CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) – The 3rd ranked Miami Hurricanes are now squarely in the national spotlight and face the consequences that come with it, which means playing a do-or-die game every week.
The Canes came in third in the latest College Football Playoff rankings and are inside the Top 4 for the first time since college football went to the 4-team playoff format.
Three more wins by Miami will put the Canes into the final four, and it’s possible they could even go 2-1 and still reach the playoffs.
The immediate concern for Miami is 6-4 and upset-minded Virginia. The Canes must continue to play with a chip on their shoulder.
“I asked them, ‘Can you handle any prosperity?’” said head coach Mark Richt. “Just to clarify everything, last week I think you might have asked the question about players feeling like they were disrespected. All I did was take the video of the television copy of people making predictions. Most everybody predicted Notre Dame, and some of them said why they predicted Notre Dame. Some of the ‘whys’ got their blood pumping. When I saw it, I’m like, ‘I think I’m going to show the guys this.’ Just collect them all and show them a copy of it. I think guys play better ball when they’re a little bit mad. It’s a tough game. It’s a physical game. Sometimes you just need something to get your blood pumping. That’s what we did. If I did a video of what’s going on now, it would be everybody saying, ‘Gosh, Miami is not so bad after all’ and all that kind of stuff. Can they handle that? I’m not going to be showing videos of that, I can promise you.”
Motivation shouldn’t be a big problem for the Hurricanes as for the first time since the turn of the century, Miami is back in the National Championship conversation.
While many players came to UM with that goal in mind, the season that started with the goal of a division championship has seen the bar raised significantly.
“It’s uncharted territory for most of our guys,” said Miami offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. “Obviously, the same guys that were telling us how bad we were for the last two weeks with no shot to beat Virginia Tech and no shot to beat Notre Dame and now they are saying how great we are. We ignored it then and we’ll ignore it now. We’re just going to keep our heads down, keep grinding and keeping earning the right to win.”
Miami heads into Saturday’s game playing suffocating defense, allowing 16.6 points per game, which is 10th best in the nation.
The Canes are 2nd in tackles for loss with 8.8 per game. The turnover chain, which has connected the team to the community, has been broken out 24 times this season and 16 times over the last four games.
That doesn’t mean Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz aren’t preparing their team to face one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC.
“Offensively, [Virginia quarterback Kurt] Benkert [is making] his 21st start,” Richt said. “He has 42 touchdown passes already and he has had 14 games of over 200 yards or more. He’s a really tough kid. I just had this vision of him a year ago, we had some kind of blitz on and somebody was coming free – might not even have been a blitz – and he stood right in there and threw a touchdown pass knowing he was about to get hit. He’s my kind of guy in that regard.”
The Canes offense is averaging 32 points and 451 yards per game.
Quarterback Malik Rosier continues to play well with 20 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions on the season.
Rosier is 3rd in the ACC in passing yards (2410) and 4th in total offense.
Virginia has been stubborn on defense this year, allowing 359 yards per game while constantly throwing blitzes at their opponents.
The best two players on the Cavaliers defense are safety Quinn Blanding, the all-time leading tackler in Cavalier history with 454, and linebacker Micah Kiser, who leads the ACC in tackles with 106.
Miami will have to be focused, disciplined and motivated when they kickoff at noon at Hard Rock Stadium.
A large crowd is expected as nearly every ticket had been sold by mid-week.
- This is the 15th meeting in the series. Miami leads 8-6.
- 14 Hurricanes will be recognized during Senior Day festivities.
- UM is one of 10 teams in the country allowing fewer than 4.5 yards per play.
- Miami’s defense is 3rd in interceptions with 16.
- Mark Richt has won 10 or more games 9 times as a head coach. A win Saturday would be his tenth 10-win season.
- Since Richt’s arrival, Miami has won 18 of 22 games and outscored its opponents 404-192.
CBS Miami’s David Dwork contributed to this story.