It was only four years ago that Duke did as much damage to the Miami mythos in one afternoon as ever seemed possible, outrunning, outhitting and outmanning the Hurricanes in a pivotal win on the Blue Devils’ way to the ACC title game.
The fact that the tectonic plates of football had shifted to the point where Duke had better athletes than Miami was as strong a statement about Duke’s rise to football prominence as it was about Miami’s fall to irrelevance.
That’s why Duke and Miami were playing on a Friday night, a matchup that now has national appeal. And on the same spot but in a bigger and flashier Wallace Wade Stadium, renovations spurred in part by Duke’s success four years ago, the ground lurched again.
If the Hurricanes had become a parody of themselves then, they have now returned to being a reasonable facsimile of what they once were. With a relentless defense, their gaudy, chunky gold “turnover chain” and even a Federal investigation – albeit of the basketball program, not the football program – Miami is closer to being back than it has been in a long time, dealing a dose of swagger and reality to Duke’s Coastal Division hopes with a 31-6 win.
All the pieces are there: A dual-threat quarterback, a stud running back, playmakers at receiver and an athletic defense that baffled Duke’s offensive line with its cleverly disguised pressure. In Mark Richt’s second season, the Hurricanes have taken a big leap forward while dipping into their past for a little of the old arrogance and explosiveness.
The Hurricanes have played Bethune-Cookman, Toledo and Duke, and lost one game to Hurricane Irma, but they have passed each successive test, with the degree of difficulty increasing next week against Florida State. Either way, two teams came into this game with ideas of contending in the Coastal and only one looked like it Friday.
“Miami’s an athletic team,” Duke defensive lineman Mike Ramsey said. “Nothing’s really changed for us. We just didn’t play well.”
Miami’s margin was flattered by two fourth-quarter touchdowns, although the Hurricanes were clearly the more talented team, and Duke’s inability to protect Jones has gone from a persistent issue to a debilitating flaw. On its first possession, Duke went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 13. Michael Pinckney rushed straight up the middle, Duke’s center and right guard each turned the other way and Daniel Jones found himself flat on his back.
Even North Carolina’s otherwise ineffective defense was able to get to Jones last week, and Miami continually disrupted Duke’s passing game far beyond the five sacks the Hurricanes recorded.
“Last week was schematic,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Tonight was a little more getting whipped.”
That’s what the Blue Devils did to Miami four years ago: whipped them at the line, ran circles around them, made all the big plays. Duke once again has Coastal Division aspirations, or at least did as of Friday afternoon. That hasn’t changed. Duke still has room for improvement and many games yet to be played. But Miami has changed, or more accurately changed back, to something closer to what Miami once was and still wants to be.
This Friday night game was eagerly anticipated at Duke, and it was a terrific environment, at the beginning at least. As the Hurricanes padded their lead, the Duke fans slipped away in drips and drabs until the Miami fans chanted “Let’s go Canes” and “It’s great to be a Miami Hurricane” as the fourth quarter ground to its inevitable conclusion.
The takeover recalled the Miami of old, when The U was The U. And it may be again.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock