Mark Richt needed somebody to bail him out — to not make what would have been a devastating loss all about his questionable coaching decision that backfired so badly.
Turned out there were volunteers up to the task everywhere you looked Saturday. There were heroes all over the place in a thrilling, last-second victory by the still-unbeaten Miami Hurricanes.
It was one of the great games and finishes I have seen at any level in a long career’s work: UM beating Georgia Tech 25-24 on a 24-yard Michael Badgley field goal off muddy grass with 8 seconds to play. It kept No. 11 Miami unbeaten at 5-0 and atop the ACC Coastal Division in a football season that has begun to have a little bit of a magical feel to it.
“Just another day in paradise,” Richt began his postgame news conference. “That’s how we roll, I guess. There’s something going on that’s really good right now.”
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A week after beating nemesis Florida State in Tallahassee to end a seven-game series losing streak, Miami trailed much of the game Saturday before what Richt called “a minor miracle” — Malik Rosier’s 28-yard completion to Darrell Langham that put Miami in position for the winning kick.
“Be big and get the ball,” Langham described his mindset on the play.
In conditions Richt called “wet, slippery, nasty,” the fourth-down pass was tipped and Langham caught it falling backward. Had he not, the postgame narrative would have been all different, likely focusing on Richt’s ill-fated decision to call for an onside kick to start the second half. The botched play was returned for a Georgia Tech touchdown to give the Yellow Jackets a 21-13 lead, an advantage they would nurse until the closing seconds.
“If we execute it properly it was there,” Richt said.
OK, but it still was a high-risk gamble oddly timed. I’m not one to second-guess coaches’ in-game decisions, but this was one blew up in UM’s face. It caused momentum to pivot and head straight back to the visitors. It cost terribly.
And it turned out to be an afterthought, blessedly for the Canes, thanks to all those volunteers who raised hands to take the onus off their second-year head coach.
It was Rosier, who rallied from a terrible, misfiring start to toss that winning TD pass.
It was Langham, a redshirt junior who’d played little until this year, making that “minor miracle” happen.
It was Badgley, with the clutch exclamation point that kept everything else from being moot.
It was Travis Homer, in his first start for injured star running back Mark Walton, busting for 170 yards rushing and scoring twice — including the 27-yard TD run that pulled Miami within 24-22 after a missed 2-point pass play.
It was the UM defense, rising up again and again and again, especially in the second half, holding Tech’s vaunted “flexbone” triple-option rushing attack to barely half of its season average.
And, yes, it was UM’s maligned fans — the ones critics say supposedly don’t provide all that much home-field advantage — who arose to have a vital, tangible effect on his this game was won late.
The crowd of 55,799, in the midst of torrential rain in the second half, stood and howled as Miami forged needed defensive stops, the “Let’s go Canes!” chants cutting through the monsoon and felt down on the field.
“When the rains came it felt like from that point on there’d only be one winner,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “The crowd got energized, and our guys got energized.”
Heck, as long as we’re handing out credit for a huge win, how about a bouquet or two for the all-time Canes who were inducted into the school’s Hard Rock Ring of Honor. Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and (posthumously) Sean Taylor were honored. Reed was absent, but Irvin, Sapp and Lewis were out there tossing up the “U” sign as the halftime crowd roared.
So much about where this 2017 Canes team may be headed is in the context of the program’s storied, five-national-championship past, and you couldn’t help but feel watching this “minor miracle” unfold that the ghosts of the past are trying their mightiest to goad this team onto a new chapter of UM greatness.
And now, it seems the path has cleared. It isn’t smooth by any stretch. But you can see all the way to the end of it now.
The Miami Hurricanes in the College Football Playoff.
Wait. Here me out. It is possible, no longer as a gauzy “maybe someday” but this season. After Saturday, the Canes are now as tantalizingly close to “Back” as this storied program has been since the dynasty began ebbing after the most recent national title in 2001.
This kind of macro talk is anathema, of course, to Richt and the blinders-on, one-game-at-a-time mindset he must preach.
But if UM runs the table from here to stay unbeaten, the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte in early December — with Clemson still the likeliest opponent — could be tantamount to a play-in game for the four-team CFP. (And No. 2 Clemson just lost at Syracuse, 27-24, so that possible conference title game might not be as lopsided as it seemed even a couple of days ago).
Miami’s six remaining regular-season games include two vs. ranked opponents, and UM is home for both: vs. No. 16 Virginia Tech and vs. No. 21 Notre Dame. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s computerized Football Power Index prediction model has the Canes favored in all six remaining games. And the Notre Dame game (where Miami’s win-likelihood is put at 52.4 percent ) is the only one below 72.4%.
So the idea of the Canes running the table to finish 11-0 (the Arkansas State game was canceled due to Hurricane Irma, remember), is not ludicrous. A longshot, yeah. Against odds, sure. But ludicrous? Nope.
Games like Saturday’s make you believe, a feeling that is free and tastes like champagne.
“You have to talk about the character of this team,” said Diaz, the defensive chief. “This team does not flinch.”
No assurances from here, of course. The path to “Back” has looked promising for the Canes before only to stall.
But the feeling grows that this time may be different, and what Richt said echoes, and sounds like truth:
“There’s something going on that’s really good right now.”