Dave George: Change is in the air at Miami Hurricanes’ spring football game

The good ol’ days are never that far away for the Miami Hurricanes’ extended football family, even with the bad ol’ NCAA bearing down.

You could feel it in Saturday’s spring game, right about the time 1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta came sneaking onto the field in the third quarter to throw a scripted and uncontested 45-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, MVP of the 2002 Rose Bowl. That’s two Miami national championship teams represented on one entertaining snap, and a nice crowd approaching 8,000 or so ate it up.

The only way to keep them smiling, of course, is to improve on last season’s 7-5 record and, even better, to gang up on the Florida Gators. Miami gets its chance at Florida on Sept. 7 at Sun Life Stadium, and coach Al Golden can only hope his guys are up to speed.

Spring practice doesn’t tell you nearly enough to make a judgment like that, what with teammates making each other look good and bad on the same play.

That’s why you look for symbolism, like Golden taking the field in an all-black warmup suit on a warm and sunny afternoon. He’ll never admit to feeling the heat, even with his cornerbacks getting carved up by a long list of Miami quarterbacks and wideouts.

“We’re coming together as a team,” Golden said. “We’re starting to understand the little things. If our guys are listening to all the pundits, we’ve got the wrong guys.”

Well, there’s always that possibility, but Golden does appear to be stockpiling a growing number of the right guys for his third season at Miami.

Quarterback Stephen Morris was particularly sharp on Saturday, especially on the run. He’s a senior who passed for an ACC-record 556 yards against North Carolina State last season and briefly was on pace to top that Saturday thanks to the spring-game rules limiting sacks, blitzes and other encumbrances.

One of Morris’ four touchdowns, for instance, was an uncontested pass to Malcolm Lewis that was cooked up by the coaches as a reward for the wide receiver’s rapid and inspirational return from a gruesome ankle injury last fall.

Here’s one number that stands out, though: Linebacker Denzel Perryman intercepted two deflected passes. The Miami defense, on its heels throughout an apocalyptically bad 2012 season, sorely needs this kind of counterpunching if the Hurricanes are going to win their first ACC title or anything else worth that’s truly running up the flagpole.

“If we can play like this as a team, it’s gonna be ugly,” said Perryman, who might not have been so much in the prediction mood if he had played on the White team instead of the Orange on Saturday. Duke Johnson waxed the White for 120 rushing yards on 10 carries, and the majority of those runs featured at least one defender swiping at air in response to a juke by the Duke.

On occasion, Perryman hits as hard as most any Hurricanes All-America from the down-and-dirty dynasty years. Last season, the junior earned honorable mention all-conference mention from ACC coaches, a rare pat on the back for a Hurricanes defender.

“I’m looking forward to Denzel making a lot of progress over the summer, to be honest with you,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “I think he’s capable of playing at another level then he played at this spring. I think that comes with the preparation, the day-in, day-out competing at the top level that he’s capable of. “

Torretta and Johnson, the two Miami greats who came back to play with the kids on Saturday, didn’t need coaches telling them that. They arrived in Coral Gables at a time when the players policed each other, and pushed each other toward NFL careers. To gain a spot in the Miami starting lineup was a major achievement back then.

Golden’s got no choice but to play kids who are on the field by default. That will change, but it’s still probably one more more feel-good spring away.