This is the game that should make most Miami Hurricanes fans wary.
The Hurricanes meet Atlantic Coast Conference foe Louisville at 3:30 p.m. Saturday with more on the line than one might expect, and with enough positive vibes surrounding them to likely make astute Miami fans nervous.
That’s because the 6 1/2-point favored Canes (5-4, 3-3 ACC), who will honor their oldest players on Senior Day and homecoming in the final regular-season game at Hard Rock Stadium, have won the past two on the road against favored opponents — and have played sloppily, even horribly, earlier this season after victories.
That’s also because Miami has almost unbelievably found itself in the middle of the race for the ACC’s Coastal Division title, although its survival depends on the results of other Coastal teams as the season winds down. Louisville (5-3, 3-2) is in undefeated Clemson’s Atlantic Division.
And one more not-so-trivial thing: With at least one victory in UM’s next three regular-season games, the Canes will become bowl eligible.
“We’d be very foolish, with some of our past performances,’’ said UM coach Manny Diaz, “to walk around and act like we’ve got anything figured out — other than we know that when we work very hard and prepare at a very high level, our chances of winning go up. We should not be able to say anything other than that.”
Diaz knows of what he speaks.
After a rout against FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman in mid-September, UM had an ugly victory against Central Michigan, then lost to underdog Virginia Tech, beat favored Virginia and lost to now 2-6 Georgia Tech. Then, a previously reported player-led, bare-your-soul meeting heading into Pittsburgh brought the Hurricanes, they say, closer together than ever before, and sparked a turnaround against Pitt and Florida State.
Now, many are wondering if the Canes can keep it together Saturday and win three consecutive games for the first time in the Diaz era.
“We just gotta keep it rolling,’’ said UM redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams. The same intensity, the same preparation we had last week. “Those older guys, the leadership, just everything they’ve done for us and the program. This is these guys’ last game at Hard Rock, so it’s emotional for them and for all of us really because we love our seniors.
“We’re going to give everything we’ve got. Not just for those guys, but for everybody.’’
Miami hasn’t played Louisville since a road game in 2014, when the Cardinals dominated 31-13. Louisville also beat Miami in 2013 at the Russell Athletic Bowl and before that in 2006 at Louisville. The Hurricanes had previously won nine of the 10 games against the Cards, with a 13-13 tie in Miami in 1950.
The 2019 Cardinals are known for their running game, ranked 22nd in the nation (218.1-yard average), which, in turn, gives the Cards a great advantage in time of possession. Javian Hawkins is 13th nationally with his nearly 111 yards a game.
Louisville runs, runs, runs, then catches opponents off guard with the occasional explosive pass, which helps explain why the Cardinals are sixth nationally in passing yards per completion (16.7).
In the receiving game, sophomore Tutu Atwell, out of Miami Northwestern, ranks 28th in receiving yards per game (83.5) and 37th in receiving yards (668).
“They’re probably the best offense we’ve seen,’’ striker Romeo Finley said.
First-year Louisville coach Scott Satterfield indicated this week that Miami’s defense will be most worrisome for the Cardinals. Last week at FSU, the Hurricanes garnered 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
“We played some good defenses this year as we go back and look throughout the season,’’ Satterfield said, “but they’re right up there with some of the best. They cause havoc in the backfield so they disrupt the running game with the penetration up front as well, obviously, as the passing game because you hold the ball, you’re [going] to get sacked.
“I mean, 100 percent, you can’t hold the ball...’’
As for UM’s Coastal chances, Canes fans need to root for Virginia (6-3, 4-2) to lose another ACC game and for Virginia Tech (5-3, 2-2) to lose two more. Miami, of course, would need to beat Louisville, then Duke (4-4, 2-3) in the season finale in Durham, North Carolina. Next week is an open week, followed by FIU at Marlins Park in Miami.
Pitt (6-3, 3-2) and North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) also need to lose one more ACC game.
And in this division, anything could happen.
“We win out, a couple teams lose, and boom, we’re there,’’ said Finley, one of at least 14 seniors who will be honored before Saturday’s game. “That is amazing, because that was our ultimate goal, and there’s still a chance to do it.’’
Said senior starting defensive tackle Pat Bethel: “You just gotta make sure everybody maintains a level head. Just like anything you do in life.
“Having been here all four years with Diaz and getting to close it out at the Rock with my brothers one last time, I’m looking forward to it.”