For one night, the 'Canes get back to playing Miami football

by | College Football Recruiting Blogger
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Mike James pulls away from Ohio State linebacker Andrew Sweat during Miami's 24-6 win. (AP)  
Mike James pulls away from Ohio State linebacker Andrew Sweat during Miami's 24-6 win. (AP)  

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- What was old, was new again.

Miami's entrance onto the field in its own stadium was legendary. Out of the smoke, emerging from a giant Hurricane helmet adorned with the famous "U," generations of players had looked forward to sprinting toward midfield and out of the fog that filled the humid South Florida air.

No one wanted to do so more than freshman defensive end Anthony Chickillo. The first ever third-generation 'Cane, it was something he had been dreaming of since first putting on the pads in Pop Warner.

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So had Nevin Shapiro, the school's most infamous booster that had thrown the program he once supported into a tailspin. In a clip that had become common place to see on TV, Shapiro was seen running out in an orange jersey, as excited as can be. The image of him leading the players out of the fog that everyone identified with "The U," seemed to take the luster out of the entrance.

Not for Chickillo.

For him, running out of the tunnel was an unmistakable link to the past despite which ever connotation it had acquired recently. Amid a roaring crowd, the entrance marked the beginning of a program looking for something, anything to grab on to.

"It was like the smoke just took over my body," Chickillo said. "It felt like I was floating on a cloud. Just knowing that my dad and my grandpa did it before me, and all the great players, I'm just so blessed to have the opportunity to do that.

"I'm happy that we won and the way that we won. We played four quarters at a 100 miles an hour."

Miami's speed was too fast for Ohio State as the Hurricanes ran over, around and through the Buckeyes on their way to a 24-6 victory at Sun Life Stadium. And it was exactly how head coach Al Golden imagined.

"It's big, they're Ohio State. They know how to win," Golden said. "But that's what Miami Hurricane football should be. Play good defense, make some explosive plays and then run the ball in the fashion that we did."

The running was done mostly by redshirt sophomore Lamar Miller, who finished with 188 yards to become the rare back to top the 100 yard rushing mark against the Buckeyes defense. The team's final drive seemed to be the exclamation mark on a victory that the program badly needed after dropping four straight.

"It's a lot of confidence for us, they're a great ball club," linebacker Sean Spence said. "They have a lot of playmakers on the field and for us to come out and do that, it's really great."

Spence was one of several players returning to the field for the first time after getting suspended by the NCAA for accepting extra benefits from Shapiro. The return players at key positions on defense could not be understated, as Miami held Ohio State to just 209 total yards a week after giving up nearly 500 to Maryland.

"The guys that we had back on defense made a big difference," Golden said. "I'm not going to try and hide that."

Spence was the Hurricanes leading tackler with six on the night while fellow suspended starters Adwwale Ojomo and Marcus Forston applied pressure on the Ohio State offensive line all night long. Another returnee, quarterback Jacory Harris struggled at times but still made enough plays to keep the offense moving despite two interceptions.

Unlike Chickillo, he didn't get a chance to run through the tunnel during warm-ups. Luckily, the senior had done so before and had numerous refreshers over the past few weeks.

"I was looking at my boys running and kind of had the vision like in [the video game] NCAA '12," Harris said. "I was just looking at them and it looked just like the game."

Harris threw four picks in Columbus and literally turned the game over to Ohio State in their top 15 matchup a year ago. He cut the number in half this time around and played within the offense enough to get the Hurricanes the win.

"Those shouldn't have happened," Harris said of the two plays. "One was a busted play that I tried to make something out of. The other I just have to play within the offense and if the read isn't there, check it down to the back."

"I believe in the kid," Golden said. "I think he's going to have a really good year for us. I really believe that."

There really wasn't much to the game outside of Harris, Miller and the Miami defense during the game. It was football and, most importantly, it was winning football.

Beforehand was a different matter.

Fans walked around in T-shirts with "Ineligibowl" on them and, for some, there seemed to be less concern with the four horsemen of the apocalypse and more worry about the four staff members of enforcement. The outside distractions were tuned out though as both teams looked to simply move on from the tumultuous offseason.

"I don't think we even paid attention to it. I personally didn't hear anybody talk about it in the locker room," Ohio State linebacker and Miami native Etienne Sabino said. "I think it was a bigger deal made outside of the locker room, and I can speak for both teams on that."

There will still be those shirts though. There will still be the message board posts calling them cheaters. But that's on the outside. For those like Chickillo, floating on a cloud, the night was about getting back to Miami football.

"My dad told me before the game, 'You've waited your whole life to do this and come out of the smoke,'" the younger Chickillo said.

The cloud around the program will remain for the next several years but for one night, and perhaps one night only, the smoke was the best thing any Hurricane could feel.

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