CORAL GABLES — Miami understands there are story lines aplenty linked to tonight's season opener.
It faces a Louisville team that dominated it 36-9 in December's Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando. Freshman Brad Kaaya starts at quarterback. Star running back Duke Johnson plays his first game since breaking his right ankle.
On the other sideline, it's Louisville's first ACC game and coach Bobby Petrino's return to the school 7½ years after he left it for the NFL.
But Miami coach Al Golden wants to keep it simple.
"We have to take care of ourselves," he said. "Opening games are difficult. It's really important for us to execute, for us to eliminate the things that cause you to lose.
"The good news is … we have a lot of veterans coming back, and we need to use that poise and leadership in this game."
Golden's message seemingly got through. Players remained even keeled last week. But that doesn't mean they have forgotten what happened in December.
They remember how former Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns and ran for one. The Miami native and one-time Miami commit also flashed the school's "U" with his hands and made a throat-slash gesture at the Hurricanes bench. He later apologized, but it was all part of an experience that stayed with Miami players, especially those who didn't play.
"I just remember them trying to run the score up; really just disrespecting us," said cornerback Corn Elder, who sat with a knee injury. "I just feel like they were out there talking a lot of trash. They have a lot of players from (Miami), so it was a confidence thing; people you grew up with and played against."
Johnson, who broke the ankle Nov. 2 against Florida State, could do little more than watch as the Hurricanes struggled. Tonight is an opportunity to prove he's the same hard-charging, speedy back he always has been. Johnson gained 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason but has shown speed and cutting ability during fall camp.
"I feel great. I'm 100 percent," he said. "We've tackled, and it felt fine getting up; taking shots. I'm not really thinking about (the ankle) much."
Joining him in the backfield is Kaaya, the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Miami since Jacory Harris against Charleston Southern on Aug. 28, 2008. Kaaya, whom the team won't make available for comment until after the game, beat out Kansas transfer Jake Heaps after Ryan Williams, the presumed starter, tore his ACL during spring practice.
Most of the story lines, Golden wants his players to remember, are variables Miami can control.
Said Johnson: "We've just got to go out there and play football."