We all have those seminal games that we will remember forever. Tackling our neighbor in the stands as Xavier Beitia’s kick sailed wide left in 2002. The pandemonium of Trajan Bandy’s return against Notre Dame. The awe of Sean Taylor’s unparalleled superiority over his college peers in the 2003 win over FSU. We celebrate those as naturally as we breathe air. It’s just easy.
This.....is not one of them. Now, that doesn’t mean this type of gameday experience isn’t worth remembering, because it absolutely is. I happen to think Raymond James Stadium in Tampa is one of the most enjoyable venues I’ve been to, and the tailgating scene is relatively underrated, both for college and NFL games.
When USF last hosted Miami in 2011, the game was at night, and the fans were rowdy and filled up the stadium well, which was not a common occurrence in Tampa (for either college or NFL). They had just beaten Miami the previous year (the nail in Randy Shannon’s coffin) and were still trying to prove to the college football world that their comeuppance since 2007 was not a fluke. They had already beaten Miami, FSU, Notre Dame, and Auburn, and were trying to big game hunt again against a Miami team that had fallen to 5-3. Miami won likely the ugliest football game I’ve ever witnessed in person 6-3, with Jake Wieclaw knocking through the game winner as the clock hit 0:00. Absolutely horrid game, but a win is always a win. Remember this kick?
Flash forward two years later, and Miami came to Tampa ranked #15 after a 3-0 start, which was highlighted by a 21-16 upset over then-number-12 Florida. Whether or not it was due to the excitement of the hot start, or the availability of tickets (there were MANY fewer USF fans this year than in 2011), the Miami crowd was in Tampa in full force on September 28, 2013.
At the time, I was living and working in Tampa. I lived about 5 minutes from Raymond James Stadium, so the game being as close as possible to my back yard was the best thing ever. I relished this series, having been able to attend the games in Tampa in 2009, 2011, and 2013.
That Saturday morning, I got up early and headed down to the stadium area to meet up with my buddy Matt (who I’ve mentioned multiple times in this series). We roomed together at Miami, and were actually practicing law at the same law firm in Tampa at that time in Tampa at that I was able to find parking without any problem. That’s the thing about Raymond James Stadium: the surrounding area consists of huge open fields with cars packed in, so it’s really easy to find a spot to park, set up your tent on grass, and get the grill going.
But that’s not what we did. I walked over from the lot to Himes Avenue, the side street that runs North-South by Ray Jay. Along Himes is a place called the Pirates Den (aptly named, given the NFL team), where the UM Alumni Association was having an eat-and-greet for alums and friends. Having bought a ticket, we stopped in and loaded up on food, along with the beer they were serving. It’s never too early for an ice cold one on game day.
I also vaguely remember athletic director Blake James being around that day. I spoke to him multiple times in Tampa, as he was at the UM alumni booster meeting once before. I can’t remember if it was that previous day, or the day of the tailgate, but we talked about how much he wanted to add the Gators to the schedule permanently, with the hold up being on their end. Seemed like a long shot, given Florida’s home scheduling requirements, the annual FSU game, and the rigors of an SEC slate. 7 years later, it proved to be the long shot it was then.
Being close to the corner of the stadium, we sat there and watched the fans come and go. There were so many Miami fans there that day walking around, shouting confidently, which became equally apparent when we got to our seats before the noon kickoff. The Canes were on the field warming up, sporting their stormtrooper uniforms (which should be the permanent road unis, if you ask me). Looking around, there were Canes fans everywhere. I didn’t go to FSU 2017, but from all the videos I saw and accounts of people who were there, it was a huge turnout. I don’t know if this was on that level, but there were a bunch of Miami fans in the lower level, and it was a sight to behold.
The first half ended up being one of the most lopsided (in a positive sense) halves of Miami football I’ve ever seen. The Canes hopped on the board early, with Dallas Crawford doing what he did best - rumbling into the end zone, this time from 7 yards out. USF actually answered on the next drive, with running back Marcus Shaw scoring on a 3-yard run after setting the Bulls up with a 44-yard scamper.
And I remember there being a bit of energy from the USF fans, and a little bit of WTF from my end on how the Bulls bullied Miami’s defense so easily.
Then, the Canes blew past the Bulls like they were sitting still and left them with a gravel-cracked windshield in a cloud of dust.
On the following play, Stephen Morris found Phillip Dorsett on a go route for a 55-yard gain. Five plays later, Morris found Herb Waters on a skinny post for a 19-yard score.
As the first half went on, and the Canes made chunk play after chunk play and pulled further and further away, I just remember thinking to myself, “dang, this is what Miami’s offense looks like when it’s clicking.” Miami’s 2013 offense just so absolutely loaded with talent; the locker room was basically a luxury car garage. Duke was a Lamborghini, Dallas was a Hummer, Dorsett was a Ferrari, Allen Hurns was a Maserati, Clive Walford was a BMW SUV, and Stacy Coley was a Mercedes. So much speed, so much explosiveness, so many weapons. A talented offensive line featured Ereck Flowers, Seantrel Henderson, Jon Feliciano, and Brandon Linder. Morris was underappreciated (IMHO) at UM, and when he was on, he was as good as anyone has been since the glory days (the 2012 NC State game showed that). What I wouldn’t give for that defense to have held its own down the stretch of 2013. 10 or 11 wins were obviously well within reach.
And all of those weapons were on display right before our eyes in that first half. Up 14-7 after forcing a three-and-out, Morris found Walford for 18 yards, Dorsett for 19, then Coley for a 34-yard touchdown right in front of where we were sitting. 21-7. After another long drive, ended in a fumble, the defense forced a fumble three plays later, which they recovered for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead. It was all over by that point, but the Canes weren’t done.
Well, actually one Cane was. Morris left the game with an injured ankle, and had nothing kind to say about the USF defense afterwards, calling them “a dirty team to say the least.” Sounds like the Bulls defenders tried to give Morris the Darnell-Dockett-in-the-pile treatment.
Ryan Williams came in and didn’t miss a beat. He engineered the last touchdown drive of the first half, finding Allen Hurns for a long gain into the red zone, where Duke finished off the drive. 35-7. Matt Goudis missed a chip shot field goal to take that lead into the locker room. Williams finished the day with For the day, Coley, Hurns, Waters, and Dorsett each had catches of over 30 yards.
What I remember was how easy everything looked. How completely stress free this game was. Yes, USF was in its first year with Willie Taggart and were absolutely terrible this season (2-10), but Miami still dominated as it should have. By the third quarter, it was 49-7. Miami took their foot off the gas and let the Bulls score two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but we had left by that point. We figured it would be best just to get to a bar, grab some wings, and get ready to watch the 3:30 pm games. After all, we had seen a month’s worth of offensive highlights in one explosive half of football.
So, I guess I decided to write about this game, because that half of football still sticks out to me as one of the most explosive and productive I’ve seen in recent memory....well, at least against an FBS team. The most fireworks I’d seen in a half in person, at least.
Anyone else at this game, or any of the other games in Tampa from 2009-2013? Anyone else hoping this series gets renewed down the line? Let’s hear it. Go Canes.