Hurricane Irma gave just about everyone and everything in Florida a good jostling.
While some are still reeling in the storm’s aftermath, everyone is just trying to get back to normal – or as normal as possible.
Normal for the Miami Hurricanes football team was practicing in Orlando the past five days.
To refocus and rally the squad, the No. 14 Hurricanes (1-0) held practice at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida as it prepares to host Toledo (3-0) Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium at 3:30 p.m.
Getting The Band Back Together
The Hurricanes elected to move their operations to Orlando early last week and made the trek to central Florida a week ago. It seemed like a logical choice given the team had its September 9th game at Arkansas State canceled and its September 16th showdown with Florida State rescheduled for October 7th.
“When the dust had settled enough, we were trying to get back up and running. We were hoping to go back to campus. But obviously that wasn’t going to happen. We couldn’t do that,” Canes head coach Mark Richt said while addressing the media Sunday before their first open practice.
“So many hotels were really used up in the south Florida area. We might could have found some rooms here or rooms there and all that, to possibly set up camp to start practicing…not with all the distractions – even though they were worthy distractions – we said, ‘Let’s stay [in Orlando]’.”
A large portion of the football team and the coaching staff – and more than a handful of other University of Miami student-athletes – got on charter buses and departed for Orlando.
The usually four-hour trip became a 10-hour trek as traffic on Florida roadways were still congested with residents commuting for various hurricane-related reasons.
While most of the team was in Orlando by Thursday, others still had to trickle in on their own on Friday before the full team was accounted for.
Once the entire squad was in place, the Canes went to work.
“The night everyone got here, which was Friday night, when everyone finally got in, we had a nice meal, had a team meeting, we got on the buses and came [to the Wide World of Sports Complex] and ran them. We didn’t run them super hard. We just ran to get the blood flowing, and to be together, and to do something as a unit,” Richt said.
“It was very good. We went a shortened, fundamental practice – about half the time we would normally be on the field for a true fundamental practice. And then afterwards, we ran. They ran better than I thought they would…hopefully Thursday can be a normal Thursday and Friday a normal Friday. I just hope we’re in good enough condition to practice full-speed, the way we normally practice, by Tuesday.”
Waiting for the Canes on Saturday is an undefeated Toledo team that is averaging 46 points per game.
The Rockets (3-0) offense flies high thanks to senior quarterback Logan Woodside.
Woodside, a 6-foot-2 “gunslinger” that paid his dues within Toledo’s program before rising to the starting spot, spreads the ball all over the field an efficient manner – most evident in his week one performance where he completed 22 of 33 passes for 458 yards and six touchdowns in a 54-51 win over Tulsa.
He threw 45 touchdown passes – to just nine interceptions – a year ago and led the Rockets to 9-4 record and is on track for similar numbers this season.
Richt, who fancies himself a bit of a quarterback aficionado, had nothing but good things to say about Woodside – and it was legit praise, not cliché “coach speak”.
“He’s outstanding. His fundamentals are great. He knows the system so well. He knows when and where to go with the ball,” Richt said. “He’s the kind of guy that, if you pressure him, the ball is going to come out quick to the right guy. The ball placement is great. He’s not unbelievable as far as a runner, but he’s certainly a very good athlete. He’s one of the best in the country for a reason.”
6-foot-2, 205-pound senior receiver Cody Thompson is Woodside’s favorite target. A third of Woodside’s completions (22) have found Thompson’s hands as well as half of his touchdown passes (4).
Woodside and Thompson – along with other wideouts Diontae Johnson and Jon’Vea Johnson – will test Miami’s secondary and try to keep UM’s defense on its heels with their up-tempo offensive pace. Also, the Rockets’ run game, which has averaged 218 yards per game up to this point, is just potent enough to make a defense uncomfortable.
Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is aware of what Toledo brings to the table and he knows the proverbial deck is stacked against his unit given their 10-day layoff, but he said his expectations of the defense remains the same.
“You’re playing an opponent who is scoring points for fun and has now played a lot of ball, so they’re into their season routine,” Diaz said. “They’ve improved every week and we kind of have to be in midseason form Saturday at 3:30 – no excuses.”
There’s a good chance Miami will still be without the services of sophomore receiver Ahmmon Richards this weekend.
Richards has been sidelined with a hamstring injury that he sustained during fall camp. He did not play in the Canes’ opener against Bethune Cookman and is considered to be “questionable” for Saturday’s game according to Richt.
“He looks a little cautious, which is understandable,” Richt told reporters Wednesday. “It was a severe pull. It’s been almost a month…that’s a long time for a pull. But when it happened, we were just thankful that when we did the MRI that we didn’t have something worse than it was.”
“We’re all being cautious, but on the other hand, somewhere along the line you got to let it go. Hamstrings are the ones you just have to be careful with,” Richt added.