Miami’s first-ever trip to the ACC Championship Game initially was framed as proof of just how far the Hurricanes had come in their second year under Mark Richt.
As the game itself played out, a different theme took shape: Look how far Miami has yet to go.
Finishing 35 points in arrears to Clemson in this conference championship game debut, being on the wrong side of the second most lopsided one of these things – thank you Duke for losing to FSU by 38 in 2013 – was certainly a learning experience for Richt’s ‘Canes. Much like the one a child gets the first time he puts his hand on a hot stovetop.
“It just shows (the Tigers) are the class of our league,” Richt said. “Right now, they’re the measuring stick. We’re going to get there. We’re not there yet. We weren’t there tonight, for sure.”
You could say the Hurricanes have some catching up to do on Clemson. Miami has played the Tigers two times now since 2015. Combined score of these meetings: 96-3, Clemson.
The program that survived Hurricane Irma must now try to weather the gusts of Dabo Swinney.
“I expected a 60-minute brawl and it just didn’t happen like that,” Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said Saturday night. No, it was a pure early-round KO, as Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant completed his first 15 passes and the Tigers ripped off 38 points before Miami kicked a face-saving field goal in the last three minutes.
When Miami joined the ACC in 2004, and since the conference began playing a championship game a year later, the Hurricanes were expected to be the scourge of the Coastal division. Instead, they faded until, for the first time since 2003, they put together a double-digit win season behind Richt.
Late Saturday, though, was an occasion for the former Georgia coach to talk about what still needs to be done as opposed to what was accomplished in 2017.
“This whole rise is a learning process. Certainly tonight, we’ll learn some things and we’ll understand a little bit better what it might take to become a champion in this league,” Richt said.
“We need more great players. We got to be able to have enough depth to withstand attrition. We’re just not to that point yet,” he said. The ‘Canes 2018 recruiting class has been ranked top five in the country.
A footnote to the proceedings in Charlotte: Richt never has sustained a loss this lopsided in a postseason game – conference championships or bowls. Prior to Saturday, that dubious record belonged to Georgia’s 32-point loss to LSU in the 2011 SEC Championship.
He nonetheless was unbowed.
“I don’t think we’re a team that can line up and impose our will. I kept saying we’re not there yet. We got some more recruiting to do, we got some more developing to do,” he said.
“We got some guys who can play against anyone in America but I don’t know if we have enough of those guys yet. We’re going to keep working toward getting that done. In time, we’ll catch up to the measuring stick.”