Feeling ‘Randy’ In Miami

By Greg Cote
Updated: October 4, 2009
Miami receiver Travis Benjamin (No. 3)celebrates his touchdown reception with teammate Joel Figueroa.

Miami receiver Travis Benjamin (No. 3)celebrates his touchdown reception with teammate Joel Figueroa.

MIAMI — The BCS national championship trophy was being shown off in a corner of the stadium here Saturday night, the coveted crystal football guarded by security men and sparkling under the lights so tantalizingly close to the Miami Hurricanes’ sideline.

College football’s grand prize is that close figuratively as well now for UM.

It is close enough to see, to consider, almost to touch.

It is within reach; not maybe, not someday. Now. This season.

That is what Saturday night meant.

It meant just about everything.

This thrilling, pulsing 21-20 victory over the eighth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners — the biggest victory in Randy Shannon’s three seasons as coach — positions Miami to have an opportunity, a chance with a break or two, to be in the title mix.

“You can’t say Miami’s back because it’s not the 12th or 13th game of the season,” Shannon said afterward, alluding to when championships are won. “But we got a good football team.”

Saturday happened because Javarris James channeled cousin Edgerrin and rose up with a huge 150 yards rushing. Because Jacory Harris fought off a rough start with three touchdown passes. And because UM’s defense hardened and stood up.

The 17th-ranked Canes should rocket back into the top 10 now on the wing of a 3-1 start against the toughest four-game opening stretch in the nation.

And the eight games left figure to see UM a clear favorite in seven, the possible exception a tough but winnable date at North Carolina. That makes an 11-1 regular season enticingly plausible. Shannon, locked in a coach’s one-game-at-a-time mantra, can’t dare think like that, but we can.

Long-suffering Canes fans (well, OK, it seems long to the sufferers, anyway) may begin officially believing that UM football is back, no matter Shannon’s caution.

All one needs to do is contrast Saturday’s showing to the one in Norman, Okla., only two years earlier.

Then, the Sooners throttled hapless and seemingly hopeless Miami 51-13, a low point among many in a 2007 season that would end 5-7. UM football wasn’t `back’ at that point, it was buried. You could only hope that was the nadir.

Shannon challenged his seniors to recall that pain.

“Remember how you felt,” he told them, adding, “now what are you gonna do about that?”

Saturday’s rematch stood as a valid, telling gauge of how far back the Canes have come. You can’t measure that just on a scoreboard, or even in the team’s won-lost record or the polls.

You measure it by the feeling you get watching these young Canes perform, and by the enthusiasm they create. It was palpable Saturday. The enormous crowd of 61,790 was as electric as the team in orange they cheered.

ABC beamed the game to about 80 percent of the country, and what an advertisement for the revitalization of UM football.

A sign bobbed in the crowd reading, “The U invented swagger.” Another sign read, “Envy the past. Fear the future.”

You get the feeling now that UM can win any week, every week.

And Saturday’s watershed win allowed you to believe last week’s rain-sodden loss at Virginia Tech might have been the aberration — that victories at Florida State, against Georgia Tech and now Oklahoma were the more accurate reflection of what’s going on.

Imagine what could have been to fully appreciate what is.

This could have been the early season that completely detonated the notion of UM being back. It could have enflamed the anti-Shannon crowd and left serious doubt about his future. A 1-3 or 0-4 start was not out of the question.

As it was, Miami was staring at 2-2 much of Saturday. Oklahoma dominated early, up 10-0. UM’s offense seemed inept. Harris threw interceptions on both of the Canes’ first two possessions and it seemed time to suggest he take that pink pimp suit — the one he joked about wearing to the Heisman ceremony — and put it on a hangar, if not in mothballs.

Then something rather incredible happened.

The Miami defense began to dominate the high-powered Sooners, and if you want the highlight-reel stuff, start with two hits by freshman safety Ray Ray Armstrong that drew “OOOOH!” from the crowd — live and again on replay.

As for Harris, two quick picks might cause most young quarterbacks to rattle, especially one who had a tough time in that Blacksburg, Va., downpour a week earlier.

But here was Harris’ response: an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham, 18-yard scoring strike to Dedrick Epps, then a 38-yard beauty into the end zone to Travis Benjamin. This against the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense.

“We’re not perfect,” Harris had said earlier this week. But, at 2-0, “People kind of made it that we were.”

At 3-1, the Hurricanes still aren’t perfect. But if they take care of business from here, in another couple of months they might just be close enough.