Hurricanes’ ‘preseason’ over with tougher opponents on deck

“You’re talking to the wrong person,” former wide receiver Randal “Thrill” Hill said. “I don’t even want to talk about these games.”

Yes, it’s “still preseason” to Hill, who said Miami feasted on “cupcake” opponents in September. He compared Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State— teams Miami rolled en route to a No. 14 ranking — to the “Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Brad Kaaya wouldn’t be so coarse, even if he did agree. But Hill likely would approve of his attitude.

“We haven’t really done anything yet,” said Kaaya, the junior quarterback, in advance of Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech. “It’s cool that we’re ranked high. It’s cool that we’re 3-0. But the season pretty much starts now.

“To be honest,” he went on, “all those wins were supposed to happen.”

So Kaaya, the face of the program, has that old-school, championship-or-bust mentality in the face of nascent success. Title-winning Canes and those who toiled in lean recent years view that as a welcome sign.

“I’m loving what I’m seeing,” said Darrin Smith, a linebacker on the 1989 and ‘91 champions. “I’m so happy — so happy — that Mark Richt fell into our lap. I really think this is the right guy at the right time.”

“I think they’re good,” said Damione Lewis, a defensive lineman from 1997-2000. “I don’t want to start singing holy praises or anything, but I like the way they’re playing.”

“They look like they’re having fun again,” said Dallas Crawford, a safety who graduated last year. “Coach Richt has a well-oiled machine over there right now.”

On a per-game basis, no team in the nation has allowed fewer points, yards per play, or collected more tackles for loss than the Hurricanes. Do they think their defense is that good?

“We know it’s that good,” defensive end Demetrius Jackson said. “We feel it.” But “until we’re hoisting up a trophy, ” he said the numbers won’t matter.

UM’s offense ranks second in yards per play, sixth in points, and only one team (Louisville) has a more potent rushing attack. That excellent execution encourages the quarterback.

“When Miami does the right things, usually good things happen,” Kaaya said. “We have the players to keep making this offense work.

“Over the past few years, every play, guys didn’t always do the right thing. If we can get all 11 guys doing their job, I think that can create big holes for [running backs] Mark [Walton] or Joe [Yearby], also create passing lanes for me, keep me off my back, and allow the receivers to really shine.”

Miami, the ACC Coastal Division’s only unbeaten team, is also the lone squad that hasn’t played a Power Five conference opponent. That will change Saturday. After Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes go on a six-game run that includes hated Florida State and defending Coastal champ North Carolina; a four-day break before a Thursday game at Virginia Tech; a visit to archrival Notre Dame and a home date with powerful Pittsburgh.

To this point, though, most signs are good. Lewis said the effort level he sees on TV reminds him of “us in 1997, ‘98, when we were really trying to get things going” after the dynasty years. Which brings us to another stat: since Miami’s last title in 2001, exactly 15 seasons have kicked off.

No Hurricane is happy with that.

“We have to keep winning,” Kaaya said. “I’m sure the rest of the ACC thinks we haven’t proven anything. Beating App State is cool, but we’re supposed to as a program. Coming into this game, we haven’t earned anything yet. We have to go out there every week and show it.”

That would be thrilling to Hill.

Don’t get him wrong, by the way; he isn’t a curmudgeon. He’s energized by Richt. He’s eager to see how the 2017 recruiting class shapes up. He hopes Miami helps itself in that department with a Coastal Division title.

First, he needs to see the Hurricanes “make plays when the chips are down” — and he believes Richt will help them in those times former coach Al Golden couldn’t.

“Everyone’s happy that they’re winning these games. They’re supposed to win these games,” Hill said. “Let’s take it to the next level. It’s time.”

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