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The puppies played, the Hurricanes are happy and after one of the most angst-ridden weeks in some time, Miami goes into its Atlantic Coast Conference opener Thursday night against Virginia in relatively better shape than anyone thought would be possible.
“It’s high expectations because we’re at Miami but at the same time we’re built for this, we’re born for this, we’re made for this,’’ said freshman safety James Williams. “We already know the ins and outs and ups and downs that come with it.
“We just want to play ball. We ain’t worrying about what’s going on outside the facility or what people got to say — the haters, the rumors.’’
Despite being 2-2 after their 69-0 victory Saturday against outmatched FCS opponent Central Connecticut State University, the Hurricanes will be competing in an ACC Coastal Division that is its usual unpredictable, underachieving mish-mosh.
The Cavaliers (2-2, 0-2 ACC) not only have lost their past two games to ACC opponents by scores of 37-17 (Friday against Wake Forest) and 59-39 (Sept. 18 against North Carolina), but the UNC Tar Heels, once considered UM’s biggest threat in the Coastal, are 2-2 and have lost two of their three ACC games.
Even formerly elite Clemson of the Atlantic Division is reeling (2-2, 1-1), with a loss Saturday in double overtime to North Carolina State. (3-1, 1-0).
And the two opponents that made UM look worse than mediocre? No. 1 Alabama and No. 17 Michigan State are a combined 8-0.
As for the Canes, the afterglow of victory will give way to the reality of only five days between the win and the 7 p.m. ACC opener (ESPN). When asked about the quarterback situation with starter D’Eriq King out with a shoulder injury, coach Manny Diaz called it “a hypothetical right now.’’
Diaz said that “based off the evidence” of Saturday’s game, coaches feel good about both second-year freshman Tyler Van Dyke and true freshman Jake Garcia, who each got extensive playing time in sharing reps against CCSU — with the older Van Dyke getting the start. King stood on the sideline wearing a headset and helping the younger quarterbacks.
“Neither guy would not deserve to play and that is something we have to watch film on and revaluate and see where we are at and see where D’Eriq is at,’’ Diaz said. “Obviously, it is a short week with a quick turnaround. Whatever gives us the best chance to win is what we will do. You probably saw D’Eriq out there on the sideline. He is limited in some of his motions and movements. I think the plan was to give it some time and see how it settles down. We should have an idea sometime this week.”
Van Dyke finished 10 of 11 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Five of his six drives ended with touchdowns (not counting a 1-yard knee to end the first half).
Garcia finished 11 of 14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns. All five of his drives ended in touchdowns.
UM’s freshman receivers Brashard Smith (five catches for 91 yards and a touchdown), Romello Brinson (two catches for 25 yards and a spectacular one-handed 17-yard touchdown reception) and Jacolby George (one catch for a 44-yard touchdown) were extremely impressive, but some of their long touchdown plays started with short passes. With ACC competition on tap (although Virginia’s defense has proven porous), those yards-after-catch should become considerable tougher.
“The three amigos, that’s what we call ourselves,’’ said Smith, who turned a 3-yard toss from Van Dyke into a 75-yard touchdown sprint down the right sideline in the first quarter. “We’re working, we’re trusting the process. That’s all we can do.’’
Second-year freshman slot receiver Xavier Restrepo also looked good, catching four passes for 75 yards).
Other than freshman tight end Kahlil Brantley’s first career catch for 7 yards, tight ends were silent.
UM’s run offense came alive Saturday, but again, those numbers come with the knowledge of the defense Miami faced. Veteran starter Cam Harris (100 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries) only played the first half, with freshmen Thad Franklin (88 yards and a touchdown on seven carries) and Cody Brown (77 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries) doing most of the rest.
On Thursday the Canes get back second-year freshman running back Jaylan Knighton after a four-game suspension. With second-year freshman Donald Chaney Jr. out with a season-ending knee injury, that should be a big boost.
UM fans had been clamoring for former Miami Palmetto High defensive tackle Leonard Taylor to play, and they got their wish Saturday. Taylor was credited with three tackles — one for a loss — in his first college appearance. He was jubilant when fellow five-star safety Williams made his first interception in his first career start. Williams added three tackles and a pass breakup, and played together with fellow freshman safety Kamren Kinchens much of the game.
Also getting his first playing time this season after rehabbing from toe surgery was linebacker Sam Brooks, who had four tackles and a quarterback hurry. Fellow linebacker Deshawn Troutman got in his first college game and had three tackles.
“I remember my first time at Savannah State when all of us went out ther eand the older guys were supporting [younger] guys and being there for us,’’ recalled fourth-year redshirt sophomore striker Gil Frierson. “We tell them all the time, ‘College goes by faster than high school.’ It was a great experience seeing all of them out there having fun and playing together.’’