Last Saturday for a few moments at Florida State, University of Miami receiver Stacy Coley must have felt a bit like fictional NFL player Rod Tidwell in the celebrated 1996 movie Jerry Maguire – minus the minute-long, over-the-top touchdown dance.
In the movie, receiver Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., catches a touchdown pass, gets knocked out on his back, wakes up, realizes what he’s done and entertains the crowd as the Jumbotron flashes “IN ROD WE TRUST.”
Coley made his acrobatic touchdown reception Saturday on a seam route in the fourth quarter to give UM a one-point lead. He then triumphantly stood upright before suddenly falling backward, seemingly hurt.
And he was, but not nearly as badly as when the now No. 11 Seminoles scored the go-ahead touchdown with 6:44 left for the eventual victory.
There was no extended celebration Saturday, just the realization that Coley, bruised hip and all, had finally broken loose with a career performance – after a sophomore slump that eroded his confidence and made fans wonder if he could duplicate his tremendous freshman season.
“He’s a difference maker,” said UM coach Al Golden of the speedy Coley, whose seven catches Saturday accounted for 139 yards and the touchdown. “We miss him.
“He worked really hard from last year to this year and really nobody on the outside saw how much improvement he’s made until that moment Saturday. It wasn’t too big for him, and I’m so proud that he just trusted it and let it rip and let it fly and didn’t worry about anything.’’
With Coley’s reemergence, should he, indeed, stay healthy and productive, Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya would have three top targets – Rashawn Scott (415 yards and two touchdowns), Herb Waters (299 yards) and Coley – to keep Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) occupied when the teams meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
“It makes me a lot more comfortable just to know all the weapons are there and they can all do different things well,’’ Kaaya said. “It’s hard to key on one guy because you have guys on both sides of the field that can stretch it vertically.’’
The Hokies are ranked 11th nationally in passing yards allowed, with free safety Chuck Clark leading the ACC with 51 tackles.
Miami (3-2, 0-1) is 18th nationally in passing offense.
“Basically, I’ve just got to build from it,’’ Coley said of last week’s performance. “We know we’ve got to beat man coverage [against Virginia Tech]. We know we’ve got to run the ball, so it’s got to be run and pass. We know we’ve got to block.’’
The 6-1, 188-pound Coley, who played at Oakland Park Northeast High in Broward County, dealt with a left-hamstring injury all summer, then was reinjured on the first touchdown drive of the season. He sat out for FAU on Sept. 11, then hurt the hamstring again on a 31-yard kickoff return with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter of the Nebraska game Sept. 19.
It was his lone return of the season, and he didn’t play again until FSU.
He said he gets rehab treatments for his hamstring three times a day, as well as for his hip.
“I’m good,’’ he said. “My hip is fine.’’
As a freshman All-American in 2013, Coley played in all 13 games and made seven starts, leading the Canes with 1,461 all-purpose yards, the 10th highest single-season total in school history. He led UM with seven receiving touchdowns and ranked second in receiving yards with 591. He also topped his teammates with 570 kick-return yards and 220 punt-return yards.
Coley was the nation’s only FBS player in 2013 to record a touchdown through the air, rushing, and by punt return and kick return.
Last year, weighing barely 170 pounds, he fought through back and shoulder injuries, not to mention preseason wisdom teeth surgery, which didn’t help his overall production – 184 receiving yards and no touchdowns on 23 catches.
Saturday, besides his touchdown, four of Coley’s other six passes went for first downs.
“He works his butt off,’’ offensive lineman Kc McDermott said, “and has really worked on his body. He’s gotten a lot stronger and faster – and how much faster can a person get?”
Said Kaaya: “I’m looking forward to what he can do this game. In college football you have to prove yourself every single week.