For the first time this season, Miami has a weekend itinerary that doesn't include boarding passes or middle seats. The Hurricanes are hoping it's also free of turbulence.
After decidedly different results from the first two games of the season — an inspiring Atlantic Coast Conference win at Boston College, followed by an embarrassing blowout loss at Kansas State — Miami is finally set for its home debut. The Hurricanes (1-1) play host to Bethune-Cookman (2-0) of the Football Championship Subdivision on Saturday, their last outing before jumping back into ACC play.
"Feels like forever since we started training camp," Miami coach Al Golden said. "It's exciting to come home. I know the kids are excited about it."
The fact that they're excited about anything might be considered a good sign.
A week ago, in a 52-13 loss to Kansas State, absolutely nothing went right for Miami. Linebacker Ramon Buchanan was lost for the season with a knee injury, safety Vaughn Telemaque was lost for at least one game with a knee issue of his own, and top wide receiver Allen Hurns left the game early after getting shaken up and checked for symptoms of a concussion. Hurns will not play Saturday.
So a young team gets younger. A total of three seniors are expected to be in the offensive and defensive starting lineups, units that are still reeling a bit from the magnitude of issues — six rushing touchdowns allowed, most notably — that popped up a week ago.
"There's no way to sugarcoat it," Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. "The best thing to do is to learn from it."
A win would help, of course.
Miami beat Bethune-Cookman 45-14 last season, making it seem like that was easy one and this one should be more of the same, right?
Both sides know differently.
The Hurricanes gave up 422 yards to the Wildcats in the first meeting between the schools, trailed for a long stretch of the first half and didn't put the game away until the final minutes. Bethune-Cookman has won eight straight games overall dating back to mid-October 2011, and knows a victory over Miami — even a rebuilding Miami team — would simply be enormous for the program.
Bethune has already successfully rallied from deficits of 14-0 and 21-0 this season, doing so by scoring points in bunches — 38 straight against Alabama State, then 27 straight last week against South Carolina State.
"We come into every game with confidence," Bethune-Cookman wide receiver Eddie Poole said. "If we execute, we have a pretty good chance of winning the game."
But Wildcats coach Brian Jenkins, who grew up as a Miami fan, warns that he doesn't see a woebegone Hurricane roster, either.
"They're a talented ballclub. Don't let the last game that they played against Kansas State fool you," Jenkins said. "They are a very talented ballclub. They're fast. They're very physical. They're very well-coached. Coach Golden is doing a tremendous job, I think, of getting that program back to the standards everybody's used to it being at.
"They're a good, sound football team. I don't know what everybody else is seeing."
Still, Bethune seems to know exactly what the stakes — and the reward — might be if an upset gets sprung on Saturday. The school asked Miami for a large number of credentials to accommodate the official traveling party, which doesn't even include players and coaches. The caravan is expected to include 10 buses, seven for the school's band alone.
"We respect them just like we would any other team," Miami defensive back Brandon McGee said.
The home opener may not draw a huge crowd. Tickets on one secondary marketplace site on Friday were being sold for under $5.
"It really doesn't matter," Miami safety A.J. Highsmith said, when asked about the prospects of a small crowd. "They help us, but at the end of the day, if we're not executing and doing the things we need to do, we're not going to be successful."
Golden said the Hurricanes had one mantra this week, that being not to let the Kansas State debacle turn into more than one loss. Mistakes were displayed on film plenty of times, with the obvious hope that they're not repeated against Bethune on Saturday — or ever again, really.
"We've improved so much this week in practice," Golden said. "We've had spirited practices. We've been resilient. Now we have to carry it into a game with a team that's played with a lot of confidence."
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