It's downright scary what the Canes can accomplish when they actually give a damn. Miami scored 28 points in just over ten minutes en route to this latest victory over the Scarlet Knights. Unfortunately this surge came in the final quarter of the game instead of the expected and typical early moments. Last season it was the Canes scoring 27 points in the first half against RU. The day ended in a 61-0 Miami victory. A year earlier it was a 41-0 halftime lead and a final score of 64-6. Both games a far cry from the latest chapter in this heavily lopsided conference "rivalry."
Few believed that Rutgers was going to pull off the win. Even late in the game, down by three, it was blatantly obvious that the Canes were poised to pull ahead for good. The only question was when? Miami continuously finds a way to win while Rutgers is destined to find ways to lose. You don't go 3-38 in the BIG EAST accidentally. You have to strive for mediocrity to attain such a horrid feat.
Time to get back on track
Little can be taken from this most recent Hurricane outing. Many claim that the Canes can't get up for a meaningless game and opponent such as Rutgers. Looking ahead to Tennessee, right? Last year's meeting with the Scarlet Knights came a week before a road trip to Tallahassee yet the Canes found a way to pummel the State University of New Jersey by 58 points. Why wasn't the attitude the same this year? Why did it take a fourth quarter rally to beat a team the Canes have smoked by a combined score of 180-6 in its three previous meetings? The question remains, what will it take to get Miami back on track and focused for a legitimate run at the National Championship?
One would think the scare against Florida State would've put this team in check. Every Hurricane on that sideline was praying for dear life as Xavier Beitia's field goal sailed wide left. Moments after the kick the Orange Bowl was rocking and an aura of invincibility filled the air. Instead of feeling lucky to get out alive, Miami sat back and marveled at the fact that everything seems to be going their way. There was almost a feeling that the Canes deserved the win more than the Noles.
The following week the Canes enjoy a bye week while the BCS makes a statement of its own. Oklahoma – No. 1 by a large margin over No. 2 Miami. The rest of the college football world makes a statement of its own – the Canes are vulnerable against the run. UM must wait a full week to retort.
A trip to Morgantown, WV and the opportunity to shut down the extremely potent Avon Coburne presents itself to the Canes. Limit Coburne to minimal yardage, blowout West Virginia in their own back yard and the critics will be silenced. Miami will prove to the world and themselves that FSU ‘02 was indeed a fluke and stopping the ground attack is something in which Hurricane defenses takes pride.
Instead the Canes play lackluster football for the better part of the afternoon. Clinging to a 24-23 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Canes finally decided they were ready to put the game out of reach. The 40-23 victory marked the 29th straight for the Canes but the 363 rushing yards given up were a season worst. Avon Coburne burned Miami for 175 yards and a whole new slew of questions about this team arose.
A sense of invincibility
The uninspired win over the Mountaineers had some current Canes questioning the heart displayed by their teammates. Some were accused of playing selfishly – putting personal goals and NFL Draft status as more of a priority than winning a National Championship. Fingers were pointed at the younger Canes for not playing with hunger while strutting around with a sense of invincibility. There never seemed to be an ounce of embarrassment in regards to the lackadaisical play – and nothing has changed in the course of a week and yet another uninspired Hurricane outing.
''Rutgers was like every team that gets up to play us -- they brought their A game,'' boasted defensive end Jerome McDougle. "We brought our D game. But we don't flinch. We keep punching. That's the test of a champion."
Agreeable to a point, Jerome. A true champion keeps punching, scraps and finds a way to win. But when it is ever acceptable for Miami to admittedly bring its D game? Never. Coach Mark should have you running laps till you collapse for a comment like that. You made the statement that, "some of the wins might not be pretty, but undefeated is always pretty." Again, agreeable but here's a few words for you.
Longevity. Pride. Domination. Attitude. Discipline. Heart.
Without these, Miami will not be uttering the word undefeated all that much longer. Teams don't experience the success you worked so hard for once complacency sets in. You cannot continue to be on top of the world if you are bringing your D game. Please don't set out to prove me wrong on that one.
A week was spent preparing for this most recent match up – the Canes should've been ready. With all the doubt surrounding this team's heart, they should've played hungry. Miami's A game hasn't surfaced since Boston College visited back in September. There was a glimpse of it late in the fourth quarter in the thriller over Florida State, but there's been nothing since. The Canes have been relatively flat for a month now. When is it finally time to raise that D effort to an A, fellas?
Tennessee provides the perfect challenge
No better time than now as the Canes prepare for a visit to Neyland Stadium. While the upcoming meeting with Tennessee lost that preseason luster – this game is no gimmie. In fact this will be Miami's most difficult road challenge of the season. Many expected a battle of undefeateds but make no mistake, the 5-3 Vols will be ready for Miami. Their 104,000 plus fans will come in search of a season saving upset.
Like many before them, Tennessee looks at Miami and sees a beatable team. A few have come close to dethroning the champs, but no one has been able to pull off the feat. Certain game plans and approaches have proven better than others but in the end it was the Canes who found a way to prevail.
Whatever the case, Miami better bring a different attitude and mindset to Knoxville this weekend. This current one of underachieving and coasting by will not produce a win. The Canes are coming off like that carefree smart kid who sits in the back of the class. Doesn't pay attention, doesn't take copious notes, doesn't study – yet on test day finds a way to pull out that B+ and laughs all the way home. He's arrogant, he tells you he's smarter than you and he will lose the battle to win the war.
Problem is that luck and good fortune eventually run out. At some point you have to prepare and study or you will come up short. Eventually a test comes along that you'd best prepare for. This week appears to be one of those situations for Miami. West Virginia and Rutgers were pop quizzes. This meeting with Tennessee is a mid term exam with no chance for extra credit.
The Vols will suit up a disoriented team this weekend. Talk of a run at the National Championship was halted after the early season beating administered by Florida. The talk was completely abandoned after Georgia and Alabama made UT a three-loss squad. In hindsight, inviting Miami to visit on homecoming weekend might not have been the best approach but that is what Tennessee is dealing with come Saturday. With three losses and nothing to lose, what better homecoming treat than a victory over the unbeaten, No.1 defending champions?
Overconfidence will equal defeat
Cliché but true, the Vols have nothing to lose this weekend. An overconfident Miami is welcome and expected. Tennessee knows Miami will stroll in underestimating them. Anytime, anyplace, the Canes expect to win every Saturday. It has been over two years since anyone has found a way to prove otherwise.
"We don't doubt. We've won too much to doubt around here. It's impossible to believe we can lose to anybody. Impossible," said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "Until that day comes when we lose, I won't believe we can. This Miami team is better than last year's. Way better. I know we're more talented."
Run that by me again, Big V? Better than last year's record setting team? Impossible to lose? Drop a line to Ed Reed, Joaquin Gonzalez or Najeh Daveport and ask for a little history lesson about 1997. That embarrassing 5-6 season fueled their fire for the run at a national championship in 2001. Believe me, in Miami's storied history the Canes were the "more talented" team on several occasions – yet still found a way to lose.
The one-loss, No. 2 Canes were pummeled 35-7 to the No. 8 Vols in the 1986 Sugar Bowl. After losing the season opener to the Gators, Miami rattled off 10 straight wins but could climb no higher than No. 2 in the polls. While they beat eventual champion Oklahoma 27-14 in the regular season, the inability to not get past the championship game snub killed the Canes in 1985. Tennessee ran through a "better" Miami team like a buzz saw.
A year later the heavily favored, No. 1 Canes were stunned 14-10 by No. 2 Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. Testaverde's interceptions single-handedly lost this one, but the fact remains that the superior team lost yet again.
Ten years ago it was the highly touted, extremely talented No. 1 Canes that rolled into the 1993 Sugar Bowl riding high on a 29-game win streak. The opponent was a No. 2 Alabama team that had never seen team speed like Miami's. They had an average quarterback and a slow defense. This amazing Hurricane team got smoked 34-13 by the hungrier, more disciplined Crimson Tide.
Impossible to believe the Canes can lose? It can happen in the blink of an eye Mr. Wilfork. When we are not busy reliving the glory of our five National Championships we spend the rest of the time reminiscing about the ones we let slip away. No one wants to ever see that happen again. That is where all this concern comes from. Anyone who has spent decades following this program knows better.
When members of the defensive line are quoted as being more talented than the instant legends that made up the 2001 team and spend the rest of the interview patting themselves on the back for being better than everyone – it raises some red flags. When it is acceptable to members of this 2002 Miami squad to bring their D game to the table – we have some problems. Where is the sense of Hurricane pride? Where was that swagger in West Virginia when a statement needed to be made? How did arrogance replace the former attitude of dominance this past weekend at Rutgers?
Complacency will punish itself
It is an ongoing struggle. How do you come down on or doubt the Canes when they always find a way to win – albeit doing so in a complacent manner? You can't. All anyone can do is make suggestions and attempt to keep these youngsters level headed. Remind them that there is a very fine line between victory and defeat – and they have been extremely blessed to find themselves on that victorious side 30 consecutive times.
Teach them that humility is what it is all about. There is no need to tire one's arm out while patting their own back. Win convincingly week in and week out and they compliments will continue falling at their feet. Dominate opponents, play like champions and the NFL will come calling next year. Improve that draft status by playing 60 minutes of Hurricane style football every Saturday and make team goals the No. 1 priority.
The Canes should be damn proud of their 30-game win streak and 8-0 record in 2002. At the same time they should be downright embarrassed for lackluster performances against West Virginia and Rutgers. They should be miffed at the AP voters placing them at No. 2 this week after 21 straight weeks atop the poll without a loss. The intensity should be turned up a notch as the Buckeyes recently jumped the Canes for the No. 3 spot in the BCS poll.
An Oklahoma vs. Ohio State title game is in the cards, Miami. How will you respond this weekend? "Just winning" isn't proving to be enough. If you indeed are the most talented team in the land – back it up this weekend. Take it out on Tennessee. Make them pay. Dominate an opponent for four quarters and take one giant leap towards defending the crown in Tempe. Quit blowing yourselves up in the media and blow out an opponent already. Show the world that you'll do what it takes for a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
"Nobody wants us in the national championship game,'' said tailback Willis McGahee. "The minute we lose we'll probably fall down to No. 10. I don't know why there are so many haters.''
There are no haters, Willis – Miami just isn't getting any sympathy votes this year. That love affair ended after last season's championship. Vindicated for the BCS snub in 2000 with a storybook 12-0 season. Right now the Canes are seen as underachievers. A talented team that turns it on and off like a light switch. A squad that is squeaking by lesser teams they dominated only a year ago. Miami's time has come and gone. A hungrier team deserves the glory. A new team deserves some of the Canes' good fortune. It is time for a new story with a different ending. Outside of Coral Gables, the Canes are yesterday's news.
Our own worst enemy
No one can get rid of Miami, but Miami. As long as the Canes want to administer a chokehold to that win streak, it is theirs. Wins over Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia Tech are theirs for the taking.
How bad do the Canes want it?
How embarrassed is Miami by recent sub par performances?
How hungry is this team for another championship ring?
When does the self-promoting end?
When do team goals take precedence?
Eight games into the season and there has yet to be that breakout game. What will it take for Miami to come out possessed? This time last year the Canes began a four game stretch that defined the season. Last year we saw a BC scare, routes of Syracuse and Washington, followed up with a win at Virginia Tech. The playoff atmosphere was in the air and Miami passed every test they faced.
Don't look now, but here we go again.
Four games are about to define a season. Wounded Tennessee, hungry Pittsburgh, underachieving Syracuse and ready to rebound Virginia Tech. Will Miami step up to the challenge? Only they know.
Time to quite worrying about the haters and hyping the undefeated streak. It is all meaningless with a loss. We all know only Miami can beat Miami. Time to buckle down and regain that "us against the world" mindset that has brought this program so much success.
Show Tennessee no mercy.
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