The No. 21 Miami Hurricanes had more than they could handle in their first 2018 road trip against LSU, when they were ranked No. 8 and appeared to be in cruise mode right through that little pregame altercation that was followed by a dismal season debut.
Now, the Hurricanes (1-1) head to Toledo, Ohio to face a mid-major offensive power that finished 11-3 last season, won the Mid-American Conference Championship, crushed weakling VMI 66-3 in this season’s opener and had a bye week to prepare for Miami.
“It is here. It is real, and it will be spectacular,’’ Toledo Blade columnist David Briggs wrote this week of the noon kickoff at the historic Glass Bowl. “The most anticipated home game in school history. No. 21 Miami at Toledo. We’ve never seen anything like it and we never will again.’’
That kind of drama the Canes, favored by 10, likely don’t need. What they want to avoid is being down at halftime, as they were in last year’s Toledo game at Hard Rock Stadium, and then having to dig themselves out for an eventual victory.
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“That was enough drama for three weeks,’’ said UM coach Mark Richt after last year’s eventual 52-30 UM win following a three-week respite because of Hurricane Irma.
This week, after UM’s 77-0 throttling of Savannah State, Richt said the Rockets “are fun to watch if you’re not playing them.”
“I enjoy offensive football,’’ UM’s coach said. “I enjoy people being able to throw and catch it. I enjoy the art of route-running...”
Though Toledo no longer has quarterback Logan Woodside, the school’s career passing yards and touchdowns record-holder who torched the Canes for 342 yards and three touchdowns last season despite being sacked four times, junior Mitchell Guadagni completed 11 of 16 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as a starter.
Toledo’s receiving corps is deep (and goes deep), with three wideouts— Diontae Johnson, Jon’Vea Johnson and Cody Thompson — who have earned all-conference honors while catching at least 10 touchdown passes in a season. Against UM, Diontae Johnson had eight receptions and scored two touchdowns, Thompson had five catches for 114 yards and Jon’Vea had five catches and a touchdown.
Thompson blocked a punt early in the Rockets’ victory against VMI, then recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
“They can do it all,’’ UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “They’re as deep as a group, and it’s not my opinion [because] the numbers tell it, as anybody in the country. ... Every DB’s primal fear is that deep ball, and every one of those guys has the ability...
“Certainly they have our full attention.’’
Diaz’s defenders suffocated overwhelmed Savannah State with a shutout that included 18 tackles for loss, an interception, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt and blocked field goal.
Offensively, Miami got off to a slow start this past week, and Richt knows it wouldn’t be prudent to do the same Saturday with a hostile, expected sellout crowd hoping for an upset.
“It’s big,’’ Richt said of starting out fast Saturday. “If you can, it helps. If you get a crowd that’s already rowdy, even rowdier by allowing that team to have the success that ignites the crowd, that makes it just that much harder, makes it that much louder, makes it that much to where you feel like you’re outnumbered when you’re really not.
“Starting fast is important. We certainly did in the [Appalachian] State game,’’ Richt said of UM’s 45-10 victory against the mid-major Mountaineers in 2016, “and I think it helped us some. But eventually it will settle into a game, and the best team is going to win in the end.’’
The Rockets boast in their media guide that they’re “the only school in the country to be undefeated against both Michigan and Penn State” — Michigan in 2008 and Penn State in 2000. Their last victory against a top-25 team: 16-12 against No. 18 Arkansas in 2015.
“I feel like if we go out and execute and have a couple of good drives, the crowd will be taken out of it,’’ said Miami quarterback Malik Rosier. “That’s our job — take the crowd out by putting points on the board.’’