Thursday Night Lights

On paper, it is just another Thursday night game for the Canes. A ranked, out of conference foe is headed to town – riding an undefeated season, thanks to wins over sub par teams. Miami sports a No. 3 ranking – highlighted with a win over then No. 4 Florida State, yet is still stinging from the loss of OT Eric Winston late in the 27-3 win at Georgia Tech.

The foe – Louisville – rides in No. 17 in the nation and 4-0 on the season. They head to Miami confident and looking for a win that will absolutely put their program on the map. Head Coach Bobby Petrino already has his "coach speak" game face on:

"They've got great players, they are well-coached, and understand the situations in a game… We're just going to have to stay focused, keep our poise and be in it for all four quarters… When you look at program you'd like to emulate, we would certainly like to grow up and be like Miami..."

The Canes appreciate the props, coach – but no one in Coral Gables can really be buying this "aw shucks" approach. We've seen it from Papa Bowden for decades now and Boo Hoo Lou perfected the art during the "Catholics v. Convicts" era. The comments are great sound bites for the media, but everyone knows it's a different story in the locker room and on the practice field this week.

Let's discuss what Coach Petrino continues to talk around.

This is the biggest football game in the University of Louisville's history. They truly believe they are coming to Miami and leaving with a win. Behind closed doors, bet the house Petrino has them convinced Miami is going down. That overtime home upset over No. 4 Florida State in 2002 - while sitting not so pretty at 2-2 – was peanuts compared to a win at No. 3 Miami when Louisville is undefeated and No. 17. The entire state of Kentucky knows this.

The Cardinals' roster sports 25 names from the state of Florida. A homecoming for a quarter of that team – and an early jump on the 2005 recruiting season and hoping to add more Sunshine State speed to their roster. A nationally televised game - this one will have all eyes of the college football universe watching. Is Louisville for real? Can they pull the upset? Is Miami overrated?

Before the ball is even teed up, you can sense the rest of the college football world collectively holding their breath – praying the Canes get knocked off. Call it a media bias – or simply the fact that people get sick of winning programs that aren't based in Norman or Los Angeles. A 50-4 record this decade earns you little sympathy or support from outsiders. Hell, in the case of Miami – it barely even earns you the respect you're due.

Miami's defensive battle with Florida State wound up a low scoring, overtime thriller. The Canes came alive in the fourth quarter with a blocked field goal and a 63-yard bomb to Sinorice Moss which set up its first score of the game - a field goal. Moments later, Miami overcame a Brock Berlin interception, stepped up the defense yet again against the Noles, took possession of the ball and marched 80 yards downfield for the game tying score – a 30 yard jailbreak screen to Moss.

In overtime, intense pressure on Florida State's offense, an 8-yard tackle-for-loss and a fumble recovery by Miami's Thomas Carroll. Two plays later, Frank Gore scampered 18-yards into the end zone for the game winner.

Before Hurricane Nation even filed out of the Orange Bowl on cloud nine, the bashers were in full force.

From ESPN to other worthless publications, the talk was all about putrid quarterback play resulting in a lackluster ballgame. Both Berlin and Chris Rix were "fifth year seniors" and needed to play better. Forget that Rix is in his fourth year as a starter and Berlin is only starting year two for the Canes.

Beyond that, how about the numbers? Berlin goes 20 of 36 for 255 yards, a touchdown and an interception – and he gets lumped with Rix who went 12 of 28 for 108 yards with 2 interceptions, 2 fumbles and never found the end zone?

Give it a rest.

Berlin didn't earn a trip to New York or a spot on the Heisman ballot that evening – but he absolutely outplayed Rix and lead the Canes to victory when the game was on the line.

The Rixer? Never led his team to a score and turned the ball over four times – the last, being the most crucial and costing his team the game. Makes you wonder how many experts even watched the second half of Miami/Florida State.

Almost comical how No. 4 Florida State at No. 5 Miami was a dog of a game that ended 16-10 in OT and was highlighted by a poor offensive showing – but a No. 2 Oklahoma v. No. 5 Texas showdown that ends 12-0 is one for the ages. Kudos to Texas for "keeping it close." Props to Oklahoma for their "stifling defense." The Sooner offense is supposedly clicking on all cylinders - even though Heisman winner Jason White only threw for 113 yards, 2 interceptions, no touchdowns and a failed two-point conversion. All their offensive firepower rested on the shoulders of true freshman running back Adrian Peterson, who carried 32 times for 225 yards.

Let's get this straight – the one dimensional Sooners' offense lethargically earns a 12-0 win – but it's the Canes who lack offensive firepower in 2004? Gotcha. Texas musters up 240 total offensive yards and never finds the end zone – but some sites still have them ranked higher than Miami and give them credit for only holding Oklahoma to 12 points. Great logic.

The Sooners take down the Horns for a fifth straight time and it's "monumental." The Canes beat the Noles six straight – teams that were represented in five of six BCS title games - and no one outside of South Florida even bats an eye. I see.

While the apparent bias frustrates the fan base – and most likely players and coaches, behind closed doors – it's a good thing.

Over the years it's been proven that the Canes are not a team meant to rest on their laurels. When playing for all the marbles, Miami responds. When heading into a game with few major implications – the Canes look to coast to victory. The doubt that surrounded last season's trip to Tallahassee was just what underdog – yet higher ranked – Miami needed to dominate and prevail.

Conversely, Hurricanes "Version 2002" were in the same boat. Out to prove a point against No. 6 Florida in the road opener. Miami rode in as defending champs with a No. 2 ranking – yet were an underdog and supposedly lost too much talent to compete.

The Canes rolled 41-16 in The Swamp and never looked back.

Over the next six games, lethargy kicked in for No. 1 Miami. A road game at lowly Rutgers had Miami trailing 17-14 early in the fourth quarter. A 28-point explosion took place over the next 13:56 of play and the Canes took home the 42-17 win – but lost their first place vote after a few weeks of uninspired play and were again second guessed going into a match up at Tennessee. That doubt created a sense of urgency and Miami made a 26-3 statement in Knoxville after being down 3-0 early in the first quarter.

Though rising to No. 3 in the rankings this past week after Georgia's loss to Tennessee – Miami is again hearing the doubter and their cries of "upset" regarding this week's match up.

Forget that Louisville's wins have come against Kentucky, Army, North Carolina and East Carolina – a bunch that are a combined 6-15. This offensive juggernaut is supposed to cut through Miami defense, while it's D will come after Berlin all night and make him a liability.

Sarcasm aside, one has to give Louisville credit. They're beating up on nobodies – but they're doing it in style. A 28-0 shutout against state rival Kentucky. 52-21 against Army. A 34-0 whooping of ACC doormat North Carolina. 59-7 over atrocious East Carolina. Not bad for a Conference USA team who is trying to make some noise and take on a big dog with hope of an upset. Kudos.

All that said, this is not 2002, No. 3 Miami not No. 4 Florida State and this game isn't being played at the House that Papa John built. This is Miami. We are The U. The Orange Bowl is host to the NCAA record 58-home game win streak. The freaks come out at night – and this is a 7:30 pm kickoff. The Canes haven't played a home game in 26 days and all the rowdy fans who bought Florida State tickets were made to by Louisville tickets as part of a package deal. What was thought to be an average game and a clever scheme by the University of Miami, somewhat backfired when UL kicked off the season 4-0.

The marketing department's loss is the fans' gain. The house will be rocking on Thursday night and all eyes will be on the Canes. True, No. 18 Tennessee just strolled into Athens and knocked off No. 3 Georgia last weekend. It is possible… but don't bet on it.

Miami's 27-3 win over Georgia Tech showed glimpses of an aerial attack that was missing in the first few games of the season. Berlin looks to have found his go-to receiver in true freshman Lance Leggett. A 57-yard strike late in the second quarter came off a well run route by Leggett – and a solid grab. In the third, Berlin went deep 44 yards to Roscoe Parrish for their second touchdown hook up of the day.

Berlin ended 2003 with 12 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. A third of the way through this young season, its 5 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. Receivers are getting open and making plays. Something that was lacking in the first three games of the season as the Canes truly seemed out of synch due to a rescheduling of games and practices during the real hurricane season. ABC analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers' receiver Lynn Swann hit the nail on the head moments after Berlin's third touchdown strike of the day against Georgia Tech.

"The Miami Hurricanes football team just has not had a consistent amount of good practice – and normal kinds of practices with all the interruptions," said Swann.

"Plus, you play a game on a Friday, come back and play on a Thursday, come back and play on a Saturday - they have a bye. They can't find their rhythm for practice – let alone find their rhythm in a ball game. Today (at Georgia Tech) they seem to be finding it."

Miami will experience a 12 day layover between Georgia Tech and Louisville – but few are expecting a hangover. That said, how can one really call it a statement game? What statement can be made? If Miami loses, cries of "overrated" will flood the airwaves. A win? Nothing more than a slew of excuses for Louisville and the consensus that they weren't as good a team as originally thought.

Point being; only Louisville has something to gain this Thursday night and it's up to Miami to put that dream to rest.

The Canes have to do nothing more than play Miami Football this weekend. Cliché – but true. Accept that bulls eye on the back, embrace it and channel all that negative press into the fuel that drives them for sixty minutes. Respect Louisville, sure. But in the end, show them who's boss. Their aspirations to "grow up and be like Miami" are certainly noble, but come on now. All journeys begin with a single step – but the journey they face is monumental.

Over the past 25 seasons, Miami has put 159 players in the NFL – 42 in the first round. Of those first rounders – 20 are from this decade – a decade where Miami is 50-4, won a National Championship, played for two and have seen four straight BCS bowls. Who other than Miami can lose seven defensive starters – four in the first round of the NFL Draft – and possibly have a better defense in 2004? Only Miami.

In a nineteen season span, the Canes amassed five titles and left three on the field. That's beyond and incredible feat and the accomplishment itself can get devalued with mere words and pipe dreams utter by smaller programs. They have no clue what it took for Miami to become The U. Where this journey started, where it slipped to in the mid to late nineties and how it rose from the ashes on a few occasions.

Teams like Louisville don't realize that Miami deals with the likes of them all the time. The Canes are every team's National Championship game. We are the giant so many look to topple en route to building their own program. Every ACC team is now licking their chops for a shot at the latest conference addition. Every out of conference up and comer is more than willing to make the trek down south because they know the risk is worth the reward if they can pull that upset. It's like betting $10 for a shot to win a million. What do they have to lose?

Come Thursday, Miami needs to weather the emotional storm Louisville will bring early. Then they need to shut ‘em up.

The near capacity crowd will turn that rickety old stadium on its ear the first big special teams play – or turnover forced by the Canes. Once it gets rowdy in there, look out. An Antrel Rolle corner blitz and tackle for loss, a Devin Hester punt return, a Greg Threat interception, a Baraka Atkins sack, a Berlin to Leggett hook up or a big time Gore or Moss scamper – it'll get that party started,. Those are the things Louisville can't prepare for in practice or even begin to fathom.

They can attempt to emulate Miami's speed in practice – but come kickoff, it's a whole new ballgame. The Cardinals can mentally psyche themselves up going into the game – but once that Orange Bowl is rocking and the Canes come alive, only then they'll realize what is taking place.

For Louisville, this game means everything. For Miami, it is just another game against a feisty underdog and stepping stone towards a run at the National Championship. Buckle down, focus, fly all over that field and put on a show for a national audience this Thursday night, fellas.

The Call: Miami 31, Louisville 13

Born and raised in Miami, FL and a CanesTime.com columnist since 1996, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA and handles online sales and provides all content for www.allCanes.com.


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