LAKE BUENA VISTA — Manny Diaz pulled into the driveway. His wife did the same. They parked and began unloading the cars, bringing bags into their relatives’ house. It was a long, arduous trip to get there, with plenty of traffic.
All of this was like a typical family vacation.
But this was no relaxing getaway.
“All of a sudden in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘This might be everything we have,'” Diaz said. “That realization that, ‘I own two suitcases’ worth of stuff.'”
Like millions of South Floridians who fled Hurricane Irma nearly two weeks ago, Diaz and his family traveled north without knowing what would await them upon return. Would their house be flooded? Would possessions be tarnished and tattered? Like millions, they made the hard decisions: what to keep, and what may be lost if the storm shifted and put Miami in its path.
“Fifty miles to the east and it’s an entirely different situation,” said Diaz, a 43-year-old Miami native and the son of the city’s former two-term mayor. He was a teenager when Hurricane Andrew battered the area in 1992. Like so many of his generation, he knows South Florida got lucky this time.
“That unknowing is what makes it so difficult,” he said. “That’s why really, the way it turned out, it impacted a lot of lives, but we know it could have been so much worse.”
Now Diaz, who spoke before Tuesday’s practice at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex outside of Orlando, is trying to rebound from another unforeseen circumstance: a 20-day break between games, an in-season situation UM hasn’t dealt with in 30 years.
His defense, which hasn’t had the feeling of tackling an opponent since Sept. 2, is an unknown. In its only game thus far, a 41-13 win over Bethune-Cookman, the Hurricanes allowed 5.07 yards per play. That’s hardly a dominant number, especially against an FCS team, and certainly not for a unit projected to be among the ACC’s best. Diaz was blunt, saying UM’s defense played “very poorly” in the opener.
Miami is treating Saturday’s game against Toledo (3:30 p.m., ACC regional networks) as a second first game, though it should be a much stiffer challenge. Rockets quarterback Logan Woodside is one of the nation’s top passers. He ranks ninth nationally in passer rating and has thrown for 1,004 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception on 65.9 percent passing. He finished second in passer rating last season, with a nation-high 45 touchdown passes (he threw nine interceptions).
This will be the first Power 5 defense Woodside has faced since 2014, when he struggled in losses to Missouri and Iowa State. Last year, he had his worst game of the season (13-of-24, 229 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) against the only ranked team on Toledo’s schedule, No. 12 Western Michigan. The Rockets lost 55-35 on the road.
The Hurricanes are ranked 14th in the latest polls, but Toledo has the advantage of having played three warmup games before the toughest opponent on its schedule. Some Miami players stuck in the storm weren’t able to eat properly. No one could perform their usual conditioning drills. This game is like another season-opener — with heightened expectations.
“We have to be in midseason form,” Diaz said. “No excuses.”
How well will the Hurricanes tackle? Will they be able to run fast and hit hard for four quarters?
Like the path of a storm, Diaz said, “it’s hard to predict.”