It has been better than two years since Miami and Clemson last played, a situation that will be remedied Saturday night in Charlotte at the ACC Championship game.
To say the last one was as competitive as a hog butchering would be mild, giving the poor bacon far too much credit. You could have taken the Tigers and given 57 points and still cashed your bet.
At Clemson, they rightfully dismiss the 58-0 caning of the ‘Canes that day in Miami as irrelevant to the game at hand, no more useful on a football field than a butter churn. Something as incomprehensible to today’s players as the eight-track cassette.
In Coral Gables, some of the elder Hurricanes remember the sting of that day, the worst thrashing in a proud program’s history.
If there are scars, they are mostly minor and almost unnoticeable, like that at an old smallpox-vaccination site.
“I didn’t play much that game. I was a freshman. But it’s kind of hard to forget that game. It was kind of embarrassing on our part,” ‘Canes defensive lineman R.J. McIntosh said earlier this week.
“Everybody with their head down, it was a bad game for us. I don’t want to say it’s payback, but we got to have that on our minds going into this game.”
Said another initialed lineman, this one O-lineman K.C. McDermott, “I feel we definitely owe them one.”
“I feel like this team plays better when its angry,” he added. “We’ve played well the two times when people have counted us down and out, and we showed them what we could do (Notre Dame and in a comeback against Virginia). Same thing’s happening again. We will come together as a team and we will do what we do.”
If anything, Miami should be grateful for that last Clemson game. It was a necessary humiliation, the final indignity prompting the firing of another coach, Al Golden, the next day. That cleared the decks for the Hurricanes to hire Mark Richt on the rebound from his dismissal at Georgia. That move has borne fruit quicker than anyone could have imagined.
That rout also is most instructive, providing the needed low point from which to graph all progress since. From worst loss ever to first ACC Championship game ever in two years. A fairly steep upswing.
“It’s night and day (how far we’ve come). We’ve grown so much as a team and a program. Everything we do now is different from what we did two years ago. We’ve come a long way,” said Braxton Berrios, Miami’s senior receiver.
What, before Richt’s arrival, was this team playing jacks during practice time and screening “Old School” in the film room?
Said Miami quarterback Malik Rosier: “The difference the (last time) we played Clemson and now is just a mindset. With this mindset, yeah, this team is ready to go. I mean, I felt like a couple years ago, more people were worried about going to the NFL, more worried about themselves, how they performed instead of the team.”
Miami is not all the way back. It isn’t ready to run off five national championships in 20 years like it did in glory times. This season merely represented a turning of a corner. By the way, the Miami 2018 recruiting class is rated top five.
Nine-point underdogs to Clemson, coming off an ugly loss to Pitt, frankly lucky to have avoided other missteps (see Georgia Tech), Miami most likely won’t beat the Tigers and get back onto the college football playoff bracket. A major bowl is its most probable destination.
At least, this one just can’t be as ugly as the last meeting between one program on the rise and the other at low tide. At least, give us something to watch late into the night.