Welcome to another high-risk, low-reward proposition for the Miami Hurricanes—and thank a former athletic director for agreeing to a road trip so illogical, the home team still can’t believe it’s taking place this weekend.

A recent article in the Toledo Blade dedicated almost 1,000 words to the rare match-up. The overall theme; ”We’ve never seen anything like it and we never will again,” exclaimed columnist David Briggs—who also tracked down the guy who made this event a reality; current Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt.

“I honestly don’t feel like I am able to recall the facts of the situation enough to help you,” Hocutt replied, having agreed to this meeting upwards of eight years ago—a year before he bailed Coral Gables for Lubbock.

This all took place around the time Randy Shannon was fired after a 28-22 four-year run, Al Golden was hired, failed and was let go—and current UM head coach Mark Richt was a decade into his career in Athens, having won the SEC twice, while gearing up for a two-year, 22-6 run with Georgia; the Bulldogs claiming the SEC East back-to-back seasons.

And with all that, here we stand—mid-September 2018, with Richt entering his third season at “The U”. The legendary head coach could do little wrong during the regular season in year two; his squad going 10-0 out the gate, with wins at Florida State and late-season, back-to-back smack-downs of Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, en route to the program’s first Coastal Division title in 14 tries.

ESPN College GameDay even showed up on campus for the first time ever—while the Turnover Chain was the most loved—or hated—thing in 2017, depending which side of the fence you were on. Things were rolling for Richt and the Canes, until they weren’t.

THE RICHT ERA : EARLY SEASON, YEAR-THREE REGROUP

A regular season-finale loss at Pittsburgh was followed by a woodshed beating at the hands of Clemson in the ACC Championship. A month later, Wisconsin outlasted Miami in the Orange Bowl and the Canes closed a 10-win year with three-game losing streak—no bueno in the Magic City; a place where you’re only as good as your last big moment.

No. 8 Miami had a chance to erase that bad taste in the season-opener against No. 25 LSU in Dallas, but another slow start—this time against an SEC power that’s a standard recruiting machine—left the Canes in a bind. Some of the missteps seen late last season were again on display, while Miami fell to 0-1 and extended the losing streak to four.

The Canes bounced back against Savannah State last week, in the form of a 77-0 beating—though little solace came from destroying one of the worst programs in college football. The lone upside for Miami—outside of no major injuries; the fact that Richt emptied the bench and made sure everybody got their reps.

The anti-Malik Rosier contingent had their wishes granted when N’Kosi Perry entered the game early second quarter; the Canes up, 21-0 at the time. The redshirt sophomore tossed a crisp touchdown to Lawrence Cager and another to freshman tight end Brevin Jordan after halftime.

From there, a setback in the form of a first down interception, one play after a tremendous haul-in from Sheldrick Redwine that got Miami the ball back. The gaffe somewhat lending credibility to Richt’s assessment of Perry—signs of brilliance, followed by head-scratching decision-making.

Cade Weldon and freshman Jarren Williams both had their time in the sun; Weldon looking serviceable, while Williams passed the eye test and had a presence to him—but has some work to do playbook-wise as a true freshman trying to unseat three guys that have been in the system longer.

Quarterbacks aside, freshman running back Lorenzo Lingard shone brightly in limited action. The freshman carried four times for 82 yards and two touchdowns; including a 64-yarder when the Canes were already up 70-0.

Lingard—Miami’s first 5-star back since Duke Johnson—had a fluidity and style to him reminiscent of past UM greats. Richt bumped Lingard down to fourth on the depth chart weeks back citing a desire to see better blocking, as well as general freshman growth issues—but in the wake of last weekend’s route, stated that the freshman phenom will see more playing time.

All that to say, Richt will most-likely stay on script when it comes to quarterback at Toledo as this match-up is a ideal scenario in regards to testing Miami and prepping them for what’s coming down the pike later this season.

TOLEDO MATCH-UP CAN PREP MIAMI FOR LATE-SEASON RUN

The Rockets will bring their best and the environment will be hair-raising—but in no way will Toledo provide the type of challenge a Virginia Tech will come late November, nor will the Glass Bowl, even at capacity, sniff what the Canes will face at Lane Stadium with an Coastal Division title on the line.

Truth be told, the latter half of this season is arguably what’s giving Richt the biggest headaches when attempting to solve his quarterback situation early in the year. Rosier proved last season that he could manage the division; especially with the biggest challenges at home.

Was the fifth-year senior good enough for LSU? No—the same way he was exposed against Clemson and even Wisconsin. But Rosier can certainly handle what’s on deck in the coming weeks; Toledo, Florida International, North Carolina and Florida State, everything after this weekend in comfy confines of HardRock Stadium

It’s the four-road-games-in-five-weeks after that where things get dicey—and as much as a challenge as that might be for Rosier, what does it really look like for Perry, Weldon or Williams—going into Charlottesville, Chestnut Hill, Atlanta and Blackburg, with a Duke challenge sandwiched in-between?

Hardly a Murder’s Row-type schedule, but Miami didn’t look super-sharp on the road last season—coming alive late at Duke, lethargic at Florida State until the fourth quarter, on upset-alert against a garbage North Carolina squad and losing at Pittsburgh the day after Thanksgiving.

All of these are harsh realities Richt and the Canes are facing—which makes the match-up against the Rockets the perfect building-block moment for a program looking to baby-step their way back to prominence.

For those out-of-the-know regarding Toledo, this is a program that won the MAC last season, with an 11-3 campaign. The Rockets also gave the Canes first-half fits in South Florida last season after UM dealt with a 21-day lay-off courtesy of Hurricane Irma.

Down 16-10 at the half, Miami came out firing for the final thirty minutes—outscoring Toledo, 42-14 for a 52-30 beating. Still, the Rockets proved they could hang on the road and now get a crack at revenge in a standing-room only Glass House on Saturday at high noon.

Logan Woodside—2017′s MAC Player of the Year—is gone at quarterback, but newbie Mitchell Guadagni is a composed sophomore with a slew of solid receiving targets; including junior and Florida native Dionte Johnson—the best of the bunch. Toss in Shakif Seymour and Art Thompson at running back and the Rockets have enough weapons to make some noise.

Toledo was off last weekend, but gained some confidence week one with a rout of Virginia Military Institute, 66-3. The Canes are obviously a different beast, but the Rockets roll with some confidence, extra rest and more time to prepare for their home-game-of-the-century.

Frustration within Miami’s fan base began to boil over weeks back after the loss against LSU; one common refrain in regards to the Hurricanes’ rebuilding process; many sick of it, feeling it’s taken too long and with the belief UM should be *back*—the result in too many buying fool’s gold last season, or at worst, not seeing the step forward for what it was worth.

CLOCK RUNNING FOR 33 MONTHS; NOT A MOMENT SOONER

In regards to the rebuild; simply put, it started in December 2015 when Richt was hired—as the previous decade before that was a full-blown disaster. Between Coker’s final season, Shannon’s four-year run and the Golden era ending prematurely halfway through year five—a 60-47 run for the Hurricanes.

What—about any of that—could be classified as a “rebuild”?

Bottoming out with an interim-type guy whose lone job was to not blow it with a championship-caliber squad, followed by a former player and coordinator with zero head coaching experience (or personality, for that matter), only to bottom out with a low-cost, reach of a hire—reeling in a supposed up-and-comer from the northeast, who showed up with a big binder, some flashy catch-phrases and a belief that Miami defenses are best suited for a 3-4 scheme—forcing athletic players to be more cerebral in style of play.

The Hurricanes are officially two seasons and two games into a proper comeback, where their new head coach salvaged the first recruiting class, while only locking down two of his own. Had a proven entity like Richt now shown up in Miami, where is this program year three under someone with less experience and no proven track record?

Golden used to tell people to “trust the process”—whereas Richt isn’t worried about outside noise. A former offensive coordinator at Florida State, who won two national championships and coached-up two Heisman winners, before revamping a Georgia program that backslid for a decade after their 1980 national championship—Richt is putting all the pieces in play and doing the heavy lifting that sets Miami up for long-term success.

If there are some short-term wins along the way, great—but there’s a success formula in place that he’s sticking to, regardless of what the knee-jerk crowd will come with. It’s on full display with the quarterback situation—where outside noise has many pushing Richt to bench Rosier in favor of Perry, which will never happen; just handing the job to the younger guy because the good-not-great senior isn’t a world-beater.

Richt knows what he has in Rosier; but is going to push the likes of a Perry, Weldon or Williams to step up, be “the guy” and TAKE the job from the starter. Nothing good growth-wise comes from just giving something to the younger guys because the current starter is overachieving (based on what he was supposed to be), while under-delivering.

In an entitled, me-first, self-serving generation—it appears Richt is trying to mentor, parent and coach all at once; wanting his younger guys to fight for the job—a job he declared open all throughout spring, summer and going into fall. All this misdirected frustration many have with the head coach or starting quarterback—maybe it should be directed at the younger guys who have more long-term value, but haven’t done enough work to unseat the short-term answer.

STAGE SET FOR FIRST-STRING TO DELIVER; BACK-UPS READY

The correct pieces will be in place come Saturday afternoon at Toledo. Rosier will get his start—as will junior running back Travis Homer, who has worked to prove himself since the middle of last season when Mark Walton went down injured. Lingard showed his raw talent last weekend against Savannah State—but how hard has he worked in practice this week to show that he is a viable option on the road should a big moment arise against the Rockets?

That 64-yard garbage-time run against Savannah State sure looked pretty; but it’s night and day from Miami being in a pressure situation; in the shadow of one’s goalpost in a 2nd-and-11 situation, down three on the road and needing to read a defense, follow blocks, lower the shoulder and pick up the first down—or at least give the offense a third-and-short situation.

There’s real-life, or “scrimmages” against the likes of a Savannah State—and then there’s delivering away from home in Miami’s first real road game of the season (re: LSU in Dallas was neutral with no real home-field disadvantage. Not the same.)

While this is a high-risk, low-reward value proposition for Miami in a win-lose situation—it’s still a growth opportunity in a smaller-but-rowdy environment that can test the Hurricanes in a way that will build some muscle-memory for some late-season challenges. Toledo will come to play; but Miami has the athletes to overcome.

Two years back, the Hurricanes trekked to Appalachian State for their game-of-the-century and another standing-room-only environment. Things were raucous early, but a few big plays and a 21-0 first quarter lead sure-as-hell let the air out of the Mountaineers’ balloon super-fast.

Richt was at the helm then and you have to believe it was a calculated effort to jump on the road enemy quickly in that showdown. Have to believe something similar is in the cards for Saturday; Miami’s leader knowing the standard slow start could prove disastrous in a quirky road game where the crowd needs to be taken out early.

This one will have its moments, but the Hurricanes will make it count when it needs to—starters getting it done, or back-ups playing their part. Miami has a lot of ground to make up since that opening-season loss to LSU. This week will be another mini-step forward; everything right now building towards Florida State weekend and a late-year ACC road-show run.

Miami 37, Toledo 24


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