Greg Stoda: With NCAA cloud gone, Miami Hurricanes begin brighter days by edging Wake Forest

The big, dark cloud gave way to a littler, but potentially nasty, one.

It was that kind of week for the University of Miami football program.

The Hurricanes got great news Tuesday when a 2½-year NCAA investigation into a sordid booster scandal resulted only in minor penalties (the loss of nine scholarships across the next three years, most notably). That was the big, dark cloud.

But when it finally dissipated, the littler and potentially nasty one forming on the horizon — a Saturday afternoon game against Wake Forest in Sun Life Stadium — became of immediate and intense concern to Hurricanes coach Al Golden.

As it turned out, Golden had good reason to fear a storm.

Seventh-ranked Miami remained unbeaten only by scoring a touchdown in the final minute to earn a 24-21 win against unranked Wake Forest.

“I’m not going to lie to you, it was just an emotional week,” Golden said while wiping his sweat-soaked face with a towel. “Now, we can breathe and move forward. I was more worried than ever this week, because nobody was talking about Wake; everybody was talking about the NCAA.

“I was hoping we had enough left in the tank.”

They did, but barely.

The Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0 ACC) didn’t get their first lead until 5:36 remained when sophomore running back Duke Johnson scored on a 4-yard run. Wake, though, went back ahead less than two minutes later with a touchdown of its own before Johnson scored from a yard out with :53 remaining to clinch it.

Golden’s relief was palpable.

“I promise you I have never worked harder in my life than the last 72 hours to get them focused for a game,” Golden said.

In victory, maybe his players were acting calmer about the tumultuous week than they really were.

Oh, there was an admission of “jumping for joy” when the NCAA news broke, but the celebration, apparently, was brief. Someone talked about “staying in the moment.” Someone else mentioned “blocking things out.” And someone else said something about being “internally driven and putting things behind us.”

Johnson, who carried a career-high 30 times for 168 yards, was particularly nonplussed.

“We were excited and happy, but, either way, there was nothing we could do,” he said. “We can move on with our season without any worries.”

That’s not quite true.

There’s the Coastal Division title the Hurricanes are chasing, which carries a berth in the ACC championship game. And, more immediately, there’s next Saturday night’s showdown road date against unbeaten league rival Florida State.

Golden has no concerns about getting his team focused for the Seminoles.

“We all know who we’re playing,” he said.

And the preparation won’t be hindered by wondering about an NCAA ruling.

The Hurricanes, who were 24-point favorites against Wake Forest, well could be double-digit underdogs against Florida State. That wouldn’t eliminate pressure, of course, but it would seem UM will have much more to win than it will have to lose in taking on the Seminoles.

Anxiety?

Please.

The Hurricanes’ ride on what Golden called “an emotional roller-coaster” should end even with as formidable and familiar opponent as Florida State as the next assignment. They are enjoying newfound freedom from the agonizing wait on the NCAA decision, and have extended their perfect record for another week.

“You can’t take any of the previous wins with you to Tallahassee,” Golden said. “That’s over. We have to get better.”

The biggest and brightest stage of their season awaits the Hurricanes.

“With all respect,” Golden said, “there has been more national exposure over the last 28 months than any of us can handle. If it’s about football, we’re all in. We’re all in.”

Golden soon went walking down a hallway, turned into a tunnel leading outside and emerged in sunlight.

There wasn’t a dark cloud in sight.