CORAL GABLES — Take a walk in any Miami neighborhood, from the old-country enclaves of Little Havana to the shiny skyscrapers of Brickell, from West Kendall to Liberty City, and you might smell one. This city is in love with cigars and the rich, hazy plumes they produce.
Maybe Syracuse, before playing a football game here, will do a little shopping. They won’t have to look far to find a Caribbean blend or American-grown stogie, though they’d have to use back channels to secure a hand-rolled Cuban.
Miami wants to ensure they don’t light up until they’re back in Upstate New York.
The Orange, it was reported, broke out victory smokes after last Friday’s 27-24 upset of then-No. 2 Clemson at the Carrier Dome. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, some players puffed during the locker-room celebration. Coach Dino Babers wasn’t among them.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Babers said. “I didn’t have one. That was behind the scenes. I didn’t know all those guys had cigars.”
Babers became a social media darling for giving an impassioned locker room speech, and has done several national TV and radio appearances this week. “Tiring,” Babers admitted, adding that he was hoping to catch up on lost sleep. Meanwhile, ESPN, which is televising this week’s game, hyped his team as “giant-killers” in its promo ad.
For Syracuse (4-3, 2-1 ACC) to make it two upsets in a row Saturday (3:30 p.m.), they’ll have to overcome not only the eighth-ranked Hurricanes (5-0, 3-0), but an enemy crowd and some South Florida weather. Up there, temperatures this week have ranged from the 40s to the 70s. By game time, the “feels like” temperature at Hard Rock Stadium could be in the mid-90s.
“I’ve been down in Miami,” said Babers, who played at Hawaii and spent most of his 33-year coaching career in the west and southwest parts of the country. “We can’t duplicate those weather conditions up here this far north. So we’re just going to have to go down there and battle it for the very first time.”
That could make it harder on an offense that has run more plays — 599, an average of 86 per game — than anyone in the country. The Orange rank 83rd in yards per play (5.41); quarterback Eric Dungey is good for about 40 attempts and 300 yards every time out. He is third nationally in completions and one of 11 quarterbacks nationally with 2,000-plus yards (2,080, with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions).
In recalling his post-Clemson speech, which ended a call-and-response with his players of “whose house — our house,” Babers said he felt “unlimited energy.” His offense typically exhibits the same. Dungey looks for receivers Steve Ishmael (a senior from North Miami Beach High) and Ervin Phillips, and has no problem keeping it and taking off. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said UM will play “just about everybody we have” to keep players fresh.
Sophomore linebacker Zach McCloud said UM has to “keep it simple” to compete with the Orange’s offense, which “can be very dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Encouraging for UM: it held two other high-tempo offenses — Duke, which is second nationally in total plays, and Toledo, which has played one fewer game but is similar in tempo — well under their season averages in offensive production. The Hurricanes also rank 20th nationally in points allowed (18.6) and in their last two games (last-second wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech), the Hurricanes have produced halves in which the defense allowed only a field goal.
“By no means are we perfect,” McCloud said. “I think we all feel the last couple games have been too close for comfort. So that’s what we’re going to fix.”
Stopping that string of close wins would mean making Syracuse’s giant-killing a one-week affair. That in mind, it’s interesting to note the comments from Miami coach Mark Richt, who was speaking about his own team’s habit of close and thrilling victories when he said this:
“It could be two great moments in a season that’s average or it may be a springboard to something bigger. We’ve just got to keep playing every week and getting to where if you continue to win, then those two games become much more meaningful.
“If you start getting your butt beat and then those things are just kind of wonderful moments in time but people forget about them.”
By Saturday evening, he hopes a cigar will be just a cigar.