Aggression.

Unbridled Aggression.

That’s what the Miami Hurricanes unleashed on FAMU last Saturday. Yes, it’s FAMU. And yes, Al Golden would have likely beaten FAMU just as badly.

But from a qualitative standpoint, there was no comparison. Even against FAMU, we could see defenders playing downhill for the first time in five years.

And it took one possession for me to come to the realization that what we’d lost over the last five years is simple: Hope.

Al Golden had castrated our belief.

From a results standpoint, there was nothing really separating Randy Shannon and Al Golden. Trying to distinguish between the 6 games over .500 of Randy Shannon and the 7 games over .500 of Al Golden is really splitting hairs.

Randy Shannon failed due to a lack of competence. He never should have gone straight from Defensive Coordinator to Head Coach, and failed because of it. He recognized a clear performance issue…which is why we had the revolving door at the coordinator position featuring an insane 5 coordinators in 4 years.  That, coupled with the swiftness of the collapse in the back half of the 2010 season and his immediate firing, never allowed despair to fully set in.

It was less than 50 days from the time the Canes kicked off against FSU as the heavily favored, 13th ranked team in the country to Randy Shannon’s firing following a loss to USF in 2010.

The Al Golden tenure was the exact opposite. Consistency at the coordinator position, to a fault. Instead of a swift firing, we were treated to a completely unnecessary Year 5. By the time Golden was fired after the school record defeat to Clemson, he had been played out for more than two years. We never even reached the problem recognition phase with Golden. It was always him explaining (1) why the results weren’t as bad as they obviously were and (2) why the best course of action was to do nothing different. We never even had a one-game honeymoon phase with Golden when the Yahoo! scandal broke followed immediately by him losing to one of the worst teams in the country.

That five years sucked the life out of me, the will to fight completely absent. I was defeated.

Against all odds, I always believe in this program. The successes that the program has had have always been as a result of defying the odds. It’s also why they’ve had their obituary written countless times, why at the mere hint of malfeasance national figures call for the program to be shuttered, for the death penalty to be levied. Miami shouldn’t be this good, so something must be done to stop them.

But because of our odds defying success, it’s been really easy to delude ourselves into thinking there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Until Al Golden. He removed all delusions. And I missed believing, I missed lying to myself.

On Saturday, I got that back.

At My Signal, Unleash Hell

That famous quote from Gladiator might as well have been Mark Richt’s pregame speech. Because that’s what the Canes did from the word go. The defensive line was playing behind the line, pressuring the QB into mistakes. The offense was in and out of the huddle quickly, exploiting their athletic advantage.

Doing statistical analysis on a game like this is always a bit difficult. When games get out of hand, coaches react differently. But the nearest analog to last season would be Bethune-Cookman. In that game, the Canes won 45-0. I suppose 70-3 is better, but that’s more of an academic discussion.

Miami could have lined up running the option and won this game. The result was preordained.

But the way they played was different. And after what we’ve just been through, different is automatically better. 

There was no way that covering receivers with defensive ends, giving 20-yard cushions, and intentionally milking the clock on offense to your own detriment in a feeble attempt to protect the defensive coordinator was ever going to win a National Championship. It just wasn’t happening. At best we were Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill, knowing damn well it was going to come tumbling back down.

There were issues Saturday, particularly with personnel. The second unit on defense struggled a bit (relatively speaking), there were some gashes on defense, a missed field goal, a fumble in the red zone. Those things happen. And there will be many more bumps along the way. This roster and coaches are far from perfect.

We’re going to have those “what the eff just happened?” moments. Part of hope is disappointment. And as the program improves, expectations will necessarily rise. I’m prepared for all that.

But what happened Saturday is that we saw the University of Miami Hurricanes play a style of football that we could envision winning a National Championship.

Perhaps not with these players, perhaps not soon. But if the personnel is there, if the depth is recruited in, these systems could work at the highest level. From Patrick Nix throwing receiver screen after receiver screen to Mark D’Onofrio’s 100-yard cushions, it’s been a long, long time since we could say that.

Road to Recovery

What happened on Saturday was the first extremely small step in what we hope is the road back to the top of college football.

If the last five years have been tough for us to watch, I can only imagine what the players have been going through. The shackles are off, the tie deposed…and those kids were having fun. Deserved fun. Earned fun. Years of penance paid off.

Many of these kids came to play at the University of Miami despite doubts about the coaches. They came because it was the right thing to do. They came because the school is important in their community and belongs to them as much as anyone else. They came out of a sense of loyalty. They came out of a desire to be part of the class that restores The U.

Whatever the reason, they finally have the tools around them to succeed.  Their loyalty repaid. 

All of this is certainly an overreaction to one game. Al Golden would not have lost to FAMU. In fact, if his Canes put up the same exact performance, we would have found something to gripe about.

Instead we’re at peace. We know Richt has been a successful head coach in a major conference. And that sense of certitude has given us all peace of mind.

Next week not only presents a bit of a stiffer test, but also a more direct comparison. FAU really challenged the Canes last year, and it would certainly be nice to dominate them from the start and reinforce our belief that a new leaf has really been turned over.

But in a way, that doesn’t matter. Hope has returned to Coral Gables.

But traditions I can trace against the child in your face
Won’t escape my attention
You keep your distance with a system of touch
And gentle persuasion
I’m lost in admiration could I need you this much

And we needed this. That game was cathartic. Now it’s on to the serious business of moving forward, the troubled past behind us. But as we proceed forward, we do so with the wind at our backs, Head over Heels.