It was one thing for the Miami Hurricanes to get Game 1 of the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the books at home.
Now, the UM football team will go on the road for the first time this season, navigating a whole new set of challenges and unique circumstances ahead of its ACC opener at Louisville on Saturday night.
“There are certainly going to be differences — the way we space out on the buses, the way that we space out on the airplane, everybody in masks the entire time,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “You don’t serve food on an airplane anymore. We don’t serve food on the bus after a game.”
Hurricanes players seem to have an understanding that they won’t travel how they usually do but don’t know exactly what surprises that might entail until they get it done one time.
“I’m not 100 percent sure on how things are going to be different. I know they will be,” said linebacker Zach McCloud. “I know we’re there to play a game, so that never changes. That’s the main thing. Whatever they ask us to do, we’ll do it, and when it’s time to put on the pads, we’ll strap up.”
Said quarterback D’Eriq King: “First game traveling, I’m interested to see how everything is going to be — the plane ride and getting to the hotel.”
ACC testing protocols mandate that players are tested the day before games, as well as 48 hours after the conclusion of a game, along with a third coronavirus test midweek.
The Hurricanes are flying to Louisville on Friday ahead of the Saturday night matchup, and the cautiousness they’ve practiced in Coral Gables then extends on the road. It helps that the team also stays in a hotel near Hard Rock Stadium the night before home games, so they’ve gone through that experience once this season after the season opener against UAB.
“Certainly, just keeping our players around our players,” said Diaz. “We were in a hotel last week, so a hotel is a hotel is a hotel, but just making sure that we don’t intermix with other people that are in the hotel. The closest thing we can create to an actual bubble is really in the 24 to 36 hours before kickoff. We had a little bit of an experience with that in our home hotel last week.”
Regardless of the circumstances, the Hurricanes will reach a point where they line up for kickoff as they normally would.
“It is what it is. At some point, it’s going to be 7:30 Saturday night. We’ll go play a football game,” Diaz said.
The atmosphere at Louisville won’t be what it usually is, with Cardinal Stadium to hold 30 percent of its capacity, so 18,000 fans.
“Just expect the same thing we got at Hard Rock — just in Kentucky,” UM center Corey Gaynor said. “Fans, if they’re there, if they’re not there, you got to bring your own juice.”
As the Hurricanes offense looks to operate away from home, crowd noise shouldn’t be as much as a factor as it normally would.
“I think it helps,” King said. “You know it’s not going to be a packed house. I don’t know if they’ll have crowd noise. I’m sure they will.”
Diaz is confident that college football can make it through the season, even though there have already been hiccups in the schedule, including the postponement of the Virginia-Virginia Tech game within the ACC that was set for this Saturday. He points to how Major League Baseball is close to reaching the conclusion of its regular season after some early mishaps.
“Down here, we saw that the Marlins had to take a week or so off and you’ve seen some other teams do it,” Diaz said, “but they’ve found a way, they were able to replay some games, and we’re heading toward the end of a baseball season.”
On Wednesday, the Big Ten announced it will return to a plan to play football in the fall, targeting the weekend of Oct. 24 to begin.
“I’m sure that’s great for the players and the coaches in the Big Ten conference,” Diaz said. “We’ve already set our ship at sea. I’m excited that we are.”
As of Wednesday, Miami is not expecting to have anyone newly unavailable that played in the opener.
“We should be good,” Diaz said. “I think we’ll have the same group we had last week for UAB.”
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