As the losses began to mount, the question started creeping into the minds of Canes followers. A bright 4-0 start had turned into desperation time after four consecutive losses. Had head coach Mark Richt already lost this team, in his first season at Miami?
The answer came in definitive fashion on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium. A 51-28 rout of Pittsburgh said it all. A strong effort in all phases of the game resulted in a convincing victory.
“If you asked me every day, ‘Are these guys still fighting? Are they still working hard?’ I would say, ‘100-percent yes,” Richt said in Saturday’s postgame press conference. “Just very thankful and very proud of our players, (Saturday) and really all season long.
“They’ve shown a lot of fight and a lot of resiliency. It’s tough to lose four in a row and still keep your heart and soul and effort going.”
Things were going along smoothly through the first four games of Richt’s initial season as Canes head coach. Too smoothly, in fact. So when the losing started, as it inevitably would, it was then that Richt would learn just what kind of team he had.
Adversity will reveal that. It’s then that a coach usually finds out who the players are that he can depend on to lead the team back to prosperity. It’s when senior leadership is needed most.
From coaches to players, the team fought back on Saturday and ended the month-long skid to potentially turn things around and pave the way for a big final three games.
“Winning is a great medicine and antidote for that losing streak we had,” said senior defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins, who leads the team with two interceptions this season and is third on the Canes with 50 tackles. “We’re back on track now and we have to keep playing. We have to finish strong.”
Nothing infuses optimism like winning. Just as difficult as it is to stop the momentum of loss after loss, so it is with winning, and Miami has begun a different kind of streak.
“We were fighting against the negativity that comes along with not winning at a major university and one that has a proud tradition like we do,” Richt said.
Saturday’s performance was a reminder of what the Canes can be. It’s the most points scored this season since the opener, a 70-3 victory over Florida A&M. But the triumph over Pittsburgh was a quality win against a fellow ACC Coastal opponent still challenging for division honors.
Miami effectively dashed those hopes and now set its sights on road games at Virginia and North Carolina State before the season finale at home with Duke. The 5-4 Canes are one win away from being bowl eligible.
“We’re happy but we’re not satisfied,” said junior tight end David Njoku, third on the team in pass receptions (27) and yards (432) and second with four receiving touchdowns. “We still have a long way to go, and a few more games left. We have to just finish strong and we’ll be okay.”