Georgia Tech is headed to HardRock Stadium on Saturday for a mid-afternoon showdown and Miami head coach Mark Richt has added “hype man” to his resume this week—the second year head coach imploring Hurricanes fans to turn out in droves.

Richt took to local airwaves on Monday afternoon—days after Miami’s thrilling, 24-20 comeback in Tallahassee—reminding a sometimes fickle home fan base that bodies are needed to make a difference.

“We gotta fill that stadium. We gotta get after it! Make a difference in this ball game for us. Let’s go.”

With the Canes off to the program’s best start in years—including a win over the Seminoles after a seven-year drought—one would think such please weren’t necessary for the No. 11 team in the nation, but Richt isn’t taking any chance.

Not when losing starting running back Mark Walton for the season. Not when down three more key starters in Sheldrick Redwine, Dee Delaney and Navaughn Donaldson. Not with the Yellow Jackets bringing their triple option to town and now when Miami’s defense has proven undisciplined at times.

RESPONDING TO SUCCESS, VERSUS ADVERSITY

Momentum is a quirky beast to tame. Miami’s had it in past year, but watched it disappear after heartbreaking losses to Florida State—the Canes unraveling and their seasons quickly getting away.  As much as Richt and staff need to play defense and build a team up after a letting a game slip through the cracks, Miami coaches must go on offense to guard against lethargy and big-headedness regarding a pivotal Coastal Division challenge this weekend.

Fact is, the Canes haven’t been in this situation in a good while. If the Seminoles are the benchmark and a win over an arch-rival is the measuring stick—2009 would be the last true time “The U” has been in this situation.

Miami opened with a win in Tallahassee and followed up with a Thursday night victory against Georgia Tech, before getting rocked by Virginia Tech in a rain-soaked outing at Lane Stadium. The Canes responded with a home-upset of Oklahoma and rattled off scrimmage-style wins over Florida A&M and Central Florida, resulting in a No, 8 ranking before a home showdown against Clemson.

The Canes lost their focus countless times in that back-and-forth battle, eventually falling, 40-37 in overtime.

Over the next seven seasons, there always seemed to be “one of those games”. Not the standard, played-a-better team type loss. No, more like the, down-at-Virginia, 24-0 in 2010 with a divisional title on the line, type losses—against a Cavaliers’ squad that was 3-4 at the time. Less than a month later, Randy Shannon was fired—a season-ending overtime loss to South Florida proving to be the final straw.

The following year Al Golden had six losses that fell into this same category; snatching defeat from the jaws of victory time and again due to a lack of a game plan, proper personnel, or the leadership to pull the most out of the young men he was overpaid to coach-up. Rinse, wash and repeat the next four and a half seasons, too—leading to his eventual dismissal.

LEARNING HOW TO BECOME A WINNER (AGAIN)

A decade’s worth of head-scratching failures changed the perception of Miami. The program that once held up four fingers before taking over the fourth quarter, became known for late game meltdowns and mental mistakes that stunted necessary growth.

As a result, muscle memory was partly to blame year one under Richt—Miami giving away close games to Florida State, North Carolina and Notre Dame by a combined 11 points, with a few step-down moments, unlike the recent step-up against the Seminoles last weekend.

A game-tying, blocked point-after against FSU last October. A slow offensive start against the Tar Heels, where the defense did enough to win. A similar narrative against the Irish, made even worse with a failed scoop-and-score potential turnover, instead setting up a game-winning field goal.

Where Richt and Miami got it right from there; regrouping and winning out. Miami whipped Pittsburgh and Virginia, played solid at North Carolina State, rolled Duke and won the program’s first bowl game since 2006—turning 4-4 into 9-4 and entering both the off-season and recruiting crunch time with some serious momentum.

The Canes have since turned that late-season comeback into a nine-game win-streak—shaking off a losing culture enough, to a point where there were no nerves when down to Toledo or Florida State at the half. Against the Rockets, defense coordinator Manny Diaz scrawled on a locker room grease board, “We will win this game.” In Tallahassee, a general calmness and cool factor the Canes have reintroduced to the program.

“Calm down, believe, and trust in your assignments and your technique,” Richt told his Canes, down three at the half and second-half-strategizing in the Noles’ visiting locker room. “Narrow it down to the smallest component of your very movement on the snap, or whatever it is. Don’t think about the big picture. Don’t think about the score. Don’t think about all those things.”

So simple and logical, yet for some reason, not the Miami way over the the past decade of underachieving and over-complication.

CANES HAVE COME TO FAR TO FACEPLANT NOW

Miami knows the variables going into this weekend with Georgia Tech. Down a superstar running back and some other key players, searching for more discipline on defense, as well as psychologically guarding against a letdown.

The Canes are also coming off of an emotional win, while the Yellow Jackets are rested and healthy. Paul Johnson is all about ball control, so it makes for another year where Miami must put Georgia Tech in third-and-long situations, while winning as many of those first and second down battles as possible.

What good is a win over the Seminoles if falling to the Yellow Jackets a week later? In both cases, it leaves the Hurricanes at 1-1 in the conference—and in all reality, having lost the more-important game. Beating Florida State is a must for bragging rights and getting a rivalry back on track, but head-to-head against the likes of Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will define the season and are musts if the Canes plan on winning the Coastal for the first time since joining the ACC.

Miami’s front seven is the ultimate key to victory—which is a good thing, as that unit is arguably the healthiest thing about the Hurricanes. Back in 2014, Johnson announced days before UM traveled to Atlanta that the Ramblin’ Wreck would control the clock. By day’s end, the Canes lost, 28-17—and were whooped regarding time of possession; 19:15 to the Yellow Jackets’ 40:45.

Georgia Tech went 9-of-14 on third down that evening, while Miami was 1-of-5. The Yellow Jackets only passed for 53 yards on the day—then-quarterback Justin Thomas a pedestrian 4-of-7 through the air.

Lost in those stats; the fact that Thomas his a nine-yard pass on 3rd-and-7 during an early third quarter scoring drive that put Georgia Tech ahead, 21-14. Early fourth, with the Canes only trailing by three, Thomas completed a 3rd-and-16 pass for 30 yards—stealing back momentum. Six plays later, Deon Hill punched in the eight-yard score on 4th-and-2 and Miami never recovered.

Even down a handful of starters, the Canes have the talent to take out the one-dimensional Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech is averaging 396 yards-per-game this season, 5.9 yards-per-carry and have four runs of 40-plus yards over the past four games.

Translation; the Ramblin’ Wreck is going to get their on the ground.

Where Miami can’t fall apart—as they have against Georgia Tech in the past; letting the secondary get lulled to sleep and giving up a drive-defining passing play.

TaQuon Marshall
is under center this year—having already rushed for 523 yards and nine touchdowns this season, while the A-back and B-back roles will be played by KirVonte Benson, Jerry Howard, Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch. Lots of bodies and lots of fresh legs to keep the rushing attack churning—while Marshall is yet to turn the ball over this season; yet another challenge for the Canes’ defense.

FORCE THE WRECK TO PLAY HURRICANE-STYLE BALL

For Miami, the best defense against Georgia Tech is a productive offense. Score early and often and the Yellow Jackets’ grind-it-out strategy goes out the window in effort to play catch-up. Third-and-long situations, stalled out drives and settling for field goals when there were opportunities for me—the Wreck considers those wins as they force opponents to play their brand of football.

Fact is, the Canes know what takes to win a game of this nature. Richt has been going up against Johnson since 2008 when this was a Peachtree State rivalry. The former Georgia head coach has seen this offense for a decade and more times than not has had success against it.

Last year the Canes’ ground game helped build a 14-7 second quarter lead before a couple quirky defensive touchdown blew things wide open. The Yellow Jackets score before the end of the quarter, but Miami took a, 28-14 lead into the locker room. Both squads traded third quarter scores, en route to a 35-21 finish—but again, the get-on-em early mentality again set the tone in this rivalry.

Saturday’s showdown is less about a few injured starters and more about mindset and discipline. How will Richt get this team to react to life after beating Florida State and how will Diaz get his defense to play a more disciplined brand of assignment football on the heels of some inconsistent play thus far?

Without Walton, Miami turns to Travis Homer as it’s on-the-ground savior—while Rosier’s legs and mobility add a dimension to this rivalry the Canes haven’t had in recent years. Look for these two to help extend drives—as well as Braxton Berrios to keep doing his thing; keeping Miami out of trouble time-of-possession-wise—while UM’s front seven looks to prove a point against a potent rushing attack.

Miami 27, Georgia Tech 20

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties and launched allCanesBlog.com soon thereafter. After being poached away by BleacherReport as a featured columnist, Bello launched ItsAUThing.com to scratch that orange and green itch. In his day-to-day Bello works with icon Bill Murray and humor website theCHIVE on the William Murray golf apparel line—but all free time is spent reminding the masses that it’s a Canes thing and they wouldn’t understand.

Comments are closed.