Images of helmets being used as weapons and players being trampled on are possibly the first things that come to mind when fans think of the year-old rivalry between the University of Miami and Florida International University, which became physical in a bench-clearing brawl last season.
Head Coach Randy Shannon, however, sees nothing but another football game to be played on a sunny Saturday at the Orange Bowl.
“We don’t talk about [the brawl],” Shannon said. “What happened last year is last year.”
That being said, Shannon has taken to preparing for the Golden Panthers as though they were any other team, choosing to ignore the fact that the Panthers boost a number of family connections to UM players, including Shannon’s own son as starting left tackle and former Hurricane player and coach Mario Cristobal as new head coach.
“That has no effect,” Shannon said. “We will both be trying to win the game. We have to go out there and represent Miami and compete and win the game.”
After last week’s dismantling at the hands of Oklahoma, there will be multiple changes on the field this Saturday, specifically on offense. The ‘Canes rank next to last in the country in passing yards through two weeks, and Shannon has reinstalled Kyle Wright as his starting quarterback, in an attempt to get the passing game-no pun intended-off the ground.
“Kyle and Kirby [Freeman] will both have their own packages,” Shannon said. “However, Kyle is the man for now. There will be no round robin at quarterback from one week to the next. Kyle gave us a spark last week.”
In addition, the ‘Canes will look to run on a weak FIU run defense, using both sophomore Javarris James and true freshman Graig Cooper, early and often, to take pressure off of Wright.
Wright showed last week that he can orchestrate a very effective intermediate passing game, when given time to read the defense and make the throw. Protecting Wright in the pocket shouldn’t be difficult against FIU; the problem then becomes what Wright will do with the time he is provided.
“As a quarterback, we just want you to do things to help us win the game,” Shannon said. “Last week the receivers did a good job of catching the ball, and the offensive line blocked. That tells you we’re not executing.”
Wright is not looking to stoke any quarterback controversy. He seems, above all else, grateful to have his hard work paid off by being promoted once more.
“Mistakes happen and we’ll play through them,” Wright said. “I just want to do my part.”
Shannon maintains that his team will be ready to play FIU, a team that he says will not be overlooked, as the Hurricanes prepare for their marquee match up with Texas A&M on Sept. 20.
Shannon also believes that, despite weaknesses that need to be addressed, his team is still a force to be reckoned with.
“We saw on film what can happen if we bear down and play as a team,” Shannon said. “You come to UM because you are the best. That is the attitude we have to have.”
Dan Stein may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.