University of Miami

This loss led to a (turnover) chain of events that helped Miami become relevant again

Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd tackles University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) as he passes during the first half of their NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Miami Gardens. Clemson won the game 58-0.
Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd tackles University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) as he passes during the first half of their NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Miami Gardens. Clemson won the game 58-0. AP

The “Fire Golden” chants began in the first quarter on Oct. 24, 2015, when Clemson took a 21-0 lead over the University of Miami on a 1-yard touchdown run by Zac Brooks. It was a sunny afternoon, 81 degrees, and hot tempers had flared before the game — on the field and in the stands. A plane flew over Sun Life Stadium trailing a banner that read: “Our pilot has as many top 25 wins #FireAlGolden”

By halftime, the Hurricanes trailed 42-0, and many of the fans in the announced crowd of 45,211 had left, sparing themselves the rest of the 58-0 thrashing — the worst loss in Miami’s 90-year history and the Tigers’ biggest road win in a century.

How bad was it? The Tigers didn’t immediately go to the locker room at halftime, choosing instead to snack on orange slices on the field.

“Got beat from top to bottom,” Golden said, as he emerged from UM’s somber locker room that day. “They outplayed us. They outcoached us. I just told the team it’s completely my responsibility for not getting them ready to play. They just beat us soundly in every facet of the game, period.”

A day later, Golden was fired. Tight ends coach Larry Scott was named interim coach and led the Canes to four wins through the remaining five games. Mark Richt was hired as head coach to much fanfare on Dec. 2, 2015. Two years later, to the day, the seventh-ranked Hurricanes (10-1) will face top-ranked Clemson (11-1) in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, North Carolina — a high-profile game with national title implications.

It is Miami’s first trip to the conference championship. Although the UM roster has players who were there for the 58-0 fiasco, the passionate, confident, turnover-chain flashing team that will line up Saturday is hardly recognizable from the uninspired group that unraveled at the hands of the Tigers two years ago.

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Hurricanes head coach Al Golden after the University of Miami lost to Clemson 58-0 at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

According to UM coaches and players who were there that dismal day, the crushing minutes, hours and days following that loss forced the Hurricanes to soul search, to recommit themselves to each other and to start having fun again.

“Obviously, it was the lowest point you could be at for such a proud, tradition-rich program like Miami to be defeated that way, at home,” said Scott, now the offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee. “So, your pride is hurt, ego is hurt, confidence shaken. And then, to have the coaching change Sunday, and then on Monday the death of [cornerback] Artie Burns’ mom, who was very close to the players, it was very tough on those young men and they needed some guidance.”

According to UM coaches and players who were there that dismal day, the crushing minutes, hours and days following that loss forced the Hurricanes to soul search, to recommit themselves to each other and to start having fun again.

Scott, a powerful orator, used the situation to teach the players about life.

“I told them, ‘This isn’t just about football. This is about life.’ In the darkest hours is where your true character is built and revealed. When you have your lowest of the low, what do you do? You have to fight to get yourself out of it, and get back to the core to why you even play football. You play with passion. You play for the love of the game and the love of the people around you. We centered the team on learning about how to deal with adversity, and stressed that will not just make us a better football team now, it will make us better men, better fathers, better husbands.

The Miami Hurricanes are making their first appearance in the ACC Championship game against Clemson on Saturday. Coaches of both teams believe the winner gets into the College Football Playoff.

“The way they’re playing right now, unselfish, having good, clean fun, you can tell they held onto those principles, and built on them with Coach Richt, who has made some big-time strides in putting that program back to where it needed to be, going in the right direction, and I don’t think they’re done yet.”

425Yards then punter Justin Vogel had on 10 punts, including a career-long 73-yarder

Green Bay Packers punter Justin Vogel has vivid memories of that 58-0 game. He was a shining Hurricane light on an otherwise dark day. He punted 10 times for a total of 425 yards, including a career-long 73-yarder that pinned the Tigers on their 1-yard line midway through the second quarter.

“Unfortunately, I played really well that day, but you never want your punter to be the highlight of the game,” Vogel said. “I had that 73-yard punt, but it was bittersweet. I’d rather win the game. It was really hard for all the guys because everyone came from really good high school teams, so most people had never experienced a loss like that before. We came together and decided never to let that happen again. We started playing loose, with more confidence, and you can still see that energy on the team now.”

Former UM cornerback Corn Elder, now with the Charlotte Panthers, plans to be at Saturday’s game. “I will definitely be there; it’s a huge game and I’m really glad it’s in Charlotte,” Elder said. “Clemson’s a really great team, but I think Miami guys will come out on fire.”

That was embarrassing, terrible, the worst. They beat us in everything. Offense, defense, special teams, everything. After the game, we were really down, didn’t want to see anyone.

Corn Elder, former UM cornerback

Elder expects the game to be far different from the one two years ago.

“That was embarrassing, terrible, the worst,” he said. “They beat us in everything. Offense, defense, special teams, everything. After the game, we were really down, didn’t want to see anyone. But we’re a brotherhood, and we had to just move on and not let that feeling linger. I definitely think the mood around the team changed after that loss. The talent was always there, so I’m not surprised by what they’re doing.”

Minnesota Vikings receiver Stacy Coley said the seeds for this season’s success were planted in those days after the 58-0 loss to Clemson.

“That game was so embarrassing, we let down all the alumni, and everything changed after that,” Coley said. “Coach Golden got fired, Larry Scott told us to have fun and play for ourselves, and we started winning. Miami’s always had talent and built from adversity.”

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Miami Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier (12) sets up to pass in the third quarter as the University of Miami hosted Clemson at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

Among the many bad UM memories of loss came early in the second quarter when quarterback Brad Kaaya was knocked hard and left the game with concussion symptoms. Redshirt freshman Malik Rosier stepped in and went 7 of 22 for 42 yards with two interceptions.

“To a certain extent, yeah, with that game happening, Coach Richt got hired and it’s put us to where we are now,” Rosier said. “The big thing I learned from that game is always be prepared. Brad, it was his second year starting. In those types of games, I’m not going to play being the backup. I think mid-second quarter, Brad is down and I’m in.

“I learned that Clemson is a very fast and physical team that year, just like they are this year. So, the big thing is, just taking what they give me and try to make the least amount of mistakes, because that’s what they live on. They live on QBs making mistakes.”

That game was so embarrassing, we let down all the alumni, and everything changed after that. Coach Golden got fired, Larry Scott told us to have fun and play for ourselves, and we started winning. Miami’s always had talent and built from adversity.

Stacy Coley, former UM receiver

Rosier said the talent on this UM team and the 2015 one is no different.

“The difference now is just a mind-set,” Rosier said. “I felt like a couple years ago, more people were worried about going to the NFL, more worried about themselves instead of the team. I think that’s the biggest difference between back then and now. Yeah, people want to go into the league, but at the same time we’re worried about getting a ring more than we are about our NFL Draft stock.”

Jaquan Johnson was a freshman in that game. He played sparingly, but remembers the game well.

“I was able to force a fumble, but for the most part that was just a blowout,” Johnson said. “The transformation is quite simple. It’s night and day. I had a different coaching staff my freshman year to now my junior year. I believe we’re holding ourselves to a higher standard. We’re playing the Miami way.”

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University of Miami introduces Mark Richt, 24th head football coach in school history, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. Walter Michot wmichot@miamiherald.com

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney agrees.

“Night and day,” he replied, asked to compare the 2015 and 2017 UM teams. “The last time we played them, they had a lot of talent, but they just for whatever reason that day, everything kind of went our way. ... Give Mark a lot of credit. He’s come in there and really pulled it all together and given them a clear identity. They’re playing with great energy. They look like Miami. When you think about Miami, there’s a certain image that pops up in your head, and that’s what they look like.

“It’s been a heck of a year for them, and we know it’s going to be a big challenge for us. But that’s the way it should be when you get in a championship game. Should be good on good, and that’s what you’ve got.”

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