Miami’s climb started at the very bottom

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The last time Miami met Clemson was one of the lowest points in Hurricanes history.

It was Oct. 24, 2015. In front of a half-empty home stadium, Miami suffered a 58-0 loss — its worst ever.

Clemson was a great team; Dabo Swinney’s Tigers advanced to the College Football Playoff title game, then won it all the next year. But that didn’t excuse Miami’s humiliation.

And if you’re looking for a turning point to explain how No. 7 Miami got to today’s ACC title game against No. 1 Clemson, start with the shame of that 2015 game.

"It’s put us to where we are now," Miami quarterback Malik Rosier said.

The first reason is obvious: A day after the defeat, the Hurricanes fired Al Golden. The 58-point debacle was the final blow in a marriage that never seemed to work. He finished his career 32-25, but his shirt-and-tie persona never seemed to match Miami’s swagger.

To return Miami to glory, the Hurricanes turned to a familiar face — alumnus Mark Richt.

"Coach Richt brought a winning attitude to Miami," said defensive back Jaquan Johnson, who had the first forced fumble of his career that day. "I believe that he truly brought the swagger back, which was showing us that if you work hard and you’re consistent and you execute, that you’re going to win games."

Swinney agreed.

The Tigers coach said Miami had a lot of talent in their last meeting, but something didn’t click. Two years later, it obviously has.

"Night and day," Swinney said. "Listen, give Mark a lot of credit. He’s come in there and really pulled it all together and given them a clear identity. They’re playing with great energy, great effort. They’re just impressive."

While the final score was bad enough in the last meeting, it doesn’t describe how bad some moments were.

On one third-down play, the Hurricanes had five offensive linemen to stop only two Clemson defenders. They failed.

Star defensive end Shaq Lawson split two blockers and leveled quarterback Brad Kaaya. The blow knocked Kaaya out of the game with a concussion and kept him out the next week, too.

His replacement: Rosier.

"The big thing I learned from that game is always be prepared," Rosier said.

He was the next week, when he won his first start on the last-play laterals at Duke. He won his next 10 after that, too, before last week’s loss to Pitt.

The last meeting between Clemson and Miami probably won’t have any bearing on this College Football Playoff play-in game at Bank of America Stadium. The rosters are different. Clemson phenom Deshaun Watson is gone. Miami’s production has started to match its talent.

Richt doesn’t feel a need to bring it up with his players, but he wouldn’t be surprised if they brought it up themselves.

"I imagine the guys that were here during that time frame haven’t forgotten how that felt," Richt said. "I’m sure no one wants to feel that again."

Two years later, they finally have a chance to do something about it.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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