It was one thing for the Hurricanes to rally back from a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter at Boston College in the season opener. What UM did against Georgia Tech Saturday was much different. It was on another level.
How many teams blow a 19-zip lead, give up 36 unanswered points, and come back from 17 points down late in the third quarter to win in overtime on the road at a conference opponent? Not many.
That's why UM coach Al Golden was running around Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday night like the late Jim Valvano -- just looking for someone to embrace. How excited was Golden that his team pulled off a 42-36 come-from-behind victory? Canes mascot Sebastian the Ibis may end up on this week's injury report with an upper extremity because of the chest bump Golden gave him. "I hope that's not on YouTube," Golden quipped afterward, trying to dry himself from the ice bath he took.
This Miami team still has a long way to go. Great teams don't blow 19-point leads and give up 36 straight points to anybody. But teams with real heart don't ever give up either. That's what Golden has established with this group -- a team with a real heartbeat. A team with no quit.
Couldn't say that last year. It took Golden 16 games to weed out the bad apples, for guys to completely buy in. But that's what's finally happened. The result of that long process is what we saw Saturday.
Are the Canes back? No. Until they start playing defense for four quarters they won't be a real BCS bowl contender. But is UM ready to contend for a Coastal Division title? Maybe. They're in first place.
But we'll find out a lot more about them this coming Saturday when they host N.C. State at Sun Life Stadium. First place teams don't lose at home to conference foes that aren't ranked. Instead, they go on winning streaks. That's the next step. Three wins in a row? Never happened under Golden here. But opportunity knocks. When the Canes answer that bell then you can really start to feel good about this team.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Hard to go with one guy because so many had career days, but Anthony Chickillo gets it in my eyes. The sophomore defensive end finished with a career high seven tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack and pretty much helped UM's defense regain its footing in the fourth quarter. Without Chickillo's big stops, Georgia Tech doesn't end up in 2nd and 3rd and longs and UM's defense probably doesn't get off the field. Chick was huge.
PLAY OF THE GAME: So many great ones to choose from. Rashawn Scott's leaping 25-yard catch on 3rd and 8 at the Georgia Tech 40 before UM scored to make it 36-29 stands out and deserves honorable mention. So does Phillip Dorsett's 65-yard touchdown catch. That set the tone for the day. But no play was bigger than Eddie Johnson's fourth and inches stop at the 1-yard line. Tech quarterback Tevin Washington was in perfect position to slip past the Canes' defense for a third touchdown. But Johnson, who finished with a team-high nine tackles, was right there to shut the door because he stuck with his assignment. As Golden pointed out, Georgia Tech probably converts that play 95 percent of the time.
OFFENSE: The Canes churned out 609 yards of total offense -- the team's most since they crushed McNeese State back in 2000. This wasn't McNeese State. This was a pretty good Al Groh defense. Quarterback Stephen Morris wasn't perfect. He continued missing a few open receivers and got picked when he under threw Scott on a go route. But he still had a career day with 436 yards and two touchdowns (the last UM QB to throw for 400 was Ken Dorsey back in 2002). Morris engineered a gutsy 8 play, 91 yard scoring drive at the end of regulation and helped UM's offense finish 11 of 16 on third down conversions -- most of those of the 3rd and long variety. Mike James? Career day with 89 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Dorsett (9 catches, 184 yards, 1 TD and Davon Johnson (7-107) each had career days while Allen Hurns tried to battle back in his first game back from injury. The offense line? Didn't give up a sack. Ben Jones saw the most action he ever has in a Canes uniform and Seantrel Henderson once again manned both sides of the tackle spot. Except for two turnovers, you couldn't have asked for a better day. GRADE: A-
DEFENSE: It was another up-and-down afternoon for Mark D'Onofrio's group. The first quarter and fourth quarter were spectacular. The second and third quarters were miserable. The bottomline: D'Onofrio's D got just enough stops not to be the reason why UM lost this game. The Canes didn't force any turnovers. But they got pressure on Washington the few times he dropped back to throw (he was 3 of 8 for 132 yards) and held Georgia Tech almost 90 yards below their season average in rushing with 287 yards. UM produced eight tackles for loss. Chickillo and Johnson had huge days. So did Jimmy Gaines, who did a stellar job filling in for Denzel Perryman at middle linebacker. Gaines had seven tackles and nearly came up with a huge interception. Brandon McGee and Kacy Rodgers each had six tackles and constantly came up from the secondary to make big stops. Saturday's effort wasn't a masterpiece. Georgia Tech had four plays go for more than 30 yards and two passes go for 50 yards plus. But it was good enough when it counted and much better than I thought it would be. GRADE: B.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Except for a 46-yard kickoff return by Duke Johnson, this was definitely the one area the Canes struggled. Jake Wieclaw missed a chip shot field goal and booted a kickoff out of bounds. The coverage teams were dreadful. The Yellow Jackets' Jamal Golden twice returned punts much further than he should have and Orwin Smith made up for his bonehead safety with a couple nice returns. Now, the Canes have another problem on their hands. All-ACC punter Dalton Botts could be out awhile. He hurt his ankle and was on crutches Saturday. Matt Goudis got off an ugly 37-yard line drive punt filling in for Botts that led to a long a return. The Canes have work to do this week here. GRADE: D.
> WR Davon Johnson: With Malcolm Lewis going down, Johnson's opportunities figure to expand. So far, he's proven he's reliable, making big catches left and right. Johnson's development is another feather in the cap of Golden and his staff. Basically, he's another guy that did nothing under Randy Shannon's staff and suddenly has proven he can help.
> OT Ben Jones: Another guy who can fall into that category if he starts contributing more. Jones played lot in the second half. Golden said it was due to guys being banged up. At least Jones didn't make any major mistakes Saturday.
> CB Tracy Howard: He didn't make a tackle and I'm not sure I ever really saw him get into the game. Word has it Howard may have had some words with D'Onofrio a week ago. Golden said last week Howard had to freelance a little less. Needless to say it's a situation to keep an eye on.