It would be a challenge for even the most irrationally disgruntled University of Miami football fans, but surely not beyond them: Blame Al Golden for the lightning. That’s right. Blame the long delay in Saturday night’s season-opening game on UM’s coach. I mean, couldn’t he have done something about the weather?
Then again, it was unquestionably that very 75-minute delay in the middle of the second quarter — call it the world’s longest early halftime break — that kick-started the Hurricanes and their season.
Miami had led outmanned Bethune-Cookman by a modest 10-0 lead before lightning cleared the field and Dolphins stadium as fans were order to take cover.
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Eventually the lightning stopped … and then started for the energized Canes.
Boom. Brad Kaaya sends a 17-yard scoring pass to Rashawn Scott.
Boom. Joe Yearby busts a 25-yard touchdown run.
Boom. Then the fabulously named Corn Elder returns a punt 72 yards for a TD.
Quick as bolts from the sky UM — admonished by coaches during the long delay to ratchet up the intensity — turned from sluggish to slugging and suddenly led 31-0 and had its sodden fans fired up en route to an eventual 45-0 opening-night victory.
More lightning, please. Bottle that.
Halftime was truncated because of the long delay, and the third and fourth quarters were shortened from 15 minutes to 10. That made sense, especially given the disparity on the scoreboard. Kaaya’s backup was in by the third quarter, Golden tipping a cap to sportsmanship.
OK, be patient, we’re getting to it.
We’re getting to the necessary disclaimer, the “yeah, but” that surely will be on every Canes fan’s mind Sunday — especially those fans inclined to go heavy on the blame for Golden and light on the credit.
All together now:
“Yeah but it was only Bethune-Cookman!”
Yes. True enough.
Breezing is what the Canes needed to do and should have done Saturday. The B-C Wildcats, from Daytona Beach, are a Football Championship Subdivision second-tier team. Miami beat them 38-10 in the teams’ previous meeting in 2012. On Saturday, the Canes were favored by 38 points. A waltz was expected, and anything less would have been considered an outrage by Golden’s army of critics.
See, it has begun, hasn’t it?
The soap opera as much as the season.
We have commenced a three-month drama starring Golden, the reluctant featured actor in a one-man play rolling out in 12 acts (or 13, if there’s a bowl game).
Like it or not, this entire Hurricanes football season will be an ongoing referendum on Golden, the fifth-year coach who once embodied the giddy promise of his unlikely surname but now is the unpopular hub of fan unrest.
Saturday began UM’s 90th season, and the only one that matters now to Golden. The balance of the year will either see his professional redemption, or see the university plotting to hire his replacement.
Act I concluded as a novelty: a weird lightning-delayed but otherwise wholly expected rout of a clearly lesser foe.
Act II, on Friday night at Florida Atlantic University, will be a better test but still hardly a rugged one.
The true challenges will start in Week 3, Sept. 19, when Nebraska visits and national TV is watching.
Then is when the real season starts.
The one Golden must master.
That is when UM will need Kaaya at his best. And more of the Corn Elder who also had a 70-yard punt return TD called back Saturday. And receivers Braxton Berrios and Stacy Coley back, after both left Saturday’s game early with injuries. And that is when the defense that pitched UM’s first shutout since 2010 and held Bethune well under 100 total yards will have to prove itself against the big boys.
Less than two years ago, deep into the 2013 season, UM was ranked as high as No. 7 in the national polls and Golden Mania was on. Frat boys wore white shirts and orange ties to games, just like Al.
But the Canes had been 8-11 since entering this season, including last year’s 6-7 record, and expectations for 2015 are modest. This week ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, in his Atlantic Coast Conference preview, listed UM in the category, “Team Poised to Disappoint.”
“I don’t know about modest expectations and those things,” Golden told me this week. “I know Brad [Kaaya] is a very galvanizing young man. It’s his team now, and he sets a high standard. And I know we are the deepest and most experienced we’ve been on defense since I’ve been here.”
The NCAA cloud Golden inherited is finally disappeared. UM is back up to 80 scholarships again.
“It’s a fair fight now,” he said. “I don’t know about all the outside noise. We’re excited.”
Golden’s critics are waiting for him to fail.
The proving them wrong started Saturday, but not really.
Those tests are waiting.