One week ago, the horizon seemed so promising for the Miami Hurricanes.
Now, going into the wintry weather and hostile crowd at the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium, the Hurricanes need to find a way to pour their hearts into a game that on the surface doesn’t mean much, but in the big picture means a great deal.
Will Miami wilt when the going gets tough? Or will it rise to finish 2014 in a way that gives hope for the new horizon?
“The fire is still there,” senior left guard Jon Feliciano said this week, just two days after the Canes (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) fell late to now top-ranked Florida State for the eventual loss that eliminated Miami from ACC title contention. “You’re a football player. You only have three games, with the bowl game, left. I don’t need anything to get me back.”
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Center McDermott, also a senior, was just as adamant.
“We can’t let Florida State beat us twice,” McDermott said. “We can’t let this loss really beat us down…
“For our senior class, with everything we’ve been through with the NCAA, all the tough years we’ve been through, what we need to do is pick everybody up, execute in this next game against Virginia and leave this place with positive wins.”
At a quick glance, the Cavaliers (4-6, 2-4) seem like a good opponent to accommodate the Hurricanes. They’ve lost four games in a row to slide from 4-2 to their current losing record. But considering the Cavs beat Louisville, to which UM lost 31-13, and their losses came at Duke, against North Carolina, at Georgia Tech and at FSU – teams with a combined 32-9 record – suddenly the matchup begs a closer look.
Also consider that Virginia is coming off a bye week after falling to FSU, that it’s Senior Day in Charlottesville for UVA’s final home game of 2014, that the Cavs need to win their final two games to qualify for a bowl and that temperatures are expected to dip into the mid-30s. The game is UVa’s first-ever Saturday-night home game in the month of November.
The Hurricanes, who soundly defeated the Cavs 45-26 last season at Sun Life Stadium, lost the three previous games to UVa and have not won at Scott Stadium since 2008.
“They’re physical, they’re strong, they’re smart,” UM coach Al Golden said of the Cavaliers, who rank 15th nationally in rushing defense (118.6 yards-per-game allowed) and 31st in total defense (347.8).
Stopping Duke Johnson, however, ranked eighth nationally in rushing yards per game (134.3), should be a major challenge. Johnson needs 122 yards to surpass Ottis Anderson and become UM’s all-time leading rusher.
The last time Johnson played against the Cavaliers, in November 2012 at Charlottesville, the freshman tailback had a spectacular performance. He rushed for 150 yards on 16 carries, returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass to former Canes receiver Allen Hurns.
His 368 all-purpose yards that day was the fourth best all-purpose performance in ACC history.
But it was still a loss.
Worried about Duke
No matter how strong the Cavaliers’ run defense ranks, Virginia coach Mike London, a close friend of Golden’s because they coached together at Boston College and UVa, knows what he’s up against.
“Duke is one of the best running backs in the country,” London said. “He’s a guy that has steadily improved. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and he can get the hard yards – or he can get out and outrun safeties.
“He makes Miami a very, very potent team.”
Make that potent and likely a bit chilly on game night. The last time UM played in weather that cold was November 29, 2013 at Pittsburgh for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. Nearly two dozen UM defensive players strutted onto the field bare-chested during pregame warmups in a 33-degree chill.
The Canes won by 10 points.
“We’re always down here in the heat so much that when we get to cooler places we actually enjoy it,’’ South Florida native McDermott said. “I’m not worried.’’
Fellow South Floridian Clive Walford, UM’s tight end who had 127 yards and a touchdown on four catches against FSU, doesn’t exactly agree with McDermott about the weather. But he won’t let it deter his goal.
“I don’t know, man,” Walford said. “I would prefer the sun —but whatever it takes to win.’’