Football, Sports

Not even close

Leonard Hankerson clutches his head after a failed 3rd down conversion during the Florida State-Miami game Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. Lindsay Brown//Photo Editor

Three years ago when the Virginia Cavaliers annihilated the Miami Hurricanes 48-0 at the final Orange Bowl game, UM faithful stayed for the Alma Mater.

It was a bittersweet farewell to a historic stadium that hosted Super Bowls and NCAA football national championship games.

On Saturday night in front of the first UM sellout crowd at Sun Life Stadium, fans clad in orange and green couldn’t escape the grounds fast enough.

Hours earlier, ABC broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit had said that FSU’s only advantage heading into the game was at the quarterback position. ESPN analyst Mark May predicted that UM would finish the season 13-1.

In the parking lot as fans trash talked, tailgated and threw beer at each other, the Canes could boast. For the first time since 2005, Miami was the top-ranked team in Florida.

Funny how quickly things change.

Losing 45-17 to a rival should never happen, especially at home.

Junior linebacker Jordan Futch, one of the brashest members of the team, explained the importance of FSU/UM leading up to the game.

“This is the one game I came here for… to beat the hell out of Florida State,” he said.

Futch picked up just one tackle on the night.

Head coach Randy Shannon told media following the game that he didn’t have his team prepared.

But how does that happen?

Aside from Ohio State, a non-conference opponent whose only tie to Miami stems from the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, this was the game of the year. This game is about more than just the present. High-school recruits sat in front of the student section, ready to make their decision based on the team that captured bragging rights.

Under the national spotlight against the Seminoles in front of a sold-out crowd, both teams were ranked heading into the game for the first time since 2006.

“It’s not a travesty,” Shannon said. “We just got beat tonight. Florida State beat us tonight. We got beat tonight up front and it’s my fault as a coach.”

He’s right to an extent.

FSU dominated on all cylinders: Sophomore Chris Thompson ran all over the defense for 165 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Greg Reid and the other kick returners averaged 36 yards. Junior running back Jermaine Thomas scored three touchdowns. A defense that forced six turnovers at Clemson and held its own against the Buckeyes found itself getting torn apart by offensive coordinator James Coley. Sophomore defensive back Ray-Ray Armstrong collected a team-high nine tackles. Things aren’t going well on defense when a member of the secondary achieves that feat.

Despite Saturday night’s result, the Canes can still reach the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game for the first time since joining the league in 2004. The Seminoles could very well find themselves in a rematch when December rolls around and a plane ticket to Charlotte is punched.

Things were so bad Saturday night that even the Gators’ second consecutive loss, a 33-29 heartbreaker to Louisiana State, couldn’t make up for a disastrous showing on national television.

As a senior, it’s easy to say now that the Class of 2011 has faced the most challenging UM football stretch in decades. Freshman year was a struggle to a 5-7 record in Shannon’s first season. The biggest victory came against Texas A&M.

Then came ESPN’s declaration that the 2008 football recruiting class was the best in the nation. After fading down the stretch, the team fell to California in the Emerald Bowl. Last December, Wisconsin took care of business at the Champs Sports Bowl.

Now, notable players from that class — Jacory Harris, Sean Spence and LaRon Byrd — have just one full season of eligibility left.

Youth hasn’t been used as an excuse this season. The same should be said for the pressure put on by fans. That comes with the territory of playing for the University of Miami football program.

With such an established history, it’s expected. Former players (and NFL greats) like Michael Irvin and Andre Johnson proclaimed, “It’s all about the U” in a pregame video shown on the jumbotron. At the time, it pumped up the crowd of 75,115.

Those infamous teams and players seem like generations ago. The fact remains that the U is still not quite back.

The program may have “invented” swagger, but current students wouldn’t know. It’s been so long.

Christina De Nicola may be contacted at cdenicola@themiamihurricane.com.

October 11, 2010

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Christina De Nicola

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