passing yards, 20th in passing yards per game (283) and ninth in passing yards per completion (14.8), the latter showing he’s making big plays, which drive this offense and help prevent that crummy third-down conversion ranking (117th nationally) from hurting them.

He also is fun to watch run, fast and even graceful. With that sore throwing shoulder, he was smart to slide before getting pummeled last night.

The Baby Canes are emerging

Richt and Diaz and the other assistant coaches are getting the future of this program more playing time, a great move in so many ways. The freshmen and formerly inexperienced players are being integrated a little more each week, sometimes a lot more, so that they’re steadily gaining confidence and experience at the same time. Recruits see this. The older players see it and have to be compelled to stay on top of their games. And the fans love it.

Kudos to safety Amari Carter, a big-time freshman who got his first sack and tackle for loss last night. And DeeJay Dallas didn’t execute that trick-play pass attempt to his coach’s liking, but no harm was done and he knows they trust him enough to get it done. Dallas ran six times last night for a 5.3-yard-per-carry average, and he caught one pass for five yards. How about freshman lineman Jon Garvin, who isn’t even on the depth chart, getting a sack, tackle for loss, and recovering a fumble he forced? Oh my goodness.

This team has that old-time chip

Shaquille Quarterman and others down the line believe that these Canes are disrespected. It takes a while for reality to follow perception, and UM is now turning heads and starting to show that they deserve that respect. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and the Canes are still a work in progress. For their sake, it’s probably better they maintain that chip if it drives them to excel. The problem could come when UM plays Virginia (6-3, 3-2) on Nov. 18 at Hard Rock and Pittsburgh (4-5, 2-3) on the road in the regular-season finale. It’s only human, but it’s much harder to maintain that edge when, no matter what you say on the outside, you’re thinking the opponent is overmatched.

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