Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Colleges

Fennelly: Miami swag, and swagger, is back against Notre Dame

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MIAMI — It was ’80s night at Hard Rock Stadium — Miami against Notre Dame. The packed stands emitted electricity. There were scores of former Hurricanes at the yard, including Bucs Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, determined to see that the U was back.

It looked back to me.

Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who grew up in Miami, put it best.

"To me, the natural order has been restored," Diaz said.

Maybe it was the sight of the sapphire-studded gold chain hanging around the neck of Hurricanes safety Jaquan Johnson after a first-quarter interception of Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Johnson’s teammates gathered around him and the bling on the sideline — the "turnover chain" had struck again, swag that brought us back to the in-your-face Miami of old, when Hurricanes roamed the planet and the planet got out of their way. Those Hurricanes would have hung a turnover chain on Touchdown Jesus.

Or maybe it was simply that seventh-ranked Miami, in its national closeup, crushed third-ranked Notre Dame 41-8 on Saturday.

"I never would have predicted that would happen, but it happened," Miami coach Mark Richt said.

Oh, did it happen.

The 9-0 Hurricanes looked for real, very real, as they grabbed a 34-0 lead in the third quarter, performing the worst beating in this series since Jimmy Johnson ran it up on Gerry Faust 58-7 in 1985, which first ignited this rivalry.

The Hurricanes entered the game knowing that, with Virginia’s loss earlier in the day, they had clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division for the first time since they joined the conference in 2004.

Miami will play Clemson in the ACC title game. Don’t count Miami out of that one. Don’t count Miami out of anything. It should be in the next College Football Playoff rankings. I’d have the Hurricanes right behind Alabama.

Yes, Miami is ahead of schedule under Richt, who is in only his second season back at his alma mater. Richt won 145 games in 15 years at Georgia, so it isn’t as if he can’t coach. He just couldn’t win the big one, or so they said.

A lot of Miami types wondered if quiet, deeply religious Richt was the right fit in Coral Gables. Rolling Stone once dubbed him "College Football’s Charlie Brown."

Well, Lucy hasn’t yet swiped the ball away from Richt. Tuesday, his Hurricanes will be ranked ahead of the school that fired him after the 2015 season.

"When I decided to continue to coach, I wanted to enjoy it," Richt said. "I wanted to have fun. Gosh, it has been a blast."

His Hurricanes excelled Saturday on the big stage, one that harkened to Miami-Notre Dame matchups of the late 1980s, when the schools ruled the college game, when Miami walked the walk and talked — and talked — the talk.

People underestimate Richt. After all, he was the guy who sent his entire Georgia team out on the field in Jacksonville 10 years ago in a premeditated celebration after a touchdown against Florida in what became an upset of the Gators. Of course, it was the only time Richt beat Urban Meyer, and Georgia paid dearly the following year. But the mild-mannered Richt has some swagger.

So, should we be surprised that he gave his blessing when Diaz, architect of the Hurricanes’ swarming, opportunistic defense, unveiled the "turnover chain" in Miami’s season-opening win over Bethune-Cookman?

The thick gold chain, with 450 green sapphires, 450 orange sapphires and the "U" emblem, has been won and worn by ’Canes after their takeaways. Miami has 24 of them this season. The chain has spawned licensed — and unlicensed — T-shirts.

Fans have taken to making their own turnover chains. Former Miami All-American safety and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed was honorary captain Saturday. Reed wore his own turnover chain. Another chain owner is Alex Rodriguez, an avid ’Canes fan. Alas, A-Rod’s A-chain broke as he appeared on ESPN’s College GameDay on Saturday.

An omen?

Not a chance. Or about as much of one as Notre Dame had.

The Irish came in averaging 41 points and 324 rushing yards per game. Their Heisman Trophy hopeful, Josh Adams, was averaging 8.69 yards per carry. Miami held Notre Dame 109 yards rushing. Adams carried 16 times for 40 yards. Miami, on the other hand, ran for 249 yards, with Travis Homer going for 146. Hurricanes offensive senior lineman KC McDermott said his team was tired of hearing about Notre Dame’s vaunted offensive line.

"We just wanted them to talk about us," McDermott said.

In the second quarter, Miami cornerback Malek Young intercepted Wimbush. The bejeweled Young waved to the crowd as his teammates swayed to the music. Just before halftime, another Miami cornerback, freshman Trajan Bandy, returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-0 at halftime. It was Miami’s first defensive TD of the season and Bandy’s first takeaway. Bling, please.

"I didn’t even know what was happening," Bandy said. "And then the chain was around my neck."

"I think most people see our kids are just having fun with it," Richt said. "We’re not trying to do anything except enjoy it. People have different ways to celebrate a turnover. We’re not the first ones to do that. We’ve just got the best one."

It is the picture out of the past. No, it can’t ever truly be that way again, but Saturday felt like the old days at Miami, when the natural order meant big wins in big games.

The U isn’t all the way back.

"We’ve got to get a ring first," McDermott said.

But these Hurricanes look for real.

We’re not pulling your chain.

     
     
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