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Rejuvenated Canes Focused on Strong Finish at Orange Bowl

Rejuvenated Canes Focused on Strong Finish at Orange Bowl

By David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The 2017 season has been a memorable one for the Miami Hurricanes.
The Canes won 10 games for the first time since 2003, were ranked as high as No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, won the ACC Coastal division and earned a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time, and were picked to play in the 2017 Capitol One Orange Bowl.
One of the most impressive things about Miami’s stellar 2017 performance is that they accomplished so much after the beginning of its season was derailed by Hurricane Irma. The storm, which caused devastating damage in the Caribbean and throughout Florida, forced Miami to cancel its Sept. 9 matchup at Arkansas State.
The destruction following Irma’s path also meant the Hurricanes had to reschedule a Sept. 15 date with rival Florida State for the Oct. 7, eliminating the team’s lone bye week and setting the Canes up for a grueling gauntlet of consecutive games.
But Miami did not dwell on its unfortunate circumstances. Instead, the Hurricanes went north to Orlando for a week to regroup and refocus on the challenges ahead and they came out of those practices at Disney’s Wide World of Sports a close-knit unit ready to take on the college football world.
The Canes rattled off nine consecutive victories after their Orlando experience, showing resilience in wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia and dominance in impressive defeats of No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame.
The undefeated season came to an end in Miami’s regular season finale at Pitt and, a week later, the Hurricanes dropped their first ACC title game to Clemson.
Were the Hurricanes worn out after playing 11 consecutive weeks? Possibly, but that is not an excuse that anyone donning orange and green would make.
“We try to see what happened and move on,” offensive lineman Tyler Gauthier said. “You don’t want to dwell on something like that. I mean, Clemson is a really good team and they proved it that night and we have to learn what we did wrong and move on.”
Move on they did, as the No. 10 Canes (10-2, 7-2 ACC) hit the practice fields in preparation for their Dec. 30 game against No. 6 Wisconsin at Hard Rock Stadium.
“It was a good practice,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said. “This practice reminds me of the first day two years ago when I came out here to watch bowl practice and had my blue jeans on, my dress shirt and thought I was going to be in good shape, but I was sweating like a pig out here. It’s nice and hot and warm, and we had one of those kind of days. It’s the first time we’ve had a Tuesday-type practice in a long time, but I thought they held up good. Scout teamers, I’ve got a lot of respect for them – they did a good job. We helped them out a little bit with a couple more breaks, but the scout teams did a good job. I thought we competed well. I thought guys enjoyed it. I thought we did a good job today. Good start.”

Richt gave his team two weeks off after the ACC Championship Game, allowing the Hurricanes to focus on final exams and recover mentally and physically from a taxing season.
“I think it was nice for the whole team to get fresh again from going as many weeks as we did in a row because of Irma,” running back Travis Homer said. “I think it’s definitely good for our bodies to rejuvenate.”
The excitement for a return to football was evident, as several Hurricanes were eager to be back to work with their teammates, but they are most excited about the opportunity to play a bowl game in their home stadium against a strong opponent.
“It means a lot,” defensive lineman Kendrick Norton said. “Obviously, it’s going to be like a home game for us, so we will be comfortable. Miami hasn’t been [in the Orange Bowl] for a while, so we have a lot of pride in getting there and doing well.”
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown knows a strong showing that resulted in a victory would be the perfect punctuation for Miami’s strong season.
“I think it would be great for us to finish with 11 wins,” Brown said. “It would give us momentum going into the offseason because that’s going to be huge for the future. Not that I really care a whole lot about it, but they base rankings in the preseason off of what you do in the bowl game and what you have going in, so it would be a great step for this program. I think it would be the first time since 2003 since we had won 11 games, so it would be a huge step for us.”
Brown, who spent the 2014 season as Wisconsin’s running backs coach, knows the Badgers will come in ready to play when they take the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 30.
“I was only there for a year, but obviously and knowing some of the guys that are still on that team, they are extremely tough,” Brown said. “They’re not going to be flashy. They kind of surprise people when you watch them on tape, but those guys are going to be some of the toughest guys we are going to play in the country. They don’t back down from anybody. They understand that there are people that think that they’re not very athletic, but they know that they are tough and they’re going to make you play a tough football game. They’re going to make you play in a phone booth and if you’re not ready for it, it’s going to be a tough challenge for you – it’ll be a long day.”
Gauthier, who has been a leader on the offensive line after emerging as a key member a year ago, believes every member of the Miami football program is singularly focused on closing the year with an Orange Bowl victory.
“It’s everything,” Gauthier said. “It’s everything for our seniors, it’s everything for our town – especially with us playing in Miami – it’s everything. We want the crowd to be invested in it and to be ready for next year, too. Like I said, you want your seniors to go out on a high note.”