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“Swag is winning—and winning big.”
Miami head coach Mark Richt offered that simple sentiment at ACC media days in July, answering what has become a yearly question about whether the Hurricanes have regained the swagger of the program’s brightest days.
A 41-8 smackdown of the No. 3 team in the country unquestionably fits Richt’s criteria.
One week after controlling then-No. 13 Virginia Tech for a 28-10 victory, Miami throttled Notre Dame on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium for the school’s most meaningful win in more than a decade. The triumph both solidified the ‘Canes as a championship threat in 2017 and established The U as a national contender in future seasons.
And the blowout victory was a tribute to the primary identifier of Miami’s excellence in the 1980s.
“I think swag is lining up and whipping the guy in front of you,” Richt added in that ACC media days commentary, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. “Swag is winning. If Miami players did what they did and were 5-5, no one would care. I’m talking about back in the day. Swagger was invented because they won.”
Saturday night, Miami whipped Notre Dame—and won.
Adam Kramer @KegsnEggs
Miami, you are so damn lovable again and I am thrilled about it
Just a few weeks ago, a complete physical domination against Notre Dame seemed unlikely. The Irish arrived in South Florida with one of the nation’s most effective running games, and the aesthetics of Miami’s run to 7-0 weren’t always great. Doubt lingered after tight wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina.
On the biggest stage of the weekend, the Hurricanes delivered a performance reminiscent of the buildup to their dynasty.
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In November 1981, Miami had just cracked the Top 10 nationally for the first time in 13 years. Howard Schnellenberger’s team hosted Notre Dame at the Orange Bowl and proceeded to build a 30-6 halftime lead behind a Jim Kelly-led attack. The Hurricanes also intercepted three passes and held the Irish to just 216 yards of offense.
Sounds familiar, huh?
The U has managed a few Top 10 appearances over the past decade, but the stays were momentary at best. Saturday, Miami raced to a 27-0 edge by halftime. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz—the brain behind the “turnover chain“—oversaw a unit that snatched four takeaways and limited the nation’s No. 13 offense to a mere 261 yards. Former Heisman Trophy hopeful Josh Adams gained just 41 yards on 16 carries for the Irish.
The 1981 team finished the campaign at 9-2, helping the program record consecutive eight-win seasons for the first time in 30 years. While these Hurricanes aren’t breaking an identical stretch of futility, the program had faded into near-irrelevance from a national perspective.
What followed that victory 36 years ago is the most important result, though. Just two seasons later, Miami won a national title.
Yes, heat-of-the-moment reactions can be overzealous. Still, it’s easy to envision the Richt-era Hurricanes as a regular factor in the championship chase, especially after they impressed with a full house of top recruits against a Top Three opponent.
According to Andrew Ivins of InsideTheU, 30 prospects ranked in 247Sports’ top 247 were in the stadium. About 10 more top-300 players made the journey.
The ‘Canes already have the country’s fourth-best recruiting haul for 2018 and fifth-best in 2019, and the talent in those classes should only rise. Most importantly for Richt and his coaching staff, they no longer must attempt to sell the possibility of a bright future. This obliteration of Notre Dame accomplishes that.
For good measure, 9-0 Miami is officially headed to the ACC Championship Game for the first time. If the Hurricanes can navigate Virginia and Pitt in the coming weeks, they’ll head to Charlotte, North Carolina, and face Clemson with a College Football Playoff berth at stake December 2.
But no matter what happens for the remainder of the season, the ‘Canes have established themselves as a national threat. A real, actual program to take seriously—not just an idea of one because of glory days gone by.
While Richt had many reasons to celebrate the marquee win, he even earned a little redemption in the process. In that 1981 clash, he threw a pick-six. Saturday, however, Richt intercepted the championship dreams of a worthy opponent.
And it sure feels like the first of several occasions he’s going to say that in Miami.