The Miami Hurricanes rolled through what was a de facto preseason, outscoring their opponents 153-23. To put that in perspective, the Canes’ point output from their worst performance, 38 points against Florida Atlantic, is enough to eclipse the sum of the scores of their three opponents (23 points).

Now, we can’t get too carried away here. Prior to the season, those three games were supposed to be layups. It was only after the line against Appalachian State came in at a field goal, and several pundits picked Appalachian State to pull off the upset at home, that that game became a game of consequence.

It was no real surprise that the varsity team showed up and destroyed the JV team on Saturday. That tends to happen when one team is fully overmatched.

I would also give a little leeway to everyone in the media that picked against Miami. From our perspective, Appalachian State is not a program that can compete with Miami, and that Miami was always going to win comfortably.

But from outside the South Florida bubble, it’s not unreasonable for people to look at it and say, “the University of Miami has spent the last 15 years blowing games they shouldn’t, this is the biggest home game in Appalachian State history, and they’re going to show up and pull this game off.”

It’s absurd in 20-20 hindsight, but I can see the logic at the time. The Canes lost to a Cincinnati team last year who was playing their backup QB and ended the season with six losses, including a 38-point loss to South Florida. Miami has not won at Virginia, one of the ACC’s worst programs over the last decade, since 2008. They’ve shown no ability to go on the road and deal with this sort of crowd.

But what I think we’re beginning to see is the reality of the coaching upgrade. For years, Mark Richt has been considered one of the finest coaches in college football. Meanwhile, Al Golden would struggle to pour piss out of a boot with instructions written under the heel. The harsh reality is Miami continuously lost games under Golden that they should not have. We all complained about it constantly, amidst his ever-growing string of excuses.

And that is the type of immediate impact a coach can have. To bring some competence to the operation and simply exploit mismatches against inferior teams. That’s what Miami did to Appalachian State, attacking downhill on defense, and outflanking the Mountaineers on offense. Appalachian State never stood a chance because Mark Richt (and by extension his coaching staff) employed a strategy that made it a game of athleticism.

If Appalachian State called the “right play” on offense, it didn’t matter because Chad Thomas would whip the lineman in front of him and blow the play up. If Appalachian State called the “right play” on defense, it didn’t matter because one of the plethora of Canes receivers would just beat his man on the edge.

So in the end, there was no “right play” for Appalachian State to call. They were never allowed to compete. And that is what the entire Canes fan base has been crying out for.

There is still a LONG way to go, but the breath of fresh air is palpable. Finally, the team is at least recognizing their own talent advantage and trying to exploit it.

Back To Work

And now it’s going to get real. Miami is off this week, then runs head long into a stretch of playing four games in 20 days, including trips to Atlanta and Blacksburg. After that stretch? Nine days to prepare for a trip to South Bend.

So yes, welcome to the real world. Preseason is over, September was fun, but this season will be defined in October.

I’m sure Miami is appreciative to have the bye week right before taking on Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack. With all the youth Miami is employing on defense, they can use all the time in the world to prepare for an offense that is simultaneously difficult to play against and imminently stoppable. But a loss here would be pretty catastrophic short-term, putting Miami well behind the 8-ball in the ACC Coastal, and sullying the newfound Top 15 ranking.

This season was never really supposed to be about this season, but about Mark Richt growing into this program and laying the foundation for the future. But with the Canes looking to be one of if not the best teams in the ACC Coastal, all of a sudden a newfound problem has emerged: stakes.

At this point, there isn’t really an “acceptable” loss on the schedule. And that’s what makes the next stretch so vital. We’re going to know where this season is headed real quickly. Virginia and Duke stink. The only contenders for the ACC Coastal are Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Miami and Pitt.

The Canes play three of those teams between October 1 and October 20, with only one of those games at home. They’ll likely need to win at least two of them (with a difficult FSU game sandwiched between GT and UNC) to contend down the stretch in the Coastal.

Is Better Good Enough?

So we’ve arrived at the bye week not knowing quite how good this team actually is while also knowing that it is significantly better than last year. I don’t know if Al Golden would have lost to Appalachian State, but he surely would have struggled.

And that’s all we asked for with the new coach: a more aggressive defense that took advantage of the athletes that the school attracts; an offense that retained efficacy after an opening script and got the ball to its playmakers; and a strategy that didn’t involve the entire team playing slow and shortening the game to compensate for an inadequate defensive coordinator.

We’ve received all of those things.

But now we demand more.

And that’s not unreasonable. This is the University of Miami after all. It might not be fair to Mark Richt, but anything short of at least winning the ACC Coastal would be a massive disappointment. Dropping a game to Georgia Tech in two weeks would rapidly deflate the balloon that has slowly inflated the last three weeks.

And that is part of the trap of coaching. The fans are never satisfied. So, with Golden, we lauded things like allowing less than 400 yards because he set the standard at allowing 500 (and sometimes 600) yards. Now, because Richt has so clearly improved the team, we demand much more than we ever would have asked from Golden.

This is a good thing for the program. Over the last 15 years, we’ve slowly, inexorably had the life sucked out of us. The standards dropped. The belief removed.

That’s all gone now. Greatness will be expected. Not just this year but going forward. And if Mark Richt is half the coach we think he is, he’ll embrace that pressure and rise to meet this challenge, the challenge of restoring Miami to what it once was and what it should always be.

The first three games were baby steps, not so much at reaching our lofty goals, but at wiping away the pain of the last 15 years, and especially the last five years. We can play football again and look competent.

The next steps are much more difficult. Beating good teams from major conferences, including games on the road. Ending FSU’s six-game winning streak.

Winning the ACC Coastal.

Winning the ACC.

Winning the National Championship.

These are all possible, if not now, then eventually, under Mark Richt. For now, we’ll settle for a win over Georgia Tech.