My, how the past eight months have flown.
The Miami Hurricanes, coming off their best season in more than a decade and yet feeling pretty crummy about it, have not been this energized, this excited, this inspired to start a new campaign since, well... Start counting.
The Hurricanes just need to count to three to know how they collapsed in 2017 after earning 10 consecutive victories — 15 if you rewind to 2016 — to relinquish a No. 2 ranking and near College Football Playoff spot in a 10-3 season.
They have spent the past eight months trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
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Bring on the LSU Tigers, the same team that pulverized the Canes 40-3 the last time they met in the 2005 Peach Bowl, marking the beginning of UM’s long decline.
But this isn’t 2005.
The No. 8 University of Miami takes on No. 25 Louisiana State at 7:30 p.m. Sunday (ABC) in the AdvoCare Classic at AT&T Stadium, that cavernous, state-of-the-art, 80,000-seat gem known as Jerry’s World after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The stadium, in Arlington, Texas, outside Dallas, is the home of the Cowboys — and a home away from home for the Tigers, who are 3-0 all time in games played at AT&T Stadium and whose school in Baton Rouge is a whole lot closer for fans than UM’s Coral Gables.
Fans or no fans, hostility or love, the Hurricanes “are ready to show the world what we’ve got,’’ proclaimed senior receiver Lawrence Cager.
And they have a lot, including a heralded defense that last season finished with the third-most sacks overall (44) and most sacks per game (3.38) of 129 FBS teams, No. 3 in tackles for loss and No. 3 in turnovers gained. The 2018 Canes return players who had 24 of UM’s 31 turnovers and 14 of its 17 interceptions.
They’ve also got a senior quarterback, Malik Rosier, who, despite falling apart those last three games, threw for 3,120 yards and set single-season UM records with 31 touchdowns (throwing and rushing) and 3,588 total yards. With Rosier comes one of the nation’s most anticipated receiving corps, two of the nation’s best freshman tight ends and a more adept starting offensive line.
LSU, which finished 9-4 in 2017, was a defensive power in itself that last season finished 11th in sacks, 14th in scoring defense and 12th in total defense and has arguably the finest linebacker in the nation in preseason All-American Devin White and a star cornerback in preseason All-American cornerback Greedy Williams. Last year, White and Williams became the first set of players from the same team since 1993 to lead the SEC in tackles and interceptions.
Offensively, LSU named a quarterback — 6-4, 216-pound Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow — who has never started a game but has an outstanding completion percentage of 74.3 (29 of 39 for 287 yards and two touchdowns) in the 10 games he played for the Buckeyes the past two seasons.
“I know our fans will be excited, take over that stadium and turn it into Death Valley,’’ said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who grew up in Louisiana but won two national titles with the Hurricanes when he served as UM defensive line coach under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson from 1988 to 1992.
Orgeron is in his second full season as the LSU coach. His program is 10-2 all time in season openers where both teams enter the game ranked in the Top 25.
“You know, I coached 15 years in the SEC,’’ said Hurricanes coach Mark Richt, the former coach at Georgia. “You’re going to find some of the greatest athletes in America on that team. It’s going to be a battle.’’
No worries, indicated safety Jaquan Johnson, UM’s preseason AP All-American who wore the coveted turnover chain six times last season — four time for picks and twice for fumble recoveries. “The guys in the locker room, we’re not underestimating them. We think they think they’re going to come in and just bully us around and run the ball and catch deep balls and do whatever they want to us, basically, just because they’re an SEC opponent. ...We’re coming in with a chip on our shoulder that we’re the underdog, and we’re looking forward to it.’’
The Canes, favored by 3 1/2 points going into the weekend, are not the underdog. But they might want to consider themselves as such.
When reminded about last season’s collapse and asked what the Hurricanes learned from it, UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said, “How to handle success.’’
“When everybody is patting you on the back and telling you how good your are,’’ Brown said, “it’s kind of easy to get caught up in the moment. Hopefully those guys will learn from that.’’
UM defensive coodinator Manny Diaz wants to keep it simple Sunday. Tackling well is first and foremost.
“If the genie came out of a bottle right now and said, ‘We’re going to run to the ball really hard and tackle the guy that has it,’ we probably [would have] two-thirds of the battle won,’’ Diaz said.
Does it help starting out against a traditional power like LSU?
“There can’t be a bad in it,’’ Diaz said. “You want to always set a high standard. What our guys have figured out in two years is when we play well we win. It really doesn’t matter who we play against... We can win every game we play this year. Not every team can say that.
“But we can get beat by just about anybody on our schedule as well.’’