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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – When Miami was off to its unbeaten start, Hurricanes coach Al Golden made it very clear that the process of turning the team back into a contender was far from over.
Two losses later, the narrative about Miami has changed. Golden's stance has not.
His assessment of Miami at 7-2, as opposed to 7-0, is largely the same. To him, especially now that the NCAA investigation into Miami has ended, the task of really rebuilding the Hurricanes can finally get underway in earnest, and starting the season on a roll didn't convince him that the mission had already been accomplished.
"We're still trying to build it," Golden said Monday after practice. "We're still trying to get it right. We're still trying to develop depth. I know no one wanted to listen to me five, six, seven weeks ago. We're not back. We're building. We've finally gotten the gloves off and we get to go fight a fair fight and we're going to go fight a fair fight. In the interim we're going to keep developing these guys and keep building the program forward."
In the short term, that means taking No. 24 Miami into Duke (7-2, 3-2 ACC) this weekend in a matchup of teams looking like they're heading in opposite directions but with identical records. The Blue Devils have won five straight; the Hurricanes have lost two in a row, those defeats coming to Florida State and Virginia Tech, games where they allowed a whopping total of 1,066 yards.
But in ACC games, the Duke-Miami series has been all 'Canes. They're 8-0 against the Blue Devils since joining the conference.
"We've got to play much better than we have in the past against Miami to have any chance," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
The Hurricanes are saying the same thing — they need to get better this week, and in a hurry.
For starters, if Miami is going to stay in the ACC's Coastal Division race, a win this weekend is a must. And if this team is going to become the first Miami club to post a double-digit victory total since 2003 — which is fast becoming a rallying cry for the Hurricanes — a win this weekend would also considerably help that cause.
"It's hard to do in college football, win 10 games," defensive end Anthony Chickillo said. "It's something we haven't done here in a long time. You're talking about 10 years that that hasn't happened around here. There's a lot of stuff to still play for, a lot of motivation. And the Coastal isn't wrapped up yet. We can only control what we can control, and that starts with getting ready to play a very good Duke team."
Even with Duke Johnson gone for the season with a broken right ankle, Miami is still insisting that there's no excuses coming from its side.
The defensive numbers have been slipping for the last three weeks. Miami allowed 26 third-down conversions in the season's first six games; it has allowed 27 in the last three alone. The 28 rushing yards against Virginia Tech were the lowest by a Miami team since 2009. And three huge special-teams blunders led to 21 points by the Hokies — a fact that still had Golden frustrated on Monday.
"You can't do that do your defense," Golden said. "It's not fair. All three units were responsible for the defense the other night. It's not just the defense. The special teams screwed it up for the defense. The offense didn't convert enough for the defense. And the defense didn't get off the field enough and they had enough of their own mistakes. All three units were a part of that deal, which is disappointing."
That all being said, the Hurricanes know this could still end up as a memorable season.
"Everyone knows we still have a lot of things that we can accomplish," quarterback Stephen Morris said.