While the 2001 Canes seemed to get better every game, the 2002 bunch is still waiting for that breakout game. Waiting to click on all cylinders. Still in search of that complete game.
There have been flashes of brilliance this season. A 41-16 win at The Swamp was stellar. Florida's season went to hell in a handbag after the Canes stole their manhood. Boston College held Miami in check for the better part of the evening until the Canes decided enough was enough. The 10-6 contest quickly became 38-6, as Miami showed they can score at will on both sides of the ball.
The fourth quarter against Florida State will remain indelible in Hurricane minds for a lifetime. After sleepwalking through the 2nd and 3rd quarters of that game, Miami overcame a focused Florida State bunch and a jaded group of ACC officials to snatch the 28-27 lead after being down 13 points with under 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Most recently the Canes got out of Morgantown with a 40-23 win after dominating West Virginia in the fourth quarter. A game that was locked at 24-23 with 5:41 remaining in the 3rd quarter – the Canes woke from their slumber and put WVU out of their misery.
But the bright spots have been marred by lackluster play. The 189 yards given up on the ground to Greg Jones raised many eyebrows. Two weeks later the Canes give up 175 to Avon Coburne. Special teams play has not lived up to its highly touted billing. Receivers have been hot and cold – pulling in the spectacular catch but dropping the all to easy, gimmie grab. Fundamental tackling doesn't look so fundamental at times. At some points of the game it almost looks like the Canes are running at half speed. Connecticut finds a way to block a punt and outscores Miami 14-6 in the second half. The highly touted defensive lines looks vulnerable on occasion. Dorsey can look all world and second string all in the same game. Sometimes even in the same drive.
Could things be a lot worse? Repeat after me – 1995 through 1999 with the low point coming in 1997. Things have been a lot worse and I doubt there is a Cane fan alive that isn't thanking his or her lucky stars daily for our current fortunes. The team is a powerhouse, the cupboard is stocked for next season, the title is being defended and Miami is five wins away from another shot at the title. Life is much better in Coral Gables than it is in Tallahassee or Gainesville.
But that doesn't mean all is well. Seems like there are a few current Canes out there that need a heaping helping of some humble pie. There should be no chest thumping or self-promoting going on right now. It is time to address the lackadaisical play of the past two weeks and prepare for a make or break five game stretch. Moments of greatness are no longer an option. Sixty minutes of football is required weekly. Quit talking about being the best and live up to the hype. Play like the #1 team in the land every Saturday. Silence the critics. The question has been posed – isn't winning enough? No – not when it is against lesser teams. Stronger, hungrier opponents are out there ready to take the crown. Miami is a moving target every week and has to stay one step ahead of the next best team.
Current team captains are noting that the level of dedication and commitment are not where they should be.
"We have a lot of guys that are playing just to be playing," Center Brett Romberg said.
"We need to build up the character, camaraderie, the cohesion of the team. We have to go out there playing for each other and the team, not NFL scouts or things like that. We have to play as a family."
Spoken like a true Cane with an emphasis on the Miami program being like family. Amazing how Romberg can acknowledge the problem while many Miami fans bury their heads in the sand and pretend all is well in Canesville.
Are Miami players reading too many headlines? Are they buying into the hype and believing they are invincible?
"When you're winning, everybody pats you on the behind and tells you how wonderful you are," said assistant head coach Art Kehoe. "If you get enough pats, you're going to think you're the sweetest thing in the world."
Kehoe admits that if these current Canes don't bring it all together, a loss could loom in the near future. He knows there are hungry teams out there that would love nothing more than to knock the king off the top of the mountain.
The Canes need to steamroll Rutgers this weekend and stick it to Tennessee on the 9th in Knoxville. It is time to regain that focus and hunger that earned Miami a trip to Pasadena last year. Undefeated teams are a dime a dozen in 2002 – how will the Canes differentiate themselves from the rest?
By utterly dominating the competition. Proving they can stop the run. Breaking opponents' backs and spirits in every contest. Re-setting and re-focusing that goal on Tempe and steamrolling anything and everything that gets in the way. Where are the team leaders? Get vocal already. Make a statement on the field. Get your teammates ready to go to war the next two months. Someone has to step up. Ed Reed mouth propelled the Canes to the win at Tallahassee last year. Joaquin Gonzalez barked at his teammates during the thrashing of Washington. Dorsey is leading his offensive troops – who is going to do the same for the defense? Jon Vilma? William Joseph? Your teammates need you. Someone take control, already.
Last year's mantra was "dominate." This year's appears to be "just find a way to pull it off." We all know the Canes are the most talented bunch in the game. Now it is time to live up to that #1 billing and play like defending champions all game, every game for sixty straight minutes. Domination, dammit.
Five games left. The rebirth must come this Saturday.
Born and raised in Miami, FL and a Grassy.com guest columnist since 1995, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at firstname.lastname@example.org