Since the beginning of fall camp, all the talk surrounding the the University of Miami has revolved around winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division.
With the Hurricanes starting off conference play with a loss — as much as fans might not want to hear it following a crushing 29-24 defeat to rival Florida State — the goal the team set its sights on is still within reach with the first matchup inside the weaker division of the ACC on the horizon.
The journey for UM (3-2, 0-1) begins 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1) at Sun Life Stadium.
More challenging than anything the Hokies present on the field will be getting over the emotional loss to FSU in Tallahassee on Saturday night, the sixth consecutive loss for the Hurricanes in the series.
The hangover has plagued UM the past two seasons.
After blowing a double-digit lead against the Seminoles at home last year, the Canes went on to lose their final two regular-season games — against Virginia and Pittsburgh — before falling to South Carolina in the Independence Bowl.
In 2013, the Canes went into FSU 7-0 and ranked No. 7 before going down to the Noles and having it snowball into ensuing losses to Virginia Tech and Duke.
With the most recent installment of the rivalry — one that has become awfully one-sided as of late — coming earlier in the season, there’s a lot more room for two contrasting outcomes: growth or an even larger collapse.
UM coach Al Golden insists it will go in the direction of growth this time.
“Everybody has already moved on in this building,” Golden said in his day-after teleconference with reporters on Sunday. “I like the pulse of the team and, obviously, they know they’ve got a great challenge.
“There’s going to be no less fight in this team. This team is going to be ready to go when we get back on the [practice] field on Tuesday.”
The loss, which involved a comeback from a 14-point deficit to take a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter before ultimately squandering it, visibly took its toll on players Saturday night, with several staying behind on the field staring at FSU players celebrating with their fans.
“Everybody was crushed. There’s no way around that,” said Golden, under pressure from an increasingly disgruntled fan base. “If we weren’t upset or distraught after an emotional game like that — which obviously you saw [FSU’s] reaction to winning the game — I think then we’ve got the wrong guys in the locker room.”
Leadership from the upperclassmen this week will be instrumental in keeping the team afloat.
“I can’t have my head down. If I put my head down, everybody is going to put their head down,” said fifth-year senior receiver Rashawn Scott after his six-reception, 108-yard performance Saturday. “So I’m going to have to put this on my back. It’s probably hurting me the most. I’m just going to have to be a leader now.”
The Hurricanes are pushing the mentality on social media. The team posted to its Twitter account photos of players working out Sunday with the text “back to work” accompanying it.
Later Sunday, a picture of quarterback Brad Kaaya was posted with postgame quotes from Saturday reading: “This loss isn’t going to break us. … Demand greatness out of everybody. … We have the Coastal now. That’s been our goal since Day One — win the Coastal, and it starts with Virginia Tech.”
Although Kaaya couldn’t lead his offense to a go-ahead touchdown on the Canes’ last two drives, Golden expressed his appreciation for the sophomore’s career-high 405-yard passing performance.
“He wanted the ball in his hands when it was crunch time. He wanted the ball in his hands to win the game,” Golden said. “A really gutsy performance by Brad. That’s one tough S.O.B.”
The flip side of the 400-plus yards and three touchdowns on 49 attempts through the air: UM was ineffective on the ground. Joseph Yearby averaged 2.2 yards per carry on his 15 carries, and freshman Mark Walton only took one rush attempt for 3 yards.
“We certainly would’ve loved to run the ball more effectively and run the ball close to 30 times in the game, but we just felt like we had an advantage and liked our matchups down the field and vertically,” Golden said.
The lack of a second dimension on offense allowed the Seminoles to pin their ears back and rush Kaaya.
Stacy Coley, who left the game after landing awkwardly on his hip on a fourth-quarter 29-yard touchdown catch, was said to be “doing great,” according to Golden.
“I don’t suspect any long-term issues there,” Golden said.
Linebacker Jermaine Grace came out of the game healthy after battling an ankle injury all week.
Golden said freshman defensive tackle Kendrick Norton (ankle sprain) was in a boot and that the team is “being careful” with center Nick Linder (neck/shoulder).
“For the physicality of the game, we came out of it OK,” Golden said.